MotorCities National Heritage Area
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Story of the Week

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 2.19.2020

The Ford XP Bordinat Cobra concept car Ford Motor Company Archives RESIZED 1The Ford XP Bordinat Cobra concept car (Ford Motor Company Archives)

The Cougar II concept model was a very attractive show car introduced to the public in 1963. Ford had displayed it at the 1963 Chicago Auto Show and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair exhibition. 

Ford Cougar II concept at a show Ford Motor Company Archives 2Ford Cougar II concept at a show (Ford Motor Company Archives)

The Cougar II was very similar to the Bordinat Cobra concept, associated with Gene Bordinat, Ford's Vice President of Styling at the time and the man behind the creation of both great looking concept models. The Shelby Bordinat Cobra Roadster model received great press when it was introduced to the public, and many consumers really enjoyed the great styling. 

1963 Ford Cougar II concept 31963 Ford Cougar II concept

The Shelby Bordinat Cobra Roadster and the 1963 Cougar II concept model were both built on a Shelby Cobra chassis, along with a 260 V8 engine for the Cougar II. The Cougar II concept was painted in a candy apple red color. The Cougar II was a great looking fastback concept design built with a fiberglass body. Ford designers Ken Spencer and Ray Behmer created and built a fiberglass body for the concept model.

1963 Ford Cougar II concept 4A rear view of the 1963 Ford Cougar II concept

During the early 1960s, Ford needed a model to compete with the Corvette when General Motors introduced a design change in 1963 -- the popular split window coupe. The engineers produced this interesting concept the Cougar II, which featured a closed body and was called one of Ford’s three “X-Car concepts. The model also offered aerodynamic styling with a great interior design and retractable headlamps. 

1963 Ford Cougar II concept 5Front view of the 1963 Ford Cougar II concept

Some automotive historians said the Cougar II looked like a Corvette, and Ford engineers determined at the time that it would be too costly to manufacture. The company elected to concentrate on the Mustang project. Both the Bordinat Cobra and the Cougar II concept models were later donated to the Detroit Historical Museum. Later, after many years in storage, former Ford artist Jeff Burgy managed to find both models and clean them up for public viewing at events like the Amelia Island Concours. It should also be noted that the Cougar II concept model was also a part of the Cougar Anniversary event hosted by the Classic Cougar Club of America.

1963 Ford Cougar II concept at a show 61963 Ford Cougar II concept at a show

One of the most talented automotive industrial designers that helped create the 1963 Cougar II concept was McKinley Thompson Jr. Thompson was one of the first African American automotive designers to work at Ford Motor Company. He was hired by Alex Tremulis in 1956. Tremulis achieved some fame for designing the Tucker automobile in the late 1940s before moving to Ford.  

Ford Cougar II concept car Ford Motor Company Archives 7Ford Cougar II concept car (Ford Motor Company Archives)

Thompson had received his bachelors degree from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. At Ford, he contributed to many great design programs, like the Gyron concept model in 1961, the Shelby Bordinat Cobra Roadster and the Cougar II concept. Thompson later contributed to the 1963 Ford Allegro concept design and the Mustang-based Kelly Python in the 1980s, along with many other popular cars and trucks. 

McKinley Thompson Jr. with the Warrior vehicle he designed Ford Motor Company Archives 8McKinley Thompson Jr. with the Warrior vehicle he designed (Ford Motor Company Archives)

In 1962, Thompson received the “Town Crier’s Bell” award from Detroit mayor Jerome Cavanaugh, a great honor. One of Thompson's greatest accomplishments was designing a vehicle known as the Warrior concept. It was an all-terrain prototype vehicle that could be used all over the world. The Warrior model is now a part of the collection of The Henry Ford.

In 2006, the world lost McKinley Thomson Jr at the age of 83. Thompson left us with many great automotive and truck concept designs like the Cougar II.  Today, his contributions to the automotive world will remain part of our history for generations to come.   

Bibliography

Wyss, Wallace. Dream Cars, Show Cars and Prototypes. “Lost Concept Cars: The Shelby Cobra-based Ford Cougar II.” Hemming’s Muscle Machine. 

Burgy, Jeff. “How a Shelby Fan Helped Unearth a ’63 Bordinat Cobra Concept Car.” Enthusiasts Newsroom, January 25, 2018. 

 

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