Barchetta to Bobcat

Ford’s pre-millennial coupé didn’t gestate in an Erlenmeyer flask, but it was something of an amalgam nonetheless. We take a look at the Puma’s moodboard.

Production Puma in the inevitable Moondust Silver. Image RAC

The design theme for the 1997 Ford Puma bridged the blue oval’s early ’90s ovoid, organic design era and the ‘New Edge’ theme which arrived at the dawn of the millennium. But the roots of the Puma programme lie deeper.

1983 Ghia Barchetta. Image TTAC

Although more in spirit than in form, the 1983 Ghia Barchetta was an early sign that Ford’s European outpost – then helmed by American, Bob Lutz – was interested in producing a more overtly sporting Fiesta variant. Based on Fiesta running gear, the pretty little Barchetta, styled in Fillipo Sapino’s Turin Ghia studio was first shown at that year’s Geneva show, had Lutz’s firm backing and it’s believed that serious thought was given to it being developed for production.

But in the classic multinational narrative, a promising concept was progressively watered down over time so that by the time Ford launched a car in this idiom – 1991’s Mazda-inspired Mercury Capri – it was not only a pale shadow of the 1983 concept, but more decisively, Mazda’s own game-changing MX-5 of 1989 batted it firmly into the touchlines and historical obscurity.

1992 Ghia Focus. Image: bestcars

The next hint as to what was to come down the line arrived in 1992 with the Taru Lahti designed Ghia Focus concept. While still very much a ‘barchetta’ shape, the Focus’ married voluptuous forms, anthromorphic detailing and a retro aesthetic reminiscent of Bertone’s 1950s BAT cars, proving hugely influential, not least upon Ford’s Köln-Merkenich styling studios. One can clearly see aspects of the eventual Puma in some of the surfacing, the treatment of the lower front facia and in the curved decorative bar which runs along the rear quarter flanks.

1994 Ghia Arioso concept. Image: carstyling.ru

A further signpost to Ford’s intentions came in 1994 in the form of the Ghia Arioso concept. Based on Mondeo underpinnings, and therefore a larger vehicle; nevertheless, many of the styling themes which would ultimately manifest themselves in the Puma were present – (particularly in the canopy area) – even if it was more North American Ford in overall execution and perhaps, intent.

1996 Ghia Lynx concept. Image: carstyling.ru

The 1996 Geneva motor show saw the first showing of Ghia’s Lynx concept, a more overt foretaste of the coming Puma, then only a year away. Most likely designed after the Puma design was completed, if one ignores the canopy treatment – (such as it is) – the bulk of the production car’s style was laid bare. One surprising omission from the Puma programme was the option of a convertible version. The Lynx concept therefore suggests how such a car could have looked – not bad at all one could conclude.

While the Puma is generally regarded as a New Edge design, it is in fact a clever amalgam of several Ford design eras, a comparatively rare example of a car design marrying a number of different themes into an integrated, attractive and broadly well executed whole. The level of creativity being displayed in Ford’s various styling studios in the US, Germany and Italy during this period is quite notable. The great pity is that how little of that styling talent remains in evidence today.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

5 thoughts on “Barchetta to Bobcat”

  1. I remember the Ghia Barchetta when it came in 1983, and I always thought it was very beautiful, just the kind of car a nine year old would fall in love with. And I always thought it was such a shame they never put it in production. Seeing it now, I can see it was just another one of Lutz’ pipedreams.

    The proportions are perfect for the fwd underpinnings, but that’s just because they loved the entire passenger compartment rearwards for the right rearwards stance. It’s extremely difficult to get the proportions right on a very small car with fwd and a high bulkhead, it often looks like a clown car.

    Like the Peugeot 304 Convertible or Mini Marcos. It often looks riduculous or overtly cute, like the Nash Metropolitan. They would never havet been able to get it right, as seen in the watered down Capri. But kudos to Lutz and Ghia, it’s the best example I’ve ever seen in the fwd supermini roadster concept, they really worked in that one in spite of the limitations.

  2. I really have to excuse my strange wordings these last few weeks, I’m writing from a tablet and the autocorrect changes words without me noticing it. I Always proofread but I always find some wrongs after I’ve sent it. Ducking autocorrect…..

  3. That 1983 Barchetta is a gem. I must offer a chocolate gold medal for the Ariosa: very clearly a lot of that went into the Puma. That was new to me. I saw photos of the Lynx in Autcar at the time and they showed what looked to me like an unfinished CAD model. The cant rails lacked substance as in the fiddly radii on the edges where the metal would be folded to a flange. It thus struck me as an expedient way to show off some of the production car without giving it all away: thus the Lynx is a derivative of the Puma and not the other way around. The timeline would suggest so too.

  4. I find very little anthropomorphic about the Ghia Focus, but that’s me comparing a human body to it and wondering what detailing on the vehicle could be attributed to anthropomorphism. Certainly not the front horns. The Puma itself seems upright and awkward and too short behind the B pillar as if truncated prematurely. Never saw one in the flesh; the nearest we got was the ’99 Mercury Cougar New Edge, which seemed derivative of the discontinued Mazda MX6 GT (and companion Ford Probe), itself not quite right somehow, the canopy arising out of a different car’s flanks, not a problem with the Puma. The Cougar was better looking being longer and wider than the Puma, yet sold like lead bricks into a disappearing niche, the two door coupe market.

    But I don’t hesitate to add, nice detailing on the Puma where it counts and well-integrated. Seems ages out of date two decades later though and a bit delicate and artsy-looking. To which demographic did it sell? Before 2000, it was women here who wanted Toyota Rav4 and Honda CR-V fake SUVs, so as to sit up high, and powder-puff cars sold no more in quantity. Have enough friends and relatives to know women led the march to higher vehicles long before men were interested.

    Interesting back story on the Puma. Just seems Ford’s focus groups didn’t recognize the “end” of two-door coupish cars in the popular price ranges. Having particpated in several such groups myself, though on different subjects, I found most other participants content to not rock the boat or answer honestly, but eager to collect the honorarium, enjoy sandwiches and refreshments after the session, whereupon they allowed their true feelings to emerge in conversation between themselves. Poor old cynical me. The companies running these sessions should have recorded that talk rather than relying on the formal group responses.

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