Dan Trent: Is the De Tomaso Pantera the best value '70s supercar?

20th March 2018
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

Heart says a '70s supercar is the peak of wedge-shaped cool. Head (and possibly a degree of prejudice) says you’re entering a world of nightmarish mechanical fragility, inflated running costs and cars whose looks take precedence over daily realities of ergonomics, reliability or usability.


What if you could have all that exotic Italian style but powered by a simple, powerful and reliable Mustang V8? Well, you could! Ford’s failure to buy Ferrari famously gave us the GT40 and Le Mans success but it also gave us the De Tomaso Pantera. Exotic style, straightforward V8 muscle and a car intended to offer American buyers a Ferrari-rivalling supercar you could service at the local Ford dealership. 

Such was the dream. The reality being that early Panteras, sold through Lincoln and Mercury dealers, were in fact the worst of both worlds, with shoddy build quality and lazily tuned engines dumbed down to cope with American smog rules. Things improved, Ford getting a grip of quality control while the huge aftermarket support for tuning Mustangs and Cobras offered owners easy access to serious power, many Panteras ‘hot-rodded’ to some extent or other.

After just four years and around 5,000 sales in the US Ford decided to exit the programme, leaving De Tomaso to limp on and the Pantera to gain weight, flares and wings in an attempt to keep pace with the Countach, Testarossa and similar. They were still being built into the early 90s and now ex-Lotus boss Danny Bahar is seeking to revive the car as a re-bodied Lamborghini Huracan under his new Ares bespoke luxury brand.

Inevitably though, the Pantera was at its best in its early, unadorned state. And that was what I thought I wanted and had found in the shape of this rather nice and original looking 1974 example. Lovely, and about the tenth the price of a Countach or 512BB.


Temptation is but a mouse click away though. And in the same listing was this Group 4 race example, complete with very '70s riveted-on wheel arches and an engine that looks ear-splittingly loud even in the photos. While never as iconic, exotic or successful in frontline competition as the GT40 it shared its mechanical template with, Panteras were active in 70s sports car racing and the Group 4 modifications flesh out the shape rather nicely. What’s not to like about steamroller tyres, gold wheels and unsilenced exhausts the diameter of drainpipes after all.

I love this era of racing car, the wild looks, colourful liveries and raw power ticking all the boxes for me, the sight of the contemporary Group 5 racers on their demo run at the Members’ Meeting very much getting me in the mood. You could drive a Group 4 Pantera on the road though, opening up a wider scope of events in which to enjoy it. Events like the Classic Endurance Racing series, which includes the six-day Tour Auto Optic across France in late April and is, this year, celebrating now extinct Italian marques like De Tomaso. 

I like the blue Group 4 car. But this one for sale in Belgium looks even better. Apparently ordered by the son of Ford’s VP of powertrain in 1972, he raced it in Trans-Am competition in 1973 and ’74 and is as close to a factory De Tomaso Pantera as you’ll get. I love it all. It’s got the pure Pantera shape, engorged with the wide arches and fat tyres of a racing car while the period original Campagnolo wheels are included in the sale. The colour scheme is gorgeous too, the stylised race numbers and red, white and blue panels all setting the car off just-so. It may be worth more than the £250,000 of the blue one but it’s still going to be peanuts compared with a factory GT40 or any contemporary 70s Ferrari or Lamborghini. And more likely to start on the first turn of the key.       

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