1977-1980 Puma GTE
2006-present (South Africa)
|Assembly||São Paulo, Brazil
Babelegi, South Africa
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door coupe
Puma was a Brazilian specialist car manufacturer which built cars from 1966 until roughly 1995. High import tariffs effectively closed Brazil during much of this period to foreign-built cars. This limited the vehicles available to the average Brazilian to those built locally by foreign manufacturers such as Volkswagen and General Motors (which established Brazilian manufacturing plants), and the products of local companies. Puma also made trucks, from 1978 to 1999.
The origin of what became the Puma was the DKW-Malzoni, built by Rino Malzoni of Matão in São Paulo (state) from around 1964. Malzoni was a keen auto racer, and at the behest of DKW-Vemag he developed a competition car based around a DKW straight-three two-stroke engine. Developed to compete with the Willys Interlagos, a locally built copy of the Alpine A108 which was outpacing DKW's heavier sedans, Malzoni developed a steel-bodied prototype. This proved too heavy, and at the São Paulo Motor Show in the fall of 1964 the light, fiberglass-skinned GT made its first appearance. It won its first race, at Interlagos in 1964. Malzoni, auto enthusiast but a lawyer by trade, proceeded to found the company Luminari Ltda with a group of other auto enthusiasts in 1964. Competition cars had bigger 1.1 litre engines with as much as 100 PS (74 kW). The cars began to sell in quantities larger than he himself could build, and on 14 September 1966 the company adopted the Puma name and began building cars in earnest.
The Malzoni GT usually had a panoramic rear windshield, although a very few cars were built of a three-box design. The original GT Malzoni body was then modified by designer Anisio Campos, who made the car somewhat longer and mounted the bumpers higher up, while the car (still on DKW-basis) was now named Puma GT. Production of the Malzoni GT (1964-1966, all types) was about 35 cars. Annual production increased to 125 for 1967 and continued briefly into 1968. All-in-all, about 170 of the DKW-engined cars (Pumas and Malzonis) were built.
In 1967, Volkswagen bought DKW-Vemag, and the Brazilian production of DKWs ceased. With no DKW engine available, a new car was designed based around the rear-engined, air-cooled 1,500 cc Volkswagen Karmann Ghia sold in Brazil. It sold relatively well for a specialist sports car. The design, inspired by the Lamborghini Miura, was to remain largely unchanged for two decades. At this time, the company name was already changed to Puma. From 1969 the standard engine was a Volkswagen 1,600 cc unit, for which Puma also offered kits to make more power. The name changed to Puma 1600 GTE.
A convertible version, the 1600 GTS, was added sometime around 1970, and cars began to be exported at that time to other South American countries, North America and Europe. Many of the exported vehicles were kit cars - substantially complete bodyshells, but lacking engine, transmission, axles, wheels and other mechanical parts. All cars sold in Brazil were complete. Beginning in 1976 Volkswagen do Brasil began honoring the warranties of standard engines supplied to Puma (as well as for Gurgel and MP Lafer), while Puma introduced a three-month/5,000 km warranty on their tuned engines. At the same time, a 1.9 litre kit was introduced, with a bore and stroke of 88 and 78.4 mm and Mahle pistons.
VW stopped production of the Karmann-Ghia in Brazil during the early 1970s, and the Puma was redesigned to use the Volkswagen Brasilia as a base instead for 1973. Assembly of Pumas in South Africa by Bromer Motor Assemblies also began during this period. They finished 357 cars in two years, until closing due to bad finances. The bodywork was restyled in 1977, while similar in appearance the bumpers were now moulded as parts of the body, rather than being separate chrome units. The body was now somewhat less rounded than before, and coupés received rear quarter windows rather than the previous louvres. In 1980, it was time for another restyling as well as a rename. The coupé became the GTI, while the spider became the GTC. The new look included rubber bumpers with decorative cast-in ridges which mimicked the Porsche 911 G's telescopic impact bumpers. The taillights were replaced by the Volkswagen Brasilia's Mercedes-style units, all the rage at the time with Brazilian cottage manufacturers. The small push-button doorhandles were replaced with more modern units borrowed from the Alfa Romeo Ti 4.
A version utilizing the VWB Variant II's more modern chassis (albeit still with the Brasilia's front suspension) called the P 018 appeared for the 1982 model year. This had slightly wider tracks front and rear, and a rear suspension featuring semi-axles with constant-velocity joints, sprung by transverse torsion bars, rather than the Brasilia's simpler semi-trailing rear. As with other Pumas, an air-cooled 1.6 litre Volkswagen boxer-four was standard equipment, with larger 1,7, 1,8, and 2.0-litre versions available at extra cost. An annual production of 1,000 was planned, but in the end only about 55 of the P 018s were completed.
The larger Puma GTB (coupé only), which used a front-mounted Chevrolet straight-six engine, was not regularly exported. Puma also showed a few project cars over the years, such as the Mini-Puma citycar of 1974, with a wheelbase of only 179 cm (70.5 in). This was to have been fitted with a halved Volkswagen boxer four, with 760 cc and 30 PS (22 kW). However, Puma was unable to raise the funds needed for production. Amaral Gurgel later developed a similar engine, the Enertron, for his BR-800 citycar. In 1982 Puma had plans to license-build the Daihatsu Cuore locally (again as the Mini-Puma), but this failed due to the company's large debts (largely a result of mismanagement).
Puma's trucks were of a fibreglass cab-over design, with proprietary diesel engines from MWM and Perkins, such as their 4.236. The bodywork was redesigned in 1978 for the 4.T, and there was also the six-ton 6.T from 1979. Some years a Chevrolet inline-six, powered by ethanol, was also aviailable, as was a bus body on the same chassis. Later, following Alfa Metais' takeover, there was a flurry of new designs, all largely based on the 4.T, and subsequent renamings. Production of the trucks came to a final halt in 1999.
Decline and ownership changes
The 1980s saw harsh economic times in Brazil, and this hit Puma hard. On top of everything else, the factory was hit by fires and floods. In 1985, production had dropped from 400 cars per month in the company's heyday to around 100 per year and Puma went into bankruptcy. In 1986, the rights to the Puma were sold to Araucária Veículos in Paraná, who made an attempt at revival but had problems paying VWB for parts delivered. Two years later they were sold again, this time to Alfa Metais Veículos.
Alfa Metais renamed the GTB the AMV, while the small Pumas were now called AM1 (coupé) and AM2 (spider). The AM1/2 was actually a revived version of the 1983/1984 P 018, fitted with the air-cooled 1,584 cc flat-four as used by VWB at the time. This engine only had 44 PS (32 kW) and with a top speed of 140 km/h (87 mph) the car had lost most of its sporting pretensions. But Alfa Metais had another goal in mind the whole time, achieved with the 1989 introduction of the AM3 and AM4. They received the considerably more powerful water-cooled Volkswagen AP1800 engine, but as the radiator was placed in the rear, weight distribution and handling suffered as a result. Production continued in small numbers but the opening of the Brazilian market to foreign cars in the early 1990s was the final blow. The last Puma sports car was an AM4, sold in 1995. Only about 40 AM3/4s were built.
South African revivals
The Puma had been imported into South Africa after 1986, but after costs became prohibitive the importer bought the molds to the 1973 Puma 1600 GTE and began building them locally. 26 cars were finished by Jack Wijker's Puma Marketing company between 1989 and 1991. Some of the later cars had rear quarter windows replacing the louvres behind the rear door. In 2006, limited production of the Puma was once again started up in South Africa.
The all-electric propulsion version of the Puma sports car is being researched and developed in South Africa by a company known as evdrive.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Puma vehicles.|
- Company history at RitzSite
- Puma Typen und Geschichte, 1st edition 2011 (book in German)
- Puma Modelos e História, 1st edition 2011 (book in Portuguese language)
- Hundt, Michael (December 2011). "Samba im Zweitakt" [Two-stroke Samba]. Oldtimer Markt (in German): 30–31.
- Price, Ryan Lee (April 2003). "The Story Behind the Puma". VW Trends: 38.
- World Cars 1976. Bronxville, NY: L'Editrice dell'Automobile LEA/Herald Books. 1976. p. 412. ISBN 0-910714-08-8.
- Hundt, pp. 32-33
- Castaings, p. 2
- "A Puma garante seus venenos - até 1900 cc" [Puma guarantees their tuned ones - now up to 1,900 cc]. Oficina Mecânica (in Portuguese): 14. November 1976.
- Nicoliello, Felipe (2008-12-03). "Puma GTI / GTC". Puma Classic (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2012-10-09.
- "Puma Novo P0 18 (sic)" [The new Puma P 018]. Quatro Rodas (in Portuguese): 45. 1981.
- World Cars 1976, p. 255
- Castaings, p. 3
- Puma 6.T: Ônibus e Caminhões [Puma 6.T: Bus and Truck] (brochure) (in Portuguese), Puma Indústria de Veículos S/A, p. 2
- Negyesi, Pal. "Dacon 828". KTUD Automotive Web. Retrieved 2012-10-10.
- Castaings, p. 4
- Viotti, Eduardo (October 1988). "Puma AM-1". Oficina Mecânica (in Portuguese) (Sigla) 3 (28): 50.
- Viotti, pp. 48-49
- Viotti, p. 51
- Lösch, Annamaria, ed. (1985). World Cars 1985. Pelham, NY: The Automobile Club of Italy/Herald Books. p. 407. ISBN 0-910714-17-7.
- Castaings, Francis. "O felino brasileiro" [Brazil's Feline]. Páginas da História [Historic Pages] (in Portuguese). Best Cars Web Site. Retrieved 2012-10-08.