Pantera: Iconic, cheap and exotic
Was DeTomaso Pantera the definition of a 1970s sports car?
It’s a 1970s mid-engine Italian supercar. But, the logo has an Argentinean flag on it and the letter “T” which was used by de Tomaso’s cattle ranching ancestors. The production of this car lasted for 21 years, and even though it was a limited production car (only 7.000 were made in total), it’s one of the coolest cars you’ll ever see.
It all started in 1955, when Alejandro de Tomaso (born and raised in Argentina) fled to Italy after being drawn in a plot to assassinate the Argentinean President Juan Domingo Peron. After a short time spent in racing, de Tomaso started to build cars (which turned up to be more successful than his racing career). He started with the Mangusta, a V8-powered supercar designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro.
De Tomaso Mangusta. Giugiaro really knew how to design beautiful cars. -Credit: Automotive Design Club
Then, he introduced us to the Pantera, a mid-engined GT with a 5.8-litre V8 borrowed from Ford. The output was 330hp, which was a crazy number back in the 70s. It could accelerate to 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds, and reach the top speed of 255 km/h (159 mph). The car got a lot of attention when presented at the New York Motor Show in 1971 (and it can get a lot of attention even today). The leg-room was not bad, although the pedals were off-set and there was not enough headroom for people taller than 1.8m. But, at least it had some features that were considered as “exotic” in Europe: electric windows, air-con, and door that buzz...when you open them (I have no idea why).
Credit: Auto Moto und Sport
From the start, it seemed that this car was destined to succeed. But, since this is an Italian car, the build quality was not the best. So, the help came from the “land of the free”, with Ford’s plans to improve this monster. This American company bought a big stake in De Tomaso in the early 1970s and they worked well together until 1975. That year, Ford sold their stake, and since they were the lead importer of De Tomaso in the US, it meant that Pantera would not be sold in the States anymore. Still, De Tomaso didn’t back down.
They continued to sell cars in Europe and Asia for the next 17 years, offering great performance and luxury. In 1980, Pantera got a big chassis redesign when the GT5 model was revealed. It gained bolted-on wheel arches, bigger wheels, more posh interior, but kept the same growling V8. Four years later, we met the GT5S model, with a bit wider body arches, and with exposed body rivets as an optional equipment. This was a genuine bedroom wall poster car.
In 1988, De Tomaso said goodbye to the original V8, and gave new similarly-sized Ford V8s to their cars. Two years later, they went even smaller and started using Ford’s 5.0-litre V8, which was making an amazing sound, but it was an unfortunate sound of the last encore. De Tomaso used that engine until 1992, when Pantera’s production stopped. After this model, De Tomaso was struggling in car industry, being sold from one company to another. In the end the company went bankrupt, but that’s a whole different story.
During its 20-year production, Pantera proved something very important. It showed us that a car does not need to have a prancing horse or a raging bull on its nose to be a poster car. For a car to be worthy of our bedroom walls, it needs to look good, be exclusive, have class, and to have an engine that sounds like it can split the ground in two. And Pantera had all of that. Definitely, one of the coolest cars ever made. So cool, in fact, that even Elvis Presley owned (and shot) one.
Elvis' yellow Pantera. The 'king of rock' had style. Credit: The Worley Gig
The story goes that Elvis had a fight with his girlfriend at the time Linda Thompson. Apparently, they had a big fight and Elvis wanted to jump in the car and leave to make a point. However, the car wouldn’t start. That really pushed the limits of Presley’s temper, so he pulled out a gun and shot into his beloved Italian sports car. One bullet hit the steering wheel and bounced through the windscreen and the other went through one of the tires.
Last year, an Italian coachbuilding company Ares Design showed us a modern version of the Pantera, codename Panther ProgettoUno. The starting price is $615.000 and it will use a V10 engine derived from a Lamborghini Huracan, but slightly tuned to 650 HP. However, it will come with the iconic pop-up headlights, which gives the car that certain nostalgic feeling.