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The Top Gear car review:Ford Racing Puma
For:Engine's a gem. Wonderful chassis. Superb gearchange. Looks fantastic too. And it's rare.
Against:Rarity means expense. Will rust. Not as powerful as you'd hope. Expensive to find a good one.
What is it?
There have been many fast Fords, but we’d argue this is the oddest of the bunch. The Racing Puma – though similar in body style to privateer Puma rally cars – never technically raced. And while its body was significantly pumped-up over standard, it used the same 1.7-litre engine as standard Pumas, with only the lightest of upgrades.
It also didn’t do particularly well. Ford planned to make 1,000, cut that to 500, then still had to sell some of those internally to make sure every Racing Puma found a home. The reason? A £23,000 asking price. That would seem extortionate for a 153bhp hot hatch now, never mind in 1999. Especially when a 30bhp-lighter Puma 1.7 sold for ten grand less.
Now, the price difference is even more stark. While you can pick up scruffy but usable Puma 1.7 for under £1,000, you’ll pay six or seven times that for a similar Racing Puma.
But to boil it down to cost alone is to ignore what a special car this is. Just look at it! Few cars have better stance when they’re entirely standard. And the upside of its below-par sales new is ferocious rareness and desirability now. You’ll struggle to find another car this rare for cheaper than a bum-basic Ford Ka…
What made the Puma so expensive new was the fantastic bodywork. It was fitted by Tickford, and for the large part was grafted on top of the standard Puma’s panels as opposed to replacing them.
The FRP was wider than standard, its track widths are up too, while the suspension had an overhaul to make it a tauter, stiffer car than standard. The brakes were fairly hardcore, too, Alcon helping Ford develop a four-piston braking system apparently capable of over 1g of stopping force.
In comparison, the engine barely changed. While 180bhp or more had been touted, the project’s swelling costs saw this dropped to 153bhp, with the Puma’s 1.7-litre naturally aspirated engine – a fantastically revvy unit, co-developed with Yamaha – getting a remap and some cam work. There was also a new, rortier exhaust.
Ford made the Racing Puma in just one spec, with all 500 sold in the UK. Though extras were available, a limited-slip differential among them. Such an unashamed, motorsport-inspired special edition would sell it before it had even been seen nowadays (the Ford Focus RS500 of 2010 is a case in point), making this Puma’s contemporary struggles appear odd.
The clamour to get hold of one now is perhaps the British buying public making up for it, 20 years after the FRP’s launch…