This Puma GTE Is Living A Second Life Racing Around Australia
Photography by Ross Perry
At the recent Retrospeed Wilby Park Sprints, I had the pleasure to meet Derek McLaughlan and learn about his unique entrant into the event. Competing with his rare sports car in the inaugural race of the weekend, which caters for strictly period style cars up to 1978, I caught up with Derek after he took to the track in his 1970 Puma GTE.
Stewart Perry: Can you tell me about this interesting little car of yours? Where did you find such a thing as this?
Derek McLaughlan: This car is a 1970 Puma GTE. Puma was a South American car company who made cars between 1964 and 1986 primarily in Brazil, but they also allowed some to be produced under license in other countries, as is the case with my car: it was one of 357 produced in South Africa.
Unfortunately I don’t know the early history of this particular car, but I know that it had been built into a historic racer in South Africa before I bought it in 2012 and shipped it out to Australia. I had originally intended to race it, but that would require a change back to a 1600cc which I don’t have the time to do at the moment, so we are just sprinting and hillclimbing it for now.
SP: What attracted you to the Puma initially? And why did you choose to pursue ownership?
DM: I really like the shape and the design of the exterior as a whole. I also love that their construction is much better than that of your average kit type car. To add on to all of that, you can modify the basic Volkswagen mechanicals to get it to go fast for not much money out of pocket, unlike say, a Porsche.
SP: That’s some pretty sound logic, especially if you’re planning to race one. Can you speak more to the technical and mechanical aspects of the car? You’d mentioned some VW DNA.
DM: The car is built on a Karman Ghia platform, with a fully fiberglass body over the top. Originally it ran a 1600cc twin-port VW engine, though as I alluded to earlier, this one now has a 2000cc to boost the power.
For another perspective on the interesting mix that constitutes the Puma GTE, we put experienced classic Porsche 911 driver Ray Wood in the driver’s seat for a few laps with Derek. The man can drive: Ray has been sprinting, rallying, and hillclimbing a 1977 Porsche 911 for more than 10 years. Here’s what he had to say on this car’s character.
Stewart Perry: Ray, after driving the Puma and getting acquainted with it, what are your thoughts on its performance and poise? And how does it compare to your Porsche?
Ray Wood: With two liters pushing just 750kg, it should be quick, and it is!
It is seriously cramped inside though; you wouldn’t want to be more than six feet tall in one of these. Though it’s Karman Ghia-based, it handles much better than any VW I have ever driven, and it is not like this car is a one off special either—it is a sweet little production sports car come track day vehicle.
As for the reference point that I’m accustomed to, the Puma is just a bit faster than the 911, though Derek might be driving a little closer to the limit than I am of course!
The Retrospeed event will run again next April, if you are in Australia and want to join in, you can visit the event site to stay up-to-date on the event.