Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
When the Panther Six hit the showrooms, it joined the ranks of the more established exotic car manufacturers such as Ferrari, Porsche
and Aston Martin
. Manufactured by the British company Panther Westwinds
, the Panther Six specification sheet was awe inspiring – even by today’s standards. Six wheels, twin-turbocharged 8.2-litre Cadillac
V8 engine mounted amidships, three-speed automatic transmission
and just about the most lavish furnishing and accommodation that money could then buy - all rolled together into an open roadster body
Panther chief Bob Jankel conceived his Six to out-accelerate and out-run its established opposition not merely by split fractions of a second or by two or three km/h. He wanted the type of advantage the driver and passenger(s) could feel and consequently the Six was intended to exceed 320km/h (200mph) in road trim and to accelerate from 0-160km/h in little more than what has formerly been a sensational 0-100 time. Panther had a history of building lavishly equipped old-style sporting cars.
, Jankers company had established a reputation for quality craftsmanship in its SS100 like Jaguar-engined J72 and the luxurious De Ville. But the Panther Six was not a modern interpretation of an old design, rather a complete clean-sheet design aimed at giving the high-performance model a Rolls-Royce
/Cadillac standard of comfort and equipment.
At the time Jankel's customers included many who already had a Boxer Berlinetta, Porsche Turbo or Countach in their garage and he ran an informal survey amongst them to discover what they liked about their exotic cars, and what they disliked. He discovered what he considered to be a subtle change in the exotic car customer. At one time the wealthy enthusiast could indulge their enthusiasm in a Miura
and could enjoy just everything his mechanical jewel could offer. But in the mid 1970s legislation and choking traffic has spelled increasing frustration for the owner who wanted to use their machine to the full.
The Jaguar XJ-13
Many of these car enthusiasts had been chased away from fast motoring, and a new exotic car customer had taken their place - one who disliked the mechanical cacophony of a V12 engine
from Ferrari, or the cramped space in a Porsche Turbo. Consequently Jankel figured that a majority of those in the market were more likely to accept rather than exploit their cars' full potential. So Jankel sat down with his idea, with a survey of the shortcomings exotic car owners found in their cars and pencilled something to suit the new taste. Jankel was on holiday in Spain when he was thinking of a prestige Panther to head his line-up. He already had the Jaguar six-cylinder and V12 engines in his cars and the thought of a road-going mid-engined version of the XJ-13 racing prototype occurred to him.
The XJ-13 was the unraced sports-prototype which Jaguar developed in the early 'sixties, ostensibly for a return to Le Mans. Power came from an all-new quad-cam V12 but the project was shelved, and the only car built was located at Jaguar's Coventry factory. He conceived his replica XJ-13 as an eye-catching road car built around the production single-cam Jaguar V12. He wanted to sell a car for promotional purposes to each of the Jaguar distributors world-wide and with a few customer sales thrown in Panther should be kept happily busy for years to come. Jaguar, however, could not supply some of the parts required and so the project withered on the vine.
Inspired by the Tyrrell P34
In July 1976, and Bob was sitting in a Brands Hatch grandstand watching the British GP. A Tyrrell P34 howled by. Jankel's eyebrows shot up - "That's it", he thought, "we'll build a six-wheeler!" So the Panther Six took shape as a prestige model to show off the best the company could offer, and as an exotic car which would out-perform its opposition yet provide the wealthy customer with all the features its opposition lacked. Jankel himself built the prototype Six chassis in the garage at his home during the Christmas Holiday of 1976, assisted by Simon Lee and Dick Stacey. Progress was slow. The project was cloaked in secrecy and it was not until August that Panther's craftsmen realised it was to carry six wheels.
Jankel wanted a clean body
style with the kind of good looks which the wealthy man in the market could not afford to ignore. Six wheels were first intended merely for sensation until Jankel's engineers examined the idea more closely. They believed there was a practical advantage on wet surfaces with four front wheels. It was found that most exotic car accidents were front-end impacts, wet weather understeering
off the road or locked-up front-enders into other cars. There were very few spinning accidents recorded and there were few rear end impacts. So it appeared that the increased front-end footprint of the four-wheel set-up could yield safety dividends.
The Six's brakes
were set up to lock the front axle wheels first so that the squeegee effect of those locked tyres upon the wet road surface would provide drier road for the second axle wheels. The decreased individual wheel loading with a four-wheel front end also allowed softer road springs to be fitted, plus more delicate damping and so better ride and handling
control. In his body
style, Jankel offered proper luggage space unlike any other mid-engined design, and adequate spare wheel stowage which the Porsche Turbo, (for example), lacked. Owners also complained about poor interior finish and detailing in their expensive exotic cars, and more than any other requirement, the survey showed owners preference for an open car. The fixed-head exotic car - according to the survey - was not what they wanted.
So the Panther Six emerged as an open roadster with a detachable hardtop, a roomy mid-ships luggage space behind the seats but isolated from engine
bay heat, a long tail to assist straight-line speed and to house the two different size spare wheels required, and a genuine show car standard of finish and trim. The design roughs were initially pure CanAm car but they rapidly evolved into the controversial final shape of the prototype
. The Six's look was either loved or hated. The Panther Six looked low slung, sleek and with a wide stand and length adding, what Jankel considered to be a vital feature, "presence".
Jankel wanted to get away from the matt-black bumper and trim fashion so he adopted massive chromed bumper bars front and rear on energy-absorbing recovery pistons. 'Egg-Box' grilles set into the front bumper provided cooling air to an inclined radiator
from which exhausted air was ducted away into the wheel arches and down through the under-tray. Quartz-halogen electrically-lifted headlights folded away into each guard and twin rectangular Oscar spotlights were mounted behind the bumper assembly throwing their beams through the grille. These Oscars provided a daytime flash facility. At the time Cibie regarded the lighting set as "adequate for Le Mans (but not ideal)". For the more modest demands of road use we figure it would have been spectacular.
The front bonnet hinged from the windscreen base to expose the balanced triple master cylinder brake system, the radiator
with its electric fans, dash panel electrics and a huge air-conditioning system (by Hubbard of America). Jankel expected to sell Sixes in the tropics so to ensure the Six's habitability in open form he specified a whopping 17,000BTU air-conditioner used in American truck sleeper cabs. While the traditional open sports car had a heater system to pool hot air around your feet, the Panther Six could equally provide a cockpit full of refrigerated air if necessary. Its temperature control was automatic.
Behind the Wheel
The cockpit itself was huge. This space allowed an unusual two or three person front bench seat with lots of luggage space behind it. The seat had a shaped section to locate the driver's backside with a wide, less rigidly shaped passenger area to the side. Lap and diagonal belts were provided for three occupants. Trim in the prototype
was in rich rust English hide with suede insets and edging. Here the aim for Rolls-Royce style comfort became apparent, the seat actually having six-way electric adjustment to match the driver to the controls. A GM tilt-and-telescope steering
column was fitted to increase the adjustment available. Once inside, the driver sat very low and quite close behind that steeply raked windscreen which made for a peaceful and turbulence-free cockpit. The laminated screen was itself bonded into its rigid frame/rollover bar.
Beneath the flare of the screen, the Six's facia roll was covered in black suede to match the metallic black paintwork chosen for the prototype
. Jankel claimed that most styling concerns - like the great Italian houses of Bertone, Pininfarina etc - painted their new cars in pale colours to hide the imperfections of their panel-work. We are not so sure that was true, but whatever the case, Panther chose black paint purely to demonstrate his panel-men's artistry. A large combination-lockable glove box confronted the passenger while the driver's dash panel carried a neat Panther-designed gas plasma/LED display. The Six had to have this form of instrumentation since the Aston Martin Lagonda
introduced it in 1976
. All the instrument readouts are clearly visible through the 15-inch steering
wheel and Jankel foresees marketing possibilities for this unit alone.
Gearshift positioning caused some heartache, but Jankel finally bowed to luxury in preference to performance practice and used a steering
selector in place of the floor-mounted type. It's a right-hand stalk, actuating a GM Hydramatic 425 three-speed gearbox. A foot-pedal parking brake is used, with the GM 'fly-off feature as soon as 'drive' is selected. We wonder at the wisdom of this since the system hasn't been a success in Holden's Torana.
design called for two of the largest doors then going, these necessarily wide-opening to give easy entry to the forward mounted seats and to the luggage bay behind them. Each door was a massive structure with channel steel intrusion barriers built-in to comply with legislation. Behind the cockpit the engine
bay was enclosed beneath a front-hinged hood which wraps down to hub-height on either side and to the bumper bay at the rear. There was a central 'power bulge' to clear the Caddy V8 and separately-hinged Louvre panels gave access to fluid-level dipsticks and fuel tank fillers on either side. The racing fillers are set in red crackle-painted splash tanks, and either could be used to fill the interconnected 70.3 litre gallon twin tanks.
The Panther Six Body
The Six's shell was built from sheet aluminium. It clothed a multi-tubular chassis welded-up from 14-gauge square-section steel. Stressed panels were welded between the cockpit and engine
bay and in the scuttle area, while triangular sill sections beneath each door had stressed skinning applied over main tube longerons to form a kind of shallow perimeter monocoque. All front-to-rear pipework and wiring ran within these skills and there were hatches provided for access. The rear cockpit bulkhead also had a hatch to give access to the front of the engine
At the front a complex sheet and tubular structure formed a chassis horn from which a separate 'bogey' was suspended to carry the four front wheels. Just four rubber mounts were used, and by removing eight bolts the whole front suspension
sub-assembly could be removed. The idea was to isolate suspension
patter and road shock from the occupants. With its Jaguar floor-pan and running gear experience Panther was familiar with controlling rubber-mount compliance.
The Suspension Setup
The front suspensions
themselves were Vauxhall Magnum wishbone and coil-spring sets as used by Panther in their Lima
production model. Armstrong dampers were used and six 254mm diameter brake discs were fitted. Steering
was AC-Delco power assistance with a forward mounted rack actuating conventional steering
arms on the foremost axle. A slave track-rod pick-up behind the hub assembly centre operated a simple fore-and-aft bellcrank mounted on each side of the suspension
bogey. It in turn communicated steering
action through a third track-rod to the second axle hubs. Threaded track-rod adjustment gave the correct Ackermann angle. Jankel didn't talk it over with Tyrrell, but the layout was very similar to the Formula One cars from the same era.
To decrease unsprung weight, Panther chose German-made BBS cast-alloy racing rims, six-inches wide. His original scheme specified Mini-size wheels but the very high speed requirement made tyres
this size an impossibility. Panther approached both Goodyear and Dunlop for high-speed tyres
for front but neither was interested. So Pirelli created Cinturatos in 205/40 VR13 size, specifically for the Panther. At the rear the Six used Cadillac Eldorado front suspension
, discarding the standard torsion bars and adopting twin co-axial coil-springs with Armstrong dampers mounted one ahead and one behind the drive-shaft on either side - similar in setup to Jaguar. Rear wheels carried Pirelli P7 265/50 VR16 tyres
. To ensure Panther's individuality the familiar BBS wheel design was hidden by alloy plates carrying just a circle of cooling holes.
The Ak Miller-Turbo-Charged Cadillac Engine
The heart and muscle of the Panther Six was provided by the Ak Miller-turbo-charged Cadillac engine
. It was an iron-block 8.2-litre V8 with dimensions of 109.2mm x 109.2mm giving 8193cms. It had hydraulic tappets, a Holley
four-barrel downdraught carb and twin Garrett AiResearch T04 turbocharges. Miller - recommended for the job by the American magazine "Road & Track" - told Jankel he could do the job with just one turbocharger, but Bob specified two for the sake of symmetry and for very high performance potential at some time in the future.
In standard form the Six's engine
provided 447kW at 5500rpm and 830Nm torque. The engine
bay was neat and tidy and there was an automatic fire extinguishing system ducted into this area, operated by heat sensors. All this and Panther quality made a stunning specification. When revealed to the motoring press, Panther's team insisted they had built a "softly, softly" car which would ride and drive as smoothly as the Jaguar limousines at the very least, while approaching the type of performance figures which no other road car could then match.
Panther talked of a staggering 340km/h being theoretically possible, allowing for some development and the use of an optional 1.8:1 back axle. Acceleration must be around 7-8 seconds 0-160km/h. "With that kind of power," said Jankel, "we can't help it." We doubt if the Six, in its prototype
form was ever able to achieve this top speed although it must have been able to out-accelerate anything on the open road and most on the race track too. Its heavy equipment was slung in a relatively lightweight chassis and body
, and 600ft/lbs torque should have been able to catapult it off the mark very satisfactorily. The over 320km/h top speed, however, was a moot point.
Jankel's team took expert aerodynamic
advice on the Six and it had an under-nose air dam and a full-length flat undertray. However, the world above 270km/h was an eerie one back then, and when Porsche first tackled 320km/h plus with the 917 they had it all terribly wrong. They got it right eventually but if Porsche had problems what chance did the tiny little Panther have of being right first time. In the area from 160 to 320km/h the power requirement to drive a given vehicle through the air increases by a cube law. Panther had the power, since the turbochargers' boost was adjustable. In the same area the vehicle's lift increases - in general terms - by the square and above 320 its growth more closely approaches the cube. Lift is less easily eradicated - as the surviving Ford GT test drivers would have testified.
OK, so it seems the claims were a little optimistic. But even if exaggeration was at play, there was no doubting that the Panther Six represented one of the most exciting production cars to have ever been made. Although it lacked the mechanical individuality and artistry of some accepted exotics the thoroughness with which Bob Jankel's team achieved his declared aim of giving a then new generation of exotic car consumers exactly what they wanted. It was an exotic car with features which its competitors lacked. It was an exhibitionist's automotive dream come true.