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This or That – Season 2: 1972 Mercury Montego GT or 1972 Plymouth Satellite Sebring Plus?

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1972 Mercury Montego GT (top); 1972 Plymouth Satellite Sebring Plus (bottom). Images by the author.

Editor’s note: This or That is not a comparison report between two vehicles, but rather a feature that enables us, in an idyllic world, to add a collectible vehicle into our dream garage on a weekly basis, but with a catch: We can only pick one vehicle from this pairing and it has to be for enjoyment purposes rather than as an investment.

Featured in this edition of This or That are two midsize fastbacks from 1972: a Mercury Montego GT versus a Plymouth Satellite Sebring. Though each came standard with mundane economy engines, as you’ll read both divisions still offered (comparatively) hot engines via the option sheet, making them relative sleepers on the street, while Petty Enterprises and the Wood Brothers tore up the stock car circuit with (similar) race versions. If you want to read more than we provide here, both cars were former subject material in our Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine.

It’s easy to blame the demise of the muscle-car market on emission restrictions and growing insurance costs by 1972, but let’s be honest, the buying power of that market was quickly growing up. Marriage, kids, and a new house had just as big an impact. Yet, as history has proven, even though Detroit had every reason to completely pull the plug on the market, many divisions didn’t. Sometimes one just had to dig a little deeper into sales literature to find it.

One example is Mercury’s Montego GT. Though it came with an economical two-barrel 302 in standard form, to attain something more performance oriented under the hood one had to skip over another two-barrel small-block and go straight to the Q-code 351 Cobra Jet: a Cleveland-style engine that touted a net rating of 248 hp and 299 lb-ft of torque. Some published reports suggest the 351CJ reached a higher 266-hp rating, though that version was destined only for the Mustang and Cougar. Next was the S-code 400, but in the Montego GT the V-8 was only available in two-barrel form and therefore capable of just 168 hp. Top choice was the N-code 429. Fitted with a four-barrel, the block yielded 205 hp and 322 lb-ft of torque. In typical FoMoCo fashion, engine selection determined transmission availability. The 400 and 429 were restricted to the C6 automatic, whereas the 351CJ could have been backed by a floor-shifted four-speed manual (with or without console), or the C6 automatic. Completing the powertrain ensemble was Ford’s 9-inch differential (with or without Traction-Lok) against the 351CJ, 400 and 429. Supporting the powertrain — as well as the sleek body and cabin contents — was a new perimeter frame chassis with a 114-inch wheelbase. Key components were an independent front suspension and a new “Stable Coil” rear-suspension system. The Cross Country Ride Package was a heavy-duty option that provided stiffer springs and shocks, while the Competition Suspension Package, available in conjunction with the 351CJ and 429 engines, increased spring and shock rates beyond that of the Cross Country option while also providing a larger front anti-roll bar.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the little-known Cyclone Performance option. Limited to the 351CJ and the 429-specific equipment, it included a functioning Ram Air/hood scoop system; Traction-Lok differential; F70-14s with the 351CJ or G70-14s with the 429; hubcaps and trim rings; four-speed manual (only with the 351CJ) or automatic; body striping and identification; dual racing mirrors and three-spoke steering wheel (these last two were standard with the Montego GT). According to the 1972/73 Mercury Montego GT Registry, a second edition of dealer literature does not mention this package. Regardless of whether it was canceled, too expensive, or both, a mere 29 Montego GTs were produced with the Cyclone package: nine with the 351CJ and 20 with the 429. There was also one 351CJ Montego MX Cyclone built. Despite the car’s bulk (over 4,000 pounds) and detuned engines, altogether Mercury produced 5,820 Montego GTs for 1972.

Likewise, Plymouth enthusiasts had to shuffle through the option charts to attain a more affordable (in terms of insurance costs) supercar in 1972 that wasn’t adorned with a ‘Road Runner’ moniker. One solution was the Satellite Sebring Plus, which replaced the Sport Satellite after 1970. It would prove to be a two-year-only model. For ’72, it’s base engine was a two-barrel 318; however, unlike FoMoCo, Mother Mopar had begun to place limits within their intermediate lineup. This meant that while the Road Runner received the 440 big-block glory, the SSP we’re highlighting could only be optioned with a 190-hp, two-barrel 400, or, the more spritely, four-barrel carbureted, 255-hp mill. And while the two-barrel 400 could only be had in conjunction with a TorqueFlite automatic, the four-barrel version could have been backed by either the TorqueFlite or the four-speed manual. Meanwhile, the famed Sure-Grip differential was still optional that, along with the rest of the driveline, was bolted to a 115-inch wheelbase unit-body chassis. And like other makes, a heavy-duty suspension package beefed up the car’s handling characteristics. But rather than order individual H-D options, one could achieve the same outcome by ordering the trailer-towing package. It provided extra-wide wheels and a 3.23 rear in a heavy-duty axle housing; the Maximum Cooling package, which added a high-capacity radiator and fan, plus a fan shroud and yoke-to-hood air seal; heavy-duty leaf springs; High Control shock absorbers; heavy-duty torsion bars; and an .88-inch front anti-roll bar. Prior to adding options, a baseline Satellite Sebring Plus weighed nearly 3,800 pounds, but well-equipped versions were comparable to the Montego GT in a pound-for-pound track battle. Though not all of them came with a four-barrel 400, SSP model-year production ceased with 21,399 for 1972.

So, while the perception is that the sun had quickly set on the performance scene, it still existed. And armed with this albeit emasculated supercar knowledge, which of the two would you add to your stable and why?