1983 Mercury Cougar

Ford Motor Company was in a serious financial problem during the early 1980s. Not only did the global oil crisis, the US economy and recession, and goverment-mandated emissions laws of the late 1970s severely crimp any forward progress of the automotive industry, the styling of that era seemed to be in a bit of a rut as well. The only modern-looking car that Ford produced was the new Mustang (and arguably the Fairmont Futura). Granted, with Chrysler near bankruptcy and GM losing market share, it wasn’t exactly the most glamorous time to be in the auto industry. Still, Ford believed they could pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat sooner or later.

In 1980, the Cougar was abruptly downsized from its former two-ton heft and put on the Fox chassis, shared by many other Ford vehicles at the time. Mechanically this was a great move, as it future-proofed the car. The styling, though, was boxy and generic, a simple massaging of the former body which ended up looking a little sterile. In 1981, in an effort to bolster the Mercury model line, Ford resorted to slapping the Cougar name on a series of 4-door cars whose origin was the Fairmont/Zephyr line. And in 1982 the Cougar name was even adorned on a station wagon. Sales continue to plummet with no hope in sight, and badge engineering wouldn’t save Ford this time.

Meanwhile, Ford designers were at a crossroads: the 1980-82 Cougars weren’t selling well, performance was nonexistent, and any remaining semblance of Cougar heritage was being quickly lost. But the goal for an all-new sixth-generation Cougar (along with its corporate cousin Ford Thunderbird) was still slated for 1983. The designers presented Ford chief designer Jack Telnack with their preliminary drawings; he was underwhelmed to say the least. He now infamously asked them, “Would you be proud to have this car in your own driveway?” When the answers were a resounding “no”, he encouraged them to reach deeper and start again. The results were the 1983 Cougar and Thunderbird that we know today, truly modern aerodynamic masterpieces both then and now.


Still in the preliminary phase of the designs, the designers were told to maximize the differences between the Cougar and its mechanical cousin, the Thunderbird. A key prerequisite was a noticeable aerodynamic look, which not only made the shapes of the vehicles more fluid but also helped with fuel economy. Also of note was extensive use of computer-aided design (CAD), something that was once the stuff of fantasy, now a reality with the Cougar and Thunderbird.

The buying public was split evenly between the Thunderbird and the Cougar; they loved one and hated the other, mainly because of the roofline treatments.

One of the first new sketches was a lean, swoopy “luxury sport coupe” which Telnack decided to use later on another vehicle, the 1984 Lincoln Mark VII. Giving a similar fastback roofline to the Thunderbird meant that there was only one way to differentiate the Cougar: by going vertical. A near-upright back window treatment was chosen, which gave it the advantage vs. the Thunderbird in rear seat headroom, but conceded a lower drag coefficient (Cougar’s .40 versus .36 for the Thunderbird). The cars would share front and rear bumpers, hoods, fenders, doors and half of the glass. The rest of the body panels would be unique to each model. This parts sharing helped to keep tooling costs down, building in a bit more profit too.


The Launch

The cars debuted on February 26, 1983 as virtual mid-year models. Some initial problems—ramping up V8 production and getting the special uplevel model Thunderbird, the Turbo Coupe, into the mix—helped delay the launch by two full months. Ironically it didn’t even matter: both cars were instant hits and sales shot rapidly upwards. The buying public was split evenly between the Thunderbird and the Cougar; they loved one and hated the other, mainly because of the roofline treatments. And that actually was the plan for Ford’s marketing. The swoopy Thunderbird had a longer heritage and was the darling of NASCAR racers; the formal Cougar appealed to more luxury-oriented, sophisticated buyers. Even critics were divided, but all agreed that these cars marked the beginning of something new at Ford, and quality was always mentioned as an important improvement.


The Design

The pervasive description of the 1983 Mercury Cougar is that it blended formal and aerodynamic (“organic”) shapes. However, the word “sculpted” might be a much more accurate description. As slippery as it looked, the shapes created by the new body certainly could have been chiseled from steel instead of stamped. Most striking is the reverse “C” around the side quarter windows, creating a unique but rather obtrusive C-pillar. A few heritage features from previous Cougar models were included, especially the 3-tier taillights and trunklid raised center section (“hump”) derived from the late 1970s Cougars, the best-selling Cougar models in its history.


1983 Mercury Cougar

Other features continued the modern theme with an eye toward heritage. Aircraft-style doors improved sealing and reduced wind noise. A traditional Mercury waterfall grille, stand-up hood ornament, deeply recessed quad headlights and integrated side markers completed the slightly canted front end. There was still chrome on the car, but it was much more understated and refined, accenting key parts of the car like the headlight buckets, B-pillars, greenhouse area and the horizontal wraparound beltline molding. The Fox chassis’ relatively low cowl allowed for nice touches like concealed wipers under the edge of the hood. Fit and finish for that era were surprisingly good, and the car felt exceptionally tight thanks to extensive use of adhesives and modern manufacturing techniques. Even the paint was high-tech: a new, state-of-the-art laser guided paint system was installed at Ford’s Lorain, OH, USA assembly plant specifically for these cars. As a result the paint finishes were markedly improved over past years’ offerings.

Only two Cougar models were available for 1983: the base model (technically called the GS but never labeled as such), and the luxury/sport-oriented LS. Both designations had been used in the previous version of the Cougar. This was one of the few model years in Cougar history where no XR7 model was offered. That model would have to wait one more year.



The options list was exceptionally long, unusual for a first-year car. But that was simply a testament to Ford’s marketing department, which had a knack for listening to customers very closely and therefore translating their wishes to the options list. Popular options, such as power windows, air conditioning and speed control, could be bundled in a PEP (preferred equipment package), saving customers hundreds or even thousands of dollars over ordering them separately. And that was important because, even though the economy had started to marginally improve by 1983, it was still sometimes difficult for North Americans to purchase a new car. And the Cougar was not cheap: its base price of over $8000 US was noticeably above its competition, and a fully loaded car easily broke the 5-figure mark. Ford touted the Cougar’s superior build quality and shape to overcome the price differences, and fortunately that strategy worked.

Only two Cougar models were available for 1983: the base GS model, and the luxury/sport-oriented LS.

Still, dealers had so much demand for the Cougar that they even sold a good number of “value leader” cars, which was a fancy way of saying “stripped down model”. Ford had required all Lincoln-Mercury dealerships to carry at least one of these cars. No power windows or locks, no a/c, no passenger side mirror, no creature comforts, even a radio delete for credit—this is virtually unheard of today, but in the early 1980s a lot of cars were sold like this. It was a clever way for a customer with little money or perhaps not-so-good credit to still get into the Cougar’s sumptuous shape. Today, a value leader car is considered a pretty rare sighting, as most of the cars sold were equipped with popular options.


Drivetrain & Chassis

Mechanically, the wheelbase was now 104″, down from the 112″ of the 1980-82 era, but still larger than a Mustang’s 100″ wheelbase, sliding the Cougar squarely into midsize range. Rear seat room was still good for its time (although it’s relatively cramped by recent standards). A modified MacPherson strut/A-arm suspension, a Fox-chassis feature, delivered a decent ride with deft handling. The rear axle was a traditional 4-point configuration with outboard shocks and springs. Braking was handled by rather smallish 10″ discs in front and 9″ drums in back. A decent-sized front sway bar was standard, with V8 models receiving a thin rear sway bar. Wheels were a standard 14″ with several hubcap styles, and a metric TRX alloy rim with performance tires was optional.

Engine choices for the truncated 1983 model year consisted of a carbureted 2-bbl 112hp 3.8L (232 cid) V6 as the standard engine, and the optional EEC-III controlled fuel injected 5.0L (302 cid) V8 putting out 130hp. The V8 was considered a running addition, although the delay in the car’s launch probably allowed for full V8 production from the start. There was no higher performance engine for 1983 because there was no XR7 model. Canadian models had carburetion for both engines; they would gain fuel injection in subsequent model years.

The standard 3.8L V6 engine.

The optional 5.0L V8 engine.



The interior was largely a carryover design from the theme found in 1980-82 XR7 models. Twin bucket seats with a full-length console were standard on all Cougar models. The base door panels featured a one-year-only Cougar emblem. Leather seats were optional. Also optional was a talking chime module which was prone to breaking and was only offered this model year.

The base (GS) model’s interior featured brushed aluminum-look dash panels and matching analog instrument cluster. The base instrumentation was minimal at best, since Ford could not afford to create an all new interior—that would have to wait until the 1985 model year.


The Cougar LS interior had rather rare woodgrain dash panels. Also shown here is the optional full electronic instrument cluster. Leather seating was an option.


The standard console panel housed controls for power mirrors, seats, and windows if the vehicle was so equipped. An illuminated ash tray was standard.

Early 1983 cars had this mesh-style map pocket and shortened armrest, while later door panels had the full one-piece armrest with integrated map pocket.

The Cougar had its own unique dash emblem on the passenger side. Shown here is a woodgrain panel from an LS model.

The 1983-only steering wheel was similar to 1980-82 XR-7 wheels. Base GS models had a brushed aluminum center; the LS had woodgrain.

The instrument cluster was sparse at best. Warning lamps covered basic functions. A unique grid pattern was printed on the speedometer face.

The dash center stack featured three main slots and many options were available (ATC, two-post vs. electronic radio, Premium Sound, power antenna, etc.) in this section.

This base (GS) door panel is very uncommon: remote driver’s mirror, manual crank window, and no power door locks.

Cougar LS door panel in Academy Blue. The LS panel was unique and more complex.

The standard console for 1983-84 was full length. The 1983 version featured an inset courtesy lamp that worked off a switch.

Opalescent Interior Option

Among the rarest of the Fox Cougar-era interiors is the Opalescent interior option, which featured white door panels and vinyl seats. The option was available in combination with Medium Red, Academy Blue, Charcoal, and Desert Tan interiors. This was a one-year only option for 1983. It’s taken us well over a decade to find photos of this interior, even though it’s been well documented since the cars were new. This leads us to believe that they were very low in production.

The Opalescent interior in Academy Blue.

The door panel in Opalescent. Note the lack of carpeting in the lower section and the lower armrest/map pocket area.

A look at the Opalescent rear seat. Fox Mustangs of this era had similar interior options so it seems that Ford carried over a similar package to the Cougar.

The Opalescent interior in Charcoal.



This rear quarter view shows the muscular flanks as well as the 3-tier taillamps that harken back to the 1977-78 models.

The front end featured amber side markers and one-year-only white (“clear”) front turn signals. Quad headlamps receded deep into the headlamp buckets.

Optional cornering lamps were recessed into the front side moldings.

Both the GS and LS models featured a chrome side mirror. Manual mirrors were standard; dual power were optional.

The vent window was a popular option, and it sometimes substituted for air conditioning. It required dual power mirrors.

The waterfall grille featured MERCURY nomenclature. The one-year-only upright hood ornament is shown here.

Unique to 1983 cars is side nomenclature. The LS model could be standalone but when coupled with the V8 engine, the EFI emblem also was affixed.

The Cougar LS featured a standard round electroluminescent emblem (“coach lamp”) that illuminated with the parking lamps.

All 1983 models (GS and LS) had B-pillar panels with an inset chrome strip. Beginning in 1984 that would be reserved for the LS model only.

The three-tier taillamps have a history as far back as the 1977 model. This was a modern interpretation that worked beautifully.

A cutaway view of the all-new 1983 Mercury Cougar.


It turns out that Ford’s gamble with aerodynamic cars was the correct one. It not only paid off with the Cougar and Thunderbird but it paved the way for equally important future cars such as the 1984 Lincoln Mark VII, the 1984 Tempo/Topaz, and the 1986 Taurus/Sable. Sales were noticeably improved over previous years and the Cougar now had one thing that it hadn’t had in a very long time: clout. It instantly became the benchmark for midsize rear-drive luxury coupes and left its domestic and foreign competition scrambling for a response. Still, Ford wasn’t resting on its laurels. The subsequent model years would see the return of a performance-oriented XR7 model and refined styling. The interior, while not horrible, needed freshening almost from day one, and even Ford officials have admitted that it wasn’t their best, but it was adequate enough for launch. Thanks to increased profits from the sales of the Cougar and Thunderbird, Ford was able to attend to these issues in relatively short time. For now, there was an all-new Cat on the prowl in the streets of North America, Lincoln-Mercury dealers had a hit product, and things were looking bright for the first time in a long while.

1983 Mercury Cougar

  • Stand-up hood ornament (one year only)
  • Clear turn signals in front bumper (one year only, although some early 1984s had them)
  • “Electronic Fuel Injection” fender emblems (one year only)
  • “LS” fender emblems (one year only)
  • Metal waterfall grille (found on some models; later grilles were plastic)
  • Windshield washer nozzles (redesigned in 1984)
  • Hood hinges (redesigned in 1984)
  • Stalk-mounted horn (one year only, although some early 1984s had them)
  • Talking voice alert chime module (replaced with standard chime in 1984)
  • Steering wheel (4-spoke design, one year only)
  • Radio panels (chrome outline was one year only)
  • GS brushed aluminum dash panels (lighter than 1984 panels)
  • GS gauge cluster (lighter than 1984 cluster)
  • GS door panels (cat head emblems)
  • GS steering wheel center (brushed aluminum, one year only)
  • LS door panels (cat head emblems)
  • LS steering wheel center (woodgrain, one year only)
  • Walnut interior color (one year only)
  • Opal two-tone seat option (one year only)
  • Polar White, Light Charcoal, Light Academy Blue exterior colors (light blues were unique to each model year)

Tech Specs

Standard: 112 hp 3.8L (232 cid) V6
Optional: 130 hp CFI 5.0L (302 cid) V8
3-speed automatic (C5) – standard on V6
4-speed overdrive automatic (AOD) – optional on V6, standard on V8
Front: 10.0″ vented disc
Rear: 9.0″ drum
Wheelbase: 104.0″
Overall Length: 197.6″
Overall Width: 71.1″
Overall Height: 53.4″
Cargo Capacity: 14.6 cubic feet w/mini spare; 13.2 cubic feet with full spare
Fuel Capacity: 21.0 gallons
Passenger Rating: 4
3099 lbs. (V6 GS)
The stand up hood ornament; chrome strips on the B-pillars (all models); 3-tier taillights; clear front turn signals. 1983 LS models had a fender badge behind the front wheel. All 1983’s had a square-centered steering wheel.
V6-232 3.8L Emissions Recalls
1. 88E74 FEB 89 Recall 88E74 Emission Control System Modification
V6-232 3.8L General Recalls
1. M24M25 AUG 83 Temporary Reduction In Power Steering Assist
2. #0782021983 FEB 83 Service Recall and Owner Notification Program Index Update
V8-302 5.0L General Recalls
1. M24M25 AUG 83 Temporary Reduction In Power Steering Assist
2. #0782021983 FEB 83 Service Recall and Owner Notification Program Index Update

Production Breakdown

TOTAL: 75,743

Note: We will post separate breakdown figures for the GS and LS models when we get them.

1983 Mercury Cougar

1983 Cougar Wheels


Left to right: TRX 390mm aluminum wheel; 14″ locking wire wheel cover; 14″ polycast road wheel; 14″ luxury wheel cover (standard on LS); 14″ deluxe wheel cover (standard on GS).



NOTE: S=standard, O=optional


3.8L V6 engine S S
Automatic transmission with locking torque converter S S
Variable-ratio power rack-and-pinion steering S S
Power brakes (front disc, rear drum) S S
Disc brake audible wear sensors S S
P195/75R14 WSW low rolling resistance steel-belted radial tires, all-season S S
Mini-spare tire S S
Dual-note horn S S
Four-bar link coil spring rear suspension S S
Hybrid MacPherson strut front suspension S S
Front stabilizer bar S S
Gas-pressurized front struts and rear shocks S S
Low friction ball joints S S
Side-fill fuel tank – 21-gallon capacity S S
Dual braking system with brake failure warning light S S
Coolant recovery system S S
Interior hood release S S
Dual rectangular halogen headlamps S S
Viscous drive fan S S
Gas cap tether S S
Increased use of precoated panels S S
Contour sport seats S S
Dual seatback recliners S S
Inertia seatback release S S
Cloth seat trim S S
Full console S S
Cloth headliner S S
Analog clock S S
Luxury steering wheel S S
Warning chimes S S
Glove box light S S
Brushed instrument panel appliqués S S
Locking glove box S S
Color-keyed seat belts with tension reliever S S
Steering column-mounted controls for wiper/washer, high/low headlamp beam, horn and turn signal S S
Burloom luggage compartment trim S S
Luggage compartment light S S
Full, soft door trim panels with door pull straps, door map pockets and carpeted lower portion S S
10-oz floor carpeting S S
Front and rear integral bumper rub strips and extensions S S
Center pillar appliqué S S
Hidden windshield wipers S S
Bodyside accent stripes S S
Left-hand remote control mirror (bright) S n/a
Color-keyed soft front and rear fascias S S
Vertical bar grille with bright surround molding S S
Hood ornament S S
Bright headlamp and parking lamp surround moldings S S
Rear pillar ornament S S
Deluxe wheel covers S S
Bright belt molding S S
Hi-line doors with concealed drip moldings S S
Bright door frame, windshield and backlite moldings S S
Charcoal lower bodyside molding with bright accent S S
Full width wraparound taillamp S S
Tinted glass O S
Luxury cloth Contour Sport seats in unique sew style S
Luxury door and quarter trim panels S
Dark Elm Burl wood tone instrument panel appliqués S
16-oz carpeting S
Visor vanity mirror S
Luxury steering wheel with wood tone appliqué insert S
Power windows O S
Carpeted luggage compartment trim S
Dual power remote-control convex mirrors O S
Bright rocker panel molding O S
Luxury wheel covers O S
Hood accent stripes O S
“LS” fender badge S
Electroluminescent coach lamps O S
Air conditioning, manual O O
Air conditioning, automatic O O
Anti-theft alarm system O O
Auto-lamp on/off delay system O O
Traction-Lok axle O O
Heavy duty battery O O
Front license plate bracket O O
Electronic digital clock O O
Front cornering lamps O O
Electric rear window defroster O O
Electronic fuel-injected 5.0 liter V8 engine with automatic overdrive transmission (not available in California; late availability) O O
Electronic instrument cluster O O
Illuminated entry system O O
Keyless entry system O O
Locking fuel filler door O O
Front carpeted floor mats O O
Dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors O O
Automatic dim day/night rearview mirror O O
Automatic parking brake release O O
Clearcoat metallic paint O O
Two-tone paint O O
Lower bodyside protection O O
Half-vinyl roof O O
Flip up open air sunroof O O
Functional sport driver and passenger seats O O
Speed control O O
Leather wrapped steering wheel (required speed control) O O
Tilt steering wheel O O
Heavy duty suspension O O
Tripminder computer O O
Vent windows (require tinted glass and dual electric mirrors) O O
Vocalized warning system (require diagnostic warning lights) O O
Interval windshield wipers O O
Power antenna O O
Power lock group O O
6-way power driver’s seat O O
6-way dual power seats O O
Dual power functional sport seats O O
BSW = black sidewall; WSW = white sidewall
P205/70R14 BSW radial (includes handling suspension) O O
P205/70R14 WSW radial O O
220/55R390 BSW radial (includes TRX handling suspension) O O
220/55R390 WSW radial O O
P195/75R14 WSW low rolling resistance steel-belted radial tires, all-season S S
Conventional spare tire O O
Aluminum TRX wheels O O
Polycast wheels O O
Wire locking wheel covers (not available with TRX tires, aluminum wheels or polycast wheels) O O
AM/FM stereo O O
AM/FM with 8-track O O
AM/FM stereo with cassette O O
Electronic AM/FM stereo search O O
Electronic AM/FM stereo search with cassette O O
Premium sound system O O
Warning lights for the following: headlamps on, low fuel, low washer fluid, low beam out, taillamps out, door ajar, brake lamp out
Includes digital speedometer, electronic fuel gauge, electronic digital clock, unique cluster trim cover
Upgraded suspension components
Includes heavy-duty shocks, rear springs and rear stabilizer bar (aka TRX option)
Includes illuminated entry system. Required power lock group
Includes engine compartment light, dual-beam dome/map light and instrument panel courtesy lights
Includes 16-oz floor carpet and luxury luggage compartment trim
Includes power door locks and power decklid release (required with keyless entry system and/or anti-theft alarm system)
Includes upgraded cooling system, upgraded suspension, auxiliary automatic transmission oil cooler, heavy-duty tires, heavy-duty battery and alternator, wiring harness and power steering
* Late availability
Includes cloth pouch with disposable flashlight, coated gloves, screwdriver handle with four bits, two light bulbs, one box of fuses, pliers, tire pressure indicator, two triangular emergency plastic reflectors, jumper cables and first aid kit
1983 Mercury Cougar

Exterior Colors

All information about your interior and exterior colors can be found on the vehicle certification label, located inside the driver’s door jamb. For the exterior colors listed below, the paint code is also listed next to each color.

NOTE: Colors are an approximate representation. Due to differences in screen types and settings, true accurate color representation is not possible.

Standard Exterior Colors
1C / Black
9D / Polar White
1M / Light Charcoal
24 / Medium Red
38 / Light Academy Blue
9P / Desert Tan
9Q / Light Desert Tan
6Z / Pastel French Vanilla

NOTE: A proposed 1983 color called Loden Green (4Y) was discontinued before production of the 1983 Cougar. It is not believed that any production cars had that color.

Clearcoat Exterior Colors
92 / Dark Charcoal Metallic
1Q / Silver Metallic
2U / Medium Red Metallic
9Z / Midnight Academy Blue Metallic
9S / Walnut Metallic
Tu-Tone Exterior Colors
1Q Silver Metallic / 92 Dark Charcoal Metallic
1C Black / 92 Dark Charcoal Metallic


Interior Seating and Door Panels

GS Model
Standard Contour Sport Seats in Charcoal Cloth

GS Model
Optional Functional Sport Seats in Desert Tan Cloth

LS Model
Standard Contour Sport Seats in Walnut Cloth


Interior Color and Trim Availability

This is a two-character code on the vehicle certification label. The first character is the material and seat type; the second character is the color.

1983 Mercury Cougar