What we have here is an attempt to get to the bottom of the pull that classic cars have on the majority of us car fans. The dangers of purchasing the wrong car, the hidden problems behind shiny paintwork and the diversions from standard are all frustrations that buyers of new and nearly new vehicles manage to do without and strangely, don’t even miss these tribulations. The thing is though, with the more usual loan of a test car being seven days or less there is just no way that classic car owning can be replicated in such a short space of time. Issues need time to rise to the surface, rust cannot be expected to show itself overnight and filler cannot be found quite so quickly, it needs time and patience. You get the general idea.
To get around this and many other issues, MotorMartin has secured a rather nice, one owner from new, 1999 Ford Cougar 2.5 V6 24V 3d in the classic Ford Blue, a car that MotorMartin has always wanted to experience. Why the Cougar? After all, it hardly sold well back in the day and you don’t exactly see many on the roads today do you? And for MotorMartin, that’s most definitely part of the appeal. In an ideal world you’d still be able to pick up a 2.0L Laser Capri for around £2k but that is just not possible these days with very average examples still achieving a minimum outlay of £5/6k and that’s before you start to spend any money on your purchase to make sure that it’s roadworthy and legal. So that’s the nail added to the coffin of that particular choice and an opportunity opening for something else from Ford’s back catalogue, hence the Ford Cougar now sitting outside MotorMartin Towers and taking pride of place in the car park.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to 1998 and the launch of the Cougar, a car available as a four cylinder 2.0L or a 2.5L V6, a car that the motoring press at the time desperately wanted to be the next Capri, a title they had already added to every story regarding the Cougar’s unloved predecessor, the oft forgotten and unfairly maligned Ford Probe seen below. Now MotorMartin liked the Probe, who wouldn’t want a car, a Ford Coupe no less, that sported pop up headlights? But for the bargain classic car hunter the Probe is just not a viable proposition any more with decent examples rather hard to find and spares availability even more so.
Back then to the Capri. The Ford Capri traded incredibly successfully on it being the car you always promised yourself, a sports coupé for the masses, a car that you aspired to own, it’s variety of engines, trim and style taken directly from the American model of car selling, a model that helped the original Mustang comprehensively outsell it’s many rivals and allowed the car buying public to find their own Capri for a price that they could afford. For the Cougar to sell in the numbers that Ford wanted, it needed to connect with press and purchasers alike and in much the same way as that original Ford Capri, the Cougar needed to be desirable to a cross section of potential purchasers and provide a sporting ride for those that really should be looking to get into the more ubiquitous Ford Mondeo.
Rather strangely, Ford decided to advertise their all new coupe with reference to that celebration of hedonism and counter culture lifestyles, the film Easy Rider. It’s marketing campaign launched with Dennis Hopper driving the Cougar and can be seen in the short film below, kindly provided by LeeGouldingCreative for the benefit of MotorMartin readers.
A great advert that displayed it's technical achievements proudly but one that, in MotorMartin’s opinion, shows the rather muddled thinking behind the Cougar. Easy Driver, really? The Cougar should have been marketed for what it was, a superb, modern looking, long distance cruiser in the fashion of Jaguar’s XK8 of the time or even, dare I say, Aston’s vastly more expensive DB7. After all, reviews upon launch praised it’s understressed V6 powerplant and comfortable long legged appeal whilst also noting that the Cougar put it’s power down effectively and tackled twisting roads with confidence. The best of both worlds comes to mind.
The Cougar though, was Ford's second attempt to reintroduce a sports coupe in Europe, in the same vein as the successful but long absent Capri, the first attempt having been the Mazda MX-6 based Probe previously mentioned whose subsequent failure heaped intense pressure onto the Cougar’s designers and engineers from the very start. Interestingly, just as the Capri had been based on the Cortina, Ford had taken the same route to coupé manufacturing by basing the Cougar on their premium family car of the time, the Mondeo. A car that in ST24 specification at least, was known for being a fine handling, if slightly soft, sports saloon and a move that contributed to the Cougar gaining a reputation of being something of a drivers car.
When the Cougar was launched in October 1998 it was to shocked faces as it did so with Ford's controversial, at the time, New-Edge styling, an exercise first seen on the Ka and the best selling Focus, both of which immediately preceded the Cougar launch. On their Coupé though the styling was more extreme, more aggressive even, yet more brave than the slightly forgettable Probe that preceded it, and was met with quiet approval once the more conservative members of the press started to come round. The Ford’s biggest problem though, in MotorMartin’s opinion, was the price.
Back in 1998, a brand new Ford Cougar costs from £19,840 - £21,840, a lot of money today, let alone 19 years ago. In fact, adjusting for inflation, that £21,840 top end price would be around £36,500 today. That’s more than a brand new Jaguar F-Pace or 5 Series BMW for goodness sake and let’s not forget, we’re talking about a Ford Coupé, one that was hoped would emulate the popularity of the Classic Ford Capri.
But all of that’s in the past now and what MotorMartin intends to look for is the real Ford Cougar.
Can it finally take on the title of The New Capri?
Has Ford’s brave new coupé actually become the car you always promised yourself?
Where will you go?