DeTomaso Pantera Series 1
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
The De Tomaso Pantera cannot be described as an engineering masterpiece, nor a technology milestone. The most unique characteristic of this car was the fact that it was the first affordable "supercar" to be built. Thankfully, however, the terms "brutish" and "crude" which some
purists used to describe exotic cars powered by large, lazy V8s certainly did not apply in this case.
Powered by a Ford "Cleveland" 351 (5.7 litre) V8, this Italian-built exotic was able to offer supercar performance at a bargain price. Dubbed "The Poor Man's Lamborghini",the close relationship between Ford and De Tomaso saw Ford fully back the Pantera project in order to boost its image.
The radical thinking that went into the previous DeTomaso model, the Mangusta, was all but forgotten when designing the Pantera. Using a unitary steel chassis
- intended to be cheap for production - and a Detroit built pushrod which included the strong and torquey engine, a slick ZF transaxle, sharp steering, taut handling
and decent brakes. In fact, the main drawbacks were te cramped cabin and bad driving position.
Generous equipment levels were included to help the car appeal to the American market, however a lack of crash-protection and emission concerns accompanied with oil crisis eventually led to the withdrawal from the United States in 1974. The Pantera continued production in Europe. Most modifications were made to cope with newer emission regulations.
The most powerful version, the GTS, appeared in themid 70s. The GTS had a 350 bhp V8, but was replacedby the 300 hp GT5, which was surrounded by a handsome body kit including spoiler and skirts to create "ground effect". In 1983, the aerodynamic
accessories were discarded in the GT5 S, but power rose to 330hp. Strict emission controls dramatically dropped the output to 247hp. Obviously, the Cleveland V8 could no longer survive in the environmental-conscious era, therefore in the 1991 revision (called Series II), it was replaced by Mustang's electronic fuel-injected 302 cid V8.
The 351 Cleveland Makes For The Perfect Supercar in Australia
The. 351 suited the Pantera's concept perfectly; it was smooth, torquey and ultra reliable and in a country as big as Australia where dealers were scarce, it was a very practical proposition. The engine had a four-barrel Autolite carburettor and a de Tomaso exhaust
system giving a net 330 bhp at 5400 rpm. Torque was a hefty 3261b/ft at 3600 rpm. As you'd expect the car pulled well fromdown around 1000 rpm and it was possible to growl along in fifth gear around town and still accelerate away smoothly if the throttle was floored.
If you were using the gears and the redline, however, the acceleration was mind-bending. Ask any Aussie Ford fan and they will tell you the Cleveland got into its stride at around 1500 rpm and from then on pulled like a train right up to its 6300 redline. The Pantera would cover the standing quarter in 14 seconds dead, and that was for the standard model. De Tomaso also made a GTS Pantera with 20 bhp more. The Pantera's 0-100 time of 14.4 sec put it well ahead of other exotica such as the Lamborghini Espada
(15.5 sec) and the Jensen SP (18.5 sec). It was the ZF transaxle that made the Pantera's mid-erigined layout possible. It incorporated a five-speed gearbox and the differential. Even though the gearlever was a long way from the gearbox, the change was well defined and notch-free, although like most of the car's other controls it was quite heavy.
The odd owner we have spoken with has told us that it takes a while to become comfortable with the Pantera, you need to get used to steering
and racing-style gate, the throws between gears being long - particularly if judged against more modern cars. Once you became used to the setup, you would find the smooth, accurate gearchanges were possible, though the mechanism didn't have the feel of an Alfa or a front-engined Ferrari. The ratios were excellent though they needn't have been especially good - such was the Pantera's power and torque. Third gear was especially useful - taking the Pantera very rapidly from town speeds to somewhere over 100 mph.
The clutch is heavy, but had a surprisingly "soft" take-up, although judder on take-off was a common problem, resolved via regular adjustment. In the handling
department the Pantera had everything going for it. It was a mid-engined layout which gives an ideal weight distribution, and sophisticated unequal length wishbone suspension
at both ends. It cornered very well indeed. Its level of adhesion was amazingly high - so high that there was only a remote possibility that you could reach its limits in ordinary open road driving. Initially there was quite a lot of understeer, but as cornering speeds rose there was no great increase in the amount of lock needed. It was possible to get the rear end to break away by using all the power out of slow corners, but even under this sort of provocation the tail refused to move out far.
Road reviews and the owners we have spoken to all agree that the rear end adhesion was awesome. In sweepers it would be the front wheels which let go first, though there would be warning through the steering
long before total breakaway. The de Tomaso used wider section tyres
on the front in his higher powered GTS Pantera. Only minimal wheel adjustments were needed in a corner once the car had been set up. It could be tucked into a corner or made to run wide simply by manipulating the loud pedal. On the other hand, the Pantera's steering
was disappointing. It had a dead feel which unlike almost all similar mid-engined cars, which were renowned for their light, precise steering, even when wide, heavy tyres
were used. At parking speeds the Pantera was a beast - but on the open road it was direct - the driver had only to shift his hands from the "ten to two" position for the tightest hairpin bends.
The disc brakes
all round pulled the car up from high speed in very short order. Stability under brakes
was first-class and there was little or no nose-dive. Unfortunately though, the pedal didn't have very much feel - less than some of the systems on Aussie performance cars. The ride was quite good for a car of this type - firm but very well controlled. It was able to cope with bumps and broken bitumen with ease making it a practical proposition for Australian roads. The Pantera also had a robust feel - no rattles or squeaks to speak of - and all the controls and cockpit equipment showed quality. Inside the dash layout was functional, and thankfully a little understated rather than trying to make itself out to be better than rival super-cars. There was not much headroom to spare for taller drivers, and the seats lacked lateral support and were also deficient in support under the thighs. There was adequate support for the lower back region, though.
The controls were well placed except for the handbrake which was set too far back and appeared to be still engaged when it was actually off. The headlights, which retracted into the body for day work, popped up and switched on at the flick of a rocker switch on the console. All of the switchgear seemed to be obscured by the steering
wheel rim. But despite these (minor) flaws, the Pantera had a lot going for it in Australia - it was powered by an engine for which spares were readily available, it was and remains to this day a marvellous looking car and it was cheaper than a lot of cars it could beat in a straight line. And it was that formula that makes it so desirable today - a super-car blessed with bullet-proof mechanicals that is easy on the wallet.