Just another intro note. Bought my '98 Contour 3 years ago for cheap transportation after very light research. Being a car guy, I was impressed with the interior/exterior lines (not counting the clunky shifter), the driving dynamics, and the V6. This was a 2 owner local car with only 60k miles with 14" steelies. I quickly bought a parts car and swapped the 15" alloys and later the rear spoiler.
BTW the alloys made a HUGE difference in the car's handling performance. Seriously. Besides being obviously larger, they also have a wider offset. I think the 14's were too narrow and kept the suspension in a state of bind.
I've chased a few electrical gremlins with it, namely diagnosing the bad neutral safety switch and o2 sensor wiring issues. With now 117k miles, I'm in process of replacing end links and chassis bushings and still need to rewire an o2 sensor connector. I've also flushed the tranny and replaced the fluid with Redline, before I figured out the neutral safety switch problem. A good idea either way.
In March, totally by chance, I found an 02 Cougar XR for sale locally. It had several un-diagnosed issues and was also a 2 owner car. Due to the unknown issues and a motivated seller, I bought it for a really good price. If you enjoy your Contour but haven't driven a Cougar, you really should. Mercury definitely hit a grand slam and improved an already great suspension.
I'll close my lengthy intro by simply saying this: BOTH of these cars should've been successful here. The Contour wasn't perfect but it was light years better than the Tempo. I think it's one of the most domestically under appreciated cars in my lifetime. The Mondeo's success in Europe somewhat counters the failure here. Personally, I think this car's story speaks (negative) volumes about we as Americans.
As for the Cougar, I'm also disappointed it was discontinued. Mercury took a long shot and it almost worked. Had sales been better, the Cougar "S" would've been interesting and possibly helped level the playing field with Japan and Europe. Since the Cougar gained weight, I think a few SVT intake parts would've compensated and nicely complimented the amazing suspension. Still, I'm happy to own, and perhaps have saved, the last Cougar XR.
I'll confess my ignorance (which pisses me off) on the parts car I bought. It was also a '98 GL. The only difference was the alloys and the I4 engine. The seller felt the timing belt slipped and the car wasn't running. I'd priced OEM alloys and got the car for less than a set of wheels, which is why I really wanted it. Plus, in addition to parts for my car, I sold a few parts on eBay. The seller thought the engine was an "interference" engine and, being an idiot, I never checked, assuming it was.
I moved early last year about 40 miles away and left the car at the place I was renting. I'd completely lost interest in the car, and thinking it was an interference engine, didn't see it as cost effective to repair. So, I left it there. The landlord called a few times asking me to move it, but also not having transferred the title, I didn't see it worth it to have towed here simply to scrap.
Being bored one evening, browsing the NECO forum, I fished around in the Zetec section. And realized my ignorance. Bah. A few days later, I drove by my old place on a Sunday afternoon, hoping the car was still there. Replacing the timing belt looked to be a huge PITA, but doable. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the car was gone. A call the next day confirmed the landlord had it moved over a year ago. With no transferred title, I have no claim to it. Besides, I'm sure it's been scrapped.
Anyway, sorry to be so long and glad to be here. I may look for another Contour to save. I'd really like to find a Zetec with a manual as I'm curious how the saved weight/weight distribution impact the handling.