Text by the previous owner, Colin Comer, published in Road&Track in 2015
How to buy a De Tomaso Pantera and make it perfect?
Designed by American designer Tom Tjaarda and sold in the United States between 1971 and 1974, the De Tomaso Pantera aimed to offer the performance of a Ferrari Daytona at less than half the price. The spec sheet was impressive: unibody construction, four-wheel power disc brakes and independent suspension, rack and pinion steering, power windows and standard air conditioning. The 351-cubic-inch Ford Cleveland V-8 was mid-mounted and mated to a ZF five-speed transmission with a gated shifter. De Tomaso promised 310 hp and a 0 to 100 km/h time of around six seconds.
What could go wrong?
Well, several things. First of all, De Tomaso was not good at building a supercar in small series. Second, Lincoln-Mercury dealerships were horrible at selling and servicing low-production, poorly built supercars. Rust was a serious problem, as De Tomaso used bare, untreated steel for the bodywork, with multiple water traps, no less. There are photographs of cars outside the Modena factory, covered in rust, waiting to be painted and assembled. This explains why Panteras literally rust from the inside. There is no explanation, however, for the horrible ergonomics of the cabin, other than its Italian origins.
The Pantera was always a hot item. It was exotic but not intimidating; a “Power by Ford” badge promised that your uncle could fix it. Affordability outweighed the car’s shortcomings, and about 5,200 were sold in the United States between 1971 and 1974.
As a child, I fell in love at first sight. Starting with a red ’71 that cost $10,000 in the early ’90s, I’ve owned a number of Panteras, including a rare European GTS. The best of these was a low mileage, two owner Beverly Hills car, one of the cleanest Panteras I’ve ever seen. I loved its simplicity, effortless speed and, of course, that glorious Ford V8. I sold it to a friend in 2000 but always kept an eye on another one.
Although the Panteras had some mechanical flaws, Ford essentially used customers as beta testers, so most cars were repaired under warranty. The endless stream of service bulletins continues to be a handy guide to Pantera maintenance. And what Ford didn’t understand, a network of owners’ clubs, specialists and a vast aftermarket did. It’s not uncommon for a Pantera to have excellent air conditioning, good shifting, and run as its original spec sheet suggests, all without overheating. The problem is that few owners can resist the urge to modify a Pantera. Finding a clean, stock (or reasonably improved) example is like discovering a Detroit street without potholes.
And the 1974 Pantera on these pages? This is the same Beverly Hills car I sold 15 years ago. When my friend, the new owner, offered to sell it, I couldn’t resist. I wanted one, I knew the car, and I had a plan.
The first cars, known as pre-L models, are recognizable by their lower ride height and slim, chrome bumpers. The L version, or Lusso, was introduced at the end of 1972. It featured numerous updates to rectify problems with previous cars, as well as a redesigned dashboard. Unfortunately, the Lusso’s rocker suspension and heavy, unsightly rubber bumpers are a major obstacle.
In a perfect world, I’d want an untouched, flawless pre-L Pantera with a push-button door. But like most people, I like the Lusso dashboard, and I appreciate the changes to the latest Pantera series. This car, a late American L, gave me the opportunity to try something interesting: to create a Lusso that looks and runs like a pre-L, without the problems. The best of both worlds.
I started by installing a set of old chrome bumpers, which only required welding a few holes. To lower the car, I removed the one-inch spring spacers that De Tomaso used to meet U.S. safety standards. To simulate the position of a GTS model (which wore 15 x 10-inch rear wheels, now nowhere to be found), I added one-inch wheel spacers to the original 15 x 8-inch rear wheels and mounted wide, sticky Avon CR6ZZ competition tires. Headers and tuning have woken up the 351 V8, and a larger radiator with aftermarket high-speed cooling fans ensures that the engine runs at about 180 degrees, even on the hottest days.
The result is the supercar that Ford should have sold, instead of the wheezy thing found at Lincoln-Mercury dealerships in 1974. Although I went too far in the execution, you can do it with little money. The new bumpers cost less than $2,000, and any body shop worth its salt won’t charge much more for labor.
This example, acquired in the USA in 2016, is in impeccable condition both mechanically and cosmetically.