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The Vintage Mercury-Lincoln Cougar - A Nascar Legend

Dec 22, 2007
Many have thought of the Mercury Cougar a simply nothing more than a luxo-bloated version of a Ford Thunderbird. It may well surprise many Ford, Mercury as well as Ford Mustang and Mercury Cougar enthusiasts that 35 years ago that the Cougar "Pony" Car was kicking butt on the Trans-Am circuit.

In its origins, the Cougar was an idea that Lincoln-Mercury had been tossing around, for some time, with the idea of a smaller sporty car. As early as February 1963 this idea of a smaller as well as sporty Lincoln-Mercury vehicle, to be introduced to the North American market, came to emerge within the corporate head office, marketing and design staff.

The success of the Ford Mustang was all that was needed to put the wheels in motion. Indeed the famous marketing reference in regards to the product market popularity and sales of the Ford Mustang 'Pony" Car was a sign in a donut shop that "Or donuts sell as fast as Mustangs". Nothing drives the automobile industry more than the potential and promise of fast car sales figures. It is noteworthy that even the name of the vehicle product "Cougar" can be said to be family line generated. After the name Cougar is not only six letters but is another member of a line of fast creatures. Both the names of Mustang and Cougar evoke an image of sleekness and fast speed as well as agility.

Built on a 111 inch wheelbase, the Cougar was three inches and half inches shorter than its cousin - the Thunderbird. Underneath the elegant sheetmetal of the Cougar was a Mustang, so to speak. In actuality the Cougar shared with its cousins - the sporty Mustang, and the more dour 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. It seemed that Lincoln-Mercury was never quite sure on how to market the Cougar. 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.
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