Buyer’s Guide Ford Puma
Nevermind the overblown new Puma SUV – the real Puma is a purebred fast Ford with sublime handling, svelte styling and a bargain-basement prices. Now’s your chance to invest in the finest ever small coupé.
Useful advice and info when looking to buy an original Puma.
Ensure the VIN on the logbook matches what’s on the VIN plate (on the bonnet slam panel), the tag on the nearside dashboard (viewed through the windscreen from outside) and stamped into the driver’s side floor beneath a flap in the carpet. If you’re looking for a limited-edition, it’s worth checking the spec is correct. Almost all were based on the desirable 1.7-engined Puma. The Millennium was built from October 1999 till October 2000. It came in Zinc Yellow with Alchemy Blue leather Recaro seats, electric mirrors, air conditioning, passenger airbag and CD player. Black editions were in Panther Black metallic, with 14-spoke F1 alloys, Midnight Black leather seats, passenger airbag and air con.
“Stock Pumas sit way too high, and mild lowering makes a massive improvement”
November 2001’s Thunder had Midnight Black leather seats, air conditioning, six-disc in-dash CD changer, electric mirrors, heated windscreen, scuff plates and 15-spoke alloys. It came in Magnum Grey or Moondust Silver (1000 of each); a few 1.6 Thunders were also sold.
Neglected Pumas have tatty interiors, with scuffed plastics, rattling dashboards and trim, and even missing pieces around the seats and sills.
Age and mileage also causes wear: expect the driver’s seat bolster to be frayed and/or collapsed, and assume the steering wheel’s leather rim will be bubbling up and soggy. If you’re tall, you may prefer a later-model (1999-onwards) Puma, in which the seats sit lower; they’re identified by a recessed handle for tipping rather than a lift up knob. The driver’s seat on pre-1999 Pumas is electrically adjustable for height, but mechanisms are prone to failure. Early Pumas also have half-moon instruments and analogue mileage display, later replaced by circular dials and digital. The first 1500 had a numbered gearknob, but by now many have been nicked.
From May 2000 the upholstery and interior plastics swapped from Alchemy Blue to dark grey.
Check the front footwells for damp carpets, which lead to the floor corroding. Most leaks are caused by missing grommets from behind the fuse box or servo, or a blocked air con drainage pipe, which can be cured with silicone.
Try all the gadgets to ensure they work – especially electric window and central locking motors. If the heater blower works only on the highest setting (position four), the resistor packs have burnt out; if it’s sticking on hot or cold, the heater control valves have failed; both problems are cheap to fix. Don’t be surprised if the air conditioning (where fitted) doesn’t blow cold air.
If the tailgate wiper or demister doesn’t work, assume the electrical contacts to the tailgate are chafed or dirty. Most likely, the rear parcel shelf will have collapsed; wrap the pins with insulating tape.
SUSPENSION AND BRAKES
Sharp and tight suspension is essential – any Puma that’s soggy or dull to drive has something amiss underneath.
Vague handling points to worn dampers or tired bushes, with the top mounts, front lower arms, anti-roll bar links or rear beam usually the source of problems. It’s all standard Fiesta stuff, so cheap to replace, but polyurethane bushes are recommended; the ride will be firmer but not uncomfortable. Knocking noises may also be caused by knackered bushes or a broken coil spring. Pumas look better for a little lowering but road cars don’t respond well to coilovers or scraping the tarmac.
Puma brakes are from the Fiesta, so simple to fix – juddering from the front will probably be contaminated pads or discs, while the rear drums may leak or seize on the handbrake. From May 2000, the earlier 240mm front discs and 180mm rear drums were swapped for 258mm discs/200mm drums.
Pumas built between March and September 1998 were recalled for replacement of the brake master cylinder, and some required rerouted rear brake hoses to stop chafing against the rear beam; yours should have been repaired by now.
Brake pipes rot badly at the rear, but are cheap to fix; invest in braided hoses to replace soggy rubber hoses. ABS sensors may also be faulty, causing the dashboard warning light to illuminate; cleaning can be the cure, or maybe a new sensor (not expensive).
Tough old IB5 transmission can cope with Puma power but suffers from wear and abuse. The gearchange should be slick and precise; a sloppy shift points to a tired linkage (cheap to fix) but notchiness or crunching (especially grinding between second and third gears) suggest synchromesh failure – and a rebuilt gearbox is required. Rumbling that increases in volume under acceleration warns of collapsed main shaft bearings – and time to buy a new gearbox. Rattling at idle that disappears when you press the clutch pedal will be the release bearings; usually nothing to worry about. Clicking from the steering on full lock will be a driveshaft fault.
Clutch slip is cause for concern because it’s pricey to put right.
Check for an abnormally high biting point, and try to set off in third gear – if the engine doesn’t stall, you’ve got problems.
Unless you want a Puma purely to polish, avoid the 1.4 and go for a 1.7 – a Yamaha-developed 1679cc version of the Fiesta’s Zetec SE powerplant, it has forged rods and crank, and variable inlet cam timing (VCT). It’s a cracking little motor, and tunable too. The (non-VCT) 1.6 isn’t bad (it’s a Fiesta Zetec S engine), but why would you bother? Neglect is a killer. Cambelt swaps (with new water pump and tensioners) are needed every five years or 80,000 miles, and oil changes every 5000 miles. The 1.7’s Nikasil liners require 5W30 semisynthetic. If the oil level is allowed to run low, it can wipe out the entire engine. An unused car needs its engine turning over regularly to avoid seizing. Cylinder bore wear shows up as blue smoke from the exhaust and/or difficulty starting. Check for nasty noises (light tapping at start-up is normal), and make sure the engine revs to the red line.
Look for leaks under the engine cover: oil dripping from the rocker cover gasket, or coolant coming from corroded core plugs. Leaks drip onto spark plugs and cause misfires.
Rough running and lack of power often result from a knackered lambda sensor, airflow (MAF) meter or coil pack. Spluttering at low revs is probably due to idle control valve or throttle position sensor failure.
Above all else, buy on bodywork condition. Mechanical bits can be replaced but a rotten Puma is scrap.
Most obvious will be the rear wheelarches, which can be replaced by welding in Peugeot 206 front arches (not cheap, bearing in mind plenty of paintwork will be required); beware of repairs bodged with filler. Examine the door bottoms, around the window weather strips, the base of the mirrors, door pillars and hinges. Check the sills, then get underneath and inspect the whole floorpan – especially within the front inner wheelarches. Lift the carpets inside the car and look in the boot too. Walk away from serious corrosion; you’ll soon find a better Puma.
Don’t be surprised to find cracked bumpers and broken grilles; plenty are around secondhand, so they’re not dear.
Headlamps may look dull, but polishing the lenses will replenish their sparkle.
WHY YOU WANT ONE…
1 A firm favourite of Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering team for its handling finesse, there’s damn good reason why the Puma is universally praised for its joyous chassis.
2 An undisputed collector’s car of the future – check out any Classic Car Magazine or website and you’ll see the Puma rated as a top tip for investment.
3 Admirable performance, even by today’s standards – the 1.7 revs around the clock to 126mph, hitting 60mph in 8.8 seconds. And it feels much faster.
- 1 Pretty, curvy bodywork with undeniably feminine styling still looks a touch too girly for many macho Ford fans.
- 2 Rot is the GrimReaper of the Puma’s existence, bringing death through rusty sills and floorpans.
- 3 Still (for now) priced in banger territory, harbouring an image of transport for mobile hairdressers on council estates.
HOW MUCH TO PAY
Surprising numbers of Pumas survive with Recent MoT fails or a bit of ticket and some expansive rot. You may get lucky and find a 1.7 worth tidying but the price of repairs usually means it’s preferable to spend more on a better car in the first place.
There’s not always a massive difference between prices of tatty-but-roadworthy Pumas and decent machines you’d be happy to drive to a show. Choose a 1.7 with options, and expect a Millennium, Black or Thunder to cost a little more than regular models.
Pay over £2000 for a long-term investment, ideally unrestored and with low miles, low ownership and no modifications. Concours cars may be advertised for double the amount, but rarely find buyers. The Puma has long been tipped for future classic status, so the best examples will be getting snapped up already.
MADE 1997 to 2001
PRICE WHEN NEW £12,240 to £14,900
MAX POWER 1.4: 89bhp @ 5500rpm, 1.6: 101bhp @ 6000rpm, 1.7: 123bhp @ 6300rpm
MAX TORQUE 1.4: 92lb.ft @ 4500rpm, 1.6: 107lb.ft @ 4000rpm, 1.7: 115lb.ft @ 4500rpm
TOP SPEED 1.4: 112mph, 1.6: 118mph, 1.7: 126mph
0-60MPH 1.4: 10.8 seconds, 1.6: 10.4 seconds, 1.7: 8.8 seconds
Early dash had half-moon instruments Electric mirrors were optional It’s rare to see a steering wheel that’s not rough around the edges. Driver’s seat bolster wears Parcel shelf sags under strain of scissors and combs. If the handling’s not tight, there’s something wrong here. Alloy gearknob may be scuffed. Yamaha-developed 1.7 is extremely oil-sensitive.
Puma production begins in Cologne, Germany, based on fourth-generation Fiesta platform but with stiffer springs and a thicker rear anti-roll bar. One model available: 1.7 with VCT, ABS, traction control and 15in five-spoke ‘propeller’ alloys.
Puma 1.4 (non-VCT) introduced with 15in nine-spoke alloys and optional ABS.
1.7 Millennium edition launched, featuring Zinc Yellow paintwork, Alchemy leather Recaro front seats, air conditioning, passenger airbag and CD player; 1000 produced.
Minor facelift featuring brake light in rear spoiler, nine-spoke 15in alloy wheels, grey interior plastics, revised heater controls, Midnight Black upholstery, bigger discs and drums.
Puma 1.4 replaced by Sigma-engined Puma 1.6 (non-VCT); ABS standard. Millennium edition discontinued. 1.7 Black edition introduced, featuring Panther Black paintwork, 14-spoke 15in F1 alloy wheels, Midnight Black leather seats, passenger airbag and air conditioning; 1600 produced.
1.7 Thunder edition introduced with Moondust Silver or Magnum Grey paintwork, multi-spoke 15in alloys, Midnight Black leather seats, air conditioning, scuff plates, electric/heated door mirrors, heated windscreen and CD changer; 1000 grey/1000 silver produced; a few were 1.6-engined. Puma production ends.
JULY 2002 Black edition officially discontinued.
DECEMBER 2002 Puma officially discontinued.
Tech Spec Ford Puma
ENGINE 1388cc/1596cc/1679cc in-line four-cylinder, 16-valve, DOHC Sigma (1.6) or Zetec SE (1.4/1.7) with alloy block and head, sequential electronic fuel injection, Ford EEC-V engine management, electronic distributorless ignition, 1.7 with variable inlet camshaft timing (VCT)
TRANSMISSION Front-wheel drive with IB5 five-speed-manual gearbox and 3.82:1 final drive ratio (1.7)
SUSPENSION Front: MacPherson struts, gas-filled dampers, coil springs, L-arms on separate subframe, anti-roll bar; rear: torsion beam, gas-filled dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar; PAS steering rack with 2.9 turns lock-to-lock
BRAKES Front: 240mmventilated front discs (258mmfrom2000 onwards); rear: 180mm rear drums (200mmfrom2000 onwards); ABS (optional on 1.4)
WHEELS & TYRES 6x15in alloys and 195/50VR15 tyres
EXTERIOR Three-door coupé body based on Fiesta floorpan with body-colour bumpers, tinted glass, electric front windows, optional metallic paint, electric/heated door mirrors and heated windscreen. Millennium-added electric door mirrors. Thunder added electric door mirrors and heated windscreen
INTERIOR Sports front seats in Alchemy Blue with Silverstone cloth trim (Midnight Black with Chrome/Twill from 2000), leather-rimmed steering wheel, aluminium gearknob, sports instruments with white dials, optional air conditioning and passenger airbag. Millennium edition added air conditioning, leather Recaro front seats, passenger airbag, CD player and dashboard plaque. Black edition added black leather seats, passenger airbag and air conditioning. Thunder edition added black leather seats, air conditioning, scuff plates and CD changer
High-riding but wonderful handling. Early 15in propeller alloys are pretty much iconic Admit it: the styling is sexy. Dull headlamps are easily resolved by polishing the lenses.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
HOWMUCH DOES IT COST TO INSURE?
More than you’d expect, thanks purely to being a sporty Ford. The underpowered 1.4 is in insurance group 19, the 1.6 is group 21, the rare 1.6 Thunder is group 23, a regular 1.7 group 25, and special-edition 1.7s are group 27. Shop around, though, and you’ll find specialist brokers offering classic policies.
WHERE DO I FIND ONE?
Owners’ clubs, forums and Facebook groups will yield enthusiast-owned Pumas but most are still simply second-hand cars, sold through the likes of eBay. If you’ve a big budget, keep your eyes peeled for low-mileage machines with specialist dealers.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO RUN?
It’s a Fiesta underneath, so most parts are cheaper than Aldi’s own-brand chips. And at around 1040kg, the Puma’s neither heavy on juice nor consumables. But buy bits of trim and stash them away while you still can.
WILL VALUES RISE OR FALL?
They’ll rise without a doubt. But we’ve been predicting high Puma prices for years, and they’re still available for pennies. So, what do we know?
SHOULD I MODIFY IT?
Yes. Probably. Stock Pumas sit way too high, and mild lowering makes a massive improvement. It’s also tempting to tune the engine to complement the fabulous chassis. Just remember that, in the long term, collectors will favour standard cars over modified machines.
CONDITION Choose on condition rather than age or spec – a low-mileage base model beats a rotten limited edition.
ENGINE Running a Puma low on oil can wreck the engine. Listen for nasty noises, look for smoke and pray for a service history.
TRANSMISSION Growling and crunching are danger signs, but even a slipping clutch could outweigh the cost of the car.
BODY Corrosion attacks Pumas in a big way. Search everywhere between the number plates for signs of the dreaded tin worm.
Trim isn’t too tricky to find, but a tatty cabin points to a neglected Puma. A worn driver’s seat and steering wheel are normal.
PROJECT PUMA www.projectpuma.com
PUMA PEOPLE www.pumapeople.com
RACING PUMA OWNERS’ CLUB www.fordracingpuma.com
OC MOTORSPORT www.oc-motorsport.co.uk
LIGHTNING MOTORSPORT www.lightningmotorsport.co.uk
BURTON PERFORMANCE www.burtonpower.com
WHAT WE SAY
“The Puma was always somehow that little more exotic than the Fiesta upon which it’s so closely modelled. In my opinion the Racing Puma will be the next big thing in collectors’ circles (it ticks all the right boxes: motorsport pedigree, limited edition, built at Tickford, and so on) and this will undoubtedly inflate prices of regular Pumas. Right now they’re about as cheap as they’ll ever be, so find the best (rust-free!) example you can and you’re sure to be onto a winner; a car that can be both enjoyed and will still appreciate in value.”
DANWILLIAMSON, CONTRIBUTOR AND PUMA OWNER:
“I must admit, I was never a fan of the Puma until I drove one – and that’s when I realised it’s so much more than the sum of its parts. It feels alive and agile in a way that only the best front-wheel-drive hot hatches can muster. It’s also bound to be a fast Ford classic, which is why I added one to my own collection – a July ‘97 launch model in Melina Blue with all the options. Of course I’d rather have a Racing Puma, but when they’re fetching Cossie money, a blue 1.7 will be the next best thing.”