The Puma GT, originally called the Malzoni GT after its company founder, Genaro Malzoni, was designed as a race car to compete in the highly competitive Brazilian GT racing series. Lightweight and aerodynamically designed, the car exhibited spirited performance and, in 1965, won five impressive victories.

A year later, the car celebrated second- and third-place finishes in the Brazilian 1000-mile race, further establishing credibility as a viable force within the auto racing community and throughout South America. This was a time when the Puma, the first plant-production, all-Brazilian sports car was producing only 35 cars annually. Yes, in addition to kit form, the Puma was in fact, manufactured in whole at its assembly plant.

As its popularity grew, so did production, manufacturing thousands of units throughout the '60s and '70s. During this production period, the car changed in various ways, including its body styling, chassis and engine configuration. These various changes also spawned a number of different models, including cabrios. Although production was eventually stopped in the '70s, as the company was bought and sold, Puma Marketing Company began producing replacement parts, as well as a short production run of completed models based on the '73 GTE coupe between 1989-'91. Even C.B. Performance had a tie to the venerable vehicle as a one-time U.S. distributor.

The Puma GT, GTE and GTS (convertible) proved the most popular versions, each produced using a Brazilian Volkswagen Karmann Ghia (and later Brasilia) floorpan as well as a VW 1500 (1600cc GTE) engine and drivetrain. While completed versions of the fiberglass car were built for its native country, exported units were shipped partially unassembled.

Needless to say, many of these Pumas have made it to our shores, now coveted by collectors and kit car aficionados alike. One such admirer is Dominick Cacioppo of Huntington Beach, Calif.

While vacationing in Brazil during Rio de Janeiro's festive Carnival, Cacioppo was immediately overwhelmed by the great number of Pumas...and Volkswagens in general. Pumas of various years and models practically littered the streets in every direction.

Prior to his return home, Cacioppo arranged the purchase and shipment of a yellow 1971 GTE. The car was rebuilt, driven and eventually sold in order to obtain his latest Puma acquisition, this red 1967 GTE.

After a year-long restoration process, which included every aspect of the vehicle, down to the smallest of details, Cacioppo now takes pleasure in cruising the beach, driving the car on a regular basis.

Appearing as cross between an Alpha Romero and a vintage Ferrari, the Puma sits with aggressive authority. Its fiberglass panels shine radiantly in multiple layers of Porsche Red paint with no less than three coats of clear. Equally lustrous are the front and rear chrome bumpers, door handles, window trim and hood-mounted Puma crest.

A dual light cluster in the front features standard 12-volt headlights, accented with small clear driving lights. Late model Bus taillights are used in the rear. A pair of color-matched accessory side mirrors rounds out exterior detail.

The body rests on a shortened Brasilia Station Wagon pan, featuring a Karmann-Ghia ball-joint front end. Standard shocks are fitted at each corner, as are Ghia disc/drum brakes. The fenders are nicely filled with a pair of original Puma six-spoke, 14-inch wheels wrapped with 175/250 front and rear tires.

Motivation for the wheels is derived via a Type I, 2054cc engine with dual 44 Weber carburetion. Bored to accept Cima 94mm pistons, the case also carries a SCAT 76 crank, an Eagle 140 cam (with 313 lift/424 duration) and a pair of custom-built, ported-and-polished, dual-port heads by Jeff Demiain. They feature stainless steel intake/exhaust valves with bronze guides and chromoly retainers. The case was also tapped for full-flow oil distribution and cooling. Machine chores were split between Kymco and Rimco, both Southern California premiere VW specialists. As stated, fuel is consumed via dual Weber 44s, using Bug Pack linkage and the company's tall manifolds.

The twin tip exhaust is comprised of a ceramic Dyno Tune system with custom 1 5/8-inch AL headers.

Lastly, the VW drivetrain features a '67 Type-I transmission, rebuilt by Darren Gurrola of C.B. Performance. A Kennedy 1700 clutch is mated to a lightened eight-dowell flywheel for smooth and confident shifting.

The interior is a representation of all Pumas, simple yet well refined. A pair of sporty bucket seats set the tone, covered in subtle black leather. Other leather accents are seen on the dash and door panel trim. In addition to its various gauges and controls, the black semi-flat dash features an original Puma-emblazoned steering wheel.

Not original is the 100-watt Sony X-Plode audio system, complete with an array of appropriately placed speakers.

A member of the Puma Club of North America, Cacioppo delights in the fact that he plays an active roll as a Puma owner and core enthusiast. For Cacioppo and others who share his sentiments, there is no better vintage racer. As such, they carry on the tradition and the legacy that is Puma.