Restoring the outside rearview mirrors on your Cougar/Thunderbird can tend to get a little tricky. We're here to help you understand what can and cannot be done, and how to do things the correct way.
For all models 1983-88, the driver's side mirror glass is normal, while the passenger side glass is slightly convex, and carries the ubiquitous "OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR" statement.
All base 1983-86 Cougars and Thunderbirds came with a single cable remote driver's side mirror as standard. The passenger side received a plastic block-off plate. This setup was more common on "value leader" cars, which were stripped-down models designed to be priced on the lower end to attract buyers. But today, such vehicles are very uncommon to see in the wild; power mirrors were much more popular.
However, for those that wanted a passenger side mirror on such base models, Ford did offer a matching cable-remote passenger mirror over the counter at Ford dealerships (p/n E3WY-17696-A). It required drilling a hole in the door panel, but otherwise attached and worked—and even appeared—identically to the driver's side mirror. That was the only way to get "dual cable remote" mirrors on these cars.
Dual power mirrors were standard on all mid-to-upper level cars (LS, XR7, etc.), or on base models equipped with either a common preferred equipment package (PEP) or the standalone dual power mirror option. They were also required on vehicles with the optional vent windows. We estimate that roughly 75% or more cars had the power mirror option, since it always appeared in a PEP.
The wiring pigtail for the power mirror went through the mirror housing, into the door cavity (remove the black plastic triangle on the door and you'll see it), and down to the door harness. The connector was inconveniently placed, as it's nearly impossible to swap out mirrors without removing the door panel itself. At least access to the mounting bolts is easy.
The Cougar GS (base) and LS models always had chrome mirror housings, regardless of model year. The XR7 models in 1984, 1985, and 1988 had body colored (painted) housings. The 1986-87 XR7s had black housings (technically "charcoal"). In contrast, few Thunderbirds had chrome mirror housings, as their base color was black.
The only non-XR7 Cougar to have a body-colored, painted mirror was the 1987 20th Anniversary model, whose mirrors were Cabernet Red.
Over time, the chrome can pit, crinkle, or flake off the ABS plastic housings. Or perhaps the black housing's finish is chalky or blotchy. Or perhaps the paint has faded. All of these situations are usually due to sun exposure and extended time in the elements. If you need to replace your housing, it's possible to transfer the guts of your mirror to a different housing. For those with painted housings, you can use a good black housing as a starting base.
Over the six model years from 1983-88, the mirror housings did slightly change and evolve. While all mirrors from that timeframe had three distinct mounting bolts, earlier (1983-84) housings had a total of three mounting holes, with a fourth to hold in the motor mechanism. The double-sided mounting bolts were directly screwed into the housing for a secure fit.
The housings seem to have changed a bit in 1985 or 1986 with the addition of two additional holes, one between the older mounting holes and another underneath the motor mounting screw from the previous version. For this version of the mirror, those extra mounting holes were unused.
That changed beginning in 1987, when those extra holes were used on the later housings thanks to the addition of a rubbery wind splitter attached to the otherwise stock 1986-style mirror. These splitters were apparently an effort to help quiet down any wind noise associated with the mirror, and also to help keep rain away from the leading edge and splashing onto the side glass. Since the splitters themselves contain the mirror mounting bolts, the splitter had to be mounted to the mirror housing via the two new attaching bolts. As such, the entire mounting assembly was now a bit more flimsy and care had to be taken to ensure proper mounting and strength. It is possible to convert a 1985-86 housing to a 1987-88 style by adding the splitters. Likewise, removal of the splitters from a 1987-88 housing and adding earlier mounting bolts should allow it to bolt to earlier cars.
Also, later mirrors (~1986 and up) seem to have gained drain holes in the bottom of the housing, directly under the mirror and close to the door trim. This seems to be very hit-or-miss, as some people report having them while others do not, even within the same model year and trim level. We consider drain holes to be "factory" as they were introduced, and whether your car has them or not, it was likely meant to be that way. They are generally a way to determine the older housing from the newer one.
The power mirror motor mechanism is hidden behind the glass and is attached to the housing with two very hard-to-find-and-remove Phillips screws. Usually the mirror has to be moved to the extreme top and bottom to even see the screws. A strong but thin Phillips screwdriver helps with removing the screws. Once they are removed, and the third screw is removed (by the three mounting screws), the entire mechanism along with the attached mirror glass can be taken out of the housing, with the wiring pigtail pulled through the mounting grommet. All of the power motors and wiring between 1983-1988 seem to be identical. We have not seen a separate part number for the motor itself and it's unclear if it was used on other Ford vehicles.
Above: 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird OEM outside mirror glass with code (driver's side).
Above: 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird OEM outside mirror glass with code (passenger side).
Above: 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird OEM outside mirror glass with alternate code.
Above: 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird OEM outside mirror glass with no code.
The outside mirror glass, whether in the backing plate or by itself, was the same shape between 1983-88, so it all interchanges. The Thunderbird was the only other vehicle which shared the glass shape; no other Ford vehicle matched up.
One of the more disappointing things about these cars was that, despite their sales numbers and popularity when new, the aftermarket did not embrace them as much as they should have. And back in the day it was quite disappointing if you broke the glass in your mirror and needed a replacement, as parts stores seemed to carry all kinds of mirror glass from other makes and models. But not our cars. We have never found a solid reason why, but we suspect that it was Ford's way of not authorizing aftermarket production in order to get the unlucky owner back into the dealership for their exclusive Ford replacement part. Replacement was a bit more of a pain than it needed to be, both physically and in the wallet.
This being said…in order to be technically correct (as in, judged for car show competition) your mirror glass should carry the correct year code. You can find your code at the bottom of the glass. The typical code convention is "#-AX-YEAR", where the first number can be nearly anything (at least 1 through 12), the AX in the middle is consistent, and the YEAR corresponds to the same model year as your car (ex: 1984 cars should have "84"), or one year newer, or one year older. This is due to the supply of mirrors and how they got used in the assembly line process. Leftovers from the previous model year found their way onto the next one, and likewise, current cars could have mirrors from the following model year if the supply worked out that way. We have also observed that the mirror could have a different code, "#-DCA®-#", from the factory. That seems to be the same code on Ford official replacement glass (see below) but it was also out in the wild. We've even seen a few known factory pieces with no code at all.
We hate to say that there's no rhyme or reason as to how the mirrors were dated, but that's pretty much exactly how it is. The important thing here is that they pretty much ARE dated on most cars. In a perfect world, any given car should technically have the same model year stamp on both mirrors (if so equipped with two mirrors) but it's possible they could be one year off from each other, and that should be fine for judging.
If you have a cracked or scratched mirror and you wish to replace it for show purposes, you will need to find a good, used one with the same glass date code, or within one model year. And that is not a fun task. You may have to hunt everywhere possible (eBay, salvage yards, etc.) to find correct-dated glass and swap it out.
Unless you don't care or aren't showing the car, in which case, use what you find and be blissful!
The official Ford replacement glass has a code at the bottom but it seems to be different from the OEM stock mirror glass. Instead of the typical "#-AX-YEAR" convention, the replacement mirror typically has "#-DCA®-#". This seems fairly consistent across all replacement Ford glass that we've seen. Not that this is bad…it's just different, that's all. It should be fine for judging.
Ford OEM glass (with backing plate) replacement part numbers:
Some aftermarket replacement glass seems to be available for these cars now. We have seen them listed on eBay but cannot attest to their quality or accuracy, as we've never tried them nor have we received any feedback on them. Again, if it's not a show vehicle, it might be a better deal for you provided it's a quality replacement piece. If you have experience with this glass or would like to try it, we'd love to get your feedback.
Every once in a while we'll see NOS Ford mirror assemblies for these cars on eBay. As you can imagine, they can be expensive (relatively speaking) but if they are genuine Ford pieces, then that's the price that needs paid to get them. Ford seemed to have stopped producing both the housing assemblies and the replacement glass sometime in the mid-1990s, so what's out there is all there is now. We cannot stress how nice it is to actually buy a new mirror and install it. If you're thinking about replacing your housings with NOS pieces, we highly recommend doing so if you have the means and the money.
The new assemblies can have the same code as OEM, but because these were produced until the mid-1990s, the date number may be much higher than your car's model year. Ours has the "#-DCA®-#" code convention. Sometimes the glass will not have a date code at all. This should be alright if you're replacing them in pairs. Also, we have to say that the quality of the chrome is very good and should be good enough for show quality. The ones we've found all seem to have the drain holes, if that matters to you.
Also keep in mind that not all replacement mirror assemblies are power mirrors! We've almost clicked the 'Buy It Now' button a few times on what we thought was a good deal…only to discover that it was a cable remote mirror and not power. So be careful when you're shopping!
Power mirror assembly (chrome) part numbers:
Power mirror assembly (black) part numbers:
Cable mirror assembly (chrome) part numbers: