Happy 25th, COOL CATS!

It’s hard to believe but this site is turning 25 this year.

How did it all get started? Where exactly did I get the inspiration to start a website like this?

It all comes down to connections. My aim was to find other Fox aero Cougar and Thunderbird enthusiasts because, surely, I couldn’t be the only one in love with these cars.

By 1996 I had already owned 3 Cougars: my first light blue ’84 V6 (sold), a black ’86 V8 (daily driver), and the ’86 5.0 convertible (toy). Of course, there were a few more cars on the way after them but I really only had those three cars’ experience upon which to build this site.

But that was the problem…I didn’t know HOW to build a website. The internet was so new, and websites were such a relatively new experience, that there wasn’t a good way to learn how to build one. I lived in a rural area with no high-speed internet access, and my old computer was barely powerful enough to sign on to the internet via dialup. I did get a book on HTML but was underwhelmed with it.

So I followed my artistic nature and did what all good artists do: steal. I took another site’s HTML code and observed its structure. I saw how things in the code translated to visual representation. And in all honesty, it looked for all the world like the BASIC programming I took in high school. So I figured, it couldn’t be that difficult to make the code bend to my will.

It took awhile to get some things looking good, and I ran into some early image problems due to the file size vs. my ability to upload them on dialup. But I had a rudimentary website at least.

Back then, I used AOL as my ISP and the company gave everyone something like 100MB of hosting space per account. I quickly filled up my site space, again due to image sizing, and created two more accounts, and then like some cosmic gravitational dance, connected all three spaces into one “website”. You literally jumped between three of my AOL accounts when you clicked on the navigation. It was crazy. The site launched on December 23, 1997 using an insanely long, AOL-derived URL. I didn’t even have a domain name at the time.

Funny story about the domain name. I had been checking and ‘coolcats.com’ was available for the longest of time. When I finally had enough money to buy a domain (at the time it was over US $150/year!), I found that I’d missed getting ‘coolcats.com’ by THREE DAYS. That’s right…all that time it sat there in the open, but when I go to acquire it, someone beat me to it by just a few days. Folks, that is indeed the story of my life. So I settled(?) for the .net version and that is the reason why this site is at coolcats.net instead.

So now I had a site and domain name but nowhere to really host it. It took a few months but the site, in all its rudimentary glory, actually gained traction on AOL due to, well, everyone using AOL. It was THE main ISP back then, at least in the USA, with its own chat rooms—which is how a lot of people found the site. Eventually someone who worked at a hosting company found my site and offered me a deal for site hosting. With his help I moved the site to their server (and merged the three “sites” into one), hooked the domain name…and the cohesive COOL CATS site was finally unleashed.

Without the safety net of AOL, I was now on my own as far as people finding the site. I wasn’t much for chat rooms outside of AOL and in fact, I still used it as my ISP because high-speed internet wasn’t available where I lived. So I plugged my site at every opportunity. Back then Yahoo was the preferred search engine (Google didn’t exist yet) so I learned rather quickly how SEO, or search engine optimization, worked and how to “trick” Yahoo into bumping the site up in rankings. That was fun while it lasted—Yahoo put the kibosh on that system after awhile. But by then, people were finding the site organically.

The whole point of this site was for me to connect with other Fox Cougar and Thunderbird owners. Surely someone who lived beyond the ass end of Ohio loved these cars just as much as I did. Pretty soon I started to hear from owners that were just as passionate about their cars, some even more so. They’d send photos (sometimes by snail mail!) and write lengthy emails and/or letters.

What gets me every time is seeing photos of these cars from back in the day when they were relatively new. I’m sure a lot of you are dealing with rust and peeling/faded paint and mismatched interior parts and crusty engine bays. It’s really difficult to convey to you just how special and personal these cars were closer to their build dates, back in their prime. You simply don’t see them in this condition very often today.

I still can’t forget the guy that acquired a body-in-white Cougar, no VIN, scheduled to be crushed by Ford, and yet somehow he saved the car and turned it into a drag strip scorcher. Or the extremely passionate people from Mexico and their custom rides. And let’s not forget the unexpected but satisfying multitudes of Canadians and their cars. Happy to say that some of these people are still good friends to this day.

Pretty soon I started getting correspondence from beyond the borders of North America. It was humbling to see just how far out into this world these cars had spread. The guy from Finland…that car was beautiful. I still cannot forget the night I got an email with a photo attached and a story from a dude in Russia. I lived a good part of my life during the Cold War and still couldn’t believe someone in Russia was contacting me about a Cougar. Amazing.

This site was inadvertently a huge learning process for me as well. I found out things about the cars that even I had never known or heard about. Mexico had their own VIN system and unique parts? Canada ran carburetors longer than the US? What the heck is a Bostonian Edition? Pretty soon I realized that there was still so much to learn. It wasn’t so easy for me at first, because I thought I had a pretty good grip on what was true and false. But thankfully I decided to keep an open mind. It took a lot of deductive reasoning to figure out a lot of things. Keeping good correspondence was always the key. And having photographic proof—something made infinitely easier with the advent of cameras on mobile phones—really helped dial in some things.

So naturally, as the years have progressed, the site has grown exponentially. At one point I took on the unenviable task of converting some data from print to the screen, by hand, including a massive list of part numbers, options, colors, specifications, and so on. Essentially what you see on the site is, by and large, the product of winter boredom. With lots of time in dark Ohio winter evenings to spare, I make it a goal to revamp the site every so often.

Which leads us to the present, mid-2022. For the first time I have just moved the site over to a fully database-driven platform, which is scary but I feel that it’s added so much character and substance to the site. Future updates and revamps should be a lot easier. I don’t think the site has ever had this much speed before, and certainly the navigation has never been stronger. It’s quite effective on a mobile phone as well—that device accounts for over half of my site traffic these days, and that trend isn’t going away anytime soon. In short, I am really happy and proud of the site.

(And we finally got high-speed internet in my part of Ohio in 2008. Better late than never.)

Over the years we’ve had a few Cougar-related message boards for gathering, help, and support. They were a very early reinforcement that what I created was the right call. People used the site as intended but also verified on the message board that the site info was correct. That’s what a good community does and, with few instances, I’m proud that we really never had much in the way of perpetuated false information, or trolls for that matter. (This site is still attached to a message board, in case you want to join.)

Of course, we can’t forget the huge impact that Facebook has had on our car hobby. Even though I’ve never created an official COOL CATS Facebook account, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had its presence there. Facebook groups have, for the most part, replaced the traditional message board in a lot of ways because it’s more instantaneous and crowd-sourced for verification. That is never a bad thing. And it never fails to make me smile when a new member is pointed over to my site by a longtime viewer or two.

The last 25 years have changed me personally, beyond the realm of cars. At the initial COOL CATS site launch, creating a website was merely a hobby for me. It’s now my primary job that I’ve had for nearly two decades. Never thought I’d make a living at it but here I am.

Of course I have some age-related issues now, some of which prevent me from doing certain things with the cars. For example, I don’t really fit into the cars like I used to (thank you, spinal fusion). I don’t find the seating position to be all that good anymore. I don’t like the way the steering wheel forces me into a certain position where my shoulders are bunched up and not relaxed. Maybe I’m spoiled but I find that it takes a mental preparation to slide into the seat of a Cougar again. Trust me, I don’t want to feel this way but that’s just reality for me now. There was a time where the Cougar was “normal” driving. Since they’re pleasure vehicles now, they’ve taken on a different meaning.

That doesn’t mean I’m not in love with them anymore. The more times and cars change, the more ours stand out thanks to the timeless first-gen aero design. There was—and still is—nothing like seeing the Cougar’s shape out on the open road. I will never, ever get tired of looking at them. And seeing all those Cougars and T-Birds on my daily Facebook feed makes me grin inside and out. Back in 1997 I’d have never thought that was possible.

It was a real struggle to get this site built, off the ground, found on search engines, and be respected at all. So glad I put in the effort.

I’ve rambled enough. Just wanted to look back a little, say ‘thanks’ to everyone who ever made this site possible, and thank YOU for continuing to view this site. I hope it lasts at least another 25 years. I’ll continue to host it if you keep viewing it.

Promise.

-Eric

History of COOL CATS In Photos

These are most of the layouts that were used in the past for the COOL CATS site. I had to fire up an old computer to get some of the older stuff but unfortunately, I think the very first version of the site is lost to the ages, as I had a data loss event around 2001-ish. Still, the fact that most of this was saved and accessible is quite remarkable. Hope you enjoy.

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