PH Fleet: Ford 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

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (19) Join the discussion on the forum

  • rog007 07 Aug 2012

    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 07 Aug 2012

    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 07 Aug 2012

    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 07 Aug 2012

    Nicely put!
    "it's how the whole car hangs together dynamically and flows down the road that makes it fun"

  • Kaizer 07 Aug 2012

    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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