My Car Quest

December 2, 2021

Another Lost Cobra Found Hiding Under the Name Ford Cougar II

by Wallace Wyss –

For our purposes, the word “lost” needs to be defined. Usually, “lost” is a descriptor applied to an object that no one can find, or something that hasn’t been seen since its original reveal. But in the case of Ford’s Cougar II — stored for decades, and nearly forgotten — the car has been seen at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2012, and at a Cougar anniversary event in Dearborn, Michigan, in 2017. So, it’s not really lost, just rather shy, one might say.

Fact: It’s a leaf spring Shelby Cobra with an original CSX chassis number and very low mileage that sits in a dark dungeon in Detroit, hardly ever seen by the public. It wears a one-off fiberglass body, designed by Ford’s then-head of styling, Eugene Bordinat. The car is the 1963 Cougar II, called a “dream car” back then, but known as a “concept car” today. Ford never liked the eggshell-thin aluminum body of the Cobra, so it designed a coupe similar to the Corvette and had one made.

It is candy-apple red and called the Cougar II because there was an earlier Cougar dream car built for Ford by Italian coachbuilder Vignale. That car looks fat and doughy by comparison. The Cougar II is a fastback design with a fiberglass body and a 260-cu.in. high-performance V-8 engine, mated to a four-speed manual transmission.

Ford Cougar II Concept

Ford Cougar II

The Cougar II on display at the 2012 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Photo courtesy Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

It has an all-new dashboard with full instrumentation. The roof is covered with a panel that appears to be brushed stainless steel, possibly to reflect heat. Unlike the production Cobra, with its fixed headlamps, the Cougar II received “pop-up” headlamps for a more sophisticated look.

Where the regular 260-powered street Cobra would do about 160 mph, Ford claimed that the Cougar II was engineered to reach speeds in the 170-mph range. In fact, the Cobra Daytona Coupe was designed by Pete Brock because of the bad aerodynamics of the original A.C. Cobra body. Ford knew damn well the original Cobra roadster was being held back in speed by the body shape but since Ford was already working on the much faster GT40, they didn’t see the sense of putting much effort back into the Cobra, beyond funding six Daytona Coupes for Shelby American to carry the flag until the GT40 was ready.

Ford Cougar II

Initial belief was that the Cougar II was constructed atop chassis CSX2004, because this chassis was sold back to Ford, at the request of the company’s Product and Engineering Office, for use as an engineering test mule. Though CSX2004 did receive different instrumentation, a revised suspension, and a modified wiring harness, it was later sold into private hands. California DMV records indicate the car was registered with the state as a street car in 1967, and more recent evidence indicates that the chassis has always been bodied as a Cobra.

Today, we know that the Cougar II was built on chassis CSX2008, making it an early leaf spring Cobra variant, powered by a 260 V-8. With its body replaced, CSX2008 retained few factory chassis stampings, and was finally identified by the number stamped on a frame support. Adding to the confusion was a Ford-assigned chassis number, XDCO315091, which identified the Cougar II as one of three “Styling X-cars,” along with the Allegro and Mustang II. Ford claims the Cougar II was designed before the Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray coupe; this is possible, but the timing would be awfully tight. The Sting Ray coupe was under development circa 1961 for its debut as a ’63 model.

I recently did a bit more research and discovered CSX2008 has a brief but nevertheless significant racing history, being raced at Riverside where Ken Miles at the wheel finished second in a Pacific Coast Championship race in 1963. The car was painted white then and bore the racing number “98” which was Shelby’s favorite racing number. So when Shelby acquiesced to Ford’s request for a car to rebody he didn’t send them a new one but a slightly used one!

Ford’s Styling X-cars were teased to the public in a brochure that read in part, “the car in your future from Ford might well resemble one of the Styling X-cars,” and as if to punctuate this, the Cougar II appeared in the Ford Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, alongside the near-production version of the Ford Mustang. (I saw it there, so can vouch for that appearance). Following this brief moment in the spotlight, the Cougar II made a round of appearances at auto shows, but soon enough dropped out of sight. Perhaps it was the unbridled success of the Mustang that ultimately doomed the Cougar II. It wasn’t needed. (And truth be told, Ford was never happy with the roll-’em-down-the-line-by-hand A.C Cars Ltd. assembly line).

Today, the Cougar II and the open-air Bordinat Cobra (another prototype, built atop a coil spring chassis numbered CSX3001) are the property of the Detroit Historical Society (It was given first to the Henry Ford Museum but they donated it to the Society) and only see the light of day occasionally. As with the other cars in the collection, there is simply not enough space to display all the cars at any given time.

Ford Cougar II

Cobra fans should thank Jeff Burgy, formerly of Detroit, (now a Floridian) a former Ford designer, who “rediscovered” the two Cobra prototypes in the Society’s storage warehouse and spent days trying to find missing parts that had been pilfered through the years. He got both cars cleaned up enough to appear on display at a Shelby American Automobile Club national meet in Dearborn.

Thankfully, the Cougar II and Bordinat Cobra are generously shared with the public at special occasions, such as a concept car display at the Petersen Museum in 1998, the 2011 Detroit Autorama, and the 2012 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. The appearances are scheduled often enough so that we know these cars — and the dreams they once represented — still exist.

Ford Cougar II

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss, once a biographer of Shelby, now does oil paintings of classics including Shelbys. For a list of prints write malibucarart@gmail.com

 
 

Ford Logo

Summary
Another Lost Cobra Found Hiding Under the Name Ford Cougar II
Article Name
Another Lost Cobra Found Hiding Under the Name Ford Cougar II
Description
In the case of Ford’s Cougar II — stored for decades, and nearly forgotten — the car has been seen at events in recent years. So, it’s not really lost, just rather shy, one might say.
Author

Comments

  1. LENNOX MCNEELY says

    WOW. A MATE FOR THE ISO GRIFO–WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

  2. Wow this thing is gorgeous and I can see some Grifo in it!

  3. You can see the shape of a Cobra within the body of this car, from the side at least. They seem to have added the elongated, pointy, nose and tail to the Cobra body, modified the egg crate grill, and voila.
    Looks so good it might even sell today!

Speak Your Mind

*