Blessed was the carmaker who invented a niche market which proved incredibly profitable. In the early 1960s that left Ford smirking, for their Mustang had become the first ponycar. This had involved the creation of a stylish compact capturing the free ‘n’ easy spirit of the age at an affordable price.
Of course in the cutthroat world of US auto manufacture a unique niche soon became a genre with virtually every Detroit player trying to run a winning ‘pony’.
Ford was greedy, and decided it might be possible for its Mercury marque to clamber aboard the bandwagon, even though Mercury cars were big. The answer was obvious — a bigger ponycar that might find its own niche within a niche. The thinking was sound. When the Cougar finally appeared in 1967 after a long development process it was an instant hit, with the elegantly designed standard hardtop and punchy XR-7 with their well-appointed interiors and huge options package selling well from Day One.
The Cougar ponycar would go on to enjoy an eight-year run that saw the introduction of various evolutionary models, including a convertible from 1969 when range styling was updated for a second generation. Along the way there would be a choice of many engines, although sales declined steadily and never replicated the stunning success of the launch year.
The Cougar lasted as a ponycar until 1973, but enjoyed a much better run than some of Mercury’s efforts to chase specific market share — around 615,000 of the various versions were sold over the years, and the Cougar pony has become a much-appreciated cherished car that has developed a cult following. The third generation was relaunched as a personally luxury car and the feline name is still in use.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1967 (until 1973)
Various, from 4.7 I (289 cid) to 7.0 I (429 cid) V8
With 5.8 I engine – top speed of 104 mph (km/h); 0.60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.6 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Cougar works team competed with honour – and considerable success – in the 1967 Trans-Am road racing series for production sedans, though it failed to topple the all-conquering Mustang and was rather mysteriously withdrawn from the following year’s Trans-Am.