I still remember the first time I drove a Ford Racing Puma. I was a young agency journalist allowed about half an hour behind the wheel and it was, then, the best front-wheel-drive car I’d driven. Twelve years on, it still isn’t far off the top of that list.
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Curious name, Racing Puma. The Puma was never raced by Ford, although it was rallied under the kit car regulations, in which guise it was the absolute mutt’s. Like the rally car, the Racing Puma looked brilliant, and still does to this day.
It’s curious, then, that it wasn’t more successful when it was new. Ford originally planned to make 1000 Racings, then cut that number to 500 but still had to dole them out internally to make up the numbers.
One of the reasons was cost. Like the Sierra RS500, Tickford had carried out all the modifications, and they were expensive. The car cost £23,000 and, in short, a Subaru Impreza didn’t.
Today, though, the Racing Puma hasn’t lost any of its charm. The engine feels slightly less zingy than I recall, but I think that’s just a rose-tinted recollection; this is car number one and it’s still in brilliant condition.
It tramlines a bit, especially under braking, but everyone who drove it in Wales loved it. It’s got such ferocious energy – not to its straight-line speed, but in its attitude to cornering and nibbling its way along any decent stretch of road.
And they’re still relatively affordable. Standard Puma values are more rotten than that enjoyable car deserves, so although the Racing demands a premium, it’s not a huge financial hurdle. You can get them from £3500. Most are £5k to £6k, but the best – as I write, one of Ford’s ex-press demo cars is for sale – go for £8000.
If you’re just after a front-drive driver’s car, a Honda Integra Type R shades the Puma and is cheaper still (plus some Racing Puma parts are getting rare), but there’s more to the Ford than that. This limited-edition ball of fun has limitless amounts of charm. It’d be supremely easy to fall for one.
Price £21,995; Dates produced 1999-2000; Top speed 121mph (as tested); 0-60mph 7.4sec (as tested); Economy 34.7mpg; CO2 na; Kerb weight 1174kg; Engine type 4 cyls in line, 1679cc, petrol; Power 153bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 119lb ft at 4500rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual
Complete Fast Ford buying guide
Ford Sierra Cosworth
RS Cosworth is starting to feel its age, but can still deliver thrills; steering wheel is a tactile delight, seat trim is of the picnic blanket variety and its four-pot motor makes 204bhp.
Ford Fiesta XR2
Of all the fast Fords here, the XR2 is the most basic, and none the worse for it. Peppy 1.6-litre engine makes 96bhp and unassisted steering hardwires the XR2 driver to the road.
Ford Focus ST
The ST’s blend of five-pot burble, occasional rally-style bang through the exhaust, light but feelsome steering and 324lb ft of torque can turn the most sedate driver into a hooligan.
Ford Focus RS
RS produces 212bhp, but the focus here is more on handling than power; steering wheel features a useful ‘this way up’ marker.
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