In 1967 Mercury’s Cougar model was chosen as car of the year in the US by the magazine Motor Trend, and was initially chosen as the car Mustang boys had to buy when they became adult men.
The first generation of the Cougar model is the most elegant, and was produced only in 67/68. Martin Holm’s fine Cougar makes today’s post with the slogan from Mercury’s old brochure: “The sign of the cat”.
Early on the name was already in the Ford family. It was one of the finalists, as the final winner name, Mustang, was elected as Ford’s pony car a few years earlier. The name “Cougar” sends a strong message of slim style and light, elegant, and graceful motions. The name Cougar was therefore quite clear when Ford was to develop a new model for the Mercury label. The new model would be built on the platform of the Ford Mustang which was a huge success. Ford already had the top model Thunderbird and Cougar would be a stepping-stone to buyers being in the market for the top model.
Initially a sportier model attached importance to the ones that previously had left the Mercury-Lincoln’s assembly lines. One would of course like to have a share in the growing pony market which had been created through the huge success with the Mustang model. The Cougar model should have a little more equipment and comfort than the younger brother Mustang. It should have more space and be characterized by style. The space was created by lengthening the wheelbase by 7.5 cm which gave more room for passengers in the back. The style was highlighted as being more European by keeping the lines tight and restraining the use of chrome. In the old brochures you can see that the focus was on this; a line reads, “Untamed elegance – first with European styling”. Cougar was also first introduced to retailers in areas where Jaguar, Mercedes and a-three-car-income were present, including Monterey. Cougar was ingeniously launched as “More luxurious than the typical pony car and sportier than the traditional luxury car.” Equipment options were interminable, and buyers could assemble the car almost like they felt like. Something special Ford had done for the Mustang crowd, and it had been a huge success. However, there was no convertible version and the motor selection was limited, too. All this was added later to the program, but then the design changed as well. And it was no longer the beautiful simple car like the 67/68 model was.
Although it was a man’s car, statistics had shown an unusually large amount of female buyers.
In 1967 151,000 Cougars were sold which the factory was more than satisfied with as it had calculated with 60,000 due to the large competition. In 1968 111,000 left the factory. What no one knew was that from here it would only go downhill for the following Cougar models. Until now optimism was great and the future looked bright for the puma car.
The Mercury management would like the Cougar to do well in the only a few years old Trans-Am class for production sedans. The Mustang had been sitting firmly on the throne in this class during the 65 and 66 seasons. Mercury hoped to not necessarily win, but to do well. It was then an excellent tool for publicity. Anyway, the ambitions were now so high that a dream team was assembled for the job. The team was led by Leo C. Beebe, the man who had led GT40 to the legendary 1-2-3 victory at Le Mans in 1966. As the first driver factory star Dan Gurney from Ford was borrowed. Self-confidence was not a problem, and Leo C. Beebe said the now famous words, “If you’re not in automobile racing, you’re not in the automobile business, and we’re in the automobile business right up to our ears”. Furthermore, he had no doubt that the Cougar was a clear favorite to win the 1967 season. He thoroughly went at it throughout the season, but when the dust settled Mustang had won with the least possible margin over Cougar. Chevy Camaro came in 3rd place somewhat behind on points.
The Cougar had done well, especially considering that it was a new car and its first racing season. The fact that Mercury then pulled out the factory team of Trans Am was and is a great mystery. In the season of 68 quite a lot of Cougars participated in private teams. They did very well, but both they and the Mustangs were given a sound beating by Camaro this season, but that’s another story.
In 1970 the facelifted models subsequently came, and as the years went by, they resembled more and more the Thunderbird, they should be footboard for. It lost the sporty image, became clumsy and inelegant. Sales figures tumbled and Mercury Cougar will always stand in the shadow of 1st series which today is both beautiful, graceful and masculine at the same time.
Martin Holm himself imported his metallic blue Cougar from 1968. A company in Sweden took care of all the practical issues. There had previously been some exchange of descriptions and photo material. When Martin felt fairly sure of the purchase he went for it. Now he only needed to kill time. The Swedish company had given Martin a link to a GPS tracking of the journey, so he could follow the car on its long and slow journey across the Atlantic.
He had been promised a 100% original car with just one loving owner. Only a few details about a small dent in the chrome edge of the left rear fender and a broken hand brake lever. Insignificant trifles, if anything else was ok. Martin became aware of the blue car by a bit of a coincidence. Originally, the choice fell on a black 67 with red interior, but it was sold right under his nose. However, the seller shortly after came up with the blue one, which according to him was in better condition and even cheaper.
As for so many others, including Martin, Ford Mustang was one of childhood’s greatest dreams. His grandfather was employed as a supervisor at Ford Scaniadam. Here Martin went visiting and saw these amazing cars which would have an impact when he later had to choose his classic. For many years Martin has built and run classic motorcycles from both England and Italy. But as the family grew and comfort appeared, a growing desire for a classic car came sneaking. Inspired by Jacob, his friend of many years, he began to look for a suitable Mustang project, preferably a fastback from 67/68, and preferably a rolling project???. Now, the Mustang fastback at that time had already begun to be expensive and selling ads were pretty unreliable. It was hard to figure out what condition the cars were actually in. The US is the land of milk and honey for smart used-car dealers using filler a bit too generously.
After some searching the Cougar models started to emerge. These were cheaper and at that time hadn’t become part of the quacks’ repertoire. The Cougar has the same design virtues as the Mustang with the long hood and a coupe line that meets the short hedge. A clear Cougar feature found irresistible by Martin was the unique cooler front with the vacuum-controlled flap lights. In the vernacular, this design feature was called “the electric shaver grill”. The fascination with the Cougar model increased directly proportional to the time Martin was reading about these cars. And the choice was taken….
After almost 2 months of impatient waiting the big day arose when the first meeting between Martin and the metallic blue Cougar should take place. The importer had the car shipped to Gothenburg and Martin says:
“My father and I drove to Gothenburg. We received a very warm welcome by the importer and the excitement was triggered when he opened the door. There it was – exactly as described.
In the trunk, among many things, we found a new handbrake lever(!) plus all paperwork and history collected in a folder back to the sales contract in 1968.
Before we went thru all the paperwork, we checked the car and made it ready for the “long” trip back to Copenhagen. The importer was very helpful with the gearbox/-oil, new battery and other small items – completely free of charge.
In the pouring rain we went back to Denmark. It would then prove that it didn’t stop raining until we reached Elsinore. The Cougar ran flawlessly all the way, and not a single drop from the clouds came into the cabin. Another sign that I had bought a very well maintained car – I thought!”
Martin has now been driving a lot in the car during a few seasons, and as the car was plug’n’play from the start, the only thing worth mentioning is maintenance and updates. The only really big thing has been the everlasting critical vinyl roof that quickly showed corrosion from the metal under the vinyl after the car came to Denmark. The vinyl roof was removed and the incipient rust stains repaired. The decision about a new vinyl siding ended up painting the roof cream white. The car thus appears in its original two-colored design, but without the rust trap as a vinyl siding on the roof will always be.
Now the Cougar is no sports car, and is also slightly lame with the original engine configuration. For that reason Martin has updated the engine over several laps in an effort to get more power into the car. The focus has been on the breath of the engine, and the following things have been mounted:
• Edelbrock carburetor
• Edelbrock suction manifold
• Aluminum cylinder heads with larger valves
• Aluminum rullevippere (hvad er det?)
• New dual timer chain?? ved ej hvad det er
• Electronic ignition
• New water pump
• Edelbrock Performer camshaft
• Thermostatic fan
• Aluminum hood
• 2.5″ stainless steel exhaust
• Flowmaster 40
The changes have brought about the desired increase in both acceleration and top speed. Martin’s guess is that the car as of today has passed 300 hp (200 DIN hp). The original specification was 220 hp (154 DIN hp).
However, the extra performance has led to a little poor fuel economy. It’s like firing with mahogany, but US car enthusiasts have probably never shown any real interest in that.
Like said, the Cougar is no sports car, and the somewhat loose chassis has had its springs and dampers fixed. It has tightened up a bit the driving properties and the Cougar today is superbly well suited for cruising the Danish roads.
Martin has great respect for the car’s exceptional originality, and has always made sure to keep all original parts, so the car can be brought back to its original condition.
Martin has decided to dispose of his fine Cougar; he wants to try something else. I hope it finds a caring new owner who appreciates the metallic blue Cougar with the exceptional story.