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Puma Cars

Broadcast date : 25th February 2007

When was the last time you saw a Puma? A Puma Sports car, that is.

About 300 Pumas were built in South Africa in the early 1970ís. And the surviving examples still inspire great loyalty amongst their owners.

The Puma originated in Brazil in the late 1960ís, and it was highly rated for its level of fit and finish that put it way beyond the kit-car level.

Now one of the founders of the SA operation, Pretoria engineer Jack Wijker has revived the brand, and is building the cars in Babalegi, north-west of Pretoria.

The cars are based on the ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle, using mechanicals that are completely refurbished by experts.

The fibreglass-bodied Puma was likened to a mini-Ferrari in its day, and nearly forty years later we have to agree that itís a timeless shape.

The Pumaís secret then and now is that itís an extremely light car. It uses a shortened Volkswagen Beetle floor pan, fitted with new safety-critical components like brakes, steering boxes and suspension systems. And the cars are all hand-assembled by local residents.

The chassis are shortened by some 250mm, and expertly welded using the latest equipment.

Local empowerment is a big part of the Puma Cars plan for this area.

The Puma factory provides scope for the development of a multitude of skills, including fibreglass techniques.

Part of the reason for this enthusiasm is the sense of satisfaction the employees get from seeing a beautifully finished product evolving from raw materials. And make no mistake, the Puma is a beautiful little car.

The 2007 generation Pumas use a mix of classic VW Beetle fittings and modern components, such as front-wheel disc-brakes and more modern paint finishes. Yet theyíre still considered classics by Earlier Puma devotees.

Whereas the original Pumas used a machine moulding process for the fibreglass bodies, the Babalegi bodies are hand-laminated, with all the components cut to templates before being formed over moulds that were imported from Brazil.

Fibreglass is the ideal light-weight material for low-volume sports car construction. The Puma weighs under 750 kilograms, which gives it sparkling performance. And itís strong.

The engines are built by a former Volkswagen factory employee in Uitenhage, and are essentially brand-new VW Beetle engines.

Puma owners can choose between a modest 1300 or 1600 engine, or opt for a hot 2,3 litre which gives Porsche-like performance.

Interestingly, top businessman Cyril Ramaphosa has bought a fifty per cent stake in this business, which could well end up exporting Pumas back to Brazil.

Local prices are expected to range between R130000 and R170000, depending on the engine chosen.

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