01 March 2011

Ford Racing Puma - Unsung Hero

The Ford Racing Puma or Ford ST160 before its official release has never really had the credit it deserves since it's launch over 10 years ago. 
The FRP featured a new front splitter, a set of wide arches and huge 17 inch wheels in order to give the car a wider track but also replicate a similar look to the F2 rally Puma. 
The suspension had been tweaked by Ford's specialist division in Boreham (Essex) with the help of rally legend Stig Blomqvist in order to fine tune the already superb chassis. The suspension was focused towards track use hence why many car journalists at the time criticised the hard ride on the UK roads.
The brakes had been uprated to an Alcon Design four pot motorsport braking system. This meant that the brakes were superb and wouldn't fade when driving the car hard. One problem was that as the braking system was motorsport derived there were no brake dust boots so general servicing could prove costly if the callipers required dismantling to be cleaned or at worse replaced.
The car was sold with a pair of Sparco reclining bucket seats. The seats were the main attraction of the interior as well as the blue alcantara on other trim parts. The seats were supportive and comfortable but also showed that the Racing Puma was a focused drivers car. 
When the car was in development that initial plan was for the car to achieve 180 bhp by turbo charging the 1.7 litre Puma engine. Due to project costs the car stayed naturally aspirated but featured tweaked components. 
The camshafts were changed, a new inlet manifold was manufactured, a competition exhaust was produced by Janspeed and the ECU was reprogrammed.  This resulted in a 30bhp increase over the standard engine.
It seemed that cost plagued the Ford Racing Puma from day one. The car was due to have a production run of 1,000 cars but this was cut down to only 500. The Racing Puma went on sale at £23,000 in 1999, this was a huge cost increase over the basic 1.7 Puma. Critics failed to see where the extra £7,000 - £8,000 could be justified in the cost of the car as the base Puma had already proved incredibly successful within the automotive industry. The base Puma went on to win Top Gear Car of the Year in 1997.
The Subaru Impreza at the time was a key competitor to the Ford. The Subaru was considered the true enthusiasts road going rally replica and featured a turbo charged 2.0 litre boxer unit as well as 4 wheel drive. The Subaru was over £2,000 less than the Racing Puma and was more practical for day to day ownership.
Due to struggling sales and lower demand than original projected Racing Pumas were given to managers within Ford as company cars. 
Few manufacturers make halo cars and the Puma is right up there with the best of them. In an interview with Ford a few years ago they stated that the public will never see a halo model car again but we'll have to see. Cars like the new Focus RS500 feel like a weak marketing attempt trying to recapture the motorsport pedigree from older model Fords.
The prices of Racing Pumas plummeted a few years ago and a good one could be bought for around £5,000. Prices have now picked up for good examples to the point where they are going for around £10,000 in immaculate condition. I have no doubt that one day the price a of Racing Puma will match the used cost of an Escort Cosworth. 
The last picture sums up the Ford Racing Puma perfectly, if you click on the image and enlarge the text you can read the report to see how the little Ford was rated in the 'World's Greatest Drivers' shoot out.

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