Benchmark Cat

In many ways, 1969 was a benchmark year for classic Cougars. The "next generation" Cats of '69 typify the American auto industry's "out with the old, in with the new" attitude that prevailed after WWII and continued through the 1980s.

The 1969 Cougars also clearly illustrate the dilemma faced by Lincoln-Mercury Division. On the one hand they had a popular design that far exceeded their original sales goals. On the other hand, the muscle car era was dawning and L-M marketing folks feared that the Cougar's European styling and road car image would be left in the dust by the high horsepower hot rods being cranked out by the competition.

After what we can imagine must have been some heated debates in the boardroom, the die was cast. The 1969 Cougar would begin a transition from sporty car to performance machine. The irony of this decision wouldn't become apparent for another year or so, when it was decided that the Mustang would undergo a major design change and the Cougar's performance image would have to be scrapped in favor of a luxury marketing plan in preparation for the new, larger body style in 1974.

But all that would be in the future. The big concern in designing the '69 Cat was how to turn it into a muscle car without completely alienating loyal Mercury owners who enjoyed driving an upscale personal sporty car. The resulting design and equipment offerings are an interesting blend of Cougar firsts and lasts.

Styling . . .

The most noticeable exterior change for '69 was a new profile, featuring a sweeping, sculpted curve that swept downward from front to rear.

Also of note was the fact that the 1969 Cougars are the only classic Cats to have a completely horizontal grille motif with no significant vertical break in the center.

Perhaps the most important body change was the introduction of a convertible.  Cougar enthusiasts had been clamoring for a rag top for two years and, in 1969, they finally got their wish.

Finally, the '69 Cat lost the vent wing windows that had been part of American car design since before WWII.  In their place was a "side-cowl ventilation" system to bring fresh air into the car without opening a window.


Performance . . .

In keeping with the Cougar's new performance image, a whole new line of engines were added to the equipment list.

Replacing the previous year's 302 2V standard engine was an all new 351 cubic inch version of Ford's "small block" with more horsepower and torque.  There was also a new FMX three-speed automatic to go with it.

For the performance buyer, there were two versions of the Cobra Jet on the option list, with or without Ram Air.  And, in April of '69, Ford's Boss 302 became available in Cougars.

This was also the final year for Ford's venerable 390 cubic inch engine.  Known as the Marauder engine in Mercury parlance, the 2V version was dropped in '69 and the 4V S code (or GT) version of the 390 would disappear in 1970.


Boss 302 4V 290 hp
351 2V 250 hp
351 4V 290 hp
CJ 428 4V 335 hp
CJ 428 4V Ram Air 335 hp
390 4V 320 hp


Of course, the big performance news for 1969 was the announcement of the Eliminator option packages in March.  In combination, the Eliminator Equipment and Decor options gave buyers hi-back Comfort-Weave vinyl buckets, a special instrument panel treatment, front and rear spoilers, a blacked out grille and tail light treatment, hood scoop, driver side remote control racing mirror, performance axle, and Elim graphics.

Interior . . .

In addition to gaining some space in all directions, Cougar interiors got adjustable head restraints, a perforated vinyl headliner and shoulder belts to go with the retractable seat belts.

The trademark Cougar toggle switches for accessory lighting were replaced with rocker switches and an all new four-pod instrument panel positioned all of the gauges directly in front of the driver.  An optional clock replaced 1968's odd placement of the oil pressure gauge in front of the passenger.

Power windows became an option for the first time in 1969 and heating/air conditioning controls were moved to a more central location.

The '69 model year also marked the final appearance of the bench seat option, which had been available since 1967.

Other firsts and lasts . . .

One of Ford's "better ideas" for '69 was gluing the door windows in place, instead of bolting them in as had been done and would be done in all other classic Cats.  If the significance of this escapes you, ask any 1969 Cougar owner to explain it.

A slightly better idea was a new electronic tail light sequencer to replace the mechanical models of previous years.

The '69 Cougar also received a larger gas tank (20 gallons), a larger trunk (by one cubic foot) and other various improvements, including a new wiring system featuring multiple connection couplers that were touted as being better insulated and more reliable.