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Second generation (1971–1973)
For 1971, the Cougar was restyled, weighed less and had only a one-inch-longer wheelbase than its predecessors (112 vs. 111 – which was similar to GM’s intermediate-sized two-door models such as the Olds Cutlass). The front end now featured four exposed headlights; the disappearing headlights were eliminated. The center grille piece was now larger. The rear featured a semi-fastback with a “flying buttress” sail-panel. The convertible returned, as did the XR-7 and the GT package. The Eliminator package was eliminated, but the Ram Air option remained. The engine lineup was revised for 1971 as well. Now only three engines were offered—the standard 240 hp (179 kW) 351 Windsor 2-barrel V8, the 285 hp (213 kW) 351 Cleveland 4-barrel V8 and the 370 hp (276 kW) 429 Super Cobra Jet 4-barrel V8.
By 1972, the climate had begun to change as the muscle car era ended. No longer able to use gross power numbers, the manufacturers had to use net power figures, which dropped the once mighty figures down substantially. Engines were shuffled around a bit. They were now the standard 163 hp (122 kW) 351 Cleveland 2-barrel V8, 262 hp (195 kW) 351 Cleveland 4-barrel V8, 266 hp (198 kW) 351 4-barrel Cobra Jet V8. Other than that, the Cougar remained a carryover from 1971. Only minor trim details were changed in 1972. The big blocks were gone for 1972 and 1973. The days of performance oriented muscle cars were coming to an end.
Aside from minor grille and taillight changes, 1973 would be largely a carryover year for the Cougar, but it would mark the last year of the Mustang-based Cougar, and the end of Cougar convertibles. Many changes were scheduled for the 1974 models. Power figures continued to change as new federal/EPA regulations began their stranglehold on the V8 engines. The new figures continued to fluctuate, but engine options remained unchanged from 1972. The standard engine continued to be the 168 hp (125 kW) 351 Cleveland 2-barrel V8. Optional was the 264 hp (197 kW) 351 Cobra Jet V8. The following years changed to the Thunderbird/Torino chassis.
Total Production: 1971: 62,864 1972: 53,702 1973: 60,628
In 1967, renowned NASCAR race car builder Bud Moore campaigned Mercury Cougars in the Trans-Am Series with Ford Motor Company factory support. The team featured super star caliber drivers such as Captain Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Peter Revson, David Pearson and Ed Leslie. Factory support dried up towards the end of the season and the Cougars began to show their wear. Ultimately Mercury lost the championship to Ford by two points.
In 1968, Bud Moore took his Cougars NASCAR racing in the newly formed Grand American series. Star driver Tiny Lund dominated the series and took the championship.
After the Cougar changed to the Thunderbird platform in 1974 the bodystyle was raced in NASCAR. The Wood Brothers Racing team with David Pearson and then later Neil Bonnett was very successful with the car and scored a number of victories until the bodystyle became ineligible following the 1980 season. The next year (1981) saw the previous Cougar teams switch to the Thunderbird when NASCAR mandated the smaller (110″ wheel based) cars, though oddly the Thunderbirds had to have their wheel bases streched 6″, as the production cars wheelbase was only 104″. From 1989 to 1990, Lincoln-Mercury Motorsport fielded Cougars of the new body style in the GTO class of the IMSA GT Championship. The cars collected the championship both years, and continued the teams’ streak to 7 manufacturer’s championships.
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