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The Puma sports car can trace its roots back to the Malzoni GT, an attractive front-wheel drive car that competed successfully in the Brazilian GT racing series. Named after company founder Genaro Malzoni, the car utilized three-cylinder, two-stroke DKW engines that were available from DKW’s Brazilian operations at the time, and the Malzoni GT typically wore the four rings of Auto Union on its nose. About 35 of these cars were built before it was restyled and renamed the Puma GT. These original Pumas retained the DKW drivetrain and layout, but when Volkswagen took over the DKW-Vemag facilities in 1967, Puma had to make a change.
The Puma GT retained an appearance similar to the Malzoni GT, but now used the air-cooled flat-four of the Karmann Ghia and rear-wheel drive. Throughout its production run, the Puma GT would continue to use parts from either the Karmann Ghia or the Brasilia. The car quickly became very popular in Brazil as well as South Africa, and thousands were built over the course of the 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1970s, a convertible version called the GTS was added. In 1980, this model was changed to the GTC.
By this time, Puma had grown to a point that allowed for serious export, including North America. Sold as a complete car in its home market of Brazil, the Pumas that made their way to the U.S. and Canada were mostly kits. They were already partially assembled, however, and all American owners had to do was install the engine, front suspension, transaxle, wheels and battery. Since Puma was in truth an established and legitimate sports car manufacturer, Pumas have a significantly higher quality of fit and finish than one normally associates with the multitude of 1970s VW-based kit cars.
The Puma’s good looks were one of its greatest strengths, and although later cars gained rear quarter windows in place of louvered panels and lost their covered headlights, they remained very pretty. With aesthetics that were part Porsche, part Alfa, part Ferrari and part Lotus, the fiberglass-bodied Brazilian sports car was very pleasing to look at.
Pumas are pleasing to drive as well, but because of the model’s past as a kit car in the States, few of them are exactly the same and originality hasn’t typically been a consideration for past owners. Speed parts for air-cooled Volkswagens are plentiful to say the least, and some Pumas have even had their 1500s or 1600s bored out for higher displacement. And it’s also because of this kit car past that Pumas can typically be had for kit car money. It can be hard to find these beautiful, unusual sports cars, but they are both plentiful and popular in Brazil and can be imported economically for those who are determined to do so.