Mercury Cougar XR7-G History

Dan Gurney Special Sticker
During the 1967 and 1968 model years, Cougars with the Dan Gurney Special Option package were identified by a sticker in the passenger side rear window.

The year 1967 was sensational for Lincoln-Mercury, with the introduction of Cougar exceeding all sales forecast expectations.  The Cougar racing team was very successful as well, placing second in the SCCA group II sedan racing series, known today as TransAm.  Dan Gurney was the team captain of the Cougar racing team and, as part of his contract, Lincoln-Mercury could use his name and likeness for advertising and promotion.

1968 Mercury Cougar XR7-G
Introduced during the 1968 model year, the XR7-G was the second and far broader Cougar option package associated with Dan Gurney.

Taking advantage of their agreement with Gurney, L-M introduced a sales promotion during the 1967 model year with an option package called the Dan Gurney Special.  The package consisted of a sticker on the passenger rear window, chrome engine dress up kit and turbine wheel covers.  The Dan Gurney Special option continued into the 1968 model year, but only included the window sticker and wheel covers.

Then, during the 1968 model year, Lincoln-Mercury introduced the XR7-G option, which was also promoted through the use of Dan Gurney’s name (the G stood for Gurney).  The existence of two Gurney option packages has caused much confusion among collectors over the years.  To clear up any misunderstandings we have provided a comparison (below) of the equipment included in each option package.

Dan Gurney Special and XR7-G Option Comparison

Dan Gurney Special Option

  • Vinyl seat upholstery and standard Cougar interior
  • Body code 65A
  • Dan Gurney Special sticker in the passenger rear window
  • Turbine wheel covers (1967 & 1968)
  • Chrome engine dress up kit (1967 only)

XR7-G Option

  • XR-7 interior including leather seat upholstery, wood grained dash with tachometer, trip odometer, oil pressure and amp gauges, map lights and rear seat courtesy lighting
  • Body Code 65B
  • Unique interior console with switches for fog lamps and sunroof (even on cars without sunroof!)
  • Aluminum running cat valve covers were installed sporadically during production
  • Aluminum wheels made by Rader (early cars) or Cougar styled steel wheels with XR7-G center caps
  • Lucas or Marchal Fog lights in a unique front valance panel
  • Bullet shaped remote controlled racing side view mirror
  • Fiberglas hood scoop, non functional except 428 CJ
  • Functional hood scoop with ram air on 428 CJ models only
  • Chrome locking hood pins
  • Vinyl roof covering
  • Leather door pull straps
  • XR7-G trunk lock cover
  • Vinyl wrapped steering wheel with gold Cougar emblem
  • Dashboard identification Cougar XR7-G in gold
  • Wood shift knob with inlaid gold running cat (automatic equipped cars only)
  • XR7-G badges on passenger side headlamp cover and C-pillars
  • Rear valance with chrome cutouts for slash cut “pipe-in-pipe” exhaust tips
  • A third, extra-loud horn, made by Delco-Remy

The XR7-G project  was assigned to Shelby Automotive. By 1968 Carroll Shelby was losing control of this operation, partly because he had lost his lease on the Shelby production facilities on LAX airport property in Los Angeles, California.  Because of this, 1968 Shelby Mustang production was moved to the A.O. Smith factory in the suburban Detroit, Michigan area.  A.O. Smith was the fabricator of Corvette fiberglass bodies from 1953 until 1966 under contract to GM, and the firm was happy to get the work since GM had taken the Corvette body contract in house.

Dan Gurney with an XR7-G Mockup
Dan Gurney has always maintained that he had nothing to do with the XR7-G besides posing for photos, like this shot taken with an XR7-G mock-up. Note the 1967 style rear view mirror and the non-production side marker lights.

Somehow it was decided to build a Cougar with a performance orientation similar to the Shelby Mustangs.  Dan Gurney has maintained in interviews over the years that he had nothing to do with the XR7-G other than posing for advertisements.  Carroll Shelby was on the board of directors of Shelby Automotive and was involved in the day to day decisions to some degree.

XR7-G Components Installed by A.O. Smith
Some of the XR7-G components installed by A.O. Smith (clockwise from upper left): hood scoop, wood automatic gear shift knob, fog lamps, and styled steel wheels with XR7-G center caps.

The XR7-G was Mercury’s equivalent to a Shelby Mustang.  Like the Shelby Mustang, vehicles were delivered to the A.O. Smith facility in groups for conversion.  A.O. Smith fabricated the fiberglass hood scoops in-house.  Many other parts were out-sourced.  The original concept of the G included aluminum “Rader” wheels made by Trans American Products, an after market wheel manufacturer.  The emblems on the steering wheel, trunk latch, headlight cover, and roof pillars were sourced from ASCO (not to be confused with ASC).  Fog lamps were made by Lucas or Marchal.  The outside rear view mirror was made by Talbot.

Because all XR7-G consoles have a sunroof switch it could be assumed that all cars were originally intended to have a sunroof, however internal Shelby documents show us that there were cars ordered both with and without sunroofs.  In any case most XR7-Gs were shipped to another Detroit area contractor for sunroof installation.  The American Sunroof Corporation (ASC) was started by a pair of German immigrants who had previously worked in Germany installing sunroofs. Heinz Prechter and Werner Miess were the first two employees of the company.

XR7-G Sunroof
Sunroofs were installed in both XR7-Gs and other Cougars by American Sunroof Corporation.

According to Mr. Miess, finished XR7-Gs arrived at the company on rail cars along with standard Cougars. The headliners were carefully removed and sunroof assemblies made by Bosch were welded in place. The original headliner was unstitched at the rear bow and then new material sewn in to make a single panel for the sunroof area.  Some XR7-Gs also received a separate fiberglass access panel to cover the mechanism at the front.  After the sunroofs were installed a vinyl top was applied.  Finished cars went back to Fomoco for distribution through regular channels.

Original XR7-G Pricing

To purchase a new XR7-G back in 1968 you had to order an XR-7, plus the XR7-G option package and the required options associated with the G option.  Thus, the 1968 purchase price of an XR7-G would have been as follows:

Cougar XR-7$ 3,231.91
XR7-G Option (includes all G items plus vinyl roof)666.95
AM Radio w/Antenna (required option)61.40
Power Steering (required option)95.00
TOTAL (not including tax and transportation charges)$ 4,055.26

The car you could have purchased for the price in our example would have been a 302 2V powered XR7-G with a three speed manual transmission, drum brakes and a heater.  One such car was produced, however most cars were ordered loaded with such options as:

Air Conditioning$ 360.40
Tinted Glass30.25
Power Disc Brakes64.85

Add in one of the optional engines, and the typical retail price of a new XR7-G easily exceeded $4,500, and the window sticker on a fully loaded car could add up to more than $5000.  That kind of money would buy a brand new Thunderbird or a nice used Lincoln in 1968!

The XR7-G In Today’s Market

XR7-G Badge
Badge of distinction! When L-M placed this medallion on a Cat’s grille and C-pillars, the car instantly became a very special Cougar.

Classic Cougars are finally receiving the respect they’ve long deserved among classic car enthusiasts, and the demand for rare “limited production” models–GT-Es and XR7-Gs, for example–is on the rise.  XR7-Gs equipped with 428 Cobra Jet engines (all with Ram Air and functional hood scoops) are in the greatest demand among Gs, since only 14 were produced.

Rarity, in itself, seemingly has little to do with today’s values, as evidenced by the fact that the most common Gs produced–the 188 XR7-Gs produced as Hertz rental cars–are the second most sought after variant.  The Hertz Gs are nicely optioned cars with the 390-4V engine and sunroof, and the added cachet associated with the Hertz “Rent-a-Racer” program puts these cars solidly above a similarly equipped non-Hertz XR7-G.

XR7-G Cobra Jet
The most sought after XR7-Gs are those equipped with the 428 Cobra Jet ram air engine. Only 14 of these cars were produced.

XR7-Gs powered by one of the 302 engines (2V or 4V) are popular among enthusiasts who like to drive their cars to shows and on other occasions.  Of course, in terms of numbers produced, the rarest of the XR7-Gs is the single 302 2V car produced with a three speed manual transmission.  Strangely, if this car exists today and were sold, it would be among the least desirable XR7-Gs.

Prices in the Summer of 2001 are likely to be in the $20,000.00 range for a well restored Hertz XR7-G, and history shows that prices won’t go down in the future.  XR7-Gs with 302 4V power are a good deal in the $15,000 range for nicely restored examples.  Consider that it would cost twice that to restore one and the numbers are even more attractive!

The Rader Wheel Story

Rader Aluminum Wheel
This is the Rader aluminum wheel originally intended for the XR7-G. Tire sealing and metal fatigue problems apparently led to their replacement with Cougar styled steel wheels. This example of the Rader aluminum XR7-G wheel is owned by Ernie Spragg.

The original plan was for all XR7-Gs to be equipped with Rader aluminum wheels made by Trans American Products.  However, problems must have developed early on because the Rader wheels were recalled by Ford.  In a letter to Mercury dealers dated May 7, 1968 the factory had this to say, “Subsequent to the announcement of this vehicle and the start of production, we have found that air leaks may develop in the attachment of the rim to the cast center section.  We have also found some wheel retaining nuts that have become cracked due to improper heat treatment and certain dimensional variations in the wheels.”

Dealers replaced the original wheels with Cougar styled steel wheels at no charge to the owner.  How many cars were actually produced with Rader wheels and when production changed will probably never be known.

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