Rob’s Movie Muscle: From Dusk Till Dawn’s 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7

It’s fairly safe to say that in the mid-nineties the two hottest and most influential filmmakers in America were Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.

Rodriguez had burst on to the Hollywood scene by virtue of having written, produced, and directed his first, feature-length film, El Mariachi, on a shoestring budget of $7000 by improvising every aspect of the filmmaking process and financing the affair by volunteering as a guinea pig for drug testing.

Tarantino shot to the stratosphere earlier that same year upon the release of his film, Reservoir Dogs, which blew the audience away at the Sundance Film Festival, prompting many to call it the greatest independent film of all time.

Lucky for fans of both men, and those of hip, trendy films as well, these two filmic titans decided to collaborate, and create their vision of the ultimate road film. Lucky for us fans of all things automobile, they decided to throw a seriously cool muscle car into the mix. The film? 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn. The car? The 1968 Mercury Cougar XR7, the subject of this month’s iteration of Rob’s Movie Muscle!

From Dusk Till Dawn theatrical movie poster. (Courtesy of Dimension Films.)

From Dusk Till Dawn was distributed in the United States by Dimension Films, was written, co-produced and acted in by Tarantino, and co-produced and directed by Rodriguez. The film featured George Clooney, whose star was in full ascendancy at the time, with Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, and Kelly Preston.

Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney play brothers Richard and Seth Gecko. (Photo courtesy of Dimension Films.)

The film tells the story of two brothers, Seth and Richard Gecko, who set out on a crime and murder spree across the Southwest, and attempt to escape the clutches of the law by slipping into Mexico. Their grand scheme is derailed when the bar they are supposed to meet their abettors in Mexico turns out to be inhabited by a host of hungry vampires.

Juliette Lewis and Harvey Keitel also star. (Photo courtesy of Dimension Films.)

If this sounds like a bifurcated storyline, you’d be right, as the second half plays like a blood and guts horror film, while the beginning, the part we’re concerned with here, is a crime spree road movie featuring the mean and menacing XR7.

The Mercury Cougar was produced from 1967 to 1997, and was revived for the 1999 to 2002 model years. The halo performance car of the Mercury line, the first-generation Cougar was, in essence, the Mercury version of the Ford Mustang, as it shared many internal and drivetrain components with the latter.

The front end of the 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7, showing off the “electric shaver” grille and vacuum operated hidden headlamps. (Photo courtesy of Hemmings News.)

What differentiated the Cougar from its Ford stablemate was a three-inch longer wheelbase, and its own, striking sheet metal, which attempted to inject some European cues and flavor into the mix. Featuring a full-width “electric shaver” divided grille with vacuum-operated hidden headlamps up front, and vertically slatted grillework concealing the tail lights in the rear, the Cougar definitely stood apart from the Mustang and all other coupes of the era.

The rear of the ’68 XR-7 with its unique taillight treatment. (Photo courtesy of Hemmings News.)

The 1968 cars were available in only two models – the base model and the upscale XR-7 – both were only available as a two-door hardtop.

Engine choices included the base 210hp, 302 cubic inch, two-barrel V8; the 230hp, 302 cubic inch, four-barrel V8; the 335hp, 428 cubic inch, four-barrel V8; the 390hp, 427 cubic inch, four-barrel V8, and the 335hp 429 cubic inch Cobra Jet, Ram Air V8. The 289 cubic inch two-barrel V8 was made standard on base cars midway through the model year.

A GT performance package was available on both models which included the 390, upgraded suspension, performance brakes, a freer-flowing exhaust, and other enhancements.

Inside, the Cougar was a vastly cushier car than the Mustang, especially in XR-7 form, which included simulated wood-grained dash panels with competition instruments and toggle-switches, an overhead console, a T-type automatic transmission shifter on the center console.

Interesting options available for the Cougar included the super-cool “Tilt-Away” steering wheel that automatically moved out of the way when the driver’s door was opened, and a rare electric sunroof.

From Dusk Till Dawn’s Cougar rumbles down a desert road with the Gecko Brothers aboard. (Photo courtesy of Dimension Films.)

It’s rather difficult to discern much about the Cougar in From Dusk Till Dawn, as in all of its appearances in the film it is covered in a healthy layer of dust, anecdotally explained to have been done so as to prevent the reflection of the camera and camera car from showing, to the extent that it’s even hard to tell what color the car is!

The Geckos’ Cougar peels out of a dirt lot. (Photo courtesy of Dimension Films.)

From recent pictures of the car, which is privately owned at the time of this writing, it appears to be a non-factory dark brown ’68 XR-7 with a saddle colored interior.  It was modified by the production team with a hood scoop, trunk-mounted wing, and black and aluminum finished knock-off wheels, likely to help spice up the look.

A recent shot of the movie car. (Credit unknown.)

It’s unknown what engine the car originally came with, but it is understood that at the time of the film’s production, the car had an early-nineties 5.0 liter Ford Mustang V8 installed which afforded the stunt drivers a more flexible powerplant.

A recent photo of the movie cars’ interior revealing the XR-7 touches and the current owner’s installation of a DVD player and aftermarket steering wheel. (Credit unknown.)

A fairly recent photo of the car’s interior reveals all the signs of an XR-7, with the aforementioned faux wood-grain dash, toggle switches, and the console mounted T-shifter. Sadly, it seems that the current owner has installed a DVD player of some kind on the foremost portion of the floor console, and a rather ratty-looking aftermarket steering wheel.

The Cougar is seen throughout the first half of the movie, and is driven roughshod, often peeling out of dirt lots, and performing smoky burnout launches. Angles on all of the unique aspects of the car’s exterior styling are afforded. If you are a fan of the first-generation Mercury Cougar, you could do a lot worse than watch the film!

Until next time!

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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