Patrick Ernzen ©2017, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Ford Motor Company president Lee Iacocca was a man who fostered bold new ideas and had the clout to turn them into reality. Among his wildest notions was that of a mid-engine supercar that could be sold by a Ford dealer, cooked into being with his great friend and former Argentinean racing driver Alejandro DeTomaso, in a storied collaboration with noted sports car designer Tom Tjaarda on behalf of respected Italian coachbuilder Ghia.

The resulting DeTomaso Pantera was built in Italy but sold largely through Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the United States with a full factory warranty. It combined the dead-reliable 351-ci Cleveland V8 engine and American-style comforts — including power windows and air conditioning — with such European performance features as a ZF transaxle, power-assisted 4-wheel disc brakes, and rack-and-pinion steering.

Simply put, it was the best of all possible sports car worlds and it cost considerably less than a comparable Ferrari or Lamborghini. Several different variations of the Pantera were produced over the years.

The one that Americans instantly recognize is the second-generation Pantera L, or Lusso (“Luxury”), which incorporated several detail changes for the U.S. market.

Most notably, the Pantera L was significantly better built than earlier examples, a fact recognized and lauded by the automotive press of the time.

This car was found to be remarkably and impressively original, including its Pantera Orange finish, the factory interior down to the carpets (protected since new by sisal mats), and even the four original Goodyear Arriva tires.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1974 DeTomaso Pantera L
Years Produced:1971–74
Number Produced:5,629
Original List Price:$10,295
SCM Valuation:$68,900
Tune Up Cost:$350
Chassis Number Location:Top edge of dashboard
Engine Number Location:Rear of block near cylinder head
Club Info:Pantera International
Website:http://panterainternational.org
Alternatives:1973 Ferrari 308 GT4, 1973 Lamborghini Urraco, 1973 Chevrolet Corvette L82, 1973 Porsche 911S
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 132, sold for $145,600, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s “Icons” auction in New York City on December 6, 2017.

Alejandro DeTomaso was a character in all the best ways — and in some not-so-positive ways. One aspect everyone might agree on is that DeTomaso made things happen. He seemed to have a great knack for being in the right place at the right time. After a brief and fairly unimpressive stint as a race car driver, he married quite well to an American socialite and started his auto company, which would go on to guarantee his immortality.

Moving in the circles of the legendary wealthy playboys of the late 1950s and 1960s didn’t hurt. When the once-great coachbuilding firm of Ghia needed a new owner in 1967, he was able to buy it from his pal Ramfis Trujillo, the ne’er-do-well son of the notorious dictator of the Dominican Republic. Ghia would, along with his subsequent acquisition of Carrozzeria Vignale, prove quite useful to DeTomaso’s future ambitions.

Ford and DeTomaso

The relationship between Ford and DeTomaso was one that had great promise, and it is quite unfortunate that it didn’t work out in the long term.

The progression from the Vallelunga, a small, beautiful, elegant, lightweight sports car, to the Mangusta, an equally lovely but muscular and almost brutish GT, to the Pantera can be described in Goldilocks terms: from small, to big, to just right.

I am an unabashed admirer of DeTomaso’s creations, starting with his first, the Vallelunga and continuing onto the Maserati Quattroporte III, despite the fact that those two cars could not be more disparate in appeal.

After ceding the sports-car field to Chevrolet’s Corvette in 1958 — when the Thunderbird gained its back seats — various ideas popped up at Ford for a way back into the arena.

Many thought it would come when the Mustang I was unveiled at Watkins Glen in 1962. Mid-engined and thoroughly modern in concept, it could have been an exciting addition to the U.S. automotive scene. Alas, market research showed a limited market for such a small, basic two-seater, and the project faded from probability.

But the idea of having an exotic sports car in the Ford lineup didn’t go away — both Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca shared an enthusiasm for sporty cars and for Italy — and after thrashing Ferrari with the GT40, the thought of a Ferrari-beater for the showroom with a more refined pedigree than the Corvette had much appeal for both strong-willed men.

Enter Alejandro DeTomaso. He had demonstrated with the Vallelunga and Mangusta that he liked working with Ford power. With Ghia and Vignale in his control, DeTomaso had the small-series production capacity needed for a project such as this.

A tough start — but now a collectible

The Pantera made a big splash at first, but the perfect storm of rushed development, concomitant initial quality problems, a sales channel that barely understood it, U.S. regulations for impact absorption and emissions, and the first fuel crisis doomed the car.

Despite that, DeTomaso’s concept and Tom Tjaarda’s basic shape lasted in production for over 20 years. It still looks fresh today, and it is now established as a very desirable collector car.

It’s widely accepted in the collector car arena that the highest value is found in vehicles with the fewest modifications from original specification. This doctrine has long held down the classic BMW market, which like the 1960s–70s Alfa market, was well populated with cars that their enthusiast owners had given various “updates” and “improvements.”

However, given the reality that the Pantera was so woefully underdeveloped when new, modifications are not only tolerated — they are now almost demanded for the cars to be usable. However, the types and character of the mods buyers seek have changed. It is now acknowledged that it is possible to give a Pantera the reliability it deserves without straying into the areas of universal chroming, fender flaring and dropping in 427-ci engines with nitrous injection.

A very original Pantera

Our subject car was admirably original, thanks to a four-owner history and very low mileage. It was stated that the first owner was a Ford executive, and the car may have been used in factory testing.

The seller had the required cooling mods done and it was finished in a very appealing color. The only cavil I can state is that the front rubber bumper appeared a bit wavy in the catalog images. The idea of retrofitting the car with the European GT5’s small black front bumpers might have appeal, or at the very least, a better full-black rubber unit should be installed.

The price realized was certainly at the highest level imaginable for a Lusso. Contributing factors were no doubt the low mileage, originality and venue.

Given the still-underappreciated nature of these cars, prices in this range for well-sorted, original examples will not be unusual — even as the spread widens between this car and a resto-mod example. Appropriately bought. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

Comments are closed.