Six steps to buying a Ford Racing Puma. This delightful coupé can pack hidden horrors behind the handling hedonism. Words Richard Dredge. Photography John Colley.
How to buy one of the most exciting and collectable cars of the Nineties: the Ford Racing Puma
What to pay
1 Buying the best you can find and afford is essential because of the high cost and poor availability of parts to revive a tired Racing Puma – some parts are simply unavailable.
2 A project worth reviving costs £6000-£8000, but these tend to be moneypits. Such cars make little sense when you consider that for £10,000- £12,000 you can buy something tidy.
3 If you can find something truly superb – and such cars rarely come on to the market – you could pay as much as £20,000 for it. Very.
Fast guide to buying the right Ford Racing Puma
The oldest Ford Racing Pumas are just turning 20 years old but they’ve already cemented their classic status, boosted by the burgeoning realisation of how much more than the sum of their addenda these wide-arched baby-coupés represented. The FRP is the perfect buy for any keen driver because it’s a great car to drive, unforgiving ride aside, and its rarity – and hence collectibility – is guaranteed.
‘The Racing Puma is great to drive, but the poor availability and high costs of parts is a significant issue‘
Practicality is good and there’s long-term investment potential – but these cars aren’t all that robust, and the poor availability and high costs of parts is a significant issue. As a result you must buy with extreme care. This guide pools the knowledge of Alan Farmer of Pumabuild (pumabuild.co.uk), and Simon Crosby and Alan Mowberry of racing-puma.co.uk, one of the most enthusiastic and helpful owners’ clubs out there.
Which one to choose?
1 Factory spec: predictably, the most valuable and by far the most sought after. Fewer than 500 customer cars were made, all built by Tickford in right-hand drive in 1999-2000. Each had wide-arch front and rear wings, 17 x 7.5J wheels, bigger front brakes featuring Alcon four-piston calipers and larger discs, plus rear discs (regular Pumas had drums). The standard Puma 1.7-litre engine was boosted to 153bhp with a redesigned quad-branch manifold and exhaust, a remap, new camshafts, and a revised airbox and number-stamped inlet manifold. The interior got Sparco bucket seats in blue Alcantara trim, which also featured on the rear seats and door cards. All were finished in Ford Racing Blue metallic paint.
‘Racing Pumas don’t like regular short journeys or long periods of inactivity'
2 Modified: few of these cars have any significant modifications, but some were jazzed-up in period. Some FRPS have had Focus ST170 brakes fitted which work well. The only real accepted modification is a stainless-steel exhaust because originals aren’t available; the Piper system is a direct copy. Some stripped-out track cars with rollcages have been built, while a couple have had large-turbo engines fitted. Such changes ruin the exquisite balance of the car.
Bodywork and structure
Despite the FRP’s relative youth, bodyshell corrosion is the problem that’ most likely to strike – and the most likely to cost you plenty. The Ford Racing Puma is effectively an over-skinned standard Puma, but panels for all of these cars are scarce. However, a reasonable standard Puma can be bought for under £500 and panels from these cars can be used, while Ex-Pressed Steel Panels now offers some parts such as sills and outer quarter panels.
Focus on the rear quarter panels, which corrode out of sight. The flared rear wings were just glued and welded over the originals, resulting in hidden rusty metalwork. There’s no way of checking the car’s condition from the outside; you can do it only by removing the rear trim panels and speaker bins, allowing you limited visibility of any problems. Few Racing Pumas have escaped corrosion in their rear quarter panels, so unless the seller has proof that the work has already been tackled, factor in a bill of up to £6000 for the work to be fixed professionally; this is for both sides and to do a glass-out respray, but it doesn’t include any panels. If you’re a competent welder you could do the work yourself, with reproduction quarter panels available for £750, while inner and outer sills cost £125 and £400 per side respectively (so £2550 all-in for both sides). Also expect corrosion in the seatbelt reinforcement panels and inner sills, which cost £500 apiece per side to fix; the latter can be done only with the sills removed because access is limited. The aluminium front wings corrode and new ones are unavailable. Even used items are scarce; track one down and you’ll pay up to £500 for it. Any corrosion damage is usually repairable though; if remedial work is needed budget £500 to get it done.
The boot floor got just a thin coat of grey paint so rust is virtually guaranteed. Sanding everything down and repainting might fix things, but some welding is more likely to be needed, which means fabricating a panel or cutting a floor from a donor car. Get this done professionally and it’ll set you back £2000.
Check for damp carpets leading to rusty floorpans. The wiring loom bulkhead grommet often fails to seal, while the seam can crack in the panel behind the front wing through incorrect jacking, leading to water getting in behind the ECU. Blocked drain holes in the boot leads to a waterlogged luggage bay and rotten boot floors, but repairs are an easy DIY proposition, or a specialist like Pumabuild will charge £1000 to do it.
Even a low-speed knock will lead to gel coat damage in the tricky-to-repair glassfibre bumpers. Genuine new front bumpers are extinct but reproduction items are £150, while new rear bumpers are currently available for £600 apiece but they’re getting scarce. Don’t worry about overspray on the front panel by the headlamps because this is standard, but beware of cars with body-coloured engine bays – only press cars were painted blue, or cars that have had major bodywork. The bay should be painted satin black.
The Puma’s engine is strong, but if you do find a car with a tired powerplant you can swap it for a standard Puma 1.7 unit, readily available for £100-£150. Ancilliaries aside, the only difference between Puma 1.7 and FRP engines is the camshafts and the ECU settings, so you can fit the necessary camshafts and get the ECU remapped, although a special timing tool is needed.
Retaining an original engine is possible but costly – liners have to be fitted because Nikasil-compatible piston rings are unavailable. Bearings also have to be sourced from other engines and modified to fit. Rebuilding an original powerplant costs £2000-£3000. Be wary of any FRP with few miles – these cars don’t like regular short journeys or long periods of inactivity.
All FRPs have the same robust IB5 five-speed manual gearbox as fitted to the regular Puma, albeit with different ratios and shot-peened first and second gears. A limited-slip differential was an optional extra; so-equipped cars nowcommand a premium.
Everything is available to rebuild an FRP gearbox, because everything is shared with one Ford or another. If a full rebuild is needed you’ll pay £110 for the parts to do it yourself; exchange units cost £475. Driveshafts can also fail but new ones are available at £300 apiece.
Steering, suspension & brakes
A standard Puma steering rack is fitted, with extended track rod ends and modified front hubs to take larger suspension struts. The suspension was a collaboration between Eibach, Sachs and Ford; new sets very occasionally crop up at £1000, but even decent used parts are rare – when they do appear they’re £300. As a result the only solution is usually to fit coilovers which changes the handling characteristics. The rest of the suspension can be sourced easily enough from the Ford parts bin.
The Alcon four-pot brake calipers are unique to the Racing Puma and they work superbly if in good condition. However, they need regular use and cleaning them every 3000 miles can stop them from seizing up once water has got in. It’s also essential that the correct pads are used, but they’re readily available for as little as £28 per set. Neglected calipers can cost £700 to revive and new ones are unavailable; rough ones occasionally come on to the market for £500 per pair. Rear brakes are regular Ford parts – a combination of Focus and Escort – so easily obtainable.
The Racing Puma’s interior is largely carried over from the regular Puma, so much of it is available from scrapyards. But you’ll need to source decent Blue Alchemy trim panels from a pre-2000 car, because other colours were available. The seats and steering wheel were unique to the Racing Puma and they’re rarer than unicorn tears. The bright blue Sparco seats wear just like the steering wheel; both are trimmed in Alcantara. Even worse, the Alcantara’s blue is unique to this car and you’ll be doing well to find any suitable trim. If you do you’ll pay £500 for the steering wheel to be recovered while even tatty seats cost £500 per set.
The electric systems are all standard Puma and are pleasingly robust. The headlight and rear light lenses do go cloudy, but fortunately they’re the same units as the regular Puma’s, and polishes are available to revive the plastic on a DIY basis.
Tickford-applied arches give the Puma some muchneeded muscle, but inadvertently add a corrosion hotspot. It’s simpler and cheaper to rebuild a standard 1.7 to FRP spec than rebuild an original – just make sure all the upgrades have made the journey over. Interior is a heaven-and-hell mixture of common Ford fare and unavailable bespoke Alcantara. In period CAR said the FRP, ‘Turned an everyday car into a memorable drive, doing it with remarkably little compromise to its refinement.’ As a classic it makes even more sense.
Owning a Ford Racing Puma
Simon Crosby, Warks
‘I’m the technical adviser for racing-puma.co.uk. Like most FRP owners I started with a standard Puma, but the Racing is one of the best cars I’ve ever driven. These cars aren’t all that quick, but on a twisty road they’ll outhandle pretty much anything. Their exclusivity is another plus point.
‘I own car no. 27, and no. 376 [seen left] belongs to my son Ben. He’s 16 and we restored it together, which was easier than it might have been because I’d bought plenty of parts over the years. We also cannibalised a standard Puma. ‘Restoration will cost over £10k. Even if you buy a good car you’ll need to budget £500 per year on maintenance, £200 of which will be to look after the Alcon brakes – but it’s worth every penny. These cars appeal to owners of some very exotic machinery; drive one and you’ll see why.’
Alan Mowberry, Kent
‘I bought my Racing Puma in 2006. It was my everyday commuter car but I’ve also taken it for at least 30 laps of the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Now it’s mainly for shows; few of these cars are used regularly. ‘I had a track-ready standard Puma, and the Racing would still outhandle it. I’ve fitted an original limited-slip differential to my car, which was a £250 option, but just 80 cars received one when new. It transforms the drive when pushing on.
‘I’ve fully restored my car, and in the 13 years that I’ve owned it my Puma has cost me about £30k in maintenance. For that it’s given me incredible memories of trips all round the UK and Europe, and the car is in better shape than ever. ‘I help run the register for the club and I’ve got mileage details of 441 cars. Most have done between 60k and 100k miles. Some of the nicest FRPs have been driven the most.’
Michelle Sutton, Carmenthenshire
‘I was 23 when I bought a Puma 1.4 and three years later I graduated to an FRP. I bought it to use every day and 11 years later I still do. I spend around £1500 annually to keep it going, but it’s only this low thanks to the help I get from fellow club members with sourcing parts, and I do much of the routine maintenance myself. My car isn’t garaged and it’s used in all weathers, so I’m fighting a constant battle against rust. Soon I’ll need to get the sills repaired, and to do the job properly will cost £4000.
‘It’s still on its original suspension, so a £500 investment in some fresh springs also beckons. It’s worth every penny though because it’s so much fun to drive. I plan to keep using it for as long as possible, even though it’s not suited to everyday use because it’s so rust-prone.’
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’With only 500 Racing Pumas produced, this millennial classic was a rare beast even when it first hit the streets in 1999. Values have rapidly increased over the last few years and you could currently expect to pay around £15,000 for a fine example. Admittedly that’s still a fair way off the £23,000 asking price when new but it seems realistic to think that this number could be reached in the next five years. If you’re looking to buy one, ensure it is original and complete – it would be easier to find hens’ teeth than those Racing Puma extras – otherwise you’ll spend the next few years on eBay.’
2000 Ford Racing Puma – £11,500
Racing Puma #8, showing 92,000 miles. In my ownership the majority of those miles were in France. Hasn’t seen road salt or poor weather and has been dry-stored when not used. Resprayed sometime around 2010 so bodywork is exceptional; some surface rust on one rear quarter panel but not worth addressing with new metal yet. Detailed timeline of service history. Sold with 12 months MOT.
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