Lost Ambition: The Story Behind The 1963 Ford Bordinat Cobra and 1964 Ford Cougar II

These prototypes represent Ford’s unfulfilled ambition to give the C2 Corvette Stingray a proper fight

When it comes to iconic Ford models from the 1960s, the first to come to mind is probably the Ford Mustang. While the Shelby Cobra, which came out just after the Mustang was the more exciting Ford-associated product, few remember that it was also the basis for a futuristic American sports car. The car was built in two versions: the Bordinat Cobra and Cougar II. Here’s what you need to know about these obscure American sports cars from the 1960s that had the potential to dethrone the Chevy C2 Corvette Stingray.

Designed by and named after their designer

Lost Ambition: The Story Behind The 1963 Ford Bordinat Cobra and 1964 Ford Cougar II - image 1092429

Despite both cars differing only in body style, they did not come out at the same time. The Ford Bordinat Cobra was unveiled in 1963 while the Ford Cougar II coupe version was introduced a year later, in 1964. Although the design looks awfully familiar to the C2 Corvette Stingray with some design elements seemingly borrowed from European sports cars like the Jaguar E-Type, the design was done entirely in-house.

The man behind the design is none other than Eugene Bordinate who used to work for Ford at the time. The designer joined Ford’s design team in 1947 and was in charge of supervising the Lincoln-Mercury design division. His career as a Ford Vice President of design ended after 19 years, which is longer than any other designer has worked for Ford.

One of his last creations was the 1963 Ford Bordinate Cobra, which was named after him. According to some sources, the 1964 Cougar II’s body was built by Italian coachbuilder, Vignale. It was named Cougar II because of an earlier version of the car, called the Cougar. Both prototypes featured bodies made out of fiberglass soy bead hybrid material.

Designed before the Corvette Stingray?

Lost Ambition: The Story Behind The 1963 Ford Bordinat Cobra and 1964 Ford Cougar II - image 1092421

Corvette people would point out that the Chevrolet Corvette C2 Stingray was produced between 1962 and 1967. An old Hemmings article talks about Ford claiming to have designed the Cougar II before the C2 Corvette Stingray. The C2 was, reportedly, already designed around 1961 and would debut a year later, in 1962, as a 1963 model year.

Based on a CSX Cobra chassis

Lost Ambition: The Story Behind The 1963 Ford Bordinat Cobra and 1964 Ford Cougar II - image 1092425

Both the open-top Bordinat Cobra and Cougar II prototypes were built atop an early, CSX Cobra chassis. These are the leaf-spring versions of the Cobras of which 655 were built. Those were powered by the Ford 289 cu-in (4.7-liter) V-8 engine, unlike the coil-spring Cobras, which came with a 427 V-8, and of which only 343 were built. The Cougar II, in particular, came with disc brakes all-around, just like a Shelby Cobra. While both were based on a Cobra chassis, the open-top Bordinat Cobra was a coil-sprung car.

For a while, it was believed that the Cougar II was based on the CSX 2004 chassis. However, further investigation confirmed that the same chassis number always featured a Shelby Cobra body on top, and the Cougar II prototype was, actually, based on chassis CSX 2008. To add to the mystery, Ford assigned the hardtop prototype VIN number XDCO315091, which identified it as one of three “Styling X-cars”. The program included various prototypes like Mustang I, Mustang II, Alegro, and others.

Better performance than a Cobra

Lost Ambition: The Story Behind The 1963 Ford Bordinat Cobra and 1964 Ford Cougar II - image 1092423

The Ford Cougar II concept was indented to be a high-performance variant with a 260 cubic-inch V-8 and a four-speed manual. This would have meant 260 horsepower (194 kilowatts) at 5,800 RPM and 269 pound-feet (365 Nm) at 4,800 RPM. In the Shelby Cobra, this would have meant a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) time of 5.3 seconds and a top speed of 139 mph (224 km/h) to 160 mph (258 km/h), which was the absolute limit for a 260-powered Cobra.

But while the Shelby Cobra was limited in terms of aerodynamics, with an estimated drag coefficient of 0.5, the Cougar II was said to be capable of 170 mph (274 km/h). Sadly, we would never know as the Cougar II never received an engine and never moved under its own power. It has always been a show car.

The same cannot be said about its open-top counterpart, the Bordinat Cobra. That one got a 289 cubic-inch V-8 with 271 horsepower (202 kilowatts) at 5,800 RPM and 314 pound-feet (426 Nm) at 3,400 RPM. Power from the 4.7-liter high-output V-8 was sent to the rear through a C4, three-speed automatic. At one point, the engine was removed and, like its hardtop sibling, the Bordinate Cobra became a show car.

Both prototypes were very different

While the body lines of both the Cougar II and Bordinat Cobra were identical, aside from the roof section (or lack thereof), the devil was in the details. For one, the coupe version had functional doors while the roadster did not. The dashboards were also different and you can clearly see the manual gear stick in the coupe and the shifter for the automatic in the roadster.

The prototypes also feature an innovative, spring-loaded window-winding mechanism for the side windows. The Cougar II had a relief panel in the rear passenger compartment, which automatically opened when the cabin pressure exceeds 15 pounds per square inch (1.03 bar). Other differences include the hood design and, most notably, the rear end, as seen by the images.

Killed by the Shelby Daytona

Lost Ambition: The Story Behind The 1963 Ford Bordinat Cobra and 1964 Ford Cougar II - image 1092427

It was clear that, for all its raw performance, the Shelby Cobra was aerodynamically inefficient. However, Ford had already focused efforts on the Ferrari-beating Le Mans legends that would become the Ford GT40. Because of this, investing in a more efficient redesign for the Shelby Cobra was not seen as feasible. At the same time, Pete Brock had already proposed the Shelby Daytona as a means to fix the original Cobra’s aerodynamics, which was enough to convince Ford to fund six Shelby Daytona Coupes for Shelby American.

Proud museum pieces

In 1985, Ford gifted both prototypes to the Henry Ford Museum, which in turn, donated them to the Detroit Historical Society. Ever since, both prototypes have occasionally been exhibited at many prime locations and automotive events. Both cars have an interesting story of how they were rediscovered in an old storage warehouse in Detroit, under wraps, which is probably what kept them from rusting away. The detailed story, told by the actual person who discovered the two prototypes, can be found at Ford Performance. To our knowledge, the cars were never auctioned and we doubt they ever will be.

Dim Angelov
Dim Angelov
Born in 1992, I come from a family of motoring enthusiasts. My passion for cars was awoken at the age of six, when I saw a Lamborghini Diablo SV in a magazine. After high school I earned a master’s degree in marketing and a Master of Arts in Media and Communications. Over the years, I’ve practiced and become skilled in precision driving and to date have test driven more than 250 cars across the globe. Over the years, I’ve picked up basic mechanical knowledge and have even taken part in the restoration of a 1964 Jaguar E-Type and an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint. Lately, I’ve taken a fancy to automotive photography, and while modern cars are my primary passion, I also have a love for Asian Martial Arts, swimming, war history, craft beer, historical weapons, and car restoration. In time, I plan my own classic car restoration and hope to earn my racing certificate, after which I expect to establish my own racing team.  Read full bio
About the author
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: