As a child growing up in Argentina, Alejandro De Tomaso became infatuated with motor racing, particularly when it came to 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 cobbled-together 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 several racing cars before shifting focus to road-going sports cars. His first effort was the lovely Vallelunga, and after producing just 50 examples, it was superseded by the Mangusta, which featured a similar backbone chassis but with the previous Ford Cortina-spec Kent engine replaced by a considerably more powerful small-block Ford V8. The Mangusta was beautiful but flawed, as the powerful V8 caused the backbone chassis to flex, creating tricky high-speed handling. Despite its reputation as a widow maker, De Tomaso sold about 400 examples and in the process, developed a strong relationship with Ford Motor Company.
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 genuinely talented American designer 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 to sell through select 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 power of Ford Motor Company to help sell his products through a vast network of 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 Italian style.
This 1973 De Tomaso Pantera L is a superb example, beautifully presented in its original shade of Giallo over Black interior. An outstanding car, this Pantera remains true to its intended form, free of modifications that otherwise spoil the fabulous original Tom Tjaarda styling. The later L (for Lusso) model is readily identified by the full-width black bumpers and lower front air dam, which not only improved crash protection but also provided some much-needed downforce at the front to prevent the high-speed lift that afflicted earlier models. The yellow paintwork (code V502) is exceptionally well done, applied to a straight and crisply detailed body. Panel fit is excellent, and the detailing includes original badges, lamps, and fittings. The previous owners have resisted the urge to fit larger wheels and tires, retaining the marvelous factory Campagnolo alloys, wrapped in BF Goodrich radial tires for a pleasing balance between period looks and modern performance.
Compared to most 1970s Italian supercars, the cabin of the Pantera is surprisingly comfortable. In classic mid-engine supercar fashion, the driver sits slightly askew as the front wheel well pushes the pedals toward the inside. Once situated in the roomy seat, the expansive windscreen and thin pillars allow for excellent forward visibility. This car features standard black upholstery in excellent order, with black nylon carpets and De Tomaso logo mats. The hard-wearing seat covers are superb, and the car retains the rarely-seen original 3-spoke steering wheel. Factory Veglia instruments with their distinct green numerals are in excellent condition. Factory options include air conditioning and electric windows. An original blanking plate covers the radio hole in the console, but the restorers hid a modern AM/FM/CD player in a custom plinth under the front hood, operated by remote control.
The 351 cubic-inch Ford V8 is nestled just behind the seats. With the removable trunk in place, there isn’t much to see; however, the engine is well-detailed in proper Ford blue paint, featuring subtle upgrades to improve performance and reliability. A single four-barrel Holley carburetor sits on an Edelbrock aluminum intake manifold, with tubular headers feeding standard rear mufflers. The engine also features wrinkle-finish De Tomaso valve covers and a period-correct chrome air cleaner for the proper under hood appearance. It runs strong and sends power through the robust factory 5-speed ZF transaxle. Performance is on par with many of its Italian counterparts, with the added benefit of American V8 reliability and parts accessibility.
The De Tomaso Pantera represents a tremendous value in the glamorous world of 70’s supercars. With timeless styling by the great Tom Tjaarda for Ghia, it offers all of the street-cred of its purebred competitors, while the thumping Ford 351 delivers tremendous bang for the buck. Refreshingly standard and true to its original specification, this example is in excellent condition throughout, and is a superb and exciting motorcar for rallies and driving events the world over.
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