The Puma GT originally designed by an Italian, Rino Malzoni who lived and worked in Brazil. Based on VW running gear he designed a very pretty sports car. Volkswagen do Brazil had no qualms about selling parts and subassemb”es to Puma whose factory production, about 30 units a month. The SOULh African connection started when a businessman called Vic Borcherds became aware of thc. Brazilian Puma.
As South Africa was already producing the Beetle with many local parts and assemblies. Vic reasoned that he could produce the cars in South Africa. He imported a Burnt orange colored Puma to test the market. Unfortunately the quality of Brazilian tires was so bad that he lost control during a rainstorm and wrapped the car around an Armco barrier. It not clear whether he imported other examples as well.
As the Brazilian puma based on the wider Karmann Ghia chassis, the body redesigned by Puma Brazil. A brand new beetle chassis purchased and sent to Brazil for the moulds. A few months later the car arrived at the docks in Durban. My Uncle Abel Pienaar was by that stage heavily involved in the negotiations and setting up of the South African assembly plant. He took Vic to the Docks to pick up the new car. On the way home He followed Vic, at an intersection He saw the Puma’s brake lights come on but no stopping of the car.
At the next moment he saw Vic pull in at a Tire dealer where the Puma’s tires swapped for a set of Dunlop sports tires. Vic then told my Uncle that the car skidded over the intersection as he applied the brakes. This first Puma allegedly the first right hand drive Puma in the world painted a bright blue metallic and looked really stunning. This car differed from later Pumas in that the Chassis fitted higher into the body than later Puma’s thus restricting headroom by about 50mm.
The original Pumas started out as a project known as DKW-Malzoni, built by Genaro “Rino” Malzoni of Matao in Sao Paulo in 1964. Malzoni was an accomplished lawyer, as well as an automotive enthusiast. At the request of DKW-Vemag, he developed a competition car based around a DKW straight-three two-stroke engine. Malzoni developed the steel-bodied prototype to compete with the Willys Interlagos; a locally built copy of the Alpine A108 which was outpacing DKW’s heavier sedans.
The prototype proved too heavy, and at the Sao Paulo Motor Show in the fall of 1964, the lighter fiberglass GT made its first appearance. It won its first race, at Interlagos in 1964. Malzoni founded the company Luminari Ltda with a group of other auto enthusiasts in 1964.
The Puma had been imported into South Africa after 1986, but after costs became prohibitive the importer bought the molds to the 1973 Puma 1600 GTE and began building them locally. 26 cars were finished by Jack Wijker’s Puma Marketing company between 1989 and 1991. Some of the later cars had rear quarter windows replacing the louvres behind the rear door. Limited production of the Puma was once again re-started in 2006.