American muscle meets Italian beauty: an all-time-great combination. Ford wanted a mid-engined sports car to sell in its Mercury showrooms and the De Tomaso Pantera was the result.
De Tomaso was founded in 1959 by Argentinian racer Alejandro de Tomaso. He started his business manufacturing a very limited number of racing cars or prototypes, a venture that continued into the 1970s and included the car that the Williams team used for the 1970 Formula 1 season.
In the early 1960s De Tomaso progressed to normal production sports models, launching the four-cylinder, Ford-powered Vallelunga in 1964. It was the world’s second mid-engined production car, having been narrowly beaten by the Matra Djet. The Mangusta followed the Vallelunga in 1966, built in co-operation with Ford and equipped with the American V8 engine that would become a signature De Tomaso feature.
After building around 400 Mangustas, in 1970 De Tomaso launched the Pantera in partnership with Ford. The American engineers took a look at the Mangusta, and thought its backbone chassis was too weak. So Detroit-born car designer Tom Tjaarda, who had just started working for Ghia, was asked to create something more US-friendly, ready for mass production using modern unitary construction techniques. Ford would provide its 351ci Cleveland V8 engine.
It became the best-known symbol of the De Tomaso company, with more than 6100 built up to the end of 1973. That’s when Ford, under pressure from the fuel crisis, ended the partnership. De Tomaso continued with production alone and the Pantera carried on, in much reduced numbers, until 1993 – the year Alejandro de Tomaso suffered his stroke. Other models joined the range in an attempt to counteract the falling sales of De Tomaso’s most glamorous product, but the golden era of Ford support was over.
The company lasted ten more years after the Pantera’s demise, fighting for survival every day along the way. The final Bigua model never reached production under that name but it did get a brief second life as the Qvale Mangusta (and a third life, with a new body, as the MG XPower SV). Founding father Alejandro’s health worsened, and after his death in 2003 the family sold what remained of the company to ruthless investors.
Which Pantera to buy?
Early Panteras hit the streets in 1971 and Ford officially imported the Pantera into the USA from 1972 until 1975, when it withdrew support. The small Italian company carried on building the Pantera, continually upgrading the styling and increasing power. In 1985, the GT5 was launched, with huge flared arches, Pirelli P7s and more than 350bhp to give it an almost Countach-like muscular appearance and performance. Production finally ended in 1993, by which point 7260 had been produced.
Although early cars seemed troublesome to American buyers, with electrical and cooling faults, to this day there is still a huge following all over the globe. Thank that combination of sexy styling and easygoing V8 power.
People are now starting to appreciate the clean and uncluttered styling of the early Panteras, more than the wide-arch/big-spoilered look of the later versions. The fact that Ford’s V8 is so easy to coax more power from means that a lot of Panteras have been tuned, and anything imported from the USA will almost certainly have been modified in some way.
Cheap Pantera running costs are a popular misconception. They can be just as expensive, in some cases more so, that the more run-of-the-mill exotics. Don’t let the Ford engine fool you into thinking they’re cheap to run.
Performance and specs
Engine 5763cc V8
Power 330bhp @ 5400rpm
Torque 325lb ft @ 3400rpm
Transmission Five-speed ZF transaxle
Top speed 158mph
Dimensions and weight
• That engine, originally a 351ci (5766cc) V8, produced 330bhp in standard form and is relatively unstressed. It needs regular servicing and setting up like any supercar’s though; it’s not as bulletproof as people seem to think. It can start to get difficult and expensive when more exotic performance parts are used, and it’s sometimes difficult working out which version of the V8 you have.
• The original ZF five-speed transaxle gearbox is the same unit used in the Ford GT40, although it runs upside down. It’s a well-built ’box and generally doesn’t need much maintenance, but can be prohibitively expensive to repair if it is whining or crunching.
• Parts are no longer available from ZF, but certain components have been remanufactured in California, and there are specialists who can rebuild the whole ’box. They used to say it cost De Tomaso more to buy the gearbox than to build the rest of the car – the principle is still true!
• Expect to pay at least £2000 for a basic rebuild, double that if it needs a more thorough going over.
• Parts prices and availability vary wildly: a lot of mechanical components are readily available, but certain pieces of trim and body panels are non-existent. All the major suspension components are available from the States and there are various components shared with other Italian cars, which can be a big help. There’s a reasonable supply of used parts to be found online if you’re patient.
• Due to the huge number of Panteras that have been modified, it can be difficult to find a completely original one. The nature of the engine means it’s easy to extract big power. Appealing, but it was often done with reckless disregard for the rest of the car. People didn’t upgrade suspension and brakes as well as they should.
• It’s possible to use modern components to build a more usable Pantera. There are many popular upgrades, like the 17-inch replica Campagnolo wheels, which look like the original 15-inch alloys. Modern 17-inch tyres are much easier to find.
• It’s no surprise that they rust, just as badly as any Alfa or Fiat from the same era, especially if they are fitted with wide-arch kits, factory or otherwise. Like all mid-engined supercars, once corrosion has spread, a full mechanical stripdown will be required before it can be repaired. It is best to check the floorpan and around the sills for any signs.
• There are a few problem areas, but the most difficult and expensive to repair is the foam-filled box section that sits below the rear of the roof panel. Check the front valance and all major panels, as moisture can find its way into the double-skinned bonnet and engine cover, causing problems.
February 1971: First ‘Pre-L’ Panteras launched in Europe. Identifiable now by push-button door handles. Around 382 built.
May 1971: First Panteras sold in USA.
November 1971: Pantera GTS launched in Europe, with flared arches, wider rear wheels, slightly less restrictive exhaust and minor suspension and brake changes.
August 1972: First models imported into USA with the bigger (and much heavier) 5mph ‘safety’ bumpers, as well as ‘L’ (for Lusso – luxury) specification.
1973: Wide-body GT4 launched in Europe. Complete with lower-profile Pirelli P7 tyres.
1974: Pantera GTS launched in USA, with uprated carburettor and wide wheelarches.
Mid-1974: Ford USA teminates deal with De Tomaso and imports cease. De Tomaso sources engines from Ford of Australia instead.
1981: GT5 introduced, larger rear spoiler and front air-dam. New interior.
1986: New GT5-S gets integrated steel arch flares. About 180 built up to 1990.
1991: Pantera Si with 5.0-litre injected Ford V8 and Marcello Gandini restyle launched.
1993: Production ends.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
They look fantastic, and with that unmistakable Detroit rumble from ‘under the hood’, a well-kept Pantera is a seriously special car. They still offer good value compared with other Italian supercars, but prices are most certainly on the rise. Original and early examples are starting to be taken seriously for their classic appeal and styling – not just because they can be made to go very quickly.
Prices in the UK can start from as low as £25,000-30,000, but that will buy you something needing a lot of time and money spending on it. Realistically, £45,000 is where usable cars are found, but an exceptional fully restored Pantera could cost anything from £75,000. GTS and GT4 models go for around £60,000-£70,000 in top condition, and any GT5 or GT5-S about £10,000 more.
A handful of right-hand-drive cars were built for the UK, and a fair amount have since been converted, and this can add a slight premium over imported models. You can still find good Panteras in Europe, or even import one from the States if you are feeling adventurous, with good cars beginning at about $40,000 and going to over $100,000 for the most desirable GTS models.