As the muscle car era moved toward its inevitable fate, tastes changed among buyers. Sure, they still wanted power, but they demanded sophistication and comfort as well. Two consecutive classic car models that demonstrate the shift are the Mercury Cyclone and the Mercury Montego.
At the time, the personal luxury segment was expanding. Auto historians pointed to the 1958 Thunderbird as the first personal luxury car when reassigned from a Corvette-fighting sports car to a luxury-oriented cruiser (which increased sales by 50 percent).
Then in 1970, Chevrolet introduced the Monte Carlo, a mid-size platform with an extended wheelbase that accommodated a longer hood. With the success of the Monte Carlo, it became clear to automakers that personal luxury need not be limited to their more expensive models but could flourish in more mainstream cars.
These changes in the market led to the development of the Mercury Montego.
The Birth Of Personal Luxury Cars
When Mercury took the Mustang platform and created the Cougar, it also hinted at the personal luxury trend. The 1967 Cougar presented a more sophisticated look with its long hood, accommodated by its longer wheelbase and a more stylish interior and exterior than the Mustang.
Positioned just under the Cyclone, the Cougar outsold the Cyclone 10 to 1. Sales of the Cyclone model were dropping quickly — orders decreased from 13,496 units in 1970 to a minuscule 3,084 the following year. The Cyclone (as a separate model) was gone by the 1972 model year.
The new Montego GT was larger than the original Cyclone and loaded with passengers and fuel topped two tons across the scales. Despite its weight, it was a solid performer for its time.
1972 Montego GT Engine Choices
The standard engine in the Montego GT was a 302 V8, rated at 140 HP, limited significantly by its two-barrel carburetor. The next level option was the 351 V8. With its low 8.6:1 compression ratio, it produced 161 HP.
The 351 V8 Cobra Jet was geared for performance. With open-chamber heads, a four-barrel carburetor and an 8.6:1 compression, it produced 248 HP. While this doesn’t sound like much compared to today’s cars, keep in mind the base 350 V8 in the Corvette of that year developed 200 HP and the upgrade LT1 produced 255 HP.
The top engine choice was the N-code 429 V8. It developed 205 HP but tons of torque. The compression ratio dropped from 11:1 the previous year to a lowly 8.5:1 as Ford, and all US carmakers struggled with meeting the new emissions regulations.
The 1972 Montego GT’s Chassis And Body
The Montego GT was built on an all-new platform for the 1972 model year. Ford abandoned unibody construction for its mid-sized car for a full-frame body on chassis design for the first time.
While it retained an independent front suspension system, the rear suspension featured a significant upgrade. A four-trailing-arm arrangement with coil springs replaced the leaf springs of the previous generation. The upgraded rear, coupled with a track widened two full inches front and rear, improved ride and handling significantly.
Two upgrades to the suspension system were available in models with larger engines for those who wanted even better handling. The first step was the CrossCountry package which tightened this up a bit. Ordering the Competition Suspension Package, available only with the 351 Cobra Jet J and 429 V8s, increased spring and shock rates and added a larger front anti-roll bar.
Wheelbase was reduced three inches on the coupe, and buyers could choose between a fastback and a more traditional roof. The superior but heavier rear suspension and body on frame design added 400 pounds to the Montego GT compared to the 1971 unibody design it replaced.
Mercury’s new orientation toward personal luxury and away from muscle cars paid off. Montego sales increased 125 percent over the previous year’s poor numbers. The Montego also carved out a larger slice of the Mercury division’s sales pie, up from about 15 percent in 1971 to more than 30 percent in 1972.
The 1972 Montego GT’s interior
The 1972 Montego GT came standard with a front bench seat; The sporty instrument panel featured a tachometer, speedometer, and oil and water temperature gauges.
The Cyclone name became a trim level of the Montego GT. The package included a functioning Ram Air hood scoop, limited-slip differential, a four-speed manual only with the 351CJ, an automatic for all other engine choices, and a trim package specific to the package.
Mercury Montego GT In NASCAR Racing
Ford contracted with Holman Moody to build the car and the famous Woods Brother operation to prepare and run a NASCAR Mercury Montego GT in what was then known as Grand National (now Cup) races.
Drivers of the number 21 Mercury included NASCAR Hall-of-Famer David Pearson and the legendary AJ Foyt in the 32 races in which this 429 V8 powered Mercury Montego competed, it won 18 times in 1972 -1973. It remains one of the highlights of NASCAR’s golden age and attracts crowds wherever the restored race car is displayed.
1972 Mercury Montego GT As A Collector Car
Given that the Montego GT was a trim level of a model line with a fairly low volume for the time, there weren’t that many produced. And while Mustangs, Cougars, and Thunderbirds attracted buyers in the years since (along with Camaros, ‘Cudas, and Corvettes), the Montego models of this era didn’t attract much attention. That’s not to say there aren’t Mercury fans out there.
The most desirable models, sold with a 429 and 351 engine with the bucket seat interior, are the most desirable, fetching around $30,000 to $35,000 at auction, although the most desirable cars can reach $90,000. Cars in poorer condition or with less desirable engines and interiors sell for as low as $3,000 to $5,000.