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Tuesday 7th August 2012

PH Fleet: Ford Puma

Riggers' Puma meets its sporty cousin in the form of the Ford Heritage Racing Puma



Someone asked me, last time I wrote about the Puma, whether I wouldn't mind writing a little less about the everyday bits of ownership and a little more about what the car is actually like out on the open road. You know, doing the thing we as enthusiasts enjoy the most but actually get to do so rarely...

Like a protein shake before-and-after ad
Like a protein shake before-and-after ad
And if you're talking about how fun to drive a Puma is, conversation soon turns to the wide-shouldered, steroidal form of the Racing Puma. If the standard Puma has a rep among the cognoscenti as a bit of a driver's gem (for those prepared to put up with the odd 'hairdresser' jibe), then the Racing Puma is the Koh-i-Noor of the little Ford coupe.

Which is why, when I found out that Ford would have its heritage fleet example available to try at a recent press event, I made darn sure I could take AX51 GGA along for a quick comparison.

What it's about
The run down to the event, along Surrey and Sussex backroads, was a timely reminder of exactly why I bought the Puma in the first place. A deliciously slick and lightly-weighted gearchange, a willing and revvy engine, precise, informative steering and a general willingness to tackle corners and direction changes with real gusto combine to make a country road a real hoot.

Haidresser meets muscle man
Haidresser meets muscle man
Is it particularly fast? Will it embarrass more expensive and powerful machinery? No. Relatively low grip levels and brakes that don't exactly inspire confidence see to that. But just as with a Mk1 Mazda MX-5, it's how the whole car hangs together dynamically and flows down the road that makes it fun. You might be able to reach point B from point A more rapidly in your 250hp hot hatch, but I'm willing to bet I'll be having almost as much fun in the Puma, and in less danger of losing my licence.

With my Puma placed side by side with Ford's immaculate heritage car, certain differences are obvious. The wide wheelarches, big wheels, and wide-tracked stance, for example, almost go without saying. Likewise, the splashes of Blue Alcantara and hip-hugging sports seats in the racing Puma are obvious points of difference compared with the slightly time-worn black leather seats in my car.

Riggers-mobile and its 'well-used' cabin
Riggers-mobile and its 'well-used' cabin
Same but more so
But the overall feel is surprisingly similar. The same is true when you get out on the road in the Racing Puma; the car feels like a Puma, only more so. Perhaps I shouldn't use the word surprising, because the Racing Puma shares the same engine and gearbox as its more effeminate sibling (albeit with more power). But it does get beefier brakes bigger wheels, uprated suspension and a wider track.

True enough, the Racing Puma's engine is that bit more punchy (though probably only just fast enough to feel genuinely amusing), and its general demeanour is grippier and more aggressive. But it's the details that make it feel so familiar, the way you occasionally have to double declutch to get it to engage reverse properly, the way you need to give it a few extra revs when you pull away in order to avoid the engine bogging down.

Seats and wheel lift FRP's interior
Seats and wheel lift FRP's interior
Even the way it goes down the road is pure Puma, with its incisive but not hyperactive turn-in, general nimbleness and (sadly) jittery ride. It just does it all that bit quicker.

Price point
Returning to the Ford event car park grinning like a muppet, it was hard to work out exactly why Ford struggled to shift the beefy little Puma, only building 500 of the planned run of 1,000 cars and even then struggling to find homes for them. Then I remembered that, when new, it cost £23K. In 1999 that was a couple of grand more than a Subaru Impreza Turbo. For a Fiesta-based car more than 50hp down on the Impreza, that's quite a lot. No matter how magical the fettling of Tickford's engineers (for it was they who developed the Racing Puma for Ford).

Wide shoulders matched by haunches
Wide shoulders matched by haunches
These days, a decent Racing Puma will set you back £5K-£6K (though tatty ones are less and pristine examples a bit more), which makes the FRP a more alluring proposition than it was when new.

The funny thing is, though, that I don't think the Riggers piggy bank will be filling up in anticipation of an upgrade from Puma to Racing Puma. And that's not because a car I've lusted after driving for more than a decade was in any way a disappointment, it's just that my £1K shed gives me enough of the stuff that makes the Racing Puma such a treat for a fraction of the cost. And long may that feeling continue.


Fact sheet:
Car: 2001 Ford Puma
Run by: Matt Rigby
Bought: June 2011
Purchase price: £1,000
Last month at a glance: AX51 GGA meets its racy big brother


Previous reports:
MoT failed, but at least Riggers has got that suspension sorted now
Mysterious flat battery appears to be a one-off. So far...
Time to get AX51 GGA spruced up with a spring clean
Continental jaunts and Corrosion block for Riggers' Puma
Riggers is finding it tough to trust with his new Puma

Riggers
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Author Discussion

rog007

Original Poster:

3,432 posts

107 months

[news] 
Tuesday 7th August 2012 quote quote all
Owned a FRP a couple of cars ago; wonderful thing! Best brakes on a road car I have ever had and the noise from the exhaust on the over-run was perfect. Great for hustling around the Moors, but underpowered everywhere else so had to go. Would certainly have another as a second car.

darrenw

175 posts

166 months

[news] 
Tuesday 7th August 2012 quote quote all
I paid £300 (+MOT test) for a 1700 Puma a month or so ago, to use as my daily driver. I absolutely love it! Cracking fun to drive, even with 130,000 miles on the clock.


Melina Blue Ford Puma 1.7 by retromotoring, on Flickr

insideimsmiling

88 posts

59 months

[news] 
Tuesday 7th August 2012 quote quote all
Love the above, looks great in that colour. I had a tatty Puma as a stop gap car for a few weeks, never really liked them much but it was cheap. Anyway loved the way it drove, felt like a real sports coupe & not just a fashion coupe, as i had expected. So although it smelt of wet dog i kept it for for longer than i had expected & enjoyed every drive in it. I am certain that i will own a Puma again & would recommend them to anyone that enjoys driving & has a very limited budget - great little cars.

Pistonwot

413 posts

42 months

[news] 
Tuesday 7th August 2012 quote quote all
Nicely put!
"it's how the whole car hangs together dynamically and flows down the road that makes it fun"

Kaizer

88 posts

111 months

[news] 
Tuesday 7th August 2012 quote quote all
Ford Puma is always a bit underrated in among other fast Fords, the way it handles /rides is among the best.


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405dogvan

4,162 posts

148 months

[news] 
Tuesday 7th August 2012 quote quote all
The FRP is to the Puma what the SportKA was to the KA

You drive a KA and you notice the fun factor, the zippy gearchange, the nimbleness and general simplicity of it - but you wonder if more power and a bit more body control/some brakes wouldn't be nice.

Then you drive a SportKA and realise that with the bigger engine you also got a heavier front-end, a less comfy ride and a less chuckable feeling car overall (a Fiesta - in effect).

The base Puma is brilliant but you wonder if turning it up a bit wouldn't be a good idea anyway. Problem was, the FRP was a lunatic price when new and has dropped in value really harshly (esp for a rarish RS Ford). Tidy cars are probably a good buy now (when a tidy 3dr Cosworth can demand £30K plus now they may even count as an investment!!) BUT the standard car does almost everything the FRP does for a fraction of the cost so why bother?

Also - taller drivers who struggle in the Puma will REALLY struggle in the FRP - I can't even get into one thanks to what amounts to a bigger/less adjustable seat (see also phase 2 Pumas).

405dogvan

4,162 posts

148 months

[news] 
Tuesday 7th August 2012 quote quote all
Kaizer said:
Ford Puma is always a bit underrated in among other fast Fords, the way it handles /rides is among the best.

First time I drove one, one event particular stood out. I was waiting at a busy roundabout that I've crossed a million times - you need to be on-the-ball as it's always chocka and when a gap showed, I gave the Puma a nudge and...

I swear I was on the other side of the roundabout before most cars would have fully disengaged their clutches and gotten underway - there was no pause/no slack at all, it just engaged 'drive' and shot off.

Fantastic little cars - if you can overlook their impracticalities (a bootlid which dumps gallons of water into the boot isn't much fun) smile

darrenw

175 posts

166 months

[news] 
Tuesday 7th August 2012 quote quote all
405dogvan said:
(a bootlid which dumps gallons of water into the boot isn't much fun) smile
Ahh, yes. Our wonderful Summer has taught me that already!

danjama

1,720 posts

25 months

[news] 
Tuesday 7th August 2012 quote quote all
I am seriously liking the look of a Puma. Might have to look for a local bargain.

soad

18,335 posts

59 months

[news] 
Wednesday 8th August 2012 quote quote all
danjama said:
I am seriously liking the look of a Puma. Might have to look for a local bargain.
Me too, me too.

whythem

667 posts

60 months

[news] 
Wednesday 8th August 2012 quote quote all
That's more like it Riggers. When I asked the question, I already knew the answer, as my daily commute at 5am is the entire length of the a388 in cornwall.

A great, but not fast road, driven in a great but not fast car, in the a.m. under a pink summer sky or that first cold day in October, is really what the Puma is about. In terms of driving pleasure at road legal speeds My opinion is that the Puma can indeed embarris much more expensive and exotic metal.

Good luck with the new jobsmile

Wattsie

1,155 posts

84 months

[news] 
Wednesday 8th August 2012 quote quote all
Well I really like them, so I put my money where my mouth is biggrin


collateral

7,238 posts

101 months

[news] 
Wednesday 8th August 2012 quote quote all
iirc although the Racing has 30ish more hp than the standard 1.7 the torque is about the same

Best piece of advice a mech gave me - the VCT doesn't properly engage if the oil level isn't at MAX - if I let it get a little low I can definitely feel the difference after topping it up again. Mine's going to tick over 80k soon.

leghorn

42 posts

51 months

[news] 
Wednesday 8th August 2012 quote quote all
I had a Racing Puma years ago. I wanted an Elise but needed something 'practical'.

It looked fantastic inside and out. Was fun to drive but looked faster than it was. Handled well but with the huge front tyres it tended to tram line. I'm no lard arse but those bucket seats are very narrow.

I reckon well driven, more nimble, standard 1.7 could keep up with an FRP but lacks the visual drama of the FRP, which is what drew me to it in the first place.

I'd happily drive either now too.

I wonder where it is now?



Funk

14,883 posts

92 months

[news] 
Wednesday 8th August 2012 quote quote all
soad said:
danjama said:
I am seriously liking the look of a Puma. Might have to look for a local bargain.
Me too, me too.
Mine will be up for sale when I pick up my E36 328i next month...!

darrenswift

1 posts

87 months

[news] 
Wednesday 8th August 2012 quote quote all
I owned V5FRP for a couple of years in the early 2000s and loved every second driving it. The grip and brakes were good enough for me, but convincing less well informed friends that it wasn't a 'chavved up' example was sometimes difficult. One of the most fun cars I've owned smile
This was taken on my way to an owners' meet at Castle Combe.


And this video was a later owner's upload of the exhaust sound smile
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzUn_Ju6Sgo


Edited by darrenswift on Wednesday 8th August 18:09

rog007

Original Poster:

3,432 posts

107 months

[news] 
Wednesday 8th August 2012 quote quote all
darrenswift said:
I owned V5FRP for a couple of years in the early 2000s and loved every second driving it. The grip and brakes were good enough for me, but convincing less well informed friends that it wasn't a 'chavved up' example was sometimes difficult. One of the most fun cars I've owned smile
This was taken on my way to an owners' meet at Castle Combe.


And this video was a later owner's upload of the exhaust sound smile
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzUn_Ju6Sgo


Edited by darrenswift on Wednesday 8th August 18:09
Top Lurcking! bow

Took a Puma to flush you out!! thumbup

chevronb37

5,897 posts

69 months

[news] 
Wednesday 8th August 2012 quote quote all
Warning to all Puma owners - unless you wish to face derision from fella PH members, do not under any circumstances attempt to fit a homemade diffuser to your car.

davo23

148 posts

35 months

[news] 
Thursday 9th August 2012 quote quote all
I'm glad the Puma is starting to be appreciated by car enthusiasts, it's about time we man up and throw those old 'girly car' 'hairdresser' jibes in the bin. Its a good car and great value, embrace it!

Personal preference has to be for the original propeller wheels!
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