De Tomaso Pantera: A rare sports car that won't break the bank?

Photograph Courtesy RM Sotheby's

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

The subhead on that original Road & Track road test may have said it all: “Exciting–but not a finished product.” Noted issues included non-functioning air conditioning, a balky shifter, an overheating engine, electrical problems, an off-center steering wheel, locking-up rear brakes, a poor seating position, and subpar interior fit and finish. Oh, and orange peel in the paint. 

The De Tomaso-built Pantera arrived for 1971 with much fanfare. After all, this would be Ford’s counter to the world’s best, sporting modern lines, fully independent suspension, a mid-mounted engine and all the horsepower courtesy of a 351 Cleveland Ford V8. At not quite $10,000 out the door of your friendly Lincoln-Mercury dealer, the Pantera undercut the competition from Ferrari and Lamborghini by 50%.

Somewhere along the way, however, the project nearly came off the rails. “They really savaged it,” admits Mike Drew, longtime Pantera fan and advocate, regarding the initial media coverage. “The Pantera was judged against the standards of an American car and suffered accordingly. If it had been a Fiat or Ferrari, the media would have been far more forgiving.”

The car was rushed to market, he notes, explaining the car’s nine-month gestation period from initial discussion to first drives. “That is way too short of a development cycle.”

The good news, though? Most of those problems were corrected after the initial release through a series of updates. “Every one or two weeks, something would change,” Drew says. “A February ’72 car is different than a March car.” 

Cars already out in the field were updated via recalls. If an owner didn’t live near a Lincoln-Mercury dealership, a mobile team was dispatched to make the improvements. “They really wanted the ownership experience to be positive for the customers,” Drew adds. “It was more or less a loss leader to get people into the showroom.”

Pantera production never quite met expectations of 10,000 units annually, however, and the relationship between Ford and De Tomaso was dead by 1974–one year after the original chrome bumpers were traded for the heavier rubber bumpers. De Tomaso, however, continued to build the Pantera on its own all the way through 1993, temporarily bringing the car back to the U.S. market in the late ’80s.

Shopping Advice

Our Expert:
Mike Drew
Pantera Owners Club of America

The only really critical thing on these cars is rust. Unless you’re able to do metalwork yourself to a high standard, avoid cars with rust at all costs. There are enough good cars out there.

Some people want the chrome-bumper look over the later rubber bumpers, and that’s a valid perspective. But realistically, it’s easier to retrofit. By far the most important characteristic is the condition of the car.

If you are an absolute purist, roughly April through July 1972 is the high-water mark for the chrome-bumper cars. There are all sorts of little details that changed after that, where a hand-stitched part got replaced with a molded part. Ford bean counters were chopping away.

Unlike other marques, where originally and purity are paramount, the vast majority of these cars, for better or worse, have been subjected to tinkering over time. 

Most Panteras out there have been upgraded, and that’s a good thing. The ownership community and the marketplace both appreciate non-horrific upgrades. There’s a handful of completely stock cars, which appeal to a tiny sliver of the population. They will pay way over the top for one of them, but that’s a very small segment of the marketplace. Pantera owners tend to gravitate toward cars that look stock but aren’t quite stock.

The parts availability for these cars is laughably good. Even today, you can find NOS parts.

There is a standard, extremely well-written shop manual. Try to find a good shop manual for a Ferrari 308.

It’s a very nutsy-boltsy car but as easy to work on as a contemporary Mustang. If you have to work on the clutch, you just lift the gearbox out. Try that on a Mustang.

Availability of 15-inch tires has gone up and down over the years. A lot of people put 17-inch wheels and tires on their cars, although there’s now an increasing appreciation for the stock aesthetic. Step one is to put the stock wheels back on and it will sell for more.

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Bardan New Reader
4/21/21 6:29 p.m.

The part in this article about the Pantera being compared to American cars instead of their true counterparts was a common thing for the "Consumer Reports" type magazines in the 70s. I once read a comparison of a Corvette to a Honda 4 door sedan during that time. They bashed the Corvette for lack of luggage space, lack of seats and poor fuel milage. Obviously the  writer was not understanding the purpose of each car or the difference between buyers of each. Possibly they scored more points with their editor by overwhelming negative reviews, as I suspect was done to the Pantera.

shadetree30 HalfDork
12/30/22 4:06 p.m.

For what it's worth I have a gen-you-wine Ford dealer shop manual...

Don't everybody holler at once...

DrJ New Reader
12/17/23 12:22 p.m.

My brother tells a great story of riding his bicycle at age 12 to our local Lincoln-Mercury dealer.  He found an unlocked Pantera on the lot and was surprised to discover that he could not comfortably fit in the driver's seat!  He is not a large person today and was smaller in 1972.  I remember seeing rust on untitled Panteras on that same dealer's lot.

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