Custom Grilles

For All 1983-88 Cougars / Thunderbirds

Page Revised: 10 May 2019


Article by
Eric Dess

While there's nothing wrong with the stock grille on your Fox Cougar, you may feel the urge to just do something different or custom with it. These are some good tips and suggestions if you want to make your grille look a little different from the stock style.


In the late 1970's and early 1980's a big chrome square grille was all the rage. When the aero Cougar came along in 1983, the grille took the form of a "rounded square", if you will. While the overall shape and proportion definitely fits the car well, the copious amount of chrome slapped onto the grille is a bit incongruous with the rest of the front end. What to do? Well, a little paint goes a long way with helping your grille fit into the car's overall scheme better.

1984 Cougar Custom Grille

This is a 1984's waterfall grille after a little painting. The outer surround and the inner main vertical bars were body color. The inside waterfall sections were done in a flat black. Notice that the MERCURY emblem was left off. This perfectly mates your grille to the body, and from a distance the effect is amazing.

1986 Cougar Custom Grille

Here is roughly the same idea on the 1985-86 grille. In this phase just the outer part was painted body color. The chrome horizontal bars, vertical bar, and inner ring were left alone. The butcher block inside is also left stock.

1986 Cougar Custom Grille

The same grille, only with the butcher block areas painted gloss black. Note how the grille perfectly compliments the blackout headlight covers.


The classic Mercury waterfall grille fits this car perfectly. From the factory the vertical slats were painted a charcoal color on LS models and 1987 XR7's, while the 1988 XR7's had body-colored slats. A thin chrome surround is all that's needed to let you know that this is a front end that perfectly suggests the Euro look without forgetting its classy American roots. It's almost a shame to do anything with the grille, and really it's not as flexible to modify as a 1983-86 grille. Still, if you want to be different, you've got at least one option (aside from painting the grille body color).

1987-88 Cougar Custom Grille

This viewer used aluminum diamond mesh that's popular with import cars, and simply used paper clips to attach it to the stock grille. A very cool, very simple mod that anyone can do.

Grille Preparation & Painting

These grilles were either all metal, or ABS plastic with a chrome coating (simply tap your grille to figure out what you have). With either kind you will have to slightly sandblast the surface. The key is to simply knock down the shine of the chrome so that the grille looks like a dull metal when you're finished. No shiny spots can remain. This is now a perfect surface for the paint. If you want to primer it first, go ahead but apply lighter coats. The paint can then be applied. Although it may not seem that this is a durable solution at first, in reality it works great. If you or anyone you know cannot do this, ask a body shop to blast your grille. Sometimes they can even use beads instead of sand to blast; this is a great alternative as it won't damage the surface.

There is a chrome stripper exists that will remove this chrome plating without harming the plastic. It's available to body shops and is really expensive. Check around to see if any shops in your area offer this service, because that would save you a lot of hassle.

Once the surface is roughed up a bit, be sure to sand over the surface with a Scotch-brite pad at the very least. A self-etching primer is also recommended for a good, solid base. Then you can paint the grille what ever colors you wish, with the usual rules about proper ventilation applying here as well (see our disclaimer for more details).

Finally, top coat with a good clearcoat, wait the proper drying time, and reinstall.

If you done this to your Cat, we'd love to see your photos! Feel free to contact us.