You may well have thought that the Mercury Cougar auto that the origins of the Mercury Cougar auto were nothing more than a whale sized version of simple Ford Thunderbird car. Yet many are surprised that the history and development of this classic American sportscar rather was that of the NASCAR legendary Mercury “Pony Car”, which kicked nothing but but “Butt” on the Trans-Am Automobile racing circuit.
Originally Lincoln- Mercury (considered at the time to be the luxury end of Ford Motor Corporation), had devised the idea of developing, designing and marketing a small sized sports car. The germ of this idea had started as early as February 1963 with the idea in the works of this smaller sports type vehicle to be sold within the North American automobile market.
But it was the success of the Ford Mustang product that finally put the pedal to the metal (or the design and marketing staff’s OK and budgeting of departmental project funding). It is said that nothing drives a project the automobile industry than the potential of excellent sales figures and profitability’s. Even the name of the vehicle product “Cougar” is not totally unique. Cougar is in the same vein as “Mustang” – both being sleek fast racing animals.
Although the Cougar was also built on a 111 inch wheelbase similar to the mustang auto sports car, the Cougar was rather three inches and half inches shorter than its cousin – the Thunderbird. Underneath the elegant sheet metal of the Cougar was a Mustang, so to speak. In actuality the Cougar shared with its cousins – the sporty Mustang, and the dourer family vehicle – the Ford Falcon (which was also known in the Canadian market as the Ford Frontenac product. The Ford Mustang had the greatest fortune of being born from the Ford Falcon product line. Mustang enthusiasts owe a great debt of gratitude to a so called compact “Family” car. The Ford Falcon allowed both the Mustang car project as well as the Cougar car product a quick to develop, cheap to produce as well as a proven and durable base platform. Even the dash of the early Mustangs was a direct copy of the Falcons.
Underneath all of the glitter of its elegant sheet metal the Cougar car was all Mustang, using the exact same Falcon front suspension and a solid rear axle with four-leaf springs. A base 289 cubic inch V-8 made 200 bhp (gross), but the real action came in the guise of a 390 cubic inch V-8 that made 320 bhp. A GT option included a performance handling package and power disc brakes that replaced more standard front brake drums. Finally special GT wheels rounded out the package.
It has been said that Lincoln Mercury’s chief designer had envisioned the Cougar as an elegant European sports car, along the lines of the Jaguar Mark 2. How was it that the Cougar went racing?
In 1967 Lincoln Mercury turned to Bud Moore to be the point man for a shot at the SCCA Trans-Am Championship. Team Cougar made up of drivers, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Formula 1 driver Peter Revson and NASCAR driver Dave Pearson came in second in Ford Mustang’s team. In 1968 then under the aegis of Moore, driver DeWayne “Tiny” Lund went on to capture the NASCAR Grand Touring Championship.
So where and how did the Cougar go wrong and in the end become a rather non defined wishy washy bloated luxo sort of sports car by the end of its automobile production lifetime? What proved to be this product and projects undoing was the lack of true comprehension from the direct Mercury as well as Ford staff and executives as to what this car’s clear and distinct market was. It may be said that at the best they were disinterested and at the worst clueless and greedy. This lack of market focus, as well as not knowing and perceiving the needs and desires of the potential Cougar customer market proved to be the Cougar’s undoing. By the 1969 product introduction the Cougar was a little longer and a little wider. From then on it was only a short decent into landau roofs as well as the opera window type styling and options of the day. Once started this downward trend and spiral of the Cougar was inevitable. The halcyon years of the early Cougar – specifically the early Cougar model years of 1967 – 70 remain a time when the Cougar’s roar boomed out of dual exhausts and the sign of a car that had some bite to it.