A SHORT HISTORY OF PUMA SPORTS CARS
NOTE: This article, the rare DKW-Malzoni pictures, and the 1970's Puma pictures were provided by Jason Vogel.
Jason is a reporter with O Globo, Brazil's largest daily newspaper.
Much of the information came from a 1990 article published in Autoesporte Magazine.
The author, Oscar Nelson Kuntz, was one of the greatest vintage car experts in Brazil until his untimely death in 1993.
Jason is an authority on Brazilian and other automobiles in his own right.
1971 Puma Coupe used 1584 cc VW engine in the rear.
The genesis of Puma was the DKW-Malzoni, a front wheel drive sport prototype model with a DKW engine that first appeared in 1964. These cars were made in Matão, a small city in São Paulo state, by a farmer named Rino Malzoni. Rino was a great enthusiast of automobiles and automobile racing. The early DKW-Malzonis were made strictly for competition purposes. The DKW-Malzoni used a highly prepared two stroke, 1100 cc, three cylinder engine that made around 100 horsepower. With a light fiberglass body, the car was very fast and agile, and enjoyed great success racing against Willys Interlagos (a model based on the Renault powered Alpine A-108) and Carreteras (modified 1930's American five window coupes, equipped with Corvette or Ford Thunderbird engines).
A DKW-Malzoni duals with two Willys Interlagos in a 1966 race.
Rino Malzoni recognized that the car had commercial possibilities. In order to produce more cars and bring them to market, Rino joined with three other auto enthusiasts (Luís Roberto da Costa, Milton Masteguin, and Mario César Camargo Filho) and founded the company "Sociedade de Automóveis Luminari." At this time, about 35 cars were being sold each year. In 1967, the company was renamed "Puma Veículos e Motores." Shortly thereafter, it was transformed into an open capital society named "Puma Indústria de Veículos S.A."
Although built for racing, this Malzoni is legal for street use.
Production quickly increased almost four times. In 1967, the body of the DKW-Malzoni was slightly modified, and the car was renamed as the Puma DKW. The new car had a small rear seat, more glass area, and new wheels, bumpers, head lights, and rear lights. It was also slightly longer. However, the biggest changes would came in the closing months of 1967. Vemag (the company that made DKWs in Brazil) was bought by Volkswagen, and all DKW cars and engines were discontinued. This meant that Puma needed a new heart if it was to continue. It was decided to use the Brazilian Karmann-Ghia platform, with a 1493 cc air cooled engine that made 52 hp. This wasn't a simple change. The Puma DKW was a front engine car, and the new model needed to recieve a rear engine. The chassis of the first VW powered Puma was almost the same as the Karmann-Ghia, except that it was made a few inches shorter. The body was slightly smaller, glass area was again modified, and the front egg crate grille was removed.
DKW heritage is evident in this front view of the Malzoni.
By 1970, an open roadster version, the GTE Spyder, had been placed into production. The Spyder had a fiberglass hardtop and a conventional convertible soft top. During the early 1970's, Puma cars began to be exported to North America, Europe, and South American countries. Although some cars were exported in "kit" form, Puma cars were only sold completely assembled in Brazil. At this time, the basic engine was the 1584 cc aircooled VW motor, but an optional 1800 cc engine was also offered. About this time, the Puma GTB, was developed. It also had a fiberglass body, but was built on a special chassis, and was powered by an in-line six cylinder Brazilian Chevrolet engine displacing 4100 cc. The GTB was not exported to North America or Europe.
Puma GTB used 4100 cc Chevrolet engine in front.
Before long, the VW based Pumas had to be changed again. The Karmann-Ghia was discontinued. The VW Brasilia platform was used as a replacement, keeping the same 1584 cc engine. By this time, an assembly line had been established in South Africa.
Another rare picture of a Malzoni on the track.
After the Karmann Ghia was discontinued, the VW
Brasilia platform was used for rear engined Pumas.
VW based Pumas received body changes in 1977. Coupes added rear quarter windows, and an updated dash and interior were introduced. More extensive modifications were made in 1981. The front and rear of the car were restyled, with relocated parking lights, and much larger tail lights. The new models were called GTC (convertible, replacing the GTS) and GTI (coupe, replacing the GTE). Both were offered with an extensive list of optional items, including special engines and transmissions, power windows, etc. The following year, the P-018 was launched, with an IRS rear axle, 1584 cc engine standard, and optional 1700 cc, 1800 cc, and 2000 cc engines.
DKW-Malzoni interior was finished to a high standard.
The economic crisis of the 1980's was devastating to the Brazilian speciality car industry. Sales that in the late 1970's were about 150 per month began a steady decline. In 1985, the Puma brandmark was sold to "Araucária S.A.", a small company in Paraná state, that made few cars. Two years later, Araucária sold the production rights to a company named "Alfa Metais." Alfa Metais tried to maintain the Puma brandmark, creating two new air cooled models, AM-1 (coupe) and AM-2 (roadster), both for export. The company also made a few Puma AM-3, with a rear water cooled VW straight four engine, only for Brazil. The final model appears to have been the AM-4, also water cooled. But the 1990's were coming, and the Brazilian market was opened to imported sports cars. This effectively sealed Puma's fate. Production of Puma cars ceased completely around 1992.
An early VW powered Puma Coupe on the track in Rio.
Kit Pumas are often designated by the year they are first titled.
This "1994" GTC convertible may be the world's newest Puma.
Jason Vogel also provided the following information regarding the number of Pumas that were exported from Brazil between 1969 and 1980. These figures are for complete cars only. They do not include cars brought into the U.S. in kit form.