As a child growing up in Argentina, Alejandro De Tomaso was infatuated with motor racing and particularly the exotic machinery from Italy. Young De Tomaso dreamed of emulating his hero Juan Manuel Fangio, and at 23 years old, he ran his first race behind the wheel of a seriously knackered pre-war car – believed to be an Alfa or Bugatti. By 1957, De Tomaso had married and moved to Italy with the ambition to be a race car constructor. He set up shop in Modena and soon built a number of racing cars before moving on to road-going sports cars with the lovely Vallelunga. After just 50 examples, it was replaced with the Mangusta which featured a similar backbone chassis but with the previous Ford Cortina-spec Kent engine replaced by a smallblock Ford V8. The Mangusta was beautiful but flawed, as the powerful V8 caused the backbone chassis to flex, leading to tricky high-speed handling. Despite its reputation as a widow maker, 400 examples were sold and a good relationship with Ford had been established.
Ever determined, De Tomaso moved on the development of the Pantera, which would eschew its predecessor’s backbone chassis in favor of a rigid unibody-type design to ensure rigidity and predictable handling at speed. Coinciding with the Pantera development, De Tomaso had taken control of Carrozzeria Ghia, eventually luring the deeply talented American Tom Tjaarda away from Pininfarina. Meanwhile across the ocean in Detroit, Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca were busy scheming up a new mid-engine halo car that could be sold through Ford dealers. GM and AMC had been hinting at building their own mid-engine sports cars, and Ford was eager to be first on the market. Given De Tomaso’s relationship with Ford, the Pantera was a natural choice for the Blue Oval’s project. It was a win-win as Ford saved on development costs and De Tomaso had the marketing might of Ford Motor Company to help sell his products in Lincoln-Mercury dealers. The project was a relative success, with over 7,000 built. Even after Ford dropped the program in 1973, De Tomaso continued to develop and sell the Pantera until 1992! Along the way, the Pantera has enjoyed an almost cult-like following thanks to the ease of service, accessible performance and timeless exotic Italian style.
Built at the end of 1971, this De Tomaso Pantera is a desirable Pre-L model that presents in very attractive, highly original condition inside and out. This car comes out of 14 years in a prominent collection, prior to which it was in the hands of an obsessively meticulous collector who performed a full mechanical rebuild to his exacting standards. Largely unrestored save for a respray in the original white, this chrome-bumper model features the pure, undiluted styling of the early models and is considerably rarer than the later, federal-bumper Pantera L. The Ghia-built coachwork is straight and smart, with crisp features and very good fit on the doors and deck lids. The paintwork quite attractive overall – showing just a few very minor touchups upon close inspection. Importantly, the body retains the correct original chrome bumpers, aluminum wiper arms, and original plated side-view mirrors; all of which present in fine unrestored condition. The car rides on factory Campagnolo magnesium alloy wheels, which were designed specifically for De Tomaso, and have become a signature of the Pantera and its successors.
The interior presents in outstanding condition, with original, hard-wearing black upholstery on the seats, door panels and rear bulkhead. The upholstered dash is similarly excellent, benefitting from proper care and limited sun exposure. De Tomaso-branded Veglia instruments are all in place and in excellent condition – with their distinct green numerals on black faces appearing crystal clear. The factory Italian switchgear is in fine fettle, and the console even retains a period correct Becker Europa mounted in the distinct vertical layout. The carpets are believed to be excellent originals, and have been protected by good quality overmats. Even the correct steering wheel remains in place – something rarely seen on any Pantera, particularly the early models such as this.
Beneath the rear engine cover rests the original numbers-matching 351C-4V. While in the hands of the 2nd to last owner, a full and meticulous rebuild was performed with special attention paid to tractability as much as power. The engine was completely torn down and rebuilt with little regard to cost and it is said to make in excess of 400 horsepower, all the while remaining largely stock in appearance, well-detailed, and utterly docile at low speeds. Even the correct-style mufflers with quad exhaust tips were retained to keep an original outward appearance. At the same time as the engine rebuild, the suspension was treated to a comprehensive overhaul to restore the sublime handling balance. Since then, it has seen only limited use and remains in outstanding mechanical condition. It is an absolute thrill to drive, with the extra 100-plus horsepower getting put to good use and allowing the car to easily hang with more exotic competitors from Italy.
Far too often, we see Panteras get heavily modified with less than desirable results. It is therefore refreshing to find an example such as this; a car that has been cherished from new, appears outwardly showroom standard, yet benefits from useful and quality upgrades. The sale includes a Deluxe Marti Report that verifies its correct specification and colors. In the era of the Italian-American hybrid, the De Tomaso Pantera stood above the crowd with its distinct styling and incredible value for the money. Unmolested, matching-numbers examples are rare and highly collectible, yet they remain a tremendous value compared to their rivals of the day. This fine Pantera is a lovely example that is sure to satisfy its next keeper.