“Pros: Everything. Cons: Nothing” – for years, evo Magazine’s brief but glowing summation of the Ford Puma 1.7 found in The Knowledge. Even today, it gives a pretty accurate description of what a great car the bargain coupe really is.
Based upon the already fine-handling Mark 4 Fiesta, the Puma gained firmer suspension, a wider track and tweaked versions of Ford’s Sigma engines. The result was a sharp, playful chassis, which combined with the revvy engines and an undeniably pretty coupe body, made it one of the most desirable cars available on sale at the time.
It was affordable, too. Sharing so much with the Fiesta (much like the chassis, the dashboard design was near-identical too) kept prices low: costing £14,550 back in 1997, the Puma was cheaper than both the slower, more stale Vauxhall Tigra and the similarly-performing yet less exciting Renault Megane Coupe 2.0-litre.
That price along with the Puma’s almost universally-glowing reviews helped ensure it became a great sales success for Ford. As a result, prospective buyers today are left with plenty of choice on the used market.
Which one to buy?
From its 1997 launch, the Puma was sold with a 1.7-litre engine, and six months later it was joined by a smaller 1.4 lump offering 90bhp. Unless insurance costs are a deal-breaker, we’d go for the larger engine – both are more than willing, but the 1.7’s extra shove (at 123bhp it has 33bhp more, not to mention an extra 24lb ft) makes it the more exciting drive. A 1.6-litre model replaced the 1.4 in October 2000, and its additional 10bhp helped to cut the 0-62mph time to from 10.8 seconds to 10 seconds flat.
Several trim level special editions were sold during the Puma’s life, including the Millennium (Zinc Yellow paint and dark blue leather Recaros) the Black (Panther Black paint, black leather, unique alloy wheels) and the Thunder (Magnum Grey or Moondust Silver paint, black leather, multispoke alloys and a six-disc CD changer.)
The rarest and most sought-after is the Racing Puma. Much more than a simple styling exercise, the FRP was developed by engineers from Ford’s rally team and finished by tuners Tickford. Wide arches help to accommodate a 70mm-wider track, while the more aggressive front bumper gains a deep splitter. Lightweight Speedline Turini alloys measure 17” in diameter and sit ahead of Alcon brakes, featuring discs (295mm at the front, 270mm rear) clamped by four-piston calipers. Handling was sharpened thanks to stiffer springs, and a limited-slip differential was optionally available from the factory. The standard 1.7-litre engine’s power output climbed to 152bhp (a 30bhp increase) courtesy of revised camshafts, uprated intake and exhaust systems and a tweaked ECU, good for a 7.9-second 0-62mph time. All 500 Racing Pumas were finished in Imperial Blue Metallic – a colour shared with the Escort Cosworth.
With approximately 22,000 Pumas still registered on UK roads today there’s plenty of choice out there, so don’t feel pressured into jumping at the first example you find. The biggest bugbear is rust – particularly around the rear arches. Much like the contemporary Ka and Fiesta ranges, it’s more unusual to find a rust-free Puma than a corroded model. Given the car’s current values, it isn’t really economical to fix the rot. Best to find the cleanest car possible, then.
Performance and specs
Engine 1679cc inline four
Power 123bhp @ 6300rpm
Torque 116lb ft @ rpm
Top speed 126mph
Fuel consumption 38mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• The Puma’s body has an infamous reputation for rusting. Rear arches in particular are known to rot from the inside out. Check for bubbling below the door sill, both rear wheel arches and around the fuel filler cap
• The Racing Puma’s brakes need frequent servicing to ensure that dirt from the road doesn’t foul the caliper’s pistons. Later versions of the regular Pumas can suffer from fluid leaks
• The thermostat can give off inconsistent readings, which can cause overheating issues
• The 1.7-litre engine, co-developed with Yamaha, is somewhat fussy when it comes to oil. Ensure it’s filled with fresh 5W30 semi-synthetic to ensure the best running
• The throttle position sensor is another part which can cause issues, manifesting in a hesitant throttle, poor idling, and kangarooing at low revs. Replacements cost £30-£40, so it’s not a disaster to discover a Puma misbehaving in this way on a test drive
1997: Ford Puma launched
1999: Puma Millenium special edition offered unique yellow paint and a full leather interior. 1000 produced
Nov 1999: Racing Puma sales commence. 500 units produced in total
2000: Ford Puma Thunder released. Featured a choice of metallic grey or silver paint, black leather and Fiesta Zetec S-aping alloy wheels
2000: Ford Puma Black edition released. Features Black paint and leather interior, plus unique alloy wheels
Oct 2000: 1.6-litre petrol engine replaces 1.4
2001: Puma production ceases, though some cars were registered in 2002
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Due to the sheer numbers available, values for the bulk of the Puma range remain incredibly low. High mileage and almost certainly rusty – yet working – examples are available for barely £300. If you’re searching for a regular 1.7 in the finest corrosion-free condition, it’s unlikely you'll need to fork out much more than £2000.
Due to their rarity and desirability, Racing Pumas, are worth significantly more, but still relatively affordable in comparison to many other Fast Fords. After settling around £5000 for several years, currently FRPs are beginning their steady climb towards the £10,000 mark.
With so many parts shared with the Fiesta, service and perishable parts are cheap. Brand name tyres for the standard 15-inch tyres should only cost £60-£80 per corner, while a set of front brake disks and pads cost less than £40.
Words: Alex Ingram