Nitrous-boosted 199bhp Ford Puma

Nitrous-boosted 199bhp Ford Puma

A pub chat about the best Fords ever made is guaranteed to include a list of what we might call the usual suspects. An Escort Cossie; an RS500; an RS2000… A wish-list of iconic, RS-badged machines with their DNAs closely linked to championship-winning rally and touring cars.


Nitrous-boosted Ford Puma

Road and track Racing Puma with an added shot of NOS.

But not every great Ford wears an RS badge. Back in the late 1990s, Ford hit a rich seam of sweet-handling models. The Focus, Mondeo, Fiesta and Ka were all praised by the mainstream motoring media for bringing finely balanced chassis and keen steering to the masses. But it was the original Puma, launched in 1997, that was perhaps the best of the lot. Its recipe of compact size, low weight and a lively, communicative chassis with razor-sharp steering and rifle-bolt gearchange made it an instant hit with road testers.

Nitrous-boosted 199bhp Ford Puma

So, when the Racing version was announced, in 1999, expectations were high.

While there’s no doubt the Ford Racing Puma (FRP) was a highly accomplished tool, particularly well-suited to track work, its high list price meant uptake was slow. In fact, the FRP sold very poorly, with the intended run of 1000 being slashed to 500, and only around half of those sold direct to customers in the UK; the rest were registered internally for Ford employees and dealers.

It’s therefore become one of the rarest Blue Ovals of the last 20-odd years. But that hasn’t stopped the owner of this FRP adding some carefully thought-out upgrades and fully enjoying it on track.

Graham Gillings is a seasoned Ford owner. Having cut his teeth on Mk1 Escorts, his driving career included many tuned cars, culminating in a succession of Pumas. Graham says, “I’ve always liked the Puma, ever since I first saw the advert with Steve McQueen. I was offered my first about 17 years ago and actually sold my XR3i to buy it.” The lively little coupé kept him entertained, and was eventually replaced by another Puma. Then, after being left some money by his granddad, Graham decided to upgrade to the Racing version.

Ford Puma

Graham says, “I know you shouldn’t do this, but I bought the first one I saw. I traced the original owner, a chap called Martin Wells, and discovered he’d bought it new in 2000 for £23k.” Bear in mind, at the time, this would get you a rally-bred Impreza or a Lotus Elise, and it’s clear to see why FRP sales were poor. But, as the second owner, Graham was delighted with his new purchase and began to thoroughly enjoy it.

“I’d had it for about a year when someone invited me to a track day. It was Colerne Airfield, and to be honest I knew nothing about it. But it ended up being the best fun I’ve had in a car on my own,” he enthuses. And so, the seed was sown.

Having discovered the thrilling world of track days, Graham set about making the Racing Puma even more capable.

He says, “Although the stock Sachs dampers and Eibach springs were great, it didn’t have the optional limited-slip diff, so it was wheel-spinning out of corners. I looked into it and discovered that a Series 2 RSTurbo diff could fit – with some machining.” With an engineering background, Graham set to work and shaved off 2mm to make the Puma crown-wheel fit. He then changed the bearing and fitted the speedo drive. “I got my local garage to build it up, and I was off,” he smiles.

With the newly fitted diff, track days became even more of a thrill, with the little Ford leaving much more exotic machinery for dead in the corners.

Graham says, “The quicker stuff would catch me on the straights, but I’d be all over them in the corners. I was doing three or four track days a year on circuits and airfields.” Every year, he looked at ways to improve the car for track; as he says: “I fitted the genuine Ford Evo rear spoiler, as the back end could get loose. Two or three laps in at Combe on a hot RS day, I’d be correcting the back sliding through Camp as there wasn’t enough weight on the rear tyres, which would be melting.”

But after a battle with another car at Castle Combe, which he couldn’t catch, he spoke to a mate and said ‘My car’s just not fast enough’. His mate told him to do something about it, so Graham thought about an engine swap, among other tuning solutions.

“The thing is, I didn’t want to ruin the original car, so I looked into nitrous,” he says. Having spoken to Trevor at Wizards Of NOS, Graham decided on laughing gas. It would deliver the extra slug of power he needed on track, but could be easily removed to return the rare Racing Puma to factory spec. The kit uses a NOS bottle and pipework, mated to Wizards Of NOS solenoids. Graham recalls, “Paul at Sabre put it on his rolling road to check it didn’t run lean when NOS came in, but it was fine. Power went from 159bhp to 199bhp in just two-seconds with the NOS.”

“Various people said it could damage the engine etc, but I’ve had it for over eight years now with no problems. Everyone who gets in it has a giggle when the NOS comes in, and, pound per performance, it makes sense; a bottle costs £85 and it lasts six minutes, but I only use it at full throttle.”

A Schroth inertia harness keeps the driver firmly planted in the figure-hugging Sparco seats, but allows the belt to be used normally for the road, which is handy. The rest of the bright interior is as it left the factory, save for a cheeky switch for the nitrous system.

Graham admits, “The Alcantara is starting to wear but I’ve got some genuine cloth in my loft, which I got very cheap years ago, so I’ll be having it refreshed at some point.”

Externally, there’s not much wrong with the blistered Tickford arches and smooth lines of the FRP, so Graham left it alone. The only additions are the genuine Evo spoiler and the gold wheels.

Although the Puma has provided immense fun on track over the past eight years, the increasing value and need to stay on top of preventative maintenance means it has since been retired from track duties. But Graham hasn’t given up his love of cornering hard. He laughs, “I have a 1.7 Puma for track days; I paid £25 for it as an MOT-failure six years ago, so I’m not worried about that one.”

With a smattering of FRP bits, including wheels and suspension, this bargain-basement Puma delivers plenty of thrills and can be easily replaced if anything breaks. So, what’s next for the Racing Puma?

Graham says, “This winter it’s going up in the air to clean some of the underside that’s flaking off. Then I’m going to repaint it, before pumping some Waxoyl though the chassis.” This cherished FRP may no longer be chasing apexes, but as a committed Ford enthusiast, Graham will continue taking it to shows, especially his local RS Combe day. So it’s good to know this rare Blue Oval will continue to be shared with Ford fans for many years to come.

Evo wing is proper

Ford motorsport part Gold standard FRP rims. Racing Puma in its natural habitat. Always smiling on the inside


AGE 56

JOB Industrial electrician

FIRST FORD MK1 Escort 1600





SHINE? Track day


RS500? Sierra RS500



THIS PROJECT? Bits are hard to find

THANKS “Dave Pritchard for the paintwork, Ron and David Harris for use of their workshop and car storage, Trevor at Wizards Of NOS, my wife for putting up with the car (and me)”


ENGINE 1679cc 16v Zetec SE, K&N air filter, nitrous system with NOS bottle and hoses and Wizards of NOS solenoids, Piper copy of the original stainless exhaust system

TRANSMISSION IB5 five-speed gearbox, Focus 1800 uprated clutch (5mm larger), custom LSD from S2 RST

SUSPENSION Stock Sachs dampers with Eibach springs, front strut brace, Powerflex purple bushes

BRAKES Standard Alcon callipers powdercoated to stop corrosion, Focus ST170 slotted discs, with 5mm machined off outer diameter

WHEELS & TYRES Original Racing Puma wheels painted gold with 20mm spacers all round, Nankang NS2 R tyres (for track), with NS2s for the road

EXTERIOR Fully resprayed in original Racing Puma blue, genuine Evo rear wing, LED colour-adaptive Headlights

INTERIOR Racing Puma spec including blue Alcantara steering wheel, gear gaiter and Sparco seats, Schroth inertia reel harness, shift light, switch to activate nitrous

“I’d had it for about a year when someone invited me to a track day. It was Colerne Airfield, and to be honest I knew nothing about it. But it ended up being the best fun I’ve had in a car on my own”

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