This year marks the 50th anniversary of Lincoln-Mercury introducing the Cougar personal compact, and June’s edition of the Carlisle Ford Nationals will boast a landmark car on its Pennsylvania premises: The very first Cougar ever built. It’s got a great history, so read on.
Coincidentally in 1966, Ford was establishing a deep-water shipping port for its Canadian dealers on the Bay of Fundy in Moncton, New Brunswick, and a contingent of Ford brass were there with the retailers for the port’s dedication. At the time, Dryden Motors in Moncton was the oldest Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Canada, and sent its principal to the event. He buttonholed then-Ford boss Lee Iacocca and said he was way down the list of dealers guaranteed to get a new Cougar. Iacocca agreed to help.
Thing was, Ford Special Vehicle Operations sent Dryden Cougar One, the very first example, which Dryden learned it couldn’t sell because the Mercury lacked the requisite Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin. Nevertheless, Dryden still put it out on a 35-month lease, and when it was returned, Cougar One remained on the property until 1979. After the principal died, Dryden lost its deal with Lincoln-Mercury, the dealership filed for bankruptcy protection and the Cougar was auctioned off. A local hardware retailer, Dale Garland, ended up with the Cougar and tried to sell it in 1982. Amazingly, there were no takers.
The story gets better. Cougar Club of America member Marc Ogren was at a swap meet and found the original issue of Cars & Parts where the Cougar was unsuccessfully advertised. He then began a single-handed hunt to track down the missing Mercury, first by tracking down Garland, who still owned the car and still lived near Moncton.
Coincidentally, fellow Cougar Club member Jim Pinkerton was on business near Moncton and agreed to inspect the car to verify its first-built status. Five pages of notes ensued, which were diligently sent to Ogren, who then purchased the Mercury from Garland. Nine month later, Ogren came to the realization that he had neither the money nor the inclination to perform a museum-quality restoration on the car, and offered to sell it to Pinkerton for the amount already invested and the understanding it would be properly restored.
With 24 months to go until the Cougar’s 30th anniversary, Pinkerton pitched an offer to Bob Lutz, then with Lincoln-Mercury: If the automaker agreed to fund the restoration, Pinkerton would lease them the car for $1.00 to display at 30th anniversary events. The plan very nearly worked, but instead Lincoln-Mercury opted to develop an all-new front-wheel drive Cougar, reducing the appeal of displaying the first car for promotional purposes. Pinkerton carried on with the restoration, and thanks to his efforts the Cougar looks just as it did when hand-built by Ford workers back in 1966.