R.A-S.H: The Ford Puma and Racing Puma

Puma1

Welcome back to R.A-S.H, the car-brochure discussion series that car manufacturers, well, frankly couldn’t give a damn about.

Sometimes a car is damned by its hyperbole, sometimes the reality is greater than anybody could have expected. Sometimes I find myself gushing even more revoltingly than the car brochures I’m presenting. In this case, though, I feel especially smug because its a car that you chaps West of the Atlantic were denied. Ha!

Today comes the turn of the Ford Puma, and its thoroughly worked over sister, the Racing.

“A Driver’s Dream”

On that theme, let’s start with a Youtube embed. The original UK Puma commercial:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaP4Ns-ILzo[/youtube]

“Created by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts”

I should imagine that the accounts department, as enthusiastic as they were, may have had at list one of their fingers in the Ford pie too, but in the late ’90s, in Europe at least,  Ford could seemingly do no wrong. They were on a high while almost every one of their models (except the Escort which never, ever became anything other than seriously mediocre, performance models aside) was recieving plaudits from every direction. The Mondeo was rated as among the best driving medium cars around, the baby KA was sharp looking and sharp driving, Even the US Ford Explorer, when it landed on our shores was met with enthusiasm when first driven on Top Gear by Tiff Needell.

Success with coupes, though, had been marginal since the death of the Capri in late ’87. We had received a good Probeing in ’94, and that was reasonably well received at least in 24v flavour, but suffered badly from being hailed as a Capri replacement. No, selling a proper sports coupe was a difficult task with so much competition from Germany and Japan. Ford was going to have to set their sights a little lower.

puma2

“Puma is all about craftsmanship. It’s there in the innovative engineering, in the design, in the use of materials, and it’s there in the dynamics, too”

The opening sentence is a little bit mystifying. While Ford build quality was, at the time, pretty good, it was still a long way from being hewn from granite by a select group of artisans.  Innovative engineering was stretching things a little too. But, by hook or by crook, Ford had somehow:

“Delivered a car to stimulate all the senses”

Here was a Ford that continued the trend for avantgarde design that the KA had initiated. Another car influenced by their “Edge Design” philosophy, Puma was full of:

“…thoughtful touches, like the distinctive circular projection headlamps…” which turned out to be bloody hopeless in an illuminatory sense “and the beautifully machined aluminium gear leaver knob”, which was deliciously cold to the touch but positively painful on cold days. But all of these features, and the whole car, for that matter, was intended to “promise capability and performance” .

Yes, yes it did. Never mind the fact that the driving environment was so brutally underscored by the fact that the dashboard was straight out of a Fiesta. Even silver dress-up adornments couldn’t conceal that. It didn’t matter, though, because the Fiesta in its post-1996 guise was routinely heaped with praise of the most florid variety.

Much of that credit must go to the guru Mr Richard Parry-Jones, of whom more may possibly issue from this keyboard in a later feature. Suffice to say, his input was invaluable. With the Fiesta, Parry-Jones and Ford had created a supermini chassis which was good enough to find itself underpinning a sports coupe.

 “Our dynamics engineers extracted every last micron of performance out of the steering, handling and brakes”

When they say “extracted every last micron” All the Puma development team really needed to do to the Fiesta chassis was a bit of fine tuning. And then when that was all done they had to figure out how to power it. The Fiesta already had a fine 1.4 litre Zetec-SE unit which was well regarded but not exactly a powerhouse. A solution was found, though.

“You know after 8.8 seconds that this is a very special piece of engine technology.”

Certainly was. Hailed as the first engine with fully variable valve timing to feature in a car of that class, the 1.7 whirred contentedly to produce an excitable 125hp at a heavenly 6300rpm, and it absolutely loved doing it. Moreover, Ford had produced an exhaust system that made the very best of those escaping gases, with a wonderful bass note just above tickover and a howl that became more tuneful the harder you pushed the car. A 1.7 Puma was a very, very rewarding car to drive. And a very good looking one, too.

Puma3

There are angles that betray the stumpiness of the Fiesta beneath, but in my humble, subjective reckoning the Puma was a stylistic tour-de-force. The side view could have belonged to a much bigger, more powerful machine. There’s a low nose and suggestive “speed lines” stamped into the sheetmetal, together with clever profiling of surface to make the most of the falling light. The rear lamp clusters may have been cribbed from the Mk IV Toyota Supra, but made for a detail that set it aside from more conservative rivals. The overtly feminine rear end was perhaps the weakest, but it definitely makes sense if you think of it with a pert, cellulite-free, ladies bottom in mind.

Puma4

I’d like to make special mention here of the wheels. They’re redolent of Russian submarine propellers and have an awesomeness that Ford has rarely equalled. Sadly they disappeared with the mid-life update. Talk about a crisis…

“Puma has strength in depth. It’s a car that just has to be driven”.

And that’s where we come to the Racing Puma. The evocative brochure starts simply with a view of one of its factory Sparco seats. Then come the Superlatives:

puma6

“The waiting is over. The moment is upon us.”

It goes on to list exactly what made the Racing what it was, a list including, but not limited to, a Janspeed exhaust system, Alcon 4-pot calipers and rear discs, a Ricardo calibrated 155hp version of the already impressive 1.7 litre motor and 17″ MiM wheels. This was all part of a conversion carried out by Tickford, which means Prodrive, which means special.

It was an exhausting 12-stage process by which a regular Puma was dissected and transformed into a Racing, and then given those marvellous seats and door trim to match. Then a nice, chunky steering wheel added to finish things off.

Puma7

“This is motorsport technology, engineering and heritage adapted for the road….. The Ford Racing Puma. Drive it. Hard.”

Was ever there a more inviting invitation to issue from the glossy pages of a brochure? Only 500 lucky souls had the privilege to call a Racing their own, 50% fewer folk than the brochure had suggested. And, sadly, the Puma itself would go the way of all flesh within 5 years, never to be replaced.

Puma8

Unfortunately, the Puma currently sits in that uncomfortable “just an old car” void, where there are still plenty of them around and values haven’t really begun to galvanise yet, except the Racing, of course, which retains much of its unicorn status.

I know these cars well. I sold a 1.7 to my sister, and she kept it for six years, finally selling it recently when rust, 170,000 miles, an oil leak and a desire for change took its toll. I can report favourably about its driveability, performance, economy and, relatively speaking, durability. I’d have one, and I heartily endorse it to any one of you.

And I totally have the brochures.

(Disclaimer:- All images are badly photographed with the white balance all to cock from original sales literature. Copyright remains property of the manufacturer. Ford; New Puma Please)

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

7 Comments

  1. Always liked the way these things looked – like a 5/8 scale contemporary Mercury Cougar, which makes sense given the derivative nomenclature.

  2. One of the few cars I've experienced that was as balls-out fun to drive as my 1986.5 Dodge Colt Turbo.

  3. Rear drum brakes in 1997 ? really ? I'm not surprised that the only one that I have ever seen belonged to a guy who crashed into a tree and died.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here