Props to the new Ford Puma, but the original's alloys were a masterpiece

90s cars Ford

The Ford Puma has been crowned Britain's most popular car by Smint. Or was it the SMMT? Either way, the Puma was the best-selling car in 2023, with Ford shifting 49,591 units of the small SUV. Which is nice.

As any self-respecting car enthusiast will point out on social media, it's not a proper Ford Puma. The real deal was born in 1997 and was, until its death in 2001, the most enjoyable front-wheel drive small coupé you could buy. Seriously, it was properly good, so it's a shame that so many have fallen victim to the dreaded tin worm.

Fair's fair, the new Ford Puma is great crossover. In Petrolblog circles, the idea of a great crossover might sound like a contradiction in terms, but the car is both a sales and critical success. Registrations approaching 50,000 in a year is an achievement, Autocar has labelled it the “number one crossover”, while CAR says it's “as good as it gets in the world of B-SUVs”.

It's even got a so-called Megabox in the back, which is the best thing to happen to a boot since Honda stuck a shower, bucket and picnic table combo in the original (and best) CR-V.

But there are several reasons why the second coming of the Puma will never be as good as the OG. No, not the absence of an aluminium ball for a gear knob or a posthumous endorsement from Steve McQueen. Not even its ability to put smiles on the faces of three middle-aged men as Tiff Needell goes in a number of directions all in one go.

It's not even the fact that there won't be a Ford Racing version, although the Puma ST is, by all accounts, very good.

No, it's the fact that it's not available with a set of ‘Propellor’ alloys, arguably one of the greatest wheel designs of the 1990s. It always seemed like a backward step when Ford ditched them for the prosaic nine-spoke alloys.

According to Steve Saxty, writing in the excellent Secret Fords Volume Two, the propellor-blade design was the work of the late Chris Svensson, the former Ford-sponsored student who enjoyed a stellar career at Ford. He was one of the designers tasked with creating the initial sketches in 1993, under the direction of Claude Lobo.

The following excerpt and image are taken from the book:

‘The distinctive propellor-blade style wheels had featured on Chris Svensson's red sketch. When Ian Callum had the white fibreglass model made, he asked what type of wheels Ford wanted. “Those blade types look great” was the response. The style that Chris had used came from a Chevy muscle car – but it was new to Ford and much-admired on the Puma. Designer Simon Bury added four bolt-like featured to the centre cap and that was that. Nobody knew that the iconic wheel owed a nod to Detroit.’

Tonight, as champagne corks bounce off the ceilings of Ford's European boardrooms, let's raise a glass to the small coupé that was everything we hoped the Vauxhall Tigra would be. Petrolblog should know; it's the only car it ever bought new, but as a 2001 model, it was sans props.

And before you complain about the modern Puma's name and the fact that it topped the sales chart in 2023, take solace in the knowledge that it stopped the Nissan Qashqai from taking the crown. Here's the 2023 rundown:

  1. Ford Puma: 49,591 registrations
  2. Nissan Qashqai: 43,321
  3. Vauxhall Corsa: 40,816
  4. Kia Sportage: 36,135
  5. Tesla Model Y: 35,899
  6. Hyundai Tucson: 34,469
  7. MINI Hatch: 33,385
  8. Nissan Juke: 31,745
  9. Audi A3: 30,159
  10. Vauxhall Mokka: 29,984

That's enough new car nonsense for today, so let's close with another photo of the classic Puma rocking a set of Propellor alloys. Enjoy.

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