Gentleman’s Turbo: 1986 Mercury Cougar XR7

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When it comes to sleeper coupes of the 80s, the Mercury Cougar XR7 is sadly overlooked. Featuring the same turbocharged powerplant as the more sporting Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, the Cougar was the choice for drivers seeking a more cosseted driving experience while still having access to the turbo rush that made these big-body coupes so interesting. This example here on craigslist is said to run and drive, and the seller is including some parts that may help the XR7 outhustle your neighbor’s Thunderbird. 

The interior was essentially the same across the board, with deeply bolstered sport seats and a T-bar shifter (if you didn’t luck out and find a manual transmission example – only available on the Thunderbird, I believe). While never intended to be a strong handler, there’s a deep aftermarket for these cars that should help eliminate some of the body roll it likely has, as some fatter tires and beefier swaybars should be easy upgrades for the next owner.

The seller notes the Cougar comes with the parts necessary to upgrade to a bigger VAM and intercooler. This strikes me as a fun project to take on, as the body looks quite nice (as does the interior), and having a lazy personal luxury coupe with some extra tricks under the hood could surprise many an un-suspecting import driver. Add the suspension upgrades I referenced and you’ve got a car that can live as a comfortable daily and a turbocharged two-door that can boogie when asked.

Image courtesy of

This vintage advertisement for the Cougar really does capture the image Mercury was attempting to cultivate. All the performance you could ask for in a wrapper that never screamed “hot rod.” Whether that actually worked, I don’t know – but I can recall seeing a fair number of these in faculty parking lots when I was in school, and they still pop up in the pick-n-pull yards today. Would you restore this one to OEM condition or convert it into a surprising sleeper?  Thanks to Barn Finds reader Miguel for the find.

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  1. CCFisher

    84-86 and 89-90 Cougar XR-7s were available with a 5-speed.

    Like 9

    Most cars of the 80s were poorly built performance dogs… & visual sleeping pills.This one hits that trifecta.(imo)

    Like 5
    • Jett

      Exactly that—in your opinion.

      Like 4
  3. Fiete T.

    Bought an ’85 Turbo Thunderbird at an impound auction for $330 in 2001. 98k on it, 5-speed, sunroof, fixed a few things on it and sold in about 3 months later for $1800. Was a nice car

    Like 2
  4. AZD

    I remember seeing these as a kid and thinking they were one of the ugliest cars of the time. As an adult I realize I was a pretty sharp kid.

    The rear windows always looked like the designers just searched through glass catalog, found a piece that fit, then turned it upside down for flair. In fact, the entire design has that feel. Nothing blends or flows.

    Personally the only modification I’d perform would be to turn it into whatever cash I could get for it before the bank closes.

    I realize I’m being mean but can’t help it. It’s so, so ugly. If we love the “ok” cars of our youth, maybe we loathe the “terrible” ones? Something to think about.

    Like 1
    • Jett

      Why do people like you insist on commenting on a car you obviously don’t like? I sure don’t search out cars I dislike and comment on them.

      Like 9
      • Todd Priest

        Exactly. I was wondering this as well but normally keep to my own business. Some people here seem a bit on the unhappy side.

        Like 2
      • AZD

        The internet is a funny thing. Comment that an ugly car is ugly and suddenly you’re unpatriotic. No logic connects the two thoughts, only ragged emotion. I’ve commented on plenty of other American steel that suits me fine. In my opinion, which may be only mine and not shared by anyone else, this is one ugly montage of Detroit’s worst. Keep your Jetts cool, man, and wear that Bowtie proud. There’s plenty of good old ‘mercun steel to go around.

        Like 0
  5. Miguel

    When I saw this advertised I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen one of these compared to the Turbo Coupe.

    As “TurboCoupe” said there were about 6500 turbos made but out a total production of 135,904, that was about 4.7%.

    That would be rare comparatively.

    Like 2
  6. Jett

    Man, I’d love to have this, and other than a mild upgrade in the rubber, keep it pretty much stock. Undercover muscle is cool.

    Like 1
  7. PRA4SNW

    Back when I was looking for an Xr4ti, I called all of the local Mercury dealers and asked them if they had any used Merkur Xr4ti’s with manual transmission on the lot. One of them said yes, so I went to have a look.

    The salesman showed me one of these, in white, with an automatic. When I mentioned the car I was looking for, he had no clue what I was talking about.

    I did think that these were nice looking cars.

    Like 1
  8. Todd Priest

    My father had one that was dark blue. Bought it new and it was slated to be my first car upon graduation two years after purchase but I screwed that up. It was a nice car at that time and I would have loved to have it as my very first vehicle. My brother was luckier (and was on better behavior) and received a 1972 Olds Cutlass for Christmas!!

    Like 1
    • Todd Priest

      Actually it was an ’83. I think that was the first year of this body style. had to rethink that because I graduated in 85.

      Like 0
  9. CanuckCarGuy

    Awesome car, although the 5 speed would be preferable, this is a beauty. I had an ’87 TBird Turbo, but secretly preferred the look of the ’83 to ’86 Cougars…I’d love to own this one, even with the automatic.

    Haters can’t appreciate that a 2.3 turbo with factory intercooler and mild tweaks, will put many V8s to shame.

    Like 3
  10. PRA4SNW

    I wonder how many came with the 5 speed. I think the automatic fits the image this car was trying to portray. And something tells me that the dealers weren’t jumping at ordering manuals for their lots.

    Like 0
  11. DaytUte

    I have an 85 XR7 auto and it’s my winter beater.
    Autos really suck in these cars need to 5 speed swap if it’s clean.

    Like 1
  12. Charles Russell

    I had a 86 turbo with a 5 speed. It was white with red pinstripes and red leather interior. Also had a sunroof. It had a special body kit on it from the factory. It was 1 of 3 built for that year. I think about that car often. I loved it. Never should had sold that or my 65 Stang 2+2. I also had a xr4ti. That was an awesome car. That one got totaled from a woman running a red light. Hit me near head on.

    Like 0

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