The last time Ford took a big cat rallying

M-Sport will switch from a Fiesta to a Puma for the Rally1 era, but the model is no stranger to the stages

wilks sond 12

With M-Sport officially unveiling its Puma Rally1 for the 2022 World Rally Championship season, check out this feature first published last year when DirtFish first caught wind that the model would be returning to rallying.

M-Sport’s hybrid Rally1 car has emerged. It’s a Puma – as we predicted. But it’s worth remebering there’s nothing new about rallying Pumas.

Based off the Mk4 Ford Fiesta platform, the original three-door coupe was a sight to behold when it first arrived in 1997. Ford finished the job Vauxhall started with the original mid-90s Tigra and delivered a sensational-looking motor for the people.

And that Puma never looked better than when it was Ford Racing spec. A wider front and rear track helped pack out Tickford-inspired arches, bespoke Alcon brakes stopped the thing on a sixpence and a breathed on, albeit lightly – the cars delivered 155bhp instead of the originally slated 180 (turbocharging was deemed too expensive) – 1700cc engine developed with Yamaha, gave it some go.

Ford was going to build 1000, half going to the UK and half to Germany. In the end only 500 came to the UK and only half of those were sold. Good as the FRP was, it was no B-road match for Subaru’s Impreza, which came in £2000 cheaper at the time.

But as a rally car, it worked a treat and was sold around the world as a rival to the combined French force that was Peugeot’s 106 Maxi and Citroen’s Saxo Kit Car.

Duval020116MC 1

Brits Kris Meeke and Guys Wilks both used the Puma in their first full season of British Rally Championship rallying in 2002, with the car helping to launch them into bigger and better things.

It was, however, François Duval who delivered the Puma’s crowning glory (above) with a Junior WRC win on the Monte Carlo Rally in 2002. By then Duval was signed to Malcolm Wilson’s works Ford team and his Puma program was split through 2002 with a selection of outings in a Ford Focus RS WRC 02.

The full-blown 1600cc Puma rally car developed 200bhp and, weighing in at around 900 kilos, provided plenty of fun on the stages. At a slightly lower level, there was the Puma S1400. And that was the perfect reason for a day out in Dublin.

Puma S1600

I don’t remember the exact details of the day, but I do remember a phone call asking if I’d be interested in flying to Rally School Ireland to try Ford’s new Puma S1400. That day was, I have to say, one of the best tests I’ve ever been to. In typically Irish fashion, the welcome was glorious, the hospitality quite magnificent and the opportunity to drive pretty much unsurpassed.

After bacon sandwiches in the morning, we were shown the stage, given more sandwiches for lunch and then told to go out and drive the car on our own through the afternoon.

“When do we come in?”

“You’ll know…”


“She’ll be out of motion potion. Come in then.”

For the next few hours I drove and drove and spun and gardened my way around the place. Exhausted and out of petrol, I was provided with a pint of Guinness and a driver to take me to the airport.

No wonder I liked the Puma.

Actually, not all Pumas were great. My first house in Aylesbury overlooked a courtyard and the person opposite left for work every day at four in the morning. Their Puma had one of those ridiculously shouty beep-beep alarms fitted.

Four o’clock every morning, Monday through Friday, I was given another reason to dislike them. And their Ford Puma.

I’m sure M-Sport’s new Puma will only make nice noises.

Photography:McKlein Image Database

Words:David Evans