In 1974, the famous hockey player Tim Horton – founder of the restaurant chain of the same name – was killed at the wheel of his DeTomaso Pantera. This tragic accident involved alcohol and speeding on the Queen Elizabeth Highway between Toronto and Niagara Falls.
Mr. Horton, 44, lost control of his car, which ended up upside down on the road after a spectacular overturn. His body was found 37 meters from his car.
Ten years later, Pantera claimed another victim. This time it was drummer Razzle from the rock band Hanoi Rocks. Sitting in the passenger seat, he died instantly after a head-on collision. At the wheel of the racing car, singer Vince Neil from the group Motly Crüe miraculously pulled through.
Several public figures have owned a Pantera, such as racing drivers Mario Andretti and Jackie Stewart. And let’s not forget Liv Lindeland’s pink Pantera, the one Playboy playmate of the year 1972.
With such a colorful track, it’s impossible not to compare the Pantera to the unleashed life of one rock star. Let’s look at it again to remember one of the most fascinating supercars of the Italian automotive industry.
Argentine Alejandro de Tomaso, who lived in Italy, believed in the reliability of American engines. That’s what led him to deal with Ford when it launched its Mangusta, a sleek sports car powered by the Dearborn manufacturer’s 289- and 302-cubic-inch V8 engines.
Inspired by the success of this model, DeTomaso dreamed even bigger for his next project. The Pantera, planned for the 1971 model year, would again make use of a Ford engine. However, the manufacturer wanted to expand its sales activities in North America. An agreement was therefore concluded between Lee Iacocca from Ford and Mr. de Tomaso that the Pantera should be marketed in the US and Canada through the American giant’s distribution network.
Ford, for its part, liked the idea of selling a European supercar from a recognized brand in its Lincoln-Mercury dealerships to strengthen its reputation in the luxury car segment.
The very first Pantera L landed on our market in the early 1970s. It was sold here until 1975 and finally returned to Europe.
However, the model continued to be marketed in other markets until 1990. By the end of its life cycle, the vehicle had evolved a lot and emerged as a much better built, more efficient and improved product in terms of ergonomics. De Tomaso even entered him in racing events a few times.
Fun fact: Although the Pantera was assembled in Modena, Italy, someone living in Italy could not acquire it locally. It absolutely had to be purchased through a Lincoln-Mercury dealer in the US.
Engines, gearboxes and technical data
Installed in the middle of the Pantera was a 5.8-liter (351 cubic in) V8 built by Ford at the Cleveland, Ohio plant. It also bears the famous name 351 Cleveland. This engine was already well known, having proven itself under the hood of certain models of the manufacturer, including the Mustang.
Designed by Italian coachbuilder Ghia, the Pantera offered a mechanism that developed an output of 325 horsepower and produced 344 lb-ft of torque at the time of marketing. The Cleveland engine was mated to a 5-speed manual transmission supplied by German OEM ZF. This gearbox had the distinction of being installed directly on the rear axle, where the Pantera channeled all its power and torque.
Overall, the Pantera was quite reliable due to the simplicity of its mechanics. Her maintenance costs were considerably lower than those of a typical Italian. However, the model suffered from a few design flaws, particularly regarding oil lubrication, which could quickly lead to loss of compression.
Apart from this defect, which several owners subsequently fixed, it is one of the most reliable Italian sports cars in history.
The sample under test received some modifications, especially at the level of the front bumper, where we find a mudguard at the bottom. This is a very common modification for this model. The owner also took the opportunity to reveal the engine and add chrome to make people aware of its existence.
The steering wheel has also been replaced with a model covered in wood. The owner testifies that this steering wheel is nicer than the original because it is larger. Remember that the Pantera was not equipped with power steering.
The other interesting fact about this copy is that it is used regularly. Its owner says he drives it in all weather conditions – except winter – and has done so since acquiring it more than 30 years ago. He also told me a ton of amusing anecdotes, including trips to Florida with his wife aboard this race car.
In retrospect, these anecdotes seem totally unrealistic to me because the Pantera does not exhibit the qualities of a road trip car. As soon as I opened the driver’s side door, I started scratching my head as to how I was going to manage to squeeze my 6-foot-tall body into its enclosed cockpit.
To get there, I had to do quite a twisting maneuver. Since the roof was very low, I had to bend my head first. Of course, the seat doesn’t move back very much. A non-adjustable steering wheel pokes us in the right leg as we dig for some comfort.
A gigantic bump in the floor on the left – caused by the car’s wing – forces us into a strange driving position; legs on the right and torso on the left due to severe misalignment between the pedals and the steering wheel.
Doubled over with my head tilted to the right, I hit the clutch pedal to start the monster. I felt like I was trying to push a concrete block with my left leg.
It wasn’t long, though, before Cleveland roared behind my head. In a Pantera, it’s really behind our head, to the point where we only see its two giant cylinder heads in the rearview mirror. It was then that I remembered all the stories of fatal accidents related to this creature, and the adrenaline quickly began to flow through my veins.
Shifting into first gear in a Pantera requires a bit of muscle and a lot of precision. Its colossal changeup requires him to pick it up wildly with a steady hand and send it down the left with energy. At the same time, make sure to keep the clutch pedal pressed against the floor, otherwise the first gear will not engage. Even before I had changed my left calf was about to explode.
Upon take off, I immediately noticed the brute force of this engine, which pushes us backwards as if it wanted to escape from its compartment. The Pantera commands respect, because even with its corpulent 325 millimeter wide rear tires, this panther will not hesitate to wrap us around a telephone pole at the slightest inattention.
The gears are very long – we reach almost 80km/h in 1st gear – and the power delivery is immediate and linear, a hallmark of this large displacement and the fact that the engine puts out more torque than power.
The faster you go, the easier the steering, giving the vehicle a remarkable degree of precision. That the front of the vehicle is so light due to the absence of an engine helps a lot. Also, we sit at the top of the car, which gives us a good view, even if we feel like we are lying on the road!
Like a go-kart, the Pantera responded quickly to my commands, allowing me to quickly get it into a corner. I was impressed with its level of grip. However, you must be careful with the accelerator when exiting a curve to avoid extreme oversteer.
That said, the suspensions of this car moved me by their smooth operation on the damaged roads of Quebec. In addition, despite such a low ground clearance, the car never hit the imperfect asphalt. Its owner also testifies that he never scratched it.
And what a sound! The discomfort of a Pantera dissolves as soon as you mash the accelerator. The entire cabin is flooded with a typical American noise. A strong smell of gasoline fills our nostrils. The pantera howls, farts, growls and gives extraordinary kickbacks (fire again), when you release the accelerator.
Like the singer in a 1970s rock group, she doesn’t go through all the stops to announce her presence on stage. All heads were on me, including a police patrol I passed on my way. I really didn’t go unnoticed.
Exiting the Pantera was as painful as entering it. I still have a mark on my knee caused by the wood on the steering wheel burning my skin every time I turned it. It drives a DeTomaso Pantera: a stressful, physical act that forces us to use every muscle and nerve in our body. It is a machine that injects euphoria into our veins, reinforced by a fear of becoming another of its victims.
On the way back I made sure to get a coffee at Tim Horton’s. He was good and comforting. Let’s just say I will never look at this restaurant the same way again.