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Obscure Air Cooled Project: 1981 Puma

As someone who has gone down the rabbit hole of owning really obscure vehicles, I can tell you that there’s some reward in the notoriety factor but it can wear of when you’re scouring eBay in a foreign country for the third time that month looking for an air filter. This happened to me on my 1981 Toyota HiAce project, and I have a feeling the seller of this 1981 Puma project is experiencing some fatigue from owning an oddball like this. Find it listed here on Facebook Marketplace with an asking price of $4,700, and thanks to Barn Finds reader Peter R. for the find.

The seller notes it is a proper restoration project, one that he bought with some bodywork issues that have since been fixed. Specifically, the roof section needed fiberglass repairs, which he has corrected – but he states that the chassis will need to be repaired and the “…body redone.” He doesn’t specify what this entails, but it sounds like the fiberglass repair work is not yet done despite what he’s already tackled in the roof section. The good news is it does seem to retain some hard to find pieces, like the original Puma taillights.

Even more exciting for a potential buyer is that he’s tracked down what has to be an extremely hard to find part, that being an original windshield. I did the same thing when I had my HiAce, tracking down three two spare windshields and having them placed in a crate with a few other parts (including a rear tailgate) that were delivered via ocean liner. Honestly, it’s great to have that know-how in the back of my head, but those were hours I’ll never get back. I’m sure it wasn’t exactly a turnkey process to get a windshield for a Puma, either.

The seller is also including some other nice-to-have spares, like all-new window rubbers and a complete wiring kit. As far as the floor goes, this is a simple chassis swap with a Beetle floorpan in better shape than the one the Puma currently rides on. The engine was running when the seller snagged this Puma, but of course, it’s a non-runner at the moment. The Puma is by no means a simple undertaking, but the seller has tracked down some harder to find parts and the rest of it can be raided from various air-cooled parts catalogs. Would you take on this rare Puma coupe project?


  1. alphasud Member

    Probably the nicest kit car to grace a VW Beetle’s bottom. Plus the VW platform gives you access to all the air cooled go fast goodies. And if you want 6cyl. air cooled power fit a Corvair engine.

    Like 1
    • Blueprint

      Not a kit. These were factory-built new cars on new VW components.

      Like 11
  2. PLahm

    A Puma is on my list but not at this level of effort. I agree they are the nicest body to grace a beetle chassis! This looks to be a full effort with the satisfaction in a well done job and not great economic upside. Good luck to the new owner and hopefully it gets restored.

    Like 2
  3. Scuderia

    Really nice lines. would love to see it with a Emory-Rothsport Outlaw-4. Probably tie the chassis up in a knot though.

    Like 2
  4. James Simpson

    PUMA was a factory built Brazilian car-or at least South American I think—- Maybe even converted to high percentage alcohol originally ?? Anyway- fairly nice lines.


    They were also made in South Africa until the late 1990’s based on the earlier Puma. There are are quite a few around still as there are many enthusiasts around. is the URL for the South African Puma site.

    Doubt that a Corvair flat six would fit. Very tight fit in the engine bay.

    Like 1
    • Martin M

      Carlos, thanks for the link.

    • Thomas laing

      They will, as will a Porsche flat 6. They’re right but with removal of the fibreglass material in the engine bay around the cooling tims, it can and has been accomplished.

  6. dave

    A Suburu fits nicely. Know of several done that way.

    Like 1
  7. bobhess bobhess Member

    Jeff… Aren’t those Euro Mercedes taillights?

    • Blyndgesser

      Euro Ford I think

    • Juliano Severo

      Those taillights come from another Brazilian VW, the Brasilia.

  8. BlondeUXB Member

    Does this have ties to a French car too ?

    • BlondeUXB Member

      Alpine (?)

    • BlondeUXB Member

      Didn’t Willys do something like this (?)

      Like 1
      • Blyndgesser

        You’re thinking of the Interlagos, based on Renault and Alpine components. Similar styling but very different mechanics.

        Like 1
  9. Araknid78

    Located in East Haddam, CT

  10. PoPPaPork

    Ask price is “what he has in this project”
    What rhe hell is going on with these people thinking they can get what they put in?
    Good rule of thumb for non exotic cars is 50%
    And i bet at 2.5 grand this would sell quite fast

    Like 1
    • Thomas laing

      These things are very rare creatures. If it is a fairly intact car with everything included that is a good price for the car, especially in today’s inflated market. When I registered mine ten years ago I was the 25th on the road in Canada at that time.

  11. Tom laing

    The car is not a kit, they were production cars in Brazil. Some were imported in broken down “kit” form to the USA to circumvent import laws at the time. My car, a Canadian 81 GTI was sold new at ottos auto in Ottawa. The car was based on a vw Brasilia and so many of the parts-I.e chassis and tail lights come from that. Puma indistria sa also made heavy trucks and had gm i6 as well as dkw based sports cars over the years. They went away in the early nineties as Brazilian import laws allowed foreign manufacturers to enter. At that point Puma was bought by investors and production resumed in South Africa . Many spare parts specific to puma can be found through purring pumas while nearly everything else is Volkswagen and easily found with some minimal detective work. This would be a very fun project for someone . The windshield is a great find as they are the hardest pets to come by.

    Like 1
    • MoPhil

      Is your Puma orange, Tom? I ask as I grew up in the Ottawa area and a co-worker of my step-father drove an orange one. I was in my teens when he put it up for sale (~1987) and I begged my parents for it to become my first car, but alas it was not to be.

      My first car became the 1973 Dodge Dart owned by my step-grandmother. My automotive path was forged by that Dart but things could have been so much different!

      Like 1
  12. PoPPaPork

    I dont get the corvair engine / subaru engine comments at all… i dont own a vape pen and a straight brim hat so subaru is out of the question, i dont see any benefit of a corvair engine, any torque gain would be nullified by the weight gain (and it the wrong area too).

    Bottom line is this car would be most valuable with a VW aircooled engine, you can increase the displacement to 1.8 without any changes to the crankcase or heads (cylinders are separate), carbs from prosche 912 are direct fit. These engines make over a 100hp from 1.3l in the formula Vee and been used in motorsports forever, formula vee, dune buggies, sand rails, rotorcraft. 100-140hp with a flat torque curve is easily obtainable NA with off the shelf parts available online and not expensive at all (fraction of the cost of building a small block chevy)
    The only non VW engine swap that would work well (performance, weight and value) with this car would be a porsche 912 two liter from someone upgrating their 912 to a 6 cylinder

    Like 4
    • xrotaryguy

      I’m a Corvair owner and I far prefer the Corvair engine to the VW engine.

      That said, I totally agree, keep the VW engine and hotrod it of you like.

      Like 4
      • JMB#7

        Wow, and I was thinking that you were going to suggest putting a rotary in it! It is a nice thought but probably more weight. I guess I have to agree that the VW motor should stay, and there are plenty of performance items if desired.

        Like 2
      • xrotaryguy

        Well obviously a rotary motor is better in EVERYTHING! But the subject was Corvair vs VW haha.

        Like 2
  13. Rj

    Not worth a plug nickle but they looked good at 50 ft.

  14. Dale S

    Just buy a 1981 280 ZX Turbo, and call it a day. You have the power with a similar look.

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