"Puma Head" emblem from a 1978 Puma GT 1600.
The Puma is a Volkswagen based specialty sports car built in Brazil. Strict Brazilian regulations which restricted imports to encourage domestic automobile production led to the development of the Puma and other specialty vehicles. Production began in 1964 using DKW components, with a switch to VW components in 1967.
This necessitated a change from front engine, front wheel drive to rear engine, rear wheel drive. The first Pumas were built strictly for racing, but it was not long before they were being built for street use.
Pumas were sporadically imported to the U.S. during the 1970's and 1980's. Although the Puma was not designed as a kit car, the cars were imported in kit form. The "kit" was actually a complete car less the front suspension, transaxle, engine, wheels, and tires. The missing components were available from the distributor, or the buyer could supply the needed parts. Less restrictive regulations permitted the importation and marketing of complete cars in Canada.
Pumas were also popular in South Africa, and an assembly plant was established there. Exports to Europe were limited to small numbers through a distributor in Switzerland. Puma built some front engine rear wheel drive models based on Brazilian Chevrolet components, but these were not exported. Once the Brazilian market was opened to imports, the domestic market for the Puma declined significantly. The original Puma company went into receivership in the mid-1980's, and production ended for a time. Production of both the VW and Chevrolet based models resumed when the Araucaria company bought the machinery and tooling. After a short period, production was taken over by Alfa Metais. A few rear engine Pumas with water cooled VW engines were made during the final years of production, but sales of these were low.
Over 22,000 Puma automobiles were produced over the life of the marque. Puma also produced a line of special bodied light trucks, which continued in production after Puma automobile production ended.
Puma was a Brazilian specialist car manufacturer who built cars between 1967 and around 1992. High import tariffs effectively closed Brazil during much of this period to foreign-built cars, and the vehicles available to the average Brazilian were limited to those built in Brazil either by foreign manufacturers, such as Volkswagen and General Motors, who established Brazilian manufacturing plants, and the products of local companies.
The origin of what was to become the Puma was the DKW-Malzoni, built by Rino Malzoni of Mateo in Sao Paulo state from around 1964. Malzoni was a keen auto racer and began building his own competition cars based around a DKW straight-3 two-stroke engine with a light, fiberglass-skinned bodyshell. The cars began to sell in quantities larger than he himself could build, and Malzoni founded a company with a group of other auto enthusiasts. Production at first was around 35 cars a year, increasing to more than a hundred within a couple of years.
1967 saw DKW bought out by Volkswagen and the Brazilian production of DKWs ceased. With no DKW engine available, a new car was designed, based around the rear-engined, air-cooled Volkswagen Karmann Ghia sold in Brazil. The car was named Puma and the company was likewise renamed, and it sold relatively well for a specialist sports car.
A convertible version, the Spyder, was added in around 1970 and cars began to be exported around that date, to other South American countries, North American and Europe. Many of the exported vehicles were kit cars - actually substantially complete bodyshells, but lacking engine, transmission, axles, wheels and other mechanical parts. All cars sold in Brazil were complete.
Another model, the Puma GTB, used a front-mounted Chevrolet straight-6; this model was not exported.
VW stopped production of the Karmann Ghia in Brazil during the mid 1970s, and the car was switched to take from the Volkswagen Brasilia instead. Pumas began to be assembled in South Africa around this time. Bodywork was restyled in 1977.
The 1980s saw harsh economic times in Brazil, and this hit Puma hard. In 1985, the rights to the Puma were sold; a year later, they were sold again. Production continued in small numbers, but the opening of the Brazilian market to foreign cars in the early 1990s was the final blow, and production ceased around 1992.
English Language Magazine Articles.
"Brazil's Puma GT - Bosa Nova On Wheels" by Karl Ludvigsen. Automobile Quarterly, Spring 1969. 8 pages. Excellent account of the early years of the company. Discusses how the Puma GT was designed, built, and marketed. Includes several photos of Pumas in various states of production at the factory in Sao Paulo. Compares the Puma GT to the Porsche 1600 of 1961. Has a good photo of Rino Malzoni, the man who started it all.
"The Brazilian Corvette" by Karl Ludvigsen. Motor Trend, May 1971. 4 pages. A road test of the Puma GTE coupe that compares it favorably to the Porsche 914. Includes a neat full-page photo that shows a Puma GTE with a DKW-Malzoni, Puma DKW, Quatro Rodas Puma, and an unidentified dune buggy lined up behind it. Also has some factory shots and discussion of the company in general. Copy provided by Jorge Matias.
"Powerful Puma" by Bill Moore. Kit Car Illustrated, October 1988. 5 pages with cover. Features a yellow Puma convertible with a 2110 cc, 220 horsepower high performance engine. Several articles in this issue relate to Le Car Stables, which was the Puma, Adamo, and Ventura importer at the time. An article "The Brazilian Connection" (mostly about Chuck Beck) contains some information on the original Puma Company bankruptcy. Finally, a half page ad for Le Car Stables features Puma and other Brazilian cars. The yellow Puma is on the cover and also on the back page.
"The Puma" by Ed Orr. Dune Buggies and Hot VW's, March 1977. 5 pages with cover. Discusses the U.S. market Puma kit car. Contains a great anecdote about a wealthy oil shiek who ordered a Puma from the factory with leopard skin seats and a gold plated engine. Copy provided by Sylvain Girard.
"The Puma GTE" by Jay Amestoy. Volkswagen Greats, June 1977. 7 pages with cover. Excellent background information on the importation of Pumas into the United States. Includes a comparison test of a Puma GTE and a Porsche 924. Copy provided by Sylvain Girard.
"The Specialty Cars of Brazil" by John G. Rettie. Dune Buggies and Hot VW's, June 1981. 5 pages with cover. General discussion of the Brazilian specialty car industry. Includes Puma and others. A Puma GTC was the cover car for this issue. Copy provided by Sylvain Girard.
"What's A Puma?" by Dwayne T. Ray. Kit Car Illustrated, August 1992. 5 pages. Fairly comprehensive article with 9 photos. Contains several interesting anecdotes. One of these was a scheme involving Muhammad Ali and Saudi financiers to market a special Puma in the U.S. as the "Ali Stinger." Another was a plan for Michael Kelly's New Avanti Motor Corporation (as in former Studebaker Avanti) to acquire both import and overall production rights to the Puma. (copy provided by Bob Bloom.
"Poise from Brazil" by Malcolm McKay. Classic and Sports Car, July 2002. 4 pages. Excellent historical coverage and great color photography of the Malzoni GT and Puma GTE 1600. Features beautifully restored cars owned by Brazilian Puma enthusiasts Paulo Lomba and Dinho Amaral. Much of the background information in this excellent article appears to have been gleaned from my Puma Pages. The September 2002 issue of Classic and Sports Car includes a letter from me, featured as the "Letter of the Month," that provides clarifications to the article.
(source: Puma Register)
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