Though thoroughly dissimilar in design, Aiken and Cougar chief designer Buz Griesinger admitted to being influenced by the sculpted appearance of the Jaguar Mark X sedan. As Aiken told Gary L. Witzenburg in Automobile Quarterly Volume 4, Number 24, “We looked very strongly at the Jaguar sedan, and we asked ourselves, ‘What is the mystique of the Jaguar?’ We wanted a car that, like the Jag, was curvaceous and feline in shape and form, with a highly sculpted look.”
In preparation for the car’s launch, automotive journalists of the day received press releases from towns with “Cougar” in the name, Cougar burgers (spiced ground beef, shipped on dry ice), Cougar crackers, Cougar wine and Cougar cookies, ensuring that no one would forget the car’s name at its September 1966 debut. Pitched by Ford executives as “America’s first luxury sports car at a popular price,” the Cougar promised consumers “Untamed elegance! …an entirely new kind of road animal from Mercury.”
The press liked it, too, with most describing the Cougar as a more refined version of the Mustang. Motor Trend named it Car of the Year for 1967, and perhaps to prove it was no slouch on the race track, Mercury enlisted the services of Dan Gurney to campaign the car in the SCCA’s Trans Am series, resulting in a Dan Gurney Special Edition Cougar XR-7.
Three more generations of Cougars would come and go from 1980 – 1997, but by then the car’s sales numbers were truly dismal. In 1996, just under 39,000 examples were sold, but this would fall further, to just over 35,000 examples, the following year. With its MN12 platform cancelled, the Cougar appeared to have given its last roar.
Except the brand wasn’t quite ready to give up on the name just yet. For 1999, Mercury revived the Cougar as a sport compact built upon the Ford Contour platform and sharing its front-engine, front-wheel drive layout. Power options were limited to four and six-cylinder engines, and while a sportier variant (borrowing heavily from the Contour SVT parts bin) was discussed, the model never made it to production. After the first-year novelty wore off, consumers weren’t drawn to reborn Cougar, and sales fell from 88,288 units in 1999 to just over 25,000 examples in 2001, its penultimate year. With little fanfare, the Cougar nameplate disappeared from the American landscape at the end of the 2002 model year.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.