The Holy Grail?

A collection of documents that, for Cougar enthusiasts, could prove among the most historic ever found, sold this past summer on the eBay online auction service.

On Aug. 26, CCOA Treasurer Jim Pinkerton won an eBay auction for a binder of documents on the Cougar's 1966 introduction compiled by C. Gayle Warnock, the Ford Motor Co. public relations executive who directed the Cougar's initial publicity campaign.

"How the publicity and promotional campaigns were carried out is not generally known within the Cougar community. I haven't found any real nuggets not previously known, but aspects of the various campaigns are probably not published elsewhere."

Pinkerton, who paid more than $1,600 for the collection, had not reviewed it closely enough before this interview to provide details about what the documents reveal. He said "plans for dissemination of the information to the broader Cougar community are being considered," but did not comment further on how he would distribute that information.

The 3-inch thick, three-ring binder, with Warnock's name embossed on the cover, is arranged in eight tabbed sections: Summary, Planning, Leak Campaign, Dealer Introductions, Technical Press Conference, National Press Preview, Cougar Country Press Conference and Other Post-Introduction Activities. Each section is rich with text and black-and-white and color photos, including original shots of celebrities Kim Novak and Barbara McNair at press previews.

The promotional campaign to introduce the Cougar in 1966 was regarded at the time as among the most creative in automotive history. It included mysterious messages on crumpled brown paper sacks mailed to 300 automotive writers by a "hunter" in Cougar, Wash. "Yesterday I caught a glimpse of a cougar," the message stated, "and it's even more beautiful than you've read-lean, lithe, powerful, sleek, cool, aloof, perfectly balanced, fast and elusive." The hunter said he would send "evidence" of his hunting skills and urged the automotive writers to "make room in the refrigerator."

A few days later, the same writers received a 6-pound air express package containing frozen "Cougarburgers"—specially seasoned, Cougar-shaped sirloin patties packed in dry ice. The promotion proved so popular that Mercury ultimately offered a "Cougarburger Barbecue Set," complete with a Cougar mitten and cookie cutter to replicate the Cougar-shaped patties. Mercury even outfitted a light plane with a pulsating electric sign that read "Mercury Unleashes Cougar" and flew it at low altitudes over major cities at night. The stunt provoked reports to newspapers of UFO sightings, easing Mercury's fears that the sign might not be visible from the ground.

Pinkerton replied with an unconditional "yes" when asked if he got his money's worth with the Warnock binder. He called the binder "an important piece of Cougar history." The binder was one of several Warnock collection items auctioned off in late August. Other items included a desk set, promotional playing cards and a gold necklace. All had been in Warnock's personal collection for more than three decades and inspired furious bidding by Cougar enthusiasts.