The forgotten Italian supercar
Originally conceived as a rival to the Chevrolet Corvette for the American market, Alejandro De Tomaso forged a partnership with Lee Iacocca, the most brilliant designer during those days, Tom Tjaarda and Henry Ford II. When it was introduced in the seventies and up to its demise in the early 1990’s, an estimated 7,260 Panteras were built in various configurations.
It took the American market by storm when it was introduced 1971, as the steel unibody design by Tjaarda of Design firm Ghia drew rave reviews from both the consumers and motoring journalists at that time. Ford began importing Panteras for the American market to be sold through its Lincoln Mercury dealers in late 1971. The first 75 cars were simply European imports and are known for their “push-button” door handles and hand-built Carrozzeria Vignale bodies. A total of 1,007 Panteras reached the United States that first year.
As with most Italian cars of the day, rust-proofing was minimal and the quality of fit and finish on these early models was poor with large amounts of body solder being used to cover body panel flaws. Subsequently, Ford increased their involvement in the production of the later cars with the introduction of precision stampings for body panels which resulted in improved overall quality.
Several modifications were made for the 1972 model year Panteras. A new 4 Bolt Main Cleveland Engine, also 351 cu in, was used with lower compression ratio (from 11:1 to 8.6:1, chiefly to meet US emissions standards and run on lower octane standard fuel) but with the more aggressive “Cobra Jet” camshaft (featuring the same lift and duration as the 428 Cobra Jet’s factory performance cam) in an effort to reclaim some of the power lost through the reduction in compression along with a dual point distributor. Many other engine changes were made, including the use of a factory exhaust header.
The “Lusso” (luxury) Pantera L was also introduced, in August 1972 as a 1972½ model. For the US market it featured a large black single front bumper that incorporated a built-in airfoil to reduce front end lift at high speeds, rather than the separate bumperettes still used abroad, as well as a 266 Net hp (198 kW) Cleveland engine. The “L” model featured many factory upgrades and updates that fixed most of the problems and issues the earlier cars experienced. It was so improved that the 1973 DeTomaso Pantera was Road Test Magazine’s Import car of the year beating out Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, and Porsche. During 1973 the dash was changed, going from two separate pods for the gauges to a unified unit with the dials angled towards the driver. The U.S. version 1974 Pantera GTS featured GTS badging but not the higher compression, solid lifter engine of its European GTS “cousin”.
Gremlins found in early production cars were addressed in subsequent versions, but in 1975 Ford stopped importing them into the U.S. market. Enter Wisconsin businessman and quintessential car guy George Stauffer, who assumed importation of the new Pantera GT5 in the early 1980s. The GT5 was the most aggressive-looking Pantera yet, with fiberglass fender extensions, spoilers and rear wing, all typical of FIA Group 5 practice, and vastly improved performance. In 1985 the GT5-S became the ultimate road-going Pantera, with all-steel flared fenders and a steel front spoiler. Although Ford had ceased U.S. production of the 351 Cleveland engine, Australian production continued, as did its use in the Pantera. Where the original Pantera used 8-inch-wide front and 10-inch rear wheels, the GT5-S’s huge fender flares allowed 10-inch and 13-inch Campagnolo magnesium wheels and proportionally wider tires, giving it the look of a full-blown Le Mans racer.
This 1987 DeTomaso Pantera GT5-S is a fine example of what many consider the best of the line. It is one of an estimated 187 built and one of 50 legally imported into the United States. It is remarkably fresh in its presentation, having been driven just 11,700 kilometers and maintained in a private collection from 1997 to 2015. The good-looking black paint is complemented with a luxurious and pristine tan leather interior trimmed with burled-wood inserts. Powered by the 351 Cleveland engine with a ZF 5-speed transaxle, it rides on Pirelli P7 tires on the original Campagnolo wheels and is offered with the original tool kit and a full set of aftermarket wheels and tires.