The History of the 1968 Mercury Cougar GT-E

The XR-7S

Black and white glossy photos were issued by the factory sometime in the last quarter of 1966, touting the XR-7S. In a multi-page brochure entitled “Action Cars for ‘67,” Ford also proclaimed that the two types of models were the base Cougar, and the Cougar XR-7S.

This was in advance of public sale of the XR-7 (mid 1967 model year, 1/1/67), and it is supposed by some people that the XR-7S was to be the top-of-the-line, or 3rd Cougar for 1967. The factory photos are all in black and white, although CARS magazine featured a color two page spread of the XR-7S (it is Red, of course) in their April, 1967 issue. These photos show many of the same features that were later incorporated into the GT-E. But some features never saw production, such as the fender mounted racing rear view mirrors, the integral hood scoop, and the pillow back style seat upholstery.

Prototype 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7S Montage
Late in 1966, black and white factory publicity photos accompanied Lincoln-Mercury’s proclamation that the XR-7S would be the top of the line Cougar model. While that role was filled by the XR-7 a few months later, many of the XR-7S design features found their way into the GT-E in 1968.

Some other magazines of the era indicated that Dan Gurney had been given, and was driving, an XR-7S by Lincoln-Mercury.  And, while this may be true (Mr. Gurney claims no recollection of such a car as a gift) no hard evidence has surfaced, and certainly no other 7S car itself.  This “rumor” may have its origins in the story about the XR-7 G car that Lincoln-Mercury intended to give to Dan Gurney.  Due to a dispute with Lincoln-Mercury, Mr. Gurney DID refuse the gift of a triple black G car.  That car still exists in the hands of a private collector.

As far as is known, the 7S car featured in the factory photos was a true prototype, and was treated as such, including being destroyed after its tour of duty on the new car show circuit.

Henry Ford II’s Personal XR-7S

Henry Ford II Personal XR-7S
Henry Ford II’s XR-7S as it appeared during its last public appearance in 1980.

Sometime in late 1967, an XR-7S Cougar was built especially for Henry Ford II.  He drove the car occasionally, with his “HF II” license plates, to show who was at the wheel.

In 1968, he returned the car to Ford Special Vehicle Operations, and thereafter, a Ford employee, with inside information and connections, purchased the car.  It remains to this day in this ex-employees’ hands, seldom seen in public; it was last shown at the SAAC show in Dearborn in 1980.

While the VIN number and left door data code plate information are known only to the owner at this time, viewing the car tells us it has a 428 engine with dual 4 bbl carbs and a 4-speed manual transmission.  It is interesting to consider the transition from 428-8V prototype to the 427-4V, and then the 428-4V Cobra Jet for later production GT-Es.

Henry Ford II's Personal XR-7S
A factory black and white photo of Henry Ford II’s XR-7S. The VIN and data plate information about this mystery Cougar remain secrets known only to its owner.

Some have suggested that the very title “GT-E” derives from the fact that the 427E engine was used, thereby upgrading a GT car to a GT-E, while the XR-7S may have derived from the evolution of the basic 390 GT or “S” code engine through increasing the bore.  428 engines were made in Canada in 1967.  The “E” in the engine code stands for Edsel, the car line for which it was originally designed.

At any rate, the HF II XR-7S Cougar is an enigma wrapped inside a mystery.  The lucky ex-Ford employee who currently owns it is known to the author, and we hope one day to record the numbers and other details of this rare Cougar.  At this time, however, the owner prefers to retain that information exclusively.

Pre-Production Prototype GT-Es

GT-E Number 38
One of the earliest known pure GT-E prototypes, VIN 8F93W500038. This photo of old #38 was taken before the current restoration project was begun.

An example of a known “true” GT-E, that is not an XR-7S, is Vehicle Identification Number 8F93W500038.  If its history stopped here it would be unusual enough, with an 04G (July 4, 1966) scheduled production date, and appropriate six character DSO code.  Merit enough?  Not hardly!  It has two, yes . . . count ‘em . . . two serial numbers stamped on the left inner fender apron.  The car’s other VIN, you ask?  It is 7F91F500013, meaning the car started life as a 1967 Standard Cougar with a 302 V-8 engine (which was not in regular production until the 1968 model year).

Evidence exists that this Standard Cougar, body style 91, was converted to an XR-7 (body style 93) and that it had a whole series of engines installed on the way to becoming a prototype XR-7, an XR-7 GT, an XR-7 GT-E with 427 4V engine, and finally a 428 CJ Ram Air car, with which it is currently equipped.  Indeed, it seems as if this was a proverbial “factory mule” of the first order, and as such should certainly not have been sold to the general public.  But it was!

GT-E Number 45
This GT-E prototype, VIN 8F93W500045, appeared in Cougar magazine ads. This photo is from an advertisement published in the February, 1968 Playboy magazine.

In late calendar 1968, the vehicle was sold by Lincoln-Mercury at auction in St. Louis, Missouri to a private party.  It was driven a while and then parked in a field in western Pennsylvania for many years, unfortunately rusting away.  It is now undergoing a thorough and exacting restoration.

Another prototype, VIN 8F93W500045, is in the same hands as the HF II XR-7S car.  It was also purchased from Ford Special Vehicle Operations and thus salvaged from a certain death by destruction.  It has never been seen in public as far as anyone knows.

GT-E Number 50
This GT-E prototype, VIN 8F93W500050, is alive and well in the hands of a southern California Cougar enthusiast.

The next known GT-E prototype, VIN 8F93W500050, has a scheduled production date of 04G, just like #038 and #045.  Yet, neither 045, nor 050 have two serial numbers.  It was purchased (or given) to a retiring Ford executive who lived in Los Angeles.  After the owner died the car was spotted on a used car lot by its current owner who snatched it up immediately.  It is too bad we do not know more about how it came to be in the first owner’s hands–perhaps he too had connections at Ford Special Vehicle Operations.