Often mistaken for that of a Lamborghini or Ferrari, the De Tomaso Pantera was a mix of multiple nationalities. For some, the car was simply a placeholder. Others believed it was the beginning of the supercar genre. One thought it was for target practice, and the rest thought it was simply rubbish. Let’s start at the beginning and you can decide for yourself.
The early 70s saw a hole where the GT40 used to sit. Ford’s Le Mans winning motorcar had been withdrawn from the world and they were in need of a new halo car to maintain the warmth that the people had towards their brand. But Ford wasn’t in the habit of wasting money, so in the spirit of convenience, they outsourced the development of this new supercar to an Argentinian company named De Tomaso.
Ford were of course adamant to supply the engine: a 5.8-litre V8 that could shovel 330bhp and buckets of low-end torque through a ZF five-speed to the floor. But the styling came from Ghia’s Tom Tjaarda, and the chassis from ex-Lamborghini engineer Gianpaolo Dallara. It’s no surprise that it was incredibly well received at the 1970 New York Auto Show, and because of this, Ford and De Tomaso rushed to make it available to the public.
Just a year later it was on sale. Its longitudinally-mounted V8 sat ahead of the rear axle, and while the Ford GT snarled with the turn of a key, this car screamed. It was dramatic and irrational, intimidating and exciting, but had none of the self-important Italian gleam that would put off the normal working man, or the price tag. This was a car that the masses could relate to and imagine themselves driving, but it had a severe drawback.
The urgency at which it was put on sale yielded unwanted results, and customers quickly got annoyed with how unreliable it turned out to be. You could understand a Ferrari being unruly because it’s a Ferrari, but an American supercar? Even Elvis Presley was rumoured to have shot it when it refused to turn over for him.
Despite the hiccups, the Pantera was a formidable automobile. It could handle just as well as any other Italian supercar, especially the 350bhp GTS spec, and possessed the wicked roar of an all-American muscle car. It could hit 60mph in 5.4 seconds, and will continue to 165 at full chat. But the reliability issues took their toll on Ford, and only four years later they ended the importation of the car. This forced De Tomaso to downsize, so they found a small premises in Modena and continued to work.
This ultimately paid off with the car undergoing few changes over its lifetime. And what a lifetime it had, with the final spec, the GTS, being released in 1982 and carrying on production until 1992 outliving the likes of the legendary Lamborghini Miura.
Even now, companies are trying to grapple onto the onslaught of performance and the magic the De Tomaso Pantera had in its arsenal. The Ares Panther for example uses similar styling, albeit with a Lamborghini engine, and there are rumours that the Pantera itself will be returning. We can only hope, because with modern reliability, this could be one hell of a car.