Introduced in 1967 as a premium take on the Ford Mustang, the Mercury Cougar went on to become the brand’s highest-selling nameplate. Produced until 1997 and then again from 1999 to 2002, the Cougar is also the second longest-running Mercury model, superseded only by the Grand Marquis.Come 2022, and the first-gen Cougar is by far the most sought-after iteration of the nameplate. And that’s not surprising because that’s when the Cougar was a full-fledged muscle car. Unlike the versions that followed, which, at some point, also included four-door sedans and wagons.
While popular with the Mercury crowd, the Cougar never reached the heights of the Mustang sales-wise. And I’ll let the numbers do the talking: while Ford sold almost 1.7 million Mustangs from 1967 to 1973, Mercury delivered only 614,279 units over the same period.
Yes, this means that the first-gen Cougar is notably rarer and harder to find than the Mustang. But this doesn’t make it more valuable or more sought-after than its Ford sibling. But some of them are indeed true gems that many of us won’t get to see in the metal very often.
The 1968 XR7-G is one of those cars. It was built in only 617 units, and just 14 got the mighty 428-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) Cobra Jet V8. The Eliminator isn’t as rare, with more than 4,500 made in 1969 and 1970, but it’s quite famous. Then there’s the Cougar GT-E, of which only 264 were made in 1968.
But the rarest version of the Cougar is not based on a certain trim package or drivetrain. It’s a regional model that was sold only in Atlanta and Washington DC in 1968 as the Cougar 500. Yup, a promotional model similar to the Mustang Twister Special and California Special.
What made the 500 special, you ask? Well, it didn’t come with notable extras beyond the “500” badges and racing flags on the rear fenders, but it’s rarer than any other Cougar out there. That’s because Mercury made only… drum roll… 54 of them.
Finished in white with a black pinstripe on the nose, the Cougar 500 was available with a red or black interior. The engine lineup included the 302-cubic-inch V8 and the 428 Cobra Jet. The former was fitted in 38 cars, while the Cobra Jet found its way in only 16.
How many of them have survived to see 2022? It’s a question I cannot answer, but one of the examples that made it was recently taken out of a barn in Willimantic, Connecticut. It spent about 31 years in hiding, and now it’s looking for a new owner that will put it back on the road.
Yes, it’s an unrestored survivor that’s highly original, but it will need a lot of work to become road-worthy again. It has some rust and a big dent in the left-side front fender and door, so I guess a full-blown restoration is the only way to go. And that will be an expensive affair.
The seller doesn’t provide images of the engine, but the Marti report that comes with the car confirms it’s a 302-4V version. Apparently, only 11 of the 38 302 cars had the 4V powerplant, and only seven of them left the factory with a black interior. Needless to say, you’d be hard-pressed to find another one like it anytime soon.