The DeTomaso Pantera: Raw American Muscle + Spirited Italian Design


American Muscle + Italian Design...the DeTomaso Pantera. Looking back.

Was it great? Was it not so great? What was this car when it came out in the early seventies? Whatever it was back then, doesn't matter so much today. Today it is one of the more desirable American/Italian automotive marriages. There are a few going up for sale at Mecum's Kissimmee auction in January, and we feel it's one of "the cars" worth talking about.

The American side of the American-Italian car comes from the Ford 5.8L 330hp V8 and GT40 innards providing that raw American power. The Italian influence is obvious: wedgey design courtesy of American designer Tom Tjaarda. It was fast and powerful, and the high torque from the Ford 351C V-8 lent drivers some flexibility, unlike the other mid-engine rivals of the time, which were difficult to drive in everyday traffic.

Unfortunately, the short, 9-month concept-to-production time left little room for testing, and the initial Panteras ended up being pretty bad mechanically, though Ford worked very hard to improve the car. There was a big plus, being a Ford, just about anyone mechanic or do it yourselfer could maintain the car. 

One question that has always been on my mind, why did Ford partner with DeTomaso to produce the Pantera in the first place?

Now, this is just a little educated conjecture I heard from the knowledge wizard around here. His theory is that the Ford/Pantera partnership was born from the infamous Ford vs. Ferrari rivalry.

Ford had a little race heritage going, having built the GT40 to beat Ferrari and reclaim some pride. A little respect. A little momentum. Maybe, just maybe, Ford produced the Pantera to prove themselves and to the public that Ford can even beat Ferrari on public roads.

But where to start? The GT40 was too much for the public roads, and not designed for frequent drivers to get in and out. Ford looked to De Tomaso to build an Italian sports car with GT40 a layout, which became the Pantera. A mid-engine, incredibly Italian supercar, built on top of the GT40's guts. Seems like Ford was thinking, "See? We can do it too." But, their timing wasn't the best. The early 70's was the start of the oil crisis and the Federal government started mandating new laws for emission and safety. 

Was it a car born out of a grudge? Maybe. Did it completely match or out perform other Italian sports cars of the era? Certainly not, though the Pantera is still a great sports car and in many ways a more interesting American muscle car and maybe even a better Italian sports car.

By the end of Ford's production of the Pantera in 1975, they sold around 5,500. Nearly all of the early model issues had been addressed, and the car became a truly great car. For Ford, it was new, different, and like nothing else on the market. A true product of America's automotive sensibilities combined with Italian design concepts.

And now, a couple are up for auction in January at Mecum's Kissimmee auction. If Italo-American fusion is your kind of thing, the Pantera can't be beat. This one is especially pretty (plus some gorgeous Campagnolo wheels).