The cars : The original Ford Puma?

1972 Ford Puma (3)

Hidden away in the excellent new Ford Heritage Vault is this gem – the enthusiasts’ favourite RS 2000 that almost never was.

The original rear-wheel-drive Escort was launched in 1968 and Ford soon saw the potential of a performance version. First came the Twin-Cam with its 1558cc Lotus engine and then the RS1600 with its sophisticated twin camshaft 16-valve Cosworth BDA. However, both were a little highly strung needing the full breadth of the rev range to extract maximum horsepower – as a consequence, careful maintenance was required.

Ford was more than aware of this and so launched the Escort Mexico off the back its 1970 World Cup Rally victory. The Mexico featured the far more robust single camshaft Kent engine (which could be built at much lower costs) whilst still having the kerbside motorsports appeal.

Taking inspiration from South Africa

Over in Johannesburg Basil Green Motors had a reputation for simply shoe-horning Ford’s larger displacement engines into its compact saloons, and christened them ‘Perana’ after the feisty flesh-eating fish.

In 1971, Basil purchased 60 Cosworth BDA-engined RS1600s and fitted the 1993cc Pinto engine as a replacement for the complex 16-valve unit, the Pinto being more suitable in the harsher local conditions. Meanwhile, in Coventry, the Rootes Group was about to launch its Avenger Tiger.

The 1972 Tiger may have had a smaller engine displacement than the Escort Mexico but the twin Webber carburettors fitted meant it was a fractionally faster car than the Mexico, a fact all important in the showroom sales wars.

No Perana for Ford – Puma instead

Ford knew getting overtaken in the new fast saloon market would hamper sales and needed to act. Over in the United States, Ford already sold the Mercury Cougar – a V8 luxury sports coupe – so maybe ‘Puma’ was in a ready market researched dossier to wow the public. Certainly, Tiger and Perena sound rather exotic and powerful. We now know from these pictures taken in the Dunton styling labs that ‘Puma’ almost became the name for the hot new fast saloon model.

Ultimately, though, Ford chose RS2000 as the very familiar moniker for the new Fast Ford. In 1973, 2000cc engines came in large saloons or coupes, not small saloons that the British School of Motoring would ably teach you to drive in and, of course, being a Ford all this came at an affordable price. 110 mph and 0-60 in 9.0 seconds was hair-raising stuff 50 years ago.

The RS Escorts dominated motorsport, particularly rallying, all through the 1970s until a combination of Ford’s new front-wheel-drive ‘Erika’ Escort and a four-wheel-drive upstart from Inglostadt changed everything. In the end, Ford enthusiasts had to wait until 1997 to drive a Ford-branded Puma.

Andrew Elphick
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  1. It’s common (at least these days) for manufacturers to put random trademarks they own onto concept and development cars as a way of re-registering the trademark.

  2. When I worked at Rolls-Royce (aero) in Derby, some of my colleagues dabbled in used car trading, buying cars at an auction in Measham. They soon twigged that ex-police cars were mildly sabotaged, e.g. retarding the ignition so that they ran very badly. Serving officers knew this and picked up cars for private use very cheaply.
    They always set a spending limit for each auction. One day they had spent their money; but on their way to the car park, noticed a lineup of Escort estates in a dull military dark green. One of the guys was curious, and popped the bonnet, only to find a Cosworth RS1800 engine installed! What a Q-ship – he was gutted to have spent his whole budget on less exciting tin. Apparently Cosworth wanted to test a modification to the BDA engine, but the RS1800 sold so slowly (basically only as competition cars) that Ford agreed to build a batch of estates for the MoD to try out the engine mod. I wonder if any survive?

    • I believe the Liverpool Constabluary had BDA engined Escorts as traffic cars. Aveley SVO was the home of the fast Ford and the police specials, which my old man tried and failed to get a job at on several times during his time with the blue oval.

      Andrew mentioned the Peranas created by Basil Green in jo’burg, but in the UK we had good old Jeff Uren, the creator of the Cortina Savage, conjure up his own creations. Uren created the Navaro, a 2 litre Pinto engine with Weslake tuned heads, and the 3 litre Essex from the Savage (again fettled by Westlake) in the Apache. I think these are rarer than a Savage, which in Mk2 version had support from Walter Hayes.

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