The Debut and History of the De Tomaso Pantera

Pantera, the Italian word for “panther,” gives a clear indication of the design intent behind De Tomaso’s most popular model. Manufactured from 1971 through 1993, the Pantera retained a unique line and a solid base of fans among motorcar enthusiasts. Debuting in March 1970 in Modena, the Pantera would be presented later that same year at the New York Motor Show. Then, in 1971, the first production models were sold.

De Tomaso produced road cars that included the Mangusta and the Vallelunga. In 1971, the company introduced a line of luxury four-door sedans with the De Tomaso Deauville. However, the company is best remembered for its sporty Pantera, which debuted in 1970. This magnificent vehicle, featuring a V8 engine, was designed to compete with the motorcars produced by Lamborghini and Ferrari. The main differentiator, of course, was that the Pantera retailed for half the price.

In building the Pantera, De Tomaso utilized a steel unibody, unlike the steel backbone featured in the chassis of their earlier motorcars. The iconic Pantera logo combined a stylized T-shaped symbol, based on the cattle brand that De Tomaso’s Argentinian ancestors, and a version of the Argentinian flag.

An Agreement with Ford

De Tomaso entered into an agreement with Ford, and the sportscar began being imported into the United States in late 1971. Ford would sell the Pantera at their Lincoln-Mercury dealerships throughout the country. This relationship served two purposes. It resulted in more significant sales of the De Tomaso road car. Additionally, it lured many people into the showrooms to see the exotic Italian car, only to drive off the lot with a Mercury or Lincoln.

The Pantera was an advanced sports car for the time. It was powered by a mid-mounted Ford V-8 and featured a 5 speed ZF transaxle. Additionally, the car included power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes, lightweight magnesium wheels, rack and pinion steering, independent front and rear suspension, and air conditioning.

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In 1972 the Pantera was upgraded to the Pantera L series. The remodeled car featured a black front bumper fitted to reduce lift at high speeds and comply with newer government regulations. With the addition of many new features, the L, or “Lusso” (Italian for luxury), was as powerful and stylish as its exotic contemporaries. The L series was such an accomplishment that in 1973 Road Test Magazine awarded the De Tomaso Pantera the import car of the year over vehicles designed and manufactured by Porsche, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ferrari.

1974 saw another reworking of the Italian sports car. The Pantera GTS featured new fender flares and blacked-out chrome throughout. This impressive design has become the “classic” Pantera model most people think of when they hear the name.

During the early 1970s, many American sports cars and foreign imported cars suffered from a steady performance decline due to changing emissions regulations. The Pantera’s Ford 351 Cleveland engines were no exception. Sports car enthusiasts have worked to restore these vehicle’s power and strength through performance improvements and engine modifications.

Ending the Ford Relationship and the Pantera GT5

In 1974 Ford ceased importing the Pantera. This was mostly because new regulations would require that the sporty car be redesigned from scratch. There was no way for importing the Pantera to be cost-effective. However, despite the end of the relationship with Ford, De Tomaso continued to build and sell the Pantera. The car was also updated and improved.

The most significant post-Ford redesign of the Pantera came in 1980. The Pantera GT5 featured a completely revised unibody. This new implementation of the classic sports car featured flared wheel arches, allowing for wider wheels and tires. Possibly looking to the Lamborghini Countach as inspiration, the GT5 also featured a delta wing rear spoiler. In addition to the wider wheels and spoiler, the newly designed Pantera was equipped to fit the powerful Group 3 engine and exhaust system. Now built for better performance, the Italian car also was equipped with a more responsive brake and suspension system. Also, to the delight of sport car enthusiasts, the Pantera GT5 now had sport seats.

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De Tomaso only built approximately 175 GT5 Panteras before moving forward with the GT5S version. In fact, many of the existing GT5 models were upgraded to the newer specifications. Because of the short production run and retroactive revisions, the original GT5 is an exceedingly rare and desirable collector’s vehicle.

The Pantera Si

In 1990 De Tomaso introduced a 5.0-liter Ford 302 engine to replace the existing 351 engine. This newest Pantera redesign now featured modified cylinder heads, camshafts, intake manifolds, valves, pistons, and electronic fuel injection. To improve performance and handling, four-wheel ventilated and drilled disc brakes were added to the Pantera. This new braking system shared the same Brembo calipers found on the Ferrari F40.

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The outward appearance of the Pantera received new lines designed by Macello Gandini, along with a new suspension design and a slight variation to the chassis. The latest addition to the De Tomaso family debuted in 1990 and was christened the Pantera 90 Si.

Unfortunately, this would be the final version of the classic Italian motor car. After only 41 models were made, the Pantera was phased out of production. In 1993, De Tomaso refocused on the new and radically different Guara. Two of the original Paterna 90 Si cars were lost to crash-testing. One more was relegated to the De Tomaso museum. Four of the remaining 38 were retroactively converted to the Targas.

Many people are unaware of the De Tomaso Pantera, and some enthusiasts only have a passing knowledge of this Italian masterpiece. Often overshadowed by its contemporaries, especially the Lamborghini Countach, the Pantera lacked public acclaim. However, many of those few familiar with the De Tomaso Pantera place it on a pedestal higher than its more expensive counterpart.

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