The Zebulon Cougar

Leith's Cougar in Zebulon, North Carolina. Photo: Frank Whatley.
Leith's Cougar in Zebulon, North Carolina. Photo: Frank Whatley.

Originally published in The Grey Area newspaper (printed) August 1, 2011.


By Frank and Kay Whatley

In the July 1, 2011, issue of The Grey Area, we reported cougar sightings within Eastern North Carolina over the past decade. This issue, we bring you a cougar of another type — and right in Zebulon NC.

Driving along West Gannon Avenue, visitors and residents alike cannot help but see the stories-tall cougar located at the front of Auctions America. It’s one of those landmarks everyone sees, and few know much about.

The Zebulon Cougar is one of only two cats built in 1972 by the same company that built figures for Walt Disney. While one cat headed north to Washington DC, the other came to North Carolina. Measuring close to 15 feet tall, the Cougar sports teeth about a foot long and wild eyes.

Originally, it was taken to 1313 Downtown Boulevard to live at the Leith Lincoln-Mercury car dealership. Lincoln–Mercury referred to the Lincoln and Mercury divisions of the Ford Motor Company. At the beginning of June 2010, Ford announced they were discontinuing the Mercury brand.

The oversized Cougar and his twin were designed to draw attention to the Mercury Cougar automobiles during the early seventies. Various Cougar versions were manufactured from 1967 to 2002.

The Cougar model was a big part of Mercury’s image for years, and marketing identified Mercury dealers like Leith as being “at the sign of the cat”. In Leith’s case, the sign of the cat was two stories tall!

Mike Leith of Zebulon is owner of the Cougar and the original Leith Lincoln-Mercury. He’s tended the beast for decades, and it watches over his Auctions America, which runs the Raleigh Classic Car Auction each year at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.

The big cat stayed at the Downtown Boulevard dealership for years, glaring down from the roof at passers-by. When the car dealership moved from the property, the cougar was relocated to Zebulon and began spending its days watching traffic go by on Gannon Avenue.

Now approaching its 40th birthday, Mr. Leith plans to relocate the Cougar once more. The classic cat will now prowl at Howden Classic Cars, a dealership opening at 709 W Gannon Avenue this month. Cougars don’t normally live together in a Pride; however, several classic Mercury Cougars will join the Zebulon Cougar when he is released into his new habitat.

Releasing the cat into its new home is serious business. He’ll be transported to Howden and released August 4, 2011.


Ed. Note:  To watch the relocation video from August 4, 2011, go to this Facebook video —

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About Frank Whatley 19 Articles
Founder of The Grey Area News and staff photographer, Frank Whatley set the direction for the newspaper and news site.