Mercury officially stopped producing the factory Cougar convertible in 1973. After that, no other Cougar left the factory as a convertible model. But as always, the aftermarket tends to fill voids left by car companies to the point where the aero Fox-chassis Cougar was transformed into convertible form.
The Cougar’s new aero body style was a tantalizing prospect for a retractable roof.
The 1980’s saw quite a boom in aftermarket conversions for all vehicles, beginning around 1982, because there weren’t any factory convertibles of any kind for nearly a decade. This was due to poor overall car sales, a recession in the U.S. economy, and high oil prices. But savvy aftermarket companies listened to what the public wanted, found their niche and starting kicking out droptops of popular coupes. The Fox-chassis Cougar was no exception, and the new aero body style in 1983 was a tantalizing prospect for a retractable roof. At least three different companies offered a convertible Cougar between 1983 and 1988, but none in large numbers. As a result these cars have become a sort of “holy grail” for Fox Cougar collectors and admirers.
We’ve documented quite a few Fox-chassis Cougar convertibles and while they’re sometimes difficult to find, they are definitely out there if you look hard enough, thanks to the Internet. If you own one or have more information about one please contact us with your information.
A company named Armbruster/Stageway Inc. of Fort Smith, AR offered the first known Fox aero Cougar convertibles in 1983. From what we’re told by a former owner, approximately 10 were built.
This is the only known photo and information we’ve been able to find about the 1983 Cougar convertible.
The 1984 Cougar convertible was offered by Coach Builders Ltd. in High Springs, FL, near Gainesville. At the time of production, Coach Builders was converting nearly a dozen types of cars into convertibles, and even shipping them overseas.
Recently a person at Coach Builders was contacted and he confirmed that they do not have the records on Cougar convertible production. Also, it is believed that Coach Builders continued to convert Cougars until 1988. Therefore the total production of Cougar convertibles from Coach Builders remains unknown. (The company recently changed names to Convertible Builders, LLC dba Droptop Customs.)
Along with the structurally reinforced body, all factory-installed features remained. Note how the smaller side quarter windows are treated; they’re very slim and totally unlike the factory quarter windows, a feature which also seems to be unique to Coach Builders cars.
The Coach Builders windshield header design seems to be unique, as it sits lower and helps seal out water and wind. A full custom headliner and an extra-thick top with matching boot were luxury touches.
The best known 1985-86 Cougar convertibles were produced by Car Craft Company in Lima, OH, in the greatest known numbers of any aftermarket convertibles for the Fox-chassis Cougar. Only 89 of these rare Cats were produced in 1986; figures for 1985 are still unknown but at least 16 were made. The original plan was for Car Craft to produce around 1,500 convertibles, but due to budget and time constraints, and straying from the company’s main business (limousines and hearses, as well as other GM convertibles like the Cadillac Coupe deVille and Buick Riviera), production was ended abruptly after the 1986 model year. Unfortunately no conversion records of the 1985-86 Cougar convertibles exist anymore, but the production totals for 1986 have been confirmed to us from a former employee of the company.
Interestingly, we’ve discovered through the years that not all 1986-converted cars were 1986 models. Since the parts and tooling were identical to older model years (1983-85), Car Craft Company would apparently convert the older models and give them 1986 conversion numbers. This means the actual number of 1986-model cars is smaller than the 89 confirmed builds; estimates are that 80 1986 cars were produced.
The best known 1985-86 Cougar convertibles were produced by Car Craft Company in Lima, OH.
Back when these cars were new, Lincoln-Mercury dealerships from all over the U.S. would send over the Cougars to Car Craft Company, the conversion was done, then the cars were shipped back to the dealers for sale. Conversion time took approximately one month. It appears that a customer could custom order a convertible through the dealership, and it’s also probable that dealers could get one for themselves (“on spec”) to show off and eventually sell.
Car Craft Cougar convertibles are noted for their high build quality and features. Significant body bracing, chrome windshield cap and top surround pieces, a top boot and even a heated window option are some of their trademarks. Custom sheetmetal panels were built around the rear seat area, while the rear seat itself was chopped and narrowed to fit. The front seat belts were simply cut to make them lap belts only, which was apparently US-legal at the time. Aside from the small headliner panel above the windshield, virtually everything else in the interior was left stock.
The original cost of the Car Craft conversion was between $8000-10000 US, a high number today but an extremely high number back in the mid-1980’s. Relatively speaking, the cost of a new converted Cougar would exceed the cost of a fully loaded Lincoln Mark VII LSC at the time. Still, Car Craft did an amazing job converting the cars, especially when considering that it was all done with the limited resources of mid-1980’s technology.
Car Craft Company eventually became part of a larger company called Accubuilt in Lima, OH.
The 1985-86 Cougar droptops were made from base (GS), LS or XR-7 models, depending upon what the dealers sent to Car Craft. Almost all of the top components—including the top itself, skeleton, motor, cylinders, and latches—are adapted directly from a mid-1980’s Buick Riviera convertible. Even the weatherstripping, window motors, window switches, and related wiring are from the Riviera. All parts carried GM numbers. One of the noted features of Car Craft Cougar convertibles is the larger side quarter window, again adapted from a Riviera. Most of the Car Craft convertibles seem to have had the factory-optioned vent windows for increased wind deflection, but several have been spotted without them.
The optional glass back window with rear defroster, as denoted by the very small visible area in this photo, was estimated to be on about half of the convertibles made in 1985-86.
This 1986 convertible has a standard plastic back window, which had a very large visible area. Also, the third brake light on 1986 models was relocated to the trunklid. It was an original Ford part meant for retrofitting older vehicles and is considered very difficult to find these days.
The back part of the interior needed minor trim and some new rear lower panels to fit in with the top mechanism. Shown here is an ’86 GS vinyl interior in Regatta Blue. Note also the top boot, narrowed rear seat, and rear seat power window switches. And yes, that is the exterior Cougar emblem that used to be on the factory roof—Car Craft cleverly reused the emblems on the interior as an added touch.
Otherwise the interior was standard Cougar fare. Shown here is an ’86 GS in Canyon Red cloth. Note the lap belt only in the front seat.
An ’86 LS cloth interior in Regatta Blue. We estimate that a little less than half of the convertible interiors were trimmed in cloth.
The 1985 convertibles were visually identical to the 1986 ones, except without the trunklid-mounted third brake light.
This 1983 Cougar convertible was one of the several earlier cars that went through in 1986, and carries a Car Craft conversion number from that calendar year.
This 1984 Cougar convertible has a 1986 Car Craft conversion number as well.
This automatic ’86 XR-7 is one of the few XR-7’s known to be made into a convertible. It is unknown if any 5-speed XR-7’s were made.
In order to install a top switch, Car Craft came up with a brilliant solution: modify a passenger-side power seat switch and make a new cover plate to denote the changes. The joystick operates the top motor, while the former seat recline switches work the small side windows. This car has the standard consolette…
…while this car, an XR-7, has a full console. The principle still worked the same with either configuration. It is unknown if any of the Car Craft convertibles had dual power seats; if they did, either the top switch had to be moved to another location, or perhaps the passenger side switch was mounted elsewhere on the seat.
The key component of the top mechanism is the modified windshield frame, shown here. The custom chromed cap proved to be very durable over time.
A special sticker is affixed to the driver’s door of the 1985-86 Car Craft convertibles and contains a conversion date and serial number of the conversion. It also states that at the time of conversion, it conformed to all U.S. laws.
The easiest way to spot a Car Craft convertible is the silver brushed aluminum badge on the trunklid. Car Craft used the same badge on other vehicles it converted, mostly GM vehicles such as Cadillacs and Buicks.
There were approximately 24 Cougar convertibles made in the 1987 model year by Coach Builders International of Gainesville, FL (presumably the same company that built the 1984 convertibles).
An interesting feature of the 1987-88 Cougar convertibles is that the quarter windows are rather small and are physically attached to the roof, a great attempt to keep the “C” shape of the original windows.
Viewed with the top down, the 1987-88 body style is much more horizontal around the shoulder area than the previous body style.
Note the absence of a chrome cap over the windshield. The current owner of this ’87, who also owns an ’86 convertible, has stated on record that the 1987-88 convertibles don’t have as many touches as, say, the Car Craft cars. Regardless, the cars seem to have held up quite well and are very uncommon indeed.
There is one known 1987 20th Anniversary Cougar convertible. It was bought brand new and the owner had it shipped to Florida on a trailer to convert the car. It was then trailered back to his home in MI. To this very day, it has been on and off trailers its entire existence and has under 50 actual miles! The owner has told us that when his car was being altered, the company was converting a white 1988 Cougar XR-7 that was to be delivered to a sheik in Saudi Arabia.
While we regret that it’s simply not possible to get solid production information about the 1983-88 Cougar convertibles—mainly because of the passage of time—we believe the above information to be true and relatively complete. Keep in mind it’s entirely possible that there are some convertibles made by other aftermarket companies that we haven’t accounted for. Still, we feel confident enough to proclaim that the total number of Cougar convertibles made from 1983-88 was roughly 200 to 250, making them legitimately rare cars indeed.