16 December 2016

Why aren’t De Tomaso Panteras worth more?

The De Tomaso Pantera was built to a budget with available Ford parts – and not well. After three years Ford gave up, and problems took years to fix. Though many cars are sorted, “boy-racer” add-ons (wings, body kits, garish paint and wheels) still hurt the image.

The Pantera was launched at the May 1970 Geneva Salon, with a pressed steel chassis, unlike its predecessor’s, the Mangusta (‘mongoose’ in Italian), tube frame. The Mangusta’s rounded edges were replaced by crisp lines, and the mid-engine Ford 302-cid V-8 by a 351-cid, 330 bhp V-8. It was launched stateside in 1971 and its $9,800 sticker was a bargain.

Its story begins earlier, however, when Enzo Ferrari rebuffed Henry Ford II’s attempt to buy the Prancing Horse in the early 1960s. Ford resolved to beat Ferrari on the track, where Enzo would feel it most. Ford spent three years (and a fortune) turning Eric Broadley’s flawed Lola GT into the Ford GT 40. It won Le Mans four times, in 1966-69, but proved unsuitable as a street car.

American designer Tom Tjaarda was working at Ghia in Turin when Alejandro de Tomaso took over in 1967 and clashed with designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who quit. At the time, de Tomaso was negotiating with Ford, and when Lee Iacocca, then Ford’s Executive Vice-President, came to Turin he green-lighted Tjaarda’s replacement for their current offering. It would be sold in Lincoln-Mercury dealerships alongside Continentals and Cougars.

The car befuddled traditional Lincoln customers.

Ford’s poor distribution choice relegated the Pantera to orphan status and it was only a bit more practical than the GT40. Road & Track called it “a high-priced kit car” complaining about the assembly quality, air-conditioning, brakes, engine cooling and electrical systems. The ZF five-speed transaxle was reportedly noisier than the engine. Race shop owner Bill Stroppe was paid $2,000 per car to fix the worst faults. Still, the base price gave the Pantera an edge, IF it could be fixed.

The first 75 Panteras were European models, with push-button door handles and Vignale bodies, and an estimated 1,007 were sold in 1971. When the Pantera L (for Lusso, or luxury) arrived in late 1972 some problems were solved, though emissions regulations cut power to 250 bhp.

The engine’s compression ratio was reduced from 11:1 to 8.6:1 but a Cobra Jet camshaft and factory headers offset the compression decrease. Pointed black safety bumpers were attractive (for the era), and Ford improved body panel stampings. About 150 GTS models were imported, with aggressive fender flares and flat black accents. In all, 5,674 Panteras were sold by the end of 1974, when crash tests convinced Ford the car could not pass 1975 standards.

In 1975 the Pantera slipped into the grey market, with about 75 built annually in Europe for 18 years. Variations included the GT5 from 1980 with riveted wheel arches, and from 1984, the GT5S with blended “wide-body” arches, air dam and side skirts. The GT5-S was built from 1985, with single-piece wide steel fenders. In 1990, Marcel Gandini redesigned the Pantera as the 90 Si, and 38 were sold by 1993. In all, about 7,200 Panteras were built.

The Pantera was notorious for inciting owners to violence, or killing them. Elvis shot his with a .38 when it failed to start, Vince Neil of Motley Crue killed his passenger in a 1984 crash, hockey player/donut magnate Tim Horton died in a Toronto accident, and Top Gear stuffed one during a test.

Additionally, rust can render Panteras irreparable. The intricate unibody was formed from stressed, lightweight panels – a frightening combination with 150 mph performance. In addition, cracked rubber undercoating trapped water where it attacked critical structures.

Corrosion afflicted the electrical system, and numerous ground wires and contacts were hard to reach. Solutions were complicated by constant changes to the harness; there were four different ones from 1971-74. Overheating issues were eventually resolved, but low-mileage cars may still need cooling system upgrades.

Pantera prices have advanced modestly but nowhere near the rate of Ferrari, Lamborghini or Maserati supercars. American V-8s are cheap to maintain and perform well, but their rumble might be considered inappropriate in a mid-engine supercar.

The best Panteras just exceed $100,000, but these are correct cars with faultless provenance, or overdone resto-mods at high-profile auctions. Average cars bring $40,000-$65,000; anything less should be examined with vigilance.

The best prospective purchase is probably a non-gray market car with long-term ownership, complete records, and permanent residence in California or the Southwest. A Mangusta may draw crowds at Concorso Italiano, but an unmodified Pantera is rarer.

12 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Mark C Canada December 21, 2016 at 17:34
    Another typical negative article with all the usual Wiki information and still a number of inaccuracies. I wonder if Mr. Duchene has ever driven or been IN a Pantera. And, yes, I own a Pantera.
  • 2
    V. V. DC December 21, 2016 at 17:42
    This article contains so many errors and myths about the misunderstood Pantera that it is difficult to even read. What about all of the owners who cherished their cars? Giacomo Agostini? Jackie Stewart? Peter Revson? Nevermind, what do those guys know anyway?
  • 3
    Capt. Randy Craft Sopchoppy, FL December 21, 2016 at 18:21
    I bought a 1972 Pantera on the south side of Atlanta, GA. (Stuart, Ave.) in 1978. I was looking for a Corvette, on a lot that sold just Corvettes. As I was walking down the line of vetts I came u
  • 4
    Capt. RAndy Craft FL December 21, 2016 at 18:24
    Tried to comment, but your site would not allow it. Kept checking me too much for my being a robot. Hell, I owned a Pantera for years. You jerks!
  • 5
    Dante Musco Florida December 21, 2016 at 18:26
    I drove a 72 from NY to California, Rte 80 west Rte 10 home. I only had two problems, a cooling fan in Reno a flat tire in CA. I have a picture of the car going over Vail Pass summit at 10603 ft, it was a fun trip.
  • 6
    Joe Elliott Seattle December 21, 2016 at 20:19
    This is such an odd article. Quadrupling in value over the last decade somehow doesn't live up to the author's expectations? And "...when Lee Iacocca, then Ford’s Executive Vice-President, came to Turin he green-lighted Tjaarda’s replacement for their current offering?" Does anyone believe for a minute that Iacocca would have been given any authority whatsoever in De Tomaso's product planning just because Ford agreed to handle sales and marketing in North America? I'm also curious why the author chooses to charcterize a stamped steel unibody as somehow scary--there's a reason why that's the chassis construction of choice for the overwhelming majority of cars built in the last half century. And did Ford really play a role in improving body stampings for the L models? Additionally, the idea that some "race shop owner" would be paid 20% of a car's retail value to make modifications, to several thousand cars (rather than suggesting design changes to the manufacturer), sounds suspiciously like an urban legend--is that tale documented in any credible historical sources?
  • 7
    Brian D Colorado December 22, 2016 at 13:27
    From what Mr. Duchene has written in this article it doesn't seem that he has ever owned, driven or even ridden in a Pantera. “The ZF five-speed transaxle was reportedly noisier than the engine”. Really, with the engine right behind the drivers head? The ZF transaxle is the same as used on the Lamborghini and one of the most expensive components on the car. “Corrosion afflicted the electrical system”, for a car that is almost 45 years old, I would think one must expect to replace the occasional electrical component. I have replaced a few of the switches but for the most part the electrical system is original. Everything on the car still works. I have owned my 71 Pantera since 1984.
  • 8
    Frank Branstrom Livonia Michigan December 22, 2016 at 06:46
    I know of one person that has one but never talked to him about the car Next time i see him will initiate a discussion . They sure had a great motor with the 351 C.J. sounds like that was all. Performance must have been impressive.
  • 9
    Jeff Detrich Dallas December 23, 2016 at 06:21
    We've had Ford guys talk about the Pantera at our annual Fun Rallies and, yes, there were quality control problems at first but they were fixed and most cars were retrofitted with the fixes. Advanced mid-engined monocoque chassis by Dallara, reliable when maintained properly, parts are readily available, better performance than most of it's contemporaries, still beautiful after all these years. BTW, Mr. Duchene talks about stock Panteras but the picture does not show a stock Pantera paint configuration and it doesn't do the car any favors.
  • 10
    KDavin Pacific Northwest December 26, 2016 at 15:14
    I once owned a Pantera for several years and never had any real trouble with it and it was a genuine blast to drive. I've now owned a Lotus Esprit for many moons and have had zero trouble with that machine. Perhaps tender tasties of this type just don't suffer lightly under the hands of a fool. (See Elvis)
  • 11
    JeffG TN February 18, 2017 at 00:26
    It is obvious that the author of this story knows little to nothing about the DeTomaso Pantera; the article is riddled with errors and misinformation. From the very first sentence it is wrong. "The DeTomaso Pantera was built to a budget with available Ford parts – and not well". Wrong. About 98% of the car is built using Italian components. The only Ford components in the entire car are the engine with its accessories, side marker lights, steering wheel, ignition switch, and side mirrors. That's it. All the other components are the same high quality parts used by Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati's of the day. Campagnolo Magnesium Wheels, Girling Disc Brakes, Ansa Headers & Mufflers, Veglia Borletti instrumentation, ZF Transmission (same one used by the Maserati Bora and the BMW M1). BTW, the rack & pinion steering is the same unit that Ferrari used on the 308 a couple of years later. Its steel body was built by the craftsmen at Carrozzeria Vignale; the same folks who built some of the most beautiful bodies for Ferrari, Maserati, and Lancia. Its Chassis was designed by the best mid-engined chassis designer in history; Gian Paolo Dallara; the father of the mid-engined Lamborghinis. Dallara designed chassis for Ferrari and Lamborghini. DeTomaso hired Dallara away from Lamborghini after he had designed their Miura. "Road & Track called it “a high-priced kit car” complaining about the assembly quality, air-conditioning, brakes, engine cooling and electrical systems." True. In 1971 R&T drove an early prototype that wasn't ready for release and it had MANY problems. However, 1 year later R&T got to drive a refined production version and they raved about the car giving kudos to DeTomaso & Ford and saying "the car is on it way to being perfectable" As time went along Detomaso and Ford performed many upgrades to the cars on the assembly line; in fact, the 1973 DeTomaso Pantera was Road Test Magazine’s Import car of the year beating out Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Porsche, and the rest. Ford bowed out of the Detomaso project in 1974 due to tightening emissions, safety standards, and the general malaise that a slowing economy and the energy crisis brought with it. If you recall true high performance cars were for the most part dead from around 1974 on thru the rest of the decade. I've owned my 1973 Detomaso Pantera for 31 years now and it has been a pure joy to own. :-)
  • 12
    John C. Bristol Ct. April 23, 2017 at 12:31
    I would like to know if anyone has put or tried an electric water pump in the Pantera. I have a 71 please let me know how it worked out. Thanks John

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