#ProjectPuma Part One- with Track Cars Ireland

Myself (Adrian Dunne) and Declan Carey have been looking to start another little track/race car project on the side, separate from the Saxo and Ka that we have already built. Our plan was to see how cheap we could build something and make it competitive- to some degree.
To start with, it would be built to a good track car spec and see if it could make the grade as a race car. We had a few ideas about what to build but we were contacted “by pure chance” from a forum member on Backroads.ie who had a little 1998 Ford Puma looking for a good home. Needless to say, we acted swiftly and collected the car the very next evening. The car had good and bad points, it was a little rusty, as they sometimes are, but still fine for what we needed. It also didn’t have a key! But luckily Declan is a Ford master technician and access to a new key wasn’t going to be a problem. The car was the 1.7 VCT rather than the 1.6 and this means a little more power and better gearbox ratios.

Spec on car to start with
• Coilover suspension already fitted (new)
• Mondeo ST front brake upgrade (new)
• Partial strip out done
• Aircon removed

This was a good starting point in fairness as they are definitely things we would be doing ourselves anyway. The first job on our list was to actually get the car started, and for this we would need to code a new Ford key and program it to the cars ECU. So with a fancy laptop, Declan was able to do this without any problems. The car was sitting up for two years so also needed a full service and battery. We had a spare battery hanging around the shed so that got charged and fitted also. After sorting all these little jobs the car was ready to start and did so on first attempt! “Result”
Now that the car was running the next job was to fit a new auxiliary belt. The challenge with this was the air con pump was removed. We would need to work out what size of belt would fit, and slightly adjust the alternator location for the belt to clear the water pump. We spaced out the alternator roughly 20mm from the engine and fitted an 1180mm belt which gave the correct tension for the job.
This was the belt layout we were looking for:

Next up was some weight reduction and remove the old nasty air box and filter. This job was handy enough as the Puma headlights pretty much split apart so you can remove all the heavy stuff and you’re left with just nice plastic covers. These are perfect to cut a large hole for cold air feed and tidy up with some matt black spray paint.

Continuing with weight reduction it was time to start stripping out the doors and making polycarbonate front windows. First up was to remove all wiring and start cutting away and unwanted metal inside the doors. The top part of these doors are completely removable and this really makes the job so much easier.

We didn’t weigh all the metal in these doors but we were very surprised with the amount of metal in there that was available to cut away, and giving great weight savings!
The fully stripped out door can be seen below, and we will be making door cards at a later stage to cover all this in.

Once we had the doors sorted we could start working on the polycarbonate windows. We just about had enough of this material left from our own cars to make the front two windows. This was another great saving not having to buy a full sheet. When making these windows we always clamp the original glass to the polycarbonate using plastic clamps and draw the outline. For cutting we use a small grinder with thin cutting discs but making sure to cool with water spray and not melting the material. Many people have different methods for this, but this is how we do it. Normally before removing the protective film we use light sand paper just around the edges for a nice finish. The piece below looks quite grubby but it has been sitting in my shed for over a year.

Moving around to the front of the car we started to remove all the bonnet release assembly, and get ready for fitting the new bonnet pins we picked up from Murray Motorsport. While under the bonnet we couldn’t resist another reason to get out the grinder and strip all unwanted metal from its underside. As you can see from the photo below its pretty raw looking for now but we will tidy all this up and give it a lick of matt black! The Puma has a good strong locking panel, so we had no problem finding a secure location to mount the bonnet pins.

 

We are not finished the front end weight reduction yet as this part of the project is all about getting as much work done before its first real shakedown at AutoHeros 17 on the 29/12/17
As I said at the start of this” this project has no real direction at the moment but to get it from track car spec to race car will take very little extra, but either wat it’s going to be fun. The car will probably be perfect for Future Classics Championship as the Puma is eligible from 2018 onwards, so we are keeping that in mind as we build this car.

We have a pretty good knowledge of Fords between us at this stage so we know the Puma is known for being a little tail happy. As we don’t like to add weight, we instead decided to fit a rear wing. We had a quick look on Donedeal and Adverts.ie to see if we could bag a bargain, surely enough a “huge” drift rear wing came up on Adverts and better still it was in Mullingar, which is local to us. Asking price was 120 euro so we offered 40 euro and to our surprise the offer was accepted and the wing was delivered to my door for an extra 10 euro. We had no idea if the wing would even fit the car but on first offer up it was perfect “if you like that kind of thing” but yes we do! It was very straight forward fit, little bit of marking up on the boot lid and we bonded and bolted it in place. While we were working on the boot lid we also removed all the boot wiring and locking assembly to fit nice new locking pins.

We would always recommend fitting pins in this way where possible, and avoid the straps onto the rear bumper. If you lose your rear bumper during a race you could end up with a lot of unwanted drag! In our case I don’t think there is any fear of the boot lifting, but it is possible on most hatches.

We are running tight on time at this stage as a few unforeseen circumstances meant very little work on the car for over a week. We needed to sort out the tyres and fit an adjustable bucket seat and harness. We have a nice selection of second hand Yokahama AO48 which we source from a friend in the Fiesta ST Championship, so they will do nicely and cost neutral at this stage. I have a spare harness and seat from my Saxo which got robbed for the job in hand. We modified the original seat rail so we could have it adjustable for different drivers for the time being, and at least it’s a lot safer than using the original seat and belt.

So with all this done the car was pretty much ready to go. With a quick test drive up a private road the car seemed fine, our chief safety advisor David even walked around the car with the torque ratchet doing his final checks 🙂
I have to say the rear wing was actually growing on me once we got the car out of the garage. And not only did it look ok, we found out that it actually seems to work quite well!

We headed over to Mondello Park on the 29th for AutoHero 17 and checked in for the afternoon session, “not knowing how long it would last” but the car went amazingly well all afternoon. As hard as we tried we could not get the rear end to step out and the car was lapping some very impressive machines! My first experience with the Puma has been very positive indeed and can’t get over how well the car grips with such old tyres, and literally no setup or alignment. I think anyone would be happy with this car as a track toy, but definitely can be competitive as a race car if we go down that road.

Cost so far.
• Going rate for car with spec as it started probably around 600 euro
• Full service kit with belt 70 euro
• Rear wing 50 euro
• Bonnet pins 26 euro

Total: let’s say 746 euro giving the car a value of 600 euro. Very cheap fun so far, all other bits used so far are bits we had lying around the garage. We will keep an honest track of money we spend on the car for the next update. We won’t add cost for petrol or test/track day fees as that could get silly. The plan is to see how cheaply we can do this without cutting any corners that could compromise the cars safety on track.

So what’s next?
• Strip out standard exhaust system and fit something less restrictive
• Sort slight issue with brakes, possibly faulty servo
• Possibly fit cage
• Remove more wiring and fit switch panel with kill switch
• Fit new air flow meter as Declan robbed the Puma one for his PuKa
• Rear axle extensions maybe
• Different wheels as the offset on these leave them rubbing shocks slightly
• Remove steering wheel and fit correct racing steering wheel

So how did it go? Judge for yourself, here is the onboard coverage from the shakedown run at Mondello:

In #ProjectPuma part two, we will tackle some of the above list, and hopefully get some more all important track time- that’s the whole point after all!!