Collection update: The Matchbox ’68 Mercury Cougar

The Mercury Cougar. It was first created in 1967, & ran for 8 generations until 2002. But did you know the first generation was originally planned to simply be a badge engineered Mustang? When the ford Mustang was first created in 1961 as a concept vehicle (called the Mustang I), it received such a thrill that Ford decided to create what was to become a pony car in 1962. They tasked their 3 departments (Ford, Lincoln-Mercury and Advanced design) to come up with a design. Out of the 3, the Ford one was chosen. It had the project name: Cougar. It was released to much fanfare in 1964, and plans were afoot to create a luxurious version under the Mercury name. But the Mercury team pleaded for their own design, based on the Mustang chassis. They got their wish, and came up with a different design, but still based on the same chassis as the Ford, just extended 3 inches. Coming up with a name was tough, so they ended up using the original project name: Cougar. This was released in 1967. Lesney came up with a model of the Cougar and released it as MB62 in the 1969 basic range, and converting it to Superfast wheels in 1970. However, after that they tricked out the model into Wildcat Dragster for 1971 running it a further 3 years.

Fast forward to 2003, and Mattel were in the midst of a serious split between core ranges and collector ranges. The core ranges were being aimed squarely at 3-6 year olds (known as Hero City), and were quite heavy on the generic “Matchbox originals” castings, along with some licensed vehicles of mainly current vehicles. However, the collector market (now under the name Matchbox Collectibles) was starting to see some exclusive castings of classic vehicles that were not going to be used in the core ranges. A few had already arrived, and the MB636/MB637 Mercury Cougar was being created for use in 2004 Collectibles series. But the direction(s) they had taken was not doing well. Sales were down, and changes were afoot to close the Mt Laurel offices, move the brand in-house to El Segundo and re-launch the brand in a different direction. So in 2004, the model launched in a brand new series called Superfast.

Release number 1: It wasn’t originally going to be green, but MB636 was launched in the 2004 Superfast range as number 62. The idea?

A throwback to the look of the classic Lesney. they even moved it to the number 62 slot to match up the numbers. Metallic green with a red interior. Just like the Lesney was. Coming up with the 4 throwbacks was a last minute decision (VW Beetle, Ford GT and Ford Mustang the others). It arrived in the first batch of the Superfast series in July 2004 (all 4 of the throwbacks were in the first batch).

Release number 2: A month later and the Matchbox team were throwing their annual Matchbox convention, which that year was in Hershey PA. For dealers attending the convention a set of 4 dealer models was created with all the 4 throwbacks in an alternate colour. The Cougar was now in orange. This is why they had come up with the throwbacks. To create alternates for the dealer set.

Release number 3: Now this is where things get complicated. As I have mentioned, this is the MB636/MB637 casting. Batch D of the 2004 Superfast series arriving in December 2004 featured the one and only issue of the MB637 casting. It was in the number 39 slot for the series and came in yellow with an added hood scoop.

However, the base section to the casting was different. But only where it formed the front grille. You see in addition to the hood scoop being added to the model, the front grill featured closed headlights. the MB636 casting was to feature the lights open. One slight problem….

When they made the small alteration to the base section, they forgot to alter the MB number on the base. So it still stated MB636 on it. This led to the 2 bases being switched over.

Release number 4: September 2005, and the 2005 Superfast range arrived at batch E and with it a dual release. the US market was first, and the number 62 model arrived in white. However, as I stated, the base was the closed headlight base, yet the model had no hood scoop. The tampo printing even had 4 headlights depicted across the front which looked rather out of place on the closed headlighted grille.

Release number 5: A month later and the ROW equivalent duly arrived in burgundy. Yes, same issue. The closed headlight base and 4 painted headlights on it.

Release number 6: After the 2005 Superfast run, the castings were shipped over to Thailand. Obviously they had no idea of what had gone on with the 2 bases, and with only the MB636 manufacturing number being in current use, they did not look to see what was going on with them either. Why would they? So now we simply had the MB636 casting with closed headlights. Therefore the Matchbox team, to make things easy, just kept it like that and made no attempt to tampo print any headlights on future issues. However, after a number of premium issues, the next appearance of the casting was actually in licensed 5-pack (what was classed as a core range, meaning less tampo). The Shonen-Jump 5-pack was the last of the 2006 licensed 5-packs appearing at the end of the year, and found the model in brown featuring Sasuke on the side.

Release number 7: Now technically, we are still in 2006, but that is because Superfast starting so late, was a half year to half year release. So the 2004 series ran from July 2004 until spring 2005, with the next 2 series doing the same. The Cougar was issued in the second to last batch of the 2006 Superfast series, in spring 2007. By then the range had become a USA Walmart exclusive, and this model in silver was one of the ones chosen to sport a “throwback” Streakers look, reminiscent of the style that Lesney were using in the mid 1970s when they first purchased a tampo machine.

Release number 8: To bring things back in line, the 2007 Superfast series was a much smaller affair. Now a Walmart USA exclusive item, instead of a full set of 75 models, released mid-year to mid-year, the 2007 series was 18 models and sold across 3 batches across the end of the year. It had the tagline Superfast America, as all the 18 vehicles were of classic American vehicles. The Mercury Cougar was a part of the final batch in the number 16 slot appearing at the end of 2007, in some cases early 2008.

Release number 9. Released about the same time as the final 2007 Superfast America batch was the first 2008 basic range batch, and as a surprise, the Mercury Cougar made its basic range debut here. Batch A in December 2007, MB3 came in red. However, across production you could find variations between a lighter orangey red and a darker cherry red.

Release number 10: Were they making up for lost basic range time? the model was chosen to be in 2 versions in the 2008 basic range, and MB3 turned blue in batch D in March 2008. Again, with a larger production run, shades of blue were inevitable.

Release number 11: In 2009 it saw another run in the basic range, which as it stands is currently its last basic range outing (unless it pops back up again). However, when MB8 arrived that year in April’s batch E, it was only sold in the US and LAAM markets. The ROW market did not see this model in dark blue with silver pin striping down the sides.

Release number 12: 2010. As it stands, this has proven to be the final year we have seen this casting. But it didn’t go quietly. It saw 2 different issues that year. First up was another green issue, this time in the “Real” 10-pack in January.

Release number 13: Unlucky for some? It looks to be unlucky for the Cougar at the moment. Across 2 different manufacturing numbers, and a case of mistaken bases getting switched up, May 2010 saw the final time we saw the Cougar. But this was the heaviest. Part of the first year of the Lesney Edition: Double Diecast series, where each model would sport a metal body AND metal base. Being premium, this batch D release was in orange, featured a matte black roof and full tampo printing across all surfaces.

So there we go. The Mattel era Mercury Cougar. It has been over 10 years since we last saw it. I am hopeful that one day we will see it again.

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