The Pantera was legendary for either killing famous owners or inciting them to violence-Elvis pumped a .38 caliber slug into his


By the late 1960s, Ford seemed to be concentrating more on holding grudges than building cars. Still smarting from its failure to acquire Ferrari, Ford grabbed a weak consolation prize when it acquired the DeTomaso organization, along with past-their-prime coachbuilders Ghia and Vignale.

At the time of its acquisition by Ford, Alejandro DeTomaso's concern had yet to build a professionally executed, successful sports car. The 4-cylinder Vallelunga was largely stillborn, and the gorgeous Mangusta made a Lamborghini Miura look like a reasonable daily driver.

The Pantera was to be different-Ford's own Ferrari sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers. The same Lincoln-Mercury dealers, who at the time had a sizable percentage of their customer base born in the 19th century, were charged with selling a two-seat Italian sports car with a $10,000 price tag. Not an insubstantial sum in 1971, it would buy a new Porsche Cayman today.

More conventional than the Mangusta, the Pantera had a pressed-steel unit chassis instead of a backbone chassis and also had sensational looks, this time courtesy of American Tom Tjaarda, then at Ghia. Like the Mangusta, the Pantera also sported a Ford V8-a 351 Cleveland rather than a 302-again mated to a ZF transaxle similar to the unit used in the GT40.

Early Panteras "high-priced kit cars"

Early Panteras were scarcely an improvement on the rather casually engineered and assembled Mangusta. Road & Track noted deficiencies in seating, cooling, assembly, brakes, electrical systems, and air conditioning, calling it "a high-priced kit car." So full of assembly gaffes were early Panteras that Ford retained the services of race shop owner Bill Stroppe to remedy the most egregious design and assembly flaws-Stroppe's clean-up work was rumored to have cost Ford $2,000 per car.

The Pantera was legendary for either killing famous owners or inciting them to violence: Elvis pumped a .38 caliber slug into his when it failed to start; rocker Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe killed his passenger in a 1984 accident; hockey player and donut shop magnate Tim Horton fatally stuffed his Pantera on the QEW in Toronto following a game; and writer Quentin Wilson famously shunted one at the Copse corner at Silverstone while filming a "Top Gear" episode. Cars not wrecked or shot to death suffered from grievous body rust and hideous, juvenile boy-racer modifications. A rust-free, totally stock Pantera today is a rarity.

Things got better with the L (Lusso) cars from late 1972, when the worst of the initial assembly and quality control issues were solved. The new pointed black bumpers were controversial; however, they really aren't that bad and the improvements found in the later cars more than make up for them. Predictably, emission controls took a bite out of the post-1972 cars, but even at 250 hp (net), the Pantera was always a strong performer.

About 150 GTS cars were imported to the U.S., with aggressive fender flares and flat black accents. The end of official imports came in late 1974. Ford deemed it too expensive to come up with a solution to the 5-mph bumper laws, even though a "safety" Pantera design study was leaked to U.S. magazines as the 1975 Pantera.

Rust-proofing actually rust inducing

Like most Italo-American hybrids, the issues surrounding ownership rarely involve the engines. A 351 Cleveland can generally be overhauled for less than the cost of a major service on a Ferrari. The ZF transaxle, however, isn't cheap to rebuild, but it pales in comparison to fixing a rusty Pantera. As usual with Italian cars, rust-proofing ranged from non-existent to actually rust-inducing-those cars that were undercoated soon suffered other issues when the undercoating dried out and cracked, producing multiple small, moisture-retaining pockets.

SCMer Michael Tessler got the dreaded phone call from his body shop during the restoration of his Fly Yellow Pantera. After the undercoating had been stripped off and the car flipped on the rotisserie, the rust and the bill turned out to be far worse than initially assumed. And of course, with the car completely apart, he had long ago passed the point of no return. The moral is, any prospective car should have its underside poked and prodded ruthlessly.

Pantera interiors are Spartan black vinyl affairs that aren't terribly difficult to put right, and most bits are available, albeit at a price. A host of Pantera specialists exist today who can make everything work properly, including the a/c and the always-tricky cooling.

Where, exactly, the Pantera fits into the collector car world is ambiguous at best. Excellent stock cars with original Campagnolo magnesium wheels, Goodyear Arriva tires, and homely original steering wheels rarely appear at auction. But with early middies like the Ferrari 512 BB and Maserati Bora finally starting to wake up, the Pantera looks quite compelling.

And those who say Italo-American hybrids lack pedigree and thus will never be truly collectible haven't paid any attention to Iso Grifo prices. A 1967 coupe sold for $255,172 at RM's London auction in October 2007, and other private sales have since exceeded this.

Most Panteras in SCM's database changed hands between $30,000 and $50,000, though Bonhams managed $133,984 for an as-new 1990 model with only 770 kilometers on it in their Gstaad sale in December 2007.

As the original Lincoln-Mercury salesmen might have said back in the 1970s, a Pantera's a lot of bang for the buck.

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