Ford Puma: PH Used Buying Guide

It seems almost obscene in these days of spiralling prices for some very so-so mid-1990s sports cars that Ford's Puma can still be had in fine fettle for £1,000. Still, it also means you can enjoy one of the very best driver's cars to emerge from that decade, or any other.

Based on the humble Ford Fiesta chassis, the Puma was nigh on perfect from the moment it was launched in 1997. The press loved it, dealers loved it and buyers thought it brilliant. All of these plaudits were for the 1.7-litre version, which came with variable valve timing courtesy of a cylinder head designed and fitted by Yamaha. It gave the Puma a fizzy, rev-happy nature that suited its superb handling and pin sharp steering.

By comparison, the 1.4-litre base model, and the 1.6 that replaced it in late 2000, just felt too slow to make the most of the handling. Even so, the 1.7 needed 8.6 seconds to get from 0 to 60mph, but the almost metronomic precision of the five-speed manual gearbox let you keep it sparking away around 7,000rpm where peak power of 125hp was produced.

Early Pumas had quite simple fabric upholstery and, in usual Ford fashion, a number of special editions followed with leather seats, fancy body colours and different alloy wheels.

However, the only significant change to the Puma in its all too short life was the launch of the Racing model. It took the 1.7-litre engine to 153hp thanks to a new intake manifold, camshafts, exhaust and ECU. That resulted in 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and an increased top speed of 126mph over the standard 1.7's 123mph.

In many ways, the Racing Puma didn't feel special enough to warrant the big jump in price, even if the cabin was decked out with excellent Sparco seats trimmed in Alcantara. However, it was the handling that made it shine. The track was 70mm wider and firmer springs made it almost impossible to keep up with on twisty roads. Ford only made 500, all painted Imperial Blue metallic, and a handful were specified with a limited slip differential that makes these cars even more desirable to collectors now.

Due to its rarity, a Racing Puma will cost from £10,000 upwards depending on mileage and condition, but you can be sure prices will continue to rise. For the rest of the Puma breed, you can pick up scabby examples for less than £500, while £1,000 should find you a car in decent nick but with some rust bubbles showing through. Spend twice that and you can bag a very clean 1.7 that will make you smile every time you drive it.

Bodywork and interior

Rust is the natural predator of the Puma. Most of it will be obvious on the rear wheelarches and sills, but also check around the fuel filler and pretty much anywhere else you can see. If caught early, the rear arches are a simple, cheap fix, but if the rot has spread it can be too costly to repair as panels are hard to come by. Also, inspect the boot floor as it was poorly protected from the factory.

The Racing Puma also suffers from corrosion, though most have been more pampered. Its problem stems from the wider rear wings being glued and welded over the original body. Rust happens out of sight, so you need to strip the interior panels to inspect in here. Repair panels are available, but restoring rot here can run to £5,000.

The Racing Puma has aluminium front wings and there are no new panels available, so that means scouring for good used ones if they're damaged

Racing Puma bumpers are made from fibreglass and are very susceptible to knocks, so check them carefully.

The standard car's interior wears well, but the Racing Puma's Sparco front sports seats quickly scuff. Matching the blue Alcantara is a tricky job.

Engine and transmission

Overheating is common due to a faulty thermostat. If the temperature dial fluctuates, replace the thermostat as a preliminary measure.

If the throttle hesitates during a test drive, its position sensor needs replacing, which will cost around £40 for a new sensor.

The 1.7-litre engine is best run on 5W-30 semi-synthetic oil.

Cambelt changes are required every five years or 80,000 miles.

Some 1.7s have suffered from bore wear, so look for smoke from the exhaust, poor starting and oil leaks.

Any misfire is probably due to the HT leads shorting due to coolant leaking on to them.

Suspension and steering

Sloppy, worn bushes ruin the Puma's handling. Original spec replacements are cheap and easy to fit, but a better bet might be polybushes to give a longer lasting fix and firm up the suspension without losing the supple ride.

The Racing Puma gained Eibach springs and Sachs shock absorbers, which are no longer available new.

Wheels, tyres and brakes

Look for uneven tyre wear as a sign of worn suspension.

Alcon supplied the brakes for the Racing Puma and they need a service every 3,000 miles to maintain their excellent bite. The calipers can corrode and repairs will cost up to £700, while front discs are £400 for aftermarket items.

Engine: 1388/1596/1679cc 4-cyl inline
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power (hp): 89/105/125/153@5500/5500/6300/7000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 92/107/116/118@4500rpm
MPG: 39.0/38.0/38.0/35.0
CO2: 171/171/178/NAg/km
Price new: £14,550
Price now: £500 upwards

Inspired? Search for a used Ford Puma in the classifieds

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Comments (42) Join the discussion on the forum

  • petrolinveins 16 May 2018

    Ran one for a tear as my first car. Still got it, failed mot on rust as per though. Both sills and arches flaky. Parts are very cheap and it's a riot in the bends even with tired bushes and shocks.

  • Jay_87 16 May 2018

    I've owned 3 Puma's now one of which I've had for 10 years. Genuinely brilliant little cars and great fun on a track day!

  • Phil Dicky 16 May 2018

    I've the intention to get one of these for my son and me. To use for track days and mod accordingly.

  • Taylor-nkv9v 16 May 2018

    I've owned 3 1.7s and they are wonderful cars. I looked at replacing my last many times when my commute doubled but ended up doing 25,000 miles in just over a year. Uncomfortable for me being 6'3" but just so lovely to drive (steering, gearshift, engine, handling) compared to a lot of modern superminis. I often think about how much I miss my Puma when looking at a £17000 1.0 turbo that does 35mpg with electric steering assistance and a touchscreen! I personally wouldn't pay 5-10 times more than a 1.7 for a Racing when the standard car can be easily modified (or enjoyed as it is). You could argue it's one of the few classic Fords that you wouldn't feel guilty or anxious using, although it is becoming increasingly hard to find a really good one.

  • Limpet 16 May 2018

    A mate and I bought a tatty one off eBay a couple of years ago with a short MOT and a slipping clutch for £174. After a bit of welding, a couple of hundred quid on bits, and a few weekends, it was freshly MOT'd and drove brilliantly.

    Ragged it everywhere, and did a few track days in it, and it never missed a beat. We used to love taking it on track. It was always the cheapest car there, always one of the lowest powered, but never the slowest. Brakes would wilt after a few hard laps, but otherwise it stood up brilliantly.

    As the MOT approached, a cursory look underneath found more serious rot setting in around the beam mounts and the rear inner sill area so we decided to call it a day while it still had some ticket on it. Sold it pretty quickly on a local Facebook group for £150 to a chap who wanted the engine and gearbox for a Fiesta project.

    For fun per £ spent, it's the best car I've had by a mile.

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