A detailed look at the De Tomaso Pantera
The De Tomaso Pantera is reminiscent of the AMC AMX/3 because it’s actually the classic car which inspired the AMX III designed by Giotto Bizzarrini. AMC followed the Pantera’s pipe dream design approach by having the AMX/3’s body and drivetrain sourced from its factory and the chassis and suspension developed in Europe. Like the Pantera, AMC had the AMX mass-produced in Germany.
Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca and De Tomaso’s Alessandro developed the Pantera to appeal to markets on both sides of the Atlantic. Like a chimera, it had Italian and American DNA, revealed in its Italian styling and the cast iron American V8 engine in its belly. De Tomaso Automobili produced the Pantera mid-engine (Italian for Panther) sports car for a good twenty years between 1971 and 1992, although only 7,000 were made during that time.
It outlasted the rival AMX III which was retired shortly after launch with no reason given to abandon the project. A deal with Ford saw American Lincoln-Mercury distribute the Pantera through its dealer network between 1972 and 1975, but De Tomaso continued to manufacture the car after the deal fell through, albeit in even greater quantities small until the early 1990s.
A brief history of the Pantera
As mentioned earlier, the De Tomaso Pantera has traces of Italian and American automotive DNA throughout. Although the body design is Italian, courtesy of the power of Italian design Carrozzeria GhiaAmerican car designer Tom Tjaarda penned the design during his short two-year stint at Ghia.
The Pantera was therefore in good hands, considering that Tjarrda had already demonstrated his design prowess with the Ghia Selene and Innocenti 950 Spider and a few other concepts before moving to Pininfarina where he penned the design for the Corvette Rondine concept. At the time of his death in June 2017, at the age of 82, Tjaarda had at least 80 car models in his portfolio, including the 2006 Shelby Series 2 and the 2007 Tjaarda Mustang.
Car Design News called the man “one of the great unsung heroes of the automotive design world”, while Jalopnik described him as “one of the defining automotive designers of the 20th century”. Tjaarda had this to say about his work with the De Tomaso Pantera: “When I was working on this car I wanted to make sure that when you saw the design you were certain where the engine was placed and what it was. ‘where the power came from.. That’s why I made him look hip powerful, strong-shouldered animal.
The Tjarrda-style Pantera replaced the De Tomaso Mangusta from 1967 to 1971, but it used a steel unibody design instead of the Mangusta’s steel chassis. It was the first time that the Italian brand used this construction technique. The Pantera had the right ingredients to become the 5,000 units per year production car the brand envisioned. These include double-wishbone suspension, disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering and, most importantly, a 330-hp, 5.8-liter, 351-cubic-inch Ford Cleveland V8.
It possessed high torque which alleviated the need for excessive low-speed shifting, which made the Pantera more at home in urban areas than many local cars of that era. The interior space also differed from the Mangusta. Tjaarda confirmed that he gave him “a much taller seating position” and raised the roof, and the windscreen had “a less steep angle”.
De Tomaso introduced the Pantera in 1970, first in Modena, Italy, then at the New York Auto Show a few weeks later. Lincoln-Mercury dealerships moved more than three-quarters of the 7,260 Panteras sold in twenty years, as production rose to three a day. De Tomaso retained the distribution rights for the Pantera in Europe.
The Ford-De Tomaso partnership and the Pantera in America
Ford entered into a partnership agreement with De Tomaso to sell the Pantera in the United States through its Lincoln-Mercury dealer network. One thousand and seven Panteras came to the American market via Ford in 1971. The first 75 units arrived as purely European imports, infamous for their handcrafted Carrozerria Vignale bodies and push-button door handles.
However, the Pantera did not remain imported “untouched” for long, as Ford became increasingly involved in the production process of the Pantera due to the poor finish and endemic rusting of most cars. Italians of that time. Road & Track described it in their 1971 issue as “Exciting, but not a finished product. Even Alessandro De Tomaso himself admitted that the car could be better, but not without costing the American customer at least $10,000, the equivalent of $70,000 in today’s money.
In fact, Ford issued a recall due to issues with the fiberglass fuel tank, rear subframes, and air conditioning. Thereafter, later Panteras improved overall quality, thanks to Blue Oval’s insistence on precision stamping—eliminating numerous welds that maximized panel defects—and overall quality improvements. The Pantera got strategic powertrain modifications in 1972, including a lower compression 351 cu-in 4-bolt main bearing Cleveland V8.
The Pantera killed two birds with one stone as the compression lowered to 8.6:1 from 11:1 met US emissions regulations and required low-octane fuel. At the same time, the more aggressive “Cobra Jet” camshaft, with the same lift and duration as the factory performance cam on the 1st Generation Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet, helped the Pantera recover some of the power lost due to reduced compression. The Pantera got plenty of other powertrain mods, including factory exhaust manifold headers.
The 1973 Pantera L “Lusso” was the luxury version, but with less power. Meanwhile, Americans were quick to look at the European GTS model, resulting in gray market imports and even performance parts becoming available. Ford quickly relented and introduced a US version of the Pantera GTS in 1974 but without the higher compression engine, wheels and other performance specs of the European GTS.
The De Tomaso-Ford partnership ended in 1975 after 5,500 Panteras were sold in America. Interestingly, De Tomaso continued to build ever more capable and luxurious Pantera models, although some arrived in America via the gray market route, most notably the GT5-S AmeriSport. When Ford stopped making the Cleveland V8 in 1974, De Tomaso looked to Australia for the Pantera’s engine with outputs up to 355 horsepower.