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Creating a competitive sports car from scratch is always a challenging task. Only the most prominent car companies can pull it off and construct lightweight chassis, design elegant bodies, and make powerful engines under one roof. The rest of the field must compromise in order to keep up with the big names. It means concentrating on one aspect and outsourcing the rest. In most cases, smaller companies engineer the chassis suspension or create the body and find the powertrain elsewhere. Although getting bits and pieces from various sides sounds like a recipe for disaster, it is often quite the opposite – a great way to make an accomplished sports car. In 1971, this approach gave birth to one of the most enduring sports cars ever made and an authentic 70s “hybrid” – DeTomaso Pantera.
If you think the “hybrid” means that this model had a gasoline engine paired with electric motors like today’s hybrids, you are wrong. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, sports and luxury cars that used bodies designed in Europe but engines from US brands (Chevrolet, Ford, or Chrysler) were called “hybrids.” Even today, some small-scale companies use the same principle, and it is an easy and affordable way to obtain enormous power and have competitive performance against more upscale brands. Numerous small companies knew they couldn’t develop the complete engines in-house and took what was available. Those US-made engines were not just affordable but sometimes more potent than comparable Ferrari or Maserati units, and last but not least, more durable and easier to maintain. DeTomaso Automobili, established in 1959, was one of dozens of similar outfits that wanted to compete in the exciting world of sports machines and against recognizable names.
As with all legendary Italian sports car brands, it all starts with a vision of one man and his stubborn determination to make something better than the rest. Alejandro DeTomaso was such man. Born in Argentina to Italian parents, he moved to Modena in the mid-’50s and decided to become a player in the sports car field. Dominated by giants like Ferrari and Maserati and with Lamborghini still just several years away from sports car making, Northern Italy was home to numerous small body shops, engineering biros, Carrozzerias, and mechanics. DeTomaso realized that the area had enormous potential and pretty soon established a racing team. Some critics say that if it weren’t for his wife, a wealthy American heiress, nothing would be possible. After mixed success, he moved to sports car production. He introduced Vallelunga, a small but very advanced sports car with a mid-engine configuration and V4 power borrowed from the European Ford range. The Vallelunga (named after an Italian racing track) was pretty successful and drew attention to a small company.
In the mid-60s, DeTomaso was regarded as an up-and-coming sports car brand. Alejandro used the vast funds he had at his disposal. He purchased Ghia Design Studio, which made it the owner of one of the most recognizable names in the car design world at the moment, and also the owner of bodywork production facilities. He aimed to produce a high-powered sports car with a super-modern design and immense power. So, in 1967, the DeTomaso Mangusta was introduced; frankly, it was far more advanced than anybody could have anticipated. The Mangusta had a unique steel backbone chassis, a mid-mounted Ford V8 engine, and a wedge-shaped design (courtesy of young Georgieto Giuguaro). Although very advanced and fast, the 300-hp Mangusta, with an engine very similar to Shelby Cobra, wasn’t the sales hit Alejandro hoped it would be. Yes, it was a heroic engineering feat, with gorgeous design and power but the car was rushed in production, not sufficiently developed, with tricky handling and a very high price. By the early ’70s and the end of its production, just over 400 cars were made. Mangusta is also memorable for its butterfly-wing engine cover.
Even though Mangusta failed to fulfill Alejandro’s ambitions, by the late ’60s, he became a respectable figure on the Italian sports car scene. His international contacts, personal wealth, numerous business interests, and noticeable cars made the DeTomaso name often mentioned along with the Ferrari, Maserati, or Lamborghini, which started producing cars in 1963. However, DeTomaso needed a real hit, a globally popular sports car showing his vision was correct. Although the Mangusta was a pretty advanced car, Alejandro wanted more. First, he hired an American-born but working in Italy, a car designer named Tom Tjaarda. Tjaarda worked at Ghia (owned by Alejandro) and was assigned to design a new DeTomaso. Second, DeTomaso invested heavily in innovative steel monocoque construction, which was far better than the steel backbone type that Magusta had and an incredibly advanced feature for a road-going vehicle at the time. With a new design, refined chassis, and a new 351 Ford V8 engine with 330 horsepower, the all-new sports car was ready for its 1971 debut.
The brand-new sports car, called Pantera, was presented in late 1970 as the 1971 model. It was a very modern-looking thing with an even more contemporary design, pop-up headlights, 4-wheel disc brakes, sharp lines, and fantastic proportions. Behind the driver was a potent 5.8-liter V8 engine with 330 hp and 5-speed manual transmission. Although the Mangusta caught the attention of the sports car world, the Pantera proved to be one of the most interesting new car releases of the time and perfectly combined American power with European design, even though the actual designer of this car was American. The performance was exhilarating, and the 1971 DeTomaso Pantera could reach 100 km/h (60 mph) in just 5.2 seconds and top 260 km/h (160 mph), which was ludicrously fast for the times. However, what was even more exciting was that Ford’s V8 had over 400 Nm (310 lb-ft) of torque. Paired with a 5-speed transmission, the Pantera was very easy to drive, great to cruise at low speeds, and made its performance very accessible, which is an essential characteristic of all great sports cars. The first road tests showed that DeTomaso had a big hit on its hands.
However, Alejandro knew that he needed to promote the Pantera in the lucrative American market if he wanted to make it a sales success. Mangusta was sold in the US, but since it was produced in low numbers, it didn’t make a significant impact. So, through his contacts in the car industry, he managed to get a meeting with the Ford representatives to discuss the supply of the engines and also a sale through the Lincoln–Mercury dealership network. At the time, Ford didn’t have a genuine sports car in its lineup to rival the Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar E-Type, or Porsche 911, and the appearance of European exotic like Pantera in their showroom would elevate the brand recognition and attract buyers. So, the deal was struck that from 1972, DeTomaso would be offered along with the premium models from Lincoln and Mercury and that Ford would supply the engine to DeTomaso’s factory in Italy. This had an incredible impact on the popularity of the Pantera and immediately launched it to the top of the sports car scene.
The Pantera was a relatively affordable car with a base price of $9000. It was costlier than the Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar E-Type, and Porsche 911 but far cheaper than the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona or Maserati Ghibli SS. However, the buyers went crazy, and from 1972 to 1975, over 5,500 cars were sold in the US alone, making it one of the most successful sports car imports. With the powerful and easily serviceable Ford V8, Pantera is perfectly balanced between a muscle car powertrain and European elegance. As such, it attracted many celebrity owners, including Elvis Presley, who owned a yellow 1974 model. The Elvis’ Pantera has had a bullet hole in it since the King of Rock shot it with its gun when the far failed to start. Although more dependable than most European exotics, the Pantera still had Italian electrics, which were known to cause some trouble. Along with the standard Pantera, DeTomaso introduced the Pantera Lusso with Ford’s 302 V8 with 264 hp. Smaller engines meant slightly lower performance, but the Lusso package provided improved comfort and luxury features.
However, in 1975, the deal with Ford ended, but fortunately, it didn’t mean the end for Pantera. Ford had stopped producing the 351 V8 engines, but Alejandro found a way to keep installing them in his car. The 351 (5.8-liter) V8 production stopped in America, but Ford Australia still had the same engine in their portfolio. Sourcing the V8s from Australia proved expensive, but Alejandro wanted the power and dependability his customers were used to. Due to tightening emissions standards, all new sports cars in the mid to late 70s had reduced horsepower ratings, so Alejandro was keen on keeping the 300+ ratings.
DeTomaso Pantera GTS
Alejandro DeTomaso knew that Pantera had potential beyond the standard spec model, so right from the start, an enhanced and sportier model was envisioned. It appeared in 1972 as Pantera GTS. However, even though the European and American market GTS look the same with wider fenders, black-out hoods, and graphics, the EU spec models feature wider wheels, revised suspension, and bigger carburetors for a bit more power. In America, the GTS was basically just an appearance package with no performance enhancements. However, the Pantera GTS was the basis for the racing cars and in the early ’70s, DeTomaso Pantera was homologated for Group 3 and Group 4 FIA championships. According to propositions, cars needed to be based on production examples with some modifications to the engine, chassis, and suspension. Using Ford performance parts, Italian mechanics managed to extract close to 500 hp from the 351 Cleveland V8 and gave it a fantastic performance. In the hands of privateer racers, the Pantera GTS Group 3 and Group 4 were solid performers and had notable racing careers.
DeTomaso Pantera GT5
After almost ten years on the market, in 1980, DeTomaso offered a thorough redesign of the Pantera. It’s called the Pantera GT5; it looked like the original car but with a wide body kit and a big spoiler. However, there were numerous improvements to the chassis, suspension, and brakes underneath the new body, and also slightly more power at around 350 hp. The GT5 was mainly offered in Europe, and since DeTomaso lost the Ford deal in 1975, just a few cars were imported into America. At the time, Alejandro DeTomaso purchased the Maserati company and was heavily involved in engineering the Maserati Bi-Turbo series, so Pantera’s development and production were neglected. Still, the car endured through the ’80s with little change but minimal production figures.
DeTomaso Pantera 90 Si
By 1990, everybody seemed to forget about the Pantera, and most of the sports car buyers were surprised to know it was still in production. Outdated but still quite the performer, the Pantera wasn’t done. In 1990, the last restyle was introduced, and it featured Marcelo Gandini’s successful redesign with improved looks and stance and a fuel-injected Ford 302 V8 engine with 380 horsepower. Even though the basis dates to 1971, the Pantera 90 Si was pretty contemporary looking, and with newfound power and an improved interior, it was still relevant. Unfortunately, the end was near, and this model was finally discontinued in 1992 after more than 7,260 cars were made, including only 41 Pantera 90 Si models.
DeTomaso Pantera Specs
|1972 onwards (Europe)
|5.8L Ford Cleveland V8
|5.8L Ford Cleveland V8
|5.8L Ford Cleveland V8
|330 hp @ 5400 rpm
|350 hp (Estimate)
|350 hp (Estimate)
|344 lb-ft (466 Nm) @ 3500 rpm
|354 lb-ft (480 Nm) (Estimate)
|354 lb-ft (480 Nm) (Estimate)
|5-speed ZF manual
|5-speed ZF manual
|5-speed ZF manual
|159 mph (256 km/h)
|162 mph (260 km/h) (Estimate)
|170 mph (274 km/h) (Estimate)
|5.4 seconds (Estimate)
|5.3 seconds (Estimate)
|3,241 lbs (1,470 kg)
|3,351 lbs (1,520 kg) (Estimate)
|3,560 lbs (1,615 kg) (Estimate)
DeTomaso Pantera was arguably the most successful of all Euro-American hybrids, not just because of its production figures but also because it was sold by an American company and had official support from Ford. Incorporating numerous advanced features, elegant design, and intelligent engineering, this model managed to stay on the scene for over two decades and survive multiple recessions and market changes, which is unheard of in the world of sports cars. It was a fast and dependable car and rightfully earned its place in history.
DeTomaso Pantera FAQ
How many DeTomaso Panteras were produced?
Approximately 7,260 Panteras were produced during its two-decade production run.
What is the current market value for a DeTomaso Pantera?
The value of a Pantera can vary significantly based on its condition, model year, and specific variant. Prices can range from around $80,000 for models in decent condition to over $200,000 for well-maintained, rare versions.