De Tomaso Pantera (1971-1992)
Article by Mark Trotta
With a 351 cubic-inch V8 singing at 5,000-rpm behind your head, the Pantera accelerates from zero to sixty in 5.5 seconds, and runs the quarter-mile in 13 seconds flat. A successful combination of Italian styling and American power, the Pantera was an affordable 150-mph Supercar, complete with a Ford-backed factory warranty.
De Tomaso Automobili
The Northern Italian city of Modena is where Argentine-born Alejandro de Tomaso started his automobile company in 1959. De Tomaso was an ex-racer turned entrepreneur who also had a flair for design.
Being a small company, De Tomaso needed to source parts from other companies to keep costs down. The company's first model, the Vallelunga, was a two-seat mid-engine car powered by a four-cylinder Ford Cortina engine. In 1965, an agreement with Ford Motor Company allowed use of Ford's large V-8 engines.
Ford had seen racing success with its Shelby Cobra, but when Cobra production ended they needed another sports car to maintain their high-performance image. By this time, the mid-ship engine layout had proven itself on racetracks in Formula One, Indy, and the 24 hours of Le Mans.
Recent success of Ford's GT40 (which finished first, second and third at Le Mans in 1966, and first place again in 1967) brought notoriety to mid-engine cars. With word out that rival GM had been working on a mid-engine Corvette project, Ford jumped at being the first American manufacturer to offer an exotic Supercar. De Tomaso would build the car, and a Ford V-8 would power it.
The Pantera body was designed by American-born Tom Tjaarda, creator of the Fiat 124 Spider, Ferrari 365 GT California Spyder, Mercedes 230 SL Coupe, and others. (After Tjaarda graduated from the University of Michigan, he was offered and accepted a job in Italy.) The interior featured black leather seats, electric windows, air conditioning, and a gauge-filled console.
Power-assist four-wheel disc brakes and all-independent suspension were standard, as were rack and pinion steering and magnesium wheels. The 2500mm (98.4 inch) wheelbase was the same as third-generation Corvettes, but the lighter, 3,100 pound Pantera sat four-inches lower.
Curiously, Ford's high-output Mustang engine was not chosen to power the Pantera. Instead, a milder hydraulic-cammed 351-cid Cleveland motor was fitted.
The iron-block 5.8-liter V-8 used large port, quench-type combustion chamber cylinder heads. Equipped with factory steel-tube headers, engine output was 338 horsepower. Handling the power was the German-manufactured five-speed manual ZF transaxle, the same type used in the Ford GT40. Final drive ratio was 4.22. An eleven-inch clutch was assisted by a hydraulic master and slave cylinder.
In 1970 Ford Motor Company and de Tomaso formed de Tomaso of America, with the Pantera making its debut in Modena in March of that year. It was presented at the New York Motor Show several weeks later.
With a sticker price of $10,295, Panteras were sold through Ford's Lincoln-Mercury dealers starting in late 1971. European marketing was retained by de Tomaso Automobili.
Although the Ford engine was easy to work on and get parts for, quality control issues caused problems for the Lincoln-Mercury dealers, who were obliged to honor the Panteras warranty. There were also unseen structural problems, and engines were known to overheat. Despite first year issues, 1,007 Panteras were sold.
All Detroit car makers struggled to reduce tailpipe emissions specified by the Clean Air Act of 1970. Meeting U.S. emissions standards required decreasing compression from 11:1 to 8.6:1, allowing use of lower octane fuel. A more aggressive camshaft profile was used to reclaim some of the lost power.
To comply with new U.S. safety standards, new black rubber front bumpers were fitted to withstand 5-mph impacts. Emission controls brought a horsepower drop to 250 horsepower. Larger rear bumpers were installed to meet 1973-1974 requirements. The fuel filler was relocated from the engine compartment to the left hand side of the car. Ford also specified a switch from 70-series radial tires to wider 60-series bias-ply tires.
The mid-seventies were not good times for performance cars. In October of 1973, the first OPEC oil embargo began, drastically raising U.S. gas prices. New federal regulations made all cars more costly to produce. Stricter bumper standards for 1975 would have meant a major redesign for the Pantera, a costly undertaking for a limited-production car.
After approximately 5,200 Panteras had been sold through U.S. markets, Ford and de Tomaso dissolved their partnership. Production stopped in late 1973, with the leftovers sold as 1974 models. De Tomaso Automobili continued manufacturing Panteras for European markets.
Pantera After Ford
With less cars demanded, Panteras were now largely hand-built, with quality increasing. After Ford discontinued the 351 Cleveland engine, de Tomaso went with an Australian-built Ford 351 V-8. About 200 cars were built yearly from 1975 to 1980.
After a chassis revision in 1980, two new models were seen. The GT5 had bonded and riveted-on fiberglass fender extensions, and the GT5S, which featured single-piece flared steel fenders. During the eighties, a number of Panteras were brought into North America. Importers included Panteramerica, Stauffer Classics Ltd, and AmeriSport.
In 1988, the 351ci motor was replaced with a Ford 302ci V8. Two years later, the "90 Si" model debuted. Pantera production ended in 1992. Between 1971 and 1992, a total of less than 8,000 Panteras were built.
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