At the Sign of the Cat
Remember the Cougar? Not the oddly-shaped front-wheel drive Cougar of 2000 nor the big-bodied Thunderbird clone, nor even, God forbid, the huge sedans and wagons wearing “the sign of the cat,” but the 1967 original? Motor Trend’s Car of the Year was created from the Mustang. While it shared the Pony Car’s platform, it was NOT a badge-engineering model. Sales of the luxurious new coupe helped to lead the Blue Oval to some of the most profitable years in the company’s history. Hello? Ford? Anyone home?
It’s been a couple of years since the latest generation Mustang hit the streets. The retro modern two-door is a runaway success, easily out-selling the nondescript sedans that have become Ford’s standard bearers. At the same time, the Mercury brand languishes, offering customers nothing more than thinly-disguised Ford sedans and trucks. It’s time, past time, for the new Mercury Cougar. Stretch the new Mustang platform, drape it with drop-dead gorgeous sheetmetal, stuff it full of luxury (and a hundred pounds more sound insulation) and there you have it: a slam dunk sales winner and a halo car for a moribund brand.
In fact, there’s only one way a new Cougar wouldn’t work: if Ford re-sculpts the ‘Stang’s front and rear, tacks on some brightwork and badges the Mustang as a Cougar. That Milanese-style product would dilute the Mustang’s appeal AND fail to create a compelling reason for luxury car buyers to darken Mercury’s already dim door. An ersatz Cougar would drag the brand’s street cred even lower– if such a thing was possible. No; while a new Cougar would bring glory to a deeply wounded brand, it must be done right, or not at all.
A Cougar absolutely demands arresting styling. Since Ford’s hometown designers seem singularly incapable of creating anything other than boring and innocuous cars, why not call in Aston Design Director Marek Reichman, the man who penned the sublime Aston Martin Rapide? As PETA and other animal rights activists have made it virtually impossible for a big cat to work in the ad business, Mercury could make the Brit-born designer the brand’s official spokesman. “Aston Martin elegance made in America” would be a winning slogan.
Anyone who’s been fortunate enough to spend some quality seat time in a Land Rover, or a top-spec F150, knows that Ford can make great interiors. To produce a suitably luxurious Cougar, Ford could add luxury touches to the Mustang’s cockpit that aren’t available in the ‘Stang: automatic temperature control, twilight sentinel headlights, memory seats, sat nav and all the other luxury car necessities. Ford knows exactly how to do all these things, and I’m sure that they have the hardware on the Lincoln shelf to boot. If the new Cougar wants a “killer ap,” they could even fit it with a Borg-Warner dual-clutch paddle-shift transmission (a.k.a. Audi’s DSG).
A new Cougar could be Mercury’s re-entry into racing. If the Ford Fusion and a Toyota Camry can be NASCAR racers, surely the Cougar could be as well. Perhaps LeMans would be a better venue. After all, that’s where Aston Martin made their reputation. If Corvettes and Vipers can make a credible attempt, surely a Cougar, with the right preparation, could at least make a showing. The combination of a stunning design and the hype of a [properly promoted] racing effort would ramp up the excitement at Mercury dealerships to unseen levels.
Equally important, a “real” Cougar wouldn’t be a horrifically expensive endeavor for the cash-strapped domestic automaker. There’s nothing wrong with the Mustang platform that a little refinement couldn’t cure. Adding the aforementioned four inches to the wheel base would give the coupe passable rear seat room. The Mustang GT already has a two-piece driveshaft, so lengthening drive shafts shouldn’t pose a problem. Ford’s 4.6-liter, 300-horse, 24-valve V8 would be more than adequate. (The new Shelby GT500 powerplant would be a bonus.) All the engine really needs is a little more muffler, a little less intake and a lot more purr. And there’s plenty of room at the new AutoAlliance International assembly plant in Flat Rock, Michigan to build a “real” Cougar.
If Mercury had a Cougar, it might begin to look like the brand has a future, instead of simply surviving on life-support from Ford. It’s not a question of whether or not there’s a market for a “proper” American luxury coupe; there are more than enough foreign players in this niche to prove its potential viability. It’s not a question of money; a new Cougar needn’t start from scratch. It’s a question of will. When a brand loses its luster within the Ford Empire, it lacks champions to snatch back the resources it needs to grow. In car manufacture as in life, everything either grows or dies. Over to you Mr. Bill.
More by Bob Elton
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