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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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