Pantera: The Forgotten Species
Pantera: The Forgotten Species
When Kia Forte’s start looking attractive, when Hyundai is putting out more interesting and engaging cars than Honda, I know we have entered an automobile era of unforeseen transformation. Thank God the “pony wars” still exist; I am able to go to my local Ford dealer, rev up a fire breathing Boss Mustang and chase down the likes of Chevy Camaros and Dodge Challengers. However, none of these cars in this decade are worth much talking about, not yet anyway. I am more interested in the “where are they now, where did they go and most of all, remember when?”
My first taste of a car show was in 1987, I was 8 years old. One of my Uncle’s close friends was restoring a 57 Chevy. David’s car was rough on the outside, primer grey in some places, sanded metal in others, but he was proud of it. He took me with him to show it off and so began my own love affair. At 8 years old it was all paint, chrome and shapes. I had no idea what I really liked or why. Walking up and down the temporary grass isles I remember being jolted by a loud un-muffled rumble. When I turned around to see what produced this sound it looked to me like a space ship on the ground. The name Pantera would be memorable for me.
Alejandro De Tomaso was born July 10, 1928 in Argentina to a wealthy Italian family. Even though De Tomaso’s family were cattle barons, this Italian man was called to a different heritage, one like a handful of Italy’s other famous automobile dreamers. Alejandro wanted to race cars at all costs, even if that meant he had to borrow friends vehicles. Like any true visionary, the lack of immediate resources would not squelch his passion to produce something original. In similar fashion to the American legend Carroll Shelby, Alejandro would build his own bodies, but he relied on American power to make his vehicle scoot.
His first road going car the Mungusta was realized in 1967, powered by a mid-mounted Ford HiPo 289 V8. With 306 horse power and around 2600 lbs of sprung weight, it was a mover. However, based on reports gathered, the car had stability issues and the cabin wasn’t well designed with the engine so close. Some 401 cars were produced and only about 200 are said to have survived.
Consequently, with Shelby back in the states making his own mark with the Bristol AC bodied racer, the Ford Motor Company became interested in owning something more exotic. Ferrari told Ford to go pound sand with their buyout offer a few years earlier, Ford wanted a different kind of revenge; beat the Ferrari heritage at their own game. The timing worked out for Alejandro when Ford approached him, he was desperate to get real capital to invest in his brand. Ford rejected producing Mungusta’s (mongoose in Italian) but fell in love with Alejandro’s next design; the Pantera or (Panther). Ford invested money and their powertrain, a 351 cubic inch Cleveland motor with 310 horse power and 380 lbs tq. Power was transmitted through a German ZF 5spd manual, talk about a combination! In 1970 this car would lay down 0-60 times in 5.5 seconds.
In a link provided, the 1974 Pantera GTS was taken to Ontario Motor Speedway in 1981 for a little “Popular Mechanics” test. The other models it would duel with were hallmark sporting brands from around the globe; Porsche 928, Ferrari 512, Lamborghini, Jaguar, Mercedes and Maserati. Sterling Moss and Phill Hill were the two race drivers piloting this super fleet around the track. When it came down to who had the best golf score, it was hands down the Pantera.
Ford being the typical big shot arrogant Detroit Automaker, they waffled, not knowing how to market such a great car and finally pulled the plug on importing the 10,000 Pantera’s they subscribed to. This didn’t stifle Alejandro who retained the rights to distribute them elsewhere. Alejandro continued to innovate and look for ways to improve his automobile. He died in 2003 from failed health. Today there are cult like car clubs dedicated to keeping Pantera’s pristine and in fine working condition. Fans of this automobile were so rabid in the 70’s, they would submit to De Tomaso’s factory cost effective ways of fixing engineering problems . With the Pantera’s unique sexy Italian lines, combined with an American V8 soundtrack will forever remain a favorite I look for at car shows.
If you are interested in more history on Alejandro De Tomaso’s legacy and his car company, please click on the link provided to www.Panteracars.com