Hecho en Mexico: Thunderbirds and Cougars south of the border.


Staff member
Sep 12, 2023
Roselle, IL
Vehicle Details
1994 Cougar XR7 DOHC TR3650
Country flag
It may not come as much of a shock to learn the Thunderbird and Cougar didn't quite have the makings of a "global car", sure there was much well publicized global influence such as the E24 BMW, Audi 100 and many aspects of Mercedes trickled all over the place but big heavy coupes tended to be a USA phenomena, and in an ever homogenized world even that has largely gone by the wayside even here in the states, unfortunately. But that doesn't mean the MN12 platform was confined only to our borders

Canada was the only country the MN12 platform was officially "exported" to, as many of our Canuck members can attest to, and those cars had certain regional changes from US models, such as Daytime run lamps, speedometers with KP/H as the primary printing, temperature displays defaulted to Celsius and in 89-93s standard shoulder/lap belts as Canadian law had no such mandate for passive restraint at the time. Actually a quirk all of our MN12s posses due to Canadian export are 5mph impact bumpers, an artifact of the 1970s that was relaxed to 2.5mph in the Reagan era, Canada never actually let go of it and due to that our bumpers actually exceed domestic regulations.

But what of our southern border brethren? Were the MN12s sold in Mexico manufactured in the US and shipped to Mexico like with Canada? No. MN12 production in Mexico was actually done at Ford's Cuautitlán Assembly, which unlike Lorain Ohio is still manufacturing Ford vehicles, currently the "Mustang" Mach-E BEV SUV.

Where models destined for Canada had a few specific features for the region they were in all other ways identical to USA models down to options, paint and interior colors and availability and submodels like the LX SC and so on, due largely to the shared assembly at Lorain, but as well as similar cultural demands. Since Ford opted to produce the Mexican bound models in Mexico however the cars were tailored more uniquely to the demands of the region and to USA/Canadian readers you may be in for a few surprises

1) There is no Mercury in Mexico BUT both the Thunderbird and Cougar were sold in Mexico.

How? Both were Fords - "Ford Thunderbird", "Ford Cougar". For most of us they're basically the same car minus the styling with a teeny tiny slightly more premium connotation to the Mercury than Ford, but lets all be honest they're not exactly lightyears apart, nor were their MSRPs, but in Mexico with both sharing a blue oval on the decklid, there was a distinct hierarchy, Thunderbird was noticeably low end and Cougar was high end, even in SC form where we know to be "loaded", but we'll get to the details of that in a bit. For now though, keep this hierarchy in mind as it contextualizes many of these disparities from Lorain produced MN12s

2) The SC and XR7.

Firstly as we know(or you should!) in the US the SC lasted from 89-95 and the XR7, that is to say the "premium" XR7, lasted from 89-92, before all Cougars became XR7s from 93-97, as a Tbird LX equivalent (in other words nothing special about the designation). Tbird SCs were supercharged 3.8s all the way through, used ground effects and were loaded to the deck with options and tech like auto ride control, ABS, inflatable lumbar/bolster seats and many more, and 89-92 XR7s were much the same as SCs, only in 91-92 the 3.8 was switched for a 5.0 as standard equipment with all else SC fare(mostly, 92 is a little unique but that's for another article).

This is NOT the case in Mexico. There is a Thunderbird SC, it is 3.8l and supercharged ad it uses the familiar ground effects, and there is a Cougar XR7, and it is indeed the same 3.8l supercharged XR7 we commonly know as well, but that's where the familiarity ends. Due to the model hierarchy between Tbird and Cougar in play the way the cars were equipped the SC was actually a very stripped down car, it did not come with ABS, it did not come with ARC, it didn't even come with cruise control. Manual transmission was standard as well. Note the various interior "deletes" and lack of distinct ARC covers. It also used flat seats like a plain LX but did come with seat covers unique to Mexico production.



Cougar XR7 was actually fairly conventional, with all the usual trimmings of a US produced XR7 with the lone exception of the deleted/covered Mercury badges and Ford Blue oval. Unlike its US counterpart however the automatic was standard equipment (being a premium status car) and most shockingly this supercharged premium form of XR7 lasted not to 90, not to 92 when the but all the way to 1995 just like the Thunderbird SC. There was no V8 substitution, there was no dumbing down of the XR7 package, it remained in its 89-90 form mechanically as long as the SC did and went through the same styling updates the US cars did creating some truly unique aspects...


3) LX and LS

They don't exist!

Ok seriously, they sort of have a Mexican equivalent but without the alphanumeric affectation we're familiar with. Thunderbird was simply Thunderbird and Cougar was simply Cougar. They do have some unique traits however

The Thunderbird(once again being lower end than Cougar) came standard with the 3.8 NA but truly uniquely with the M5R2 5-speed manual from the SC as standard equipment, with the auto(AOD) optional. Since the Manual trans requires a specific console top it also use the parking brake lever, and a unique delete plate deleting both the ARC and fog light button(which all US versions of this plate have one or the other or both)


Digital dashboards also seemed to be standard, at least in these early years, an interesting extravagance considering the relative spartanness elsewhere. Perhaps for the switchable metric speedometer?

4) Styling:

There isn't much difference here from US equivalents, all changes major or minor were reflected in Cuautitlán production, but there are some unique qualities

On US 89-95 Thunderbirds LX(and base and Sport) used taillights/reflectors/LEDs with black strips at the bottom, containing badging on the left lens. On Mexican models however, they used the all red taillights, same as the SC similar to 96-97 US models which used the SC taillights after the submodel's demise. Unlike pure SC taillights they did stick the Thunderbird badge on the left lens like US models, creating a unique look


Cougars likewise omitted the usual LS taillamps with the brushed metal lower strip in 89-90 only (91 used the US LS reflector however, sans LS emblem of course), using the XR7 units


89-95 Cougars all have an embossed MERCURY script in the front bumper covers, but Mercury not existing in Mexico obviously caused an incongruity. Cuautitlán assembled the cars but most components were shipped from Lorain and suppliers elsewhere destined for US cars so the solution was a plate with raised COUGAR lettering simply taped on top of the Mercury script.


The rear is relatively simple by comparison, 89-93 Cougars all have stick on chrome letters designating model, submodel and brand, so all that was needed to Fordize the Cougar was leave the Mercury emblem off and tack a blue oval on the trunklid.


94-95 Cougars are special, as they use spear shaped chrome trim with embossed lettering omission wasn't an option, so the left piece was blank and totally unique,


And since the US made Cougars were all XR7s they use the regular US production piece. Non XR7s however have a blanked out piece with only the embossed Cougar, making both pieces unique to Cuautitlán assembly


The most unique of the bunch in this author's biased opinion is the 94-95 Cougar XR7. A SC spec 94-95 Cougar long after the discontinuation of this package, complete with the full US SC interior with a unique black airbag, an XR7 fender badge where one might expect a V8 emblem and the 16x7 "turbine" wheels that were only used on the short lived and very rare US 1992 XR7.



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