Everybody, it seems, has their own favorite James Bond film for their own particular reasons. Some prefer a particular actor who portrayed the protagonist, others love an exotic setting that a narrative took place in, and still more are taken by a villain or henchman that 007 is confronted by.
Personally, my favorite was Dr. No. The first in the canon of films, it had Sean Connery at his most virile and sardonic, a grounded story set in gorgeous Jamaica, and, oh yeah, Ursula Andress coming out of the water with those shells, that bikini, and not much else.
With the pages of Street Muscle Magazine being a Mecca of sorts for car nuts around the world, I’m well aware that quite a number of you that are reading this probably pick your most beloved Bond movie based on the four-wheeled stars that appeared in it.
To that end, just three months ago I penned an edition of this column which focused on the 1971 Mustang Mach 1 that was featured in Diamonds are Forever, and the response to it was phenomenal. In the article, I noted that the Mustang was one of the few non-European supercars such as Lotuses, Aston Martins and BMWs to play a significant role in a 007 flick.
Notice that I said “few” and not “only.” That’s because there is, in fact, another Bond movie that boasted a prime piece of Detroit iron in it.
Since people reacted so favorably to the article on Diamonds, and because I am such a fan of the franchise, I thought this month we’d revisit the world of Bond, James Bond, and have a look at that other muscle car.
So let’s dive in and talk about the 1969 Mercury Cougar XR7 convertible from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service!
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was produced amid a halcyon period for the franchise. In spite of the tremendous success of You Only Live Twice, relations between Sean Connery and producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli had broken down to the point that the two were no longer on speaking terms.
This, coupled with the fact that the actor had become bored with playing the role, and felt that his financial compensation was not worth the loss of privacy he was experiencing, led Connery to leave the franchise.
An extensive casting search was held, which included future Bond portrayers Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton, to replace Connery for the next film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Ultimately, Australian model and commercial actor George Lazenby was given the nod.
No matter how good Lazenby’s performance was to be, though, there were those who would never accept anyone but Connery playing Bond, putting OHMSS at a disadvantage before it even hit theaters.
What’s more, whereas previous Bond films were quite loose adaptations of Ian Fleming’s novels, the filmmakers were determined to be more faithful to the source material with OHMSS. This meant dispensing with a lot of the extravagance and gadgets of the previous installments, and toning down Bond’s womanizing, since in the book, 007 falls in love and gets married. These changes, to some Bond film fans, were sacrilege.
Nonetheless, the adjustments were implemented, and the luminous Diana Rigg of the British The Avengers TV series fame was cast as Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, Bond’s one true love.
Di Vicenzo is a desperately unhappy and troubled young woman, the daughter of a Corsican Mafia boss, who is often prone to petulance and acting out. In the first full sequence of the film, she races past Bond on a treacherous, winding, seaside road, parks at a beach and attempts to commit suicide by drowning herself. Bond saves her, only for her to run back to her car and speed off.
The car she is driving, a 1969 Mercury Cougar XR7 convertible, is an elegant, but untamed beast of a muscle car, likely chosen to illustrate and accentuate the character’s polished yet reckless visage and demeanor.
Introduced in 1967, the Cougar’s underpinnings were largely identical to that of the Ford Mustang, the car that the Cougar was supposed to be a more luxurious, high-end version of. The Cougar featured graceful, long-hood/short deck proportions and some iconic design features such as the “electric shaver” grille and vacuum-actuated headlamp covers.
For 1969, the Cougar underwent a mid-cycle refresh which featured revised Coke bottle exterior styling as well as changes to the grille and other details. For the first time, a convertible body style was produced and a true muscle car engine was offered midway through 1968 in the form of the 428 cubic-inch Cobra Jet V8.
This lump featured a four-barrel carburetor, a 10.6:1 compression ratio, and an optional Ram Air induction system with a functional hood scoop. Output was a factory underrated 335 horsepower and 440 ft-lbs of twist. When equipped with the Ram Air package, it could propel the Cougar to 60 in just five seconds and help it trip the quarter in 14.
For the production of OHMSS, Eon Productions purchased four identical ’69 Mercury Cougar XR7 convertibles in Ford M2008-A Candy Apple Red paint with red leather interiors.
All were equipped with the 428 Cobra Jet with Ram Air package, C-6 SelectShift “Cruise-O-Matic” automatic transmissions, 3.50:1 Hauser Racing Traction-Lock limited-slip differentials, power front disc brakes, black power-operated tops, F70X 14 belted raised white letter tires, styled steel wheels, hood pins, ski racks, center consoles, tilt and power steering, AM radios and color-keyed floor mats.
Only 127 Cobra Jet Cougar convertibles were produced that year, making the Bond convertibles quite rare cars. Helping the cars to become even more interesting and hallowed is the fact that they were prepped and tuned for the film by none other than Carrol Shelby at Shelby American.
Tracy’s car is featured several times in the movie, most notably in the iconic sequence where Bond and Tracy are chased by Blofeld’s henchmen, and end up circling an ice racing track with a bunch of other race cars.
Fans of Diana Rigg will no doubt be impressed to learn that the actress studied how to throttle steer on ice and drive on opposite lock with an Austrian rally driver, and actually did most of the stunt driving in the sequence herself!
One of the cars used in the production was destroyed performing stunts, and another was purchased after filming by a private collector in Sweden. The Ian Fleming Foundation purchased the car from him and put it on display at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, and since 2014, in the Bond In Motion exhibit at the London Film Museum in Covent Garden.
A third car, used only in the sequence where it was parked in the barn, received a ground-up, nut-and-bolt restoration over a period of 30 years (!) and fetched an astounding £356,500 at Bonhams Bond Street Sale auction in 2020. Even the original ski rack and the Kneissl White Star skis from filming remained present on the car.
The whereabouts of the fourth car are presently unknown.
The Cougars used in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service must certainly be considered amongst the most significant ones in existence. The cars’ rarity owing to their fabled drivetrains, combined with the Shelby connection would be enough to ensure this. But because 007 himself rode in them, well, that takes things to a whole different level.