The cars we loved.
Puma was Brazil’s producer of sporty cars based on various VW or GM mechanicals (mainly engines). During the 1970’s, Brazil’s auto industry was off-limits to outsiders due to high tariffs. As a result GM, VW and others were forced to establish factories in Brazil to sale cars. Small local car companies often used the resources of the transplanted foreign companies in the development of their own products. Brazilian built cars were seldom exported beyond South America if even Brazil. They were produced especially for the local market with economy and functionality in mind.
Puma cars were more or less complete kit products, using pieces and parts from the GM parts bin as well as some home-grown components. The end result was a car that resembled a cross between a Chevrolet Vega and Monza, but lacking the polish of either one. The GTB, the sportiest of Puma’s cars was also Brazil’s most expensive. A Chevrolet inline 6 cylinder engine powered the first generation GTB (called the S1). As a sporty rear wheel drive GT car, it featured many luxury options. Leather interiors, power windows and air conditioning were a few of the popular luxury options. Even at a premium price point, it still had rear drum brakes, four speed manual transmission and a less than independent rear suspension. Fiberglass bodies helped to keep weight down, eventually reaching 170 hp. The GTB’s cornering performance was said to compare well with Porsche’s 914, but with a 0 to 60 time of 11 seconds, it was no street scorcher.
As the Puma GTB evolved, its design went from looking vaguely Chevrolet-like to resembling the clean lines of various European Opels and Lancias by 1980 (S2). The two round headlights gave way to a more European like quad setup. The design influences seemed conflicting at first with odd proportions at some angles, suggesting more parts bin shopping. The cross breeding continued under the hood with a choice of two 4.0 L GM V6 engines in turbo and normally aspirated configurations. One version of the 4.0 V6 ran on refined sugarcane alcohol! The cars were more capable and were exported to other parts of South America, but were not ready for global export, despite their attractive appearance. The Brazilian auto industry was still young and was improving, with Puma at the forefront of quality advances. Even with the small and gradual improvements, Puma needed to sell more cars and Brazil and the rest of South America was not a big enough market to sustain a company with aspirations of growth.
Puma cars went into bankruptcy, fuel in part to the low sales of the revamped GTB after 1980. Less than 1,000 GTB S2’s were produced before production stopped. The rights to the Puma trademark were sold a few times during the 80’s while the company was dormant. New investors brought back a redesigned GTB and called it the AMV. By this time in the early 1990s, the Brazilian car market was opened up to foreigners and no one seemed to care as modern high quality imports flooded the market.
The Puma name managed to resurface in South Africa with limited production in 2006. Current cars from Puma are kits based on VW New Beetle chassis and running gear. The new look is somewhat more refined visually than the Brazilian products. Despite inspiration from Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s of the late 1960’s, the Puma looks very much like a dated kit car and will likely stay a local product of South Africa.