June 02, 2020 By Francis G. Pallarco

Tuner: The Italian Job

American and Italian influences meld together to create this unique sports car.

In a nutshell, it is a Ghia designed sports car body with a mid-mounted Ford V8 engine that shifts through a ZF transaxle. While it does sound like the GT40, it’s actually the De Tomaso Pantera that first came out in 1971. This sleek machine was brought about by the collaboration between Ford Motor Co. and Italian sports car builder Alejandro DeTomaso. Still reeling in from its dominating Le Mans victory over Ferrari and its failure to buy the company, Ford wanted a streetable GT car to maintain its high-performance image in the early seventies.

Launched during the 1970 Geneva Salon, the Pantera was based on De Tomaso’s limited production Mangusta sports car with updated bodylines, steel chassis, and a Ford V8 engine. If the overall car wasn’t attractive enough, it was the $10,295 price tag that surely lured in buyers. During those days the Pantera only cost half as much as a Ferrari or a Maserati. For that reason most enthusiasts consider the Pantera as the first affordable mid-engine exotic car. No argument there as merely looking at it and sitting inside the low slung seats as one grips the steering wheel and feel the gears clickety-click through the gated shifter easily conjures up images of winding back roads.

Since much of the early models was hand-built and hastily produced, it does bring with it a negative reputation that seems to be more popular than the car itself. The most colorful being the one where Elvis shot his Pantera twice with a .38 calibre handgun when the car failed to start. But with proper care and sorting out the problems before they arise, I could only assume that owning one would be fulfilling and practical given the availability of parts. In fact, many owners of surviving Panteras have resolved its reliability problems long ago. Notwithstanding the bad rap it enjoys, its collectability status and value has remained steady through the years, where an unmolested example is getting harder and harder to come by in this day and age.

Of the purportedly more than seven thousand examples that were built from ‘71 to ‘92, one fine example has somehow made it onto our shores. According to Alex Isip of Alex car Restoration, this particular Pantera is an American version with the European 4-piece bumpers and additional corner marker lamps. He also adds that it’s the only De Tomaso Pantera from the Philippines registered in the official De Tomaso Registry. Surprisingly, this lone Pantera has been in the Philippines for quite some time. In fact it used to be red and was in the process of being restored in another shop when the former owner decided to part with the car. And so the unfinished Pantera that was literally in pieces was brought over by the new owner to Alex Isip’s shop. A laborious process of a frame-off restoration and then re-assembling the entire car piece by piece ensued for over a year to achieve a concourse quality result. Thankfully, there are still plenty of genuine and reproduction parts for the Pantera in the States. In this case, some interior parts including the Veglia gauges and switches were replaced with new ones with the exception of the dash and trim. But the majority of its exterior and interior remains original and it shows. All their efforts paid off when this Pantera won the coveted best of show trophy during the 4th Manila Sports Car Club Concours d’Elegance organized by Sophie Delos Santos of Transport show and Manila Auto Salon.

The 351 cubic inch Ford V8 was also rebuilt using aftermarket cylinder heads that flow better and help shed a few extra weight. Instead of using Ford’s Cobra-Jet camshafts that can be found on 1972 Pantera’s to get extra power, this one uses a more modern Comp Cams camshaft together with roller lifters and rocker arms for a more efficient valve train with less friction. An updated Holley Avenger 4-barrel carb was also put in place, which ingests air through a low-rise air cleaner. To prevent any overheating issues, a huge aluminum Fluidyne radiator was used with electric cooling fans. Since stopping is equally important, most especially with this much horsepower, bigger aftermarket discs and calipers from Wilwood were put in place behind those classic Campagnolo magnesium wheels. Obviously, the mods doesn’t affect its value and were strictly done to address any drivability issues that may arise apart from the fact that making extra power is always a good thing. Peering through the wheel arches will reveal the tubular lower and upper arms with coil over dampers that was considered advanced during the seventies truly making it quite an exotic machine.

I must say that despite Road & Track calling it “a high-priced kit car” and complaining everything it had back in the day, the Pantera has become a true collectible classic. Love it or hate it, this car really looks great, most especially when viewed up close where one can appreciate its intricate details that represents a time when cars were beautifully handcrafted. What’s more it represents a melding of American and Italian automotive influences that will be forever embedded in automotive history. Just forget what Elvis thought of it.

SPECIFICATIONS

1971 De Tomaso Pantera

Engine

  • 351 cubic inch, (5.8-liter) pushrod, V8

Engine Mods

  • CIH (Cylinder Head Industries) CNC machined aluminum cylinder heads Comp Cams camshaft, Roller lifters and Roller rocker arms Holley Street Avenger (4-bbl, 770 CFM) Carburetor, Low-rise air filter Mallory HyFire 6AL ignition

Other Stuff

  • Fluidyne aluminum radiator, Electric Cooling Fans,

Horsepower

  • 330 hp (Stock factory figures)

Transaxle

  • ZF 5-Speed manual,

Suspension

  • Fully independent, tubular upper and lower A-arms with coil overs

Brakes

  • F – Wilwood vented disc brakes and calipers R – Factory vented disc brakes and calipers

Rollers

  • De Tomaso Magnesium Wheels by Campagnolo (15×7) Michelin XWX Tires (225/70R15)

Other Stuff

  • Momo Prototipo steering wheel, Veglia Gauges, Interior parts,

Body & Paint

  • Alex Isip of Alex Car Restoration

Facts about the De Tomaso Pantera

  • The logo bears the colors of the Argentine flag because the company’s founder, Alejandro De Tomaso, was born and raised in Argentina.
  • Pantera is Italian for “Panther” and became De Tomaso’s most popular model, with over 7,000 manufactured over its 20-year production.
  • American born designer Tom Tjaarda designed the Pantera from the Italian design firm Ghia.
  • The Pantera measures 43 inches in height as compared to the GT40’s 40 inches.
  • The 1971 Pantera could accelerate to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.5 seconds according to Car and Driver
  • The Pantera that Elvis Presley shot twice is part of the cars on display inside the Petersen Automotive Museum.

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