“Take the best luxury car ideas. Add the best sports car ideas. And you’ll have a better luxury sports car.” 1971 Cougar sales brochure
- The restyled 1971 Cougar was the first of the second-generation Cougars that would last until another restyle in 1974.
- The wheelbase on the 1971 cars grew to 112 inches.
- The Eliminator package was no longer offered as an option, though the GT and XR-7 packages were still available.
Though the Cougar had always been based on the Mustang, though a slightly bigger and more luxurious corporate cousin, 1971 is when the two models began to really drift apart for the first time. While the Mustang grew as well in 1971, the larger Cougar was moving toward the mid-sized luxury market, joining cars like the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and the Pontiac Grand Prix. The Cougar would become a full-fledged member of this group by 1974, but still had a few years to hang on to its claim as a pony car.
The Cougar looked like it had grown more than it actually had. The 112 inch wheelbase was in actuality only an inch longer than the 1970 models, but the new styling made it look much larger. One of the most notable changes is that the 1971 models are the first Cougars with visible headlights. While the lights of all previous models had been covered by the grille, the 1971 model presented a four headlight setup with a grille made up of vertical chrome stripes set between the sets of two.
Under the hood, there were only three engine options for the Mustang in 1971. The standard engine was a 2-barrel 351 CID V8 that produced 240 horsepower, and that could be upgraded to a 4-barrel version of the same engine that was rated at 285 horsepower. At the top end of the performance spectrum was a 429 CID Cobra Jet V8 that produced 370 horsepower, the highest performance yet in a Cougar.
Unfortunately, the year-to-year sales decline that had plagued Cougar since its introduction did not stop with the restyle. Total production was down 13.10 percent from 1970 to 62,864.
Hardtop and Convertible
As they had been since 1969, both models of the Cougar were offered in both a hardtop and convertible option. Production of the base hardtop was at 34,008 for the year, and the production of the convertible was at 1,723. The base price of the car was $3,289, and the convertible added almost $400 to that price.
Standard features included high-back bucket seats and a new mini-console, as well as interior courtesy lights and sequential turn lights.
XR-7 Hardtop and Convertible
The XR-7 model added leather seats, a vinyl roof and a tachometer to the standard features of the car. Production of the hardtop XR-7 model was at 25,416 for the year, which was a 36.90 percent increase from the previous year. Convertible XR-7 production was down again to 1,717. The hardtop’s base price was $3,629, while the convertible started at $3,877.
Pony Car Competition
As was said before, the Cougar was already pulling away from the pony car class with its 1971 redesign, and was probably doing so at a good time. The following year would see much stricter government restrictions on emissions that would continue to hurt performance for the next few years. By focusing more and more on luxury starting in 1971, Cougar was setting itself up to avoid the backlash that would soon take place against cars in both the pony car and muscle car classes.