Pantera Remains King of Italo-American Exotic Sports Cars
Close your eyes and picture a 1970s Lincoln/Mercury dealer. There’s a large, blacktop lot covered with flapping vinyl flags in alternating red, white, and blue. Below, parked chrome-plated mirror to chrome-plated mirror are dozens of massive, landau-roofed, pinstriped, big-block’d sedans and coupes roughly the size, weight, and shape of boxcars, their faux wire wheels, faux wood, faux convertible tops, and faux continental kits secreting a perverted, baroque, faux kind of elegance. After politely ducking an aggressive, leisure-suited salesman with creative facial hair, you browse the aisles looking for something completely different, its impossibly low roofline and relatively diminutive size hiding among the vast, blocky shoulders of vehicular brontosauri—until you round one last 90 pound chromium park bench of a bumper, revealing a bright yellow, Ford-engined De Tomaso Pantera, and it stops you dead in your brown leather ankle boots and flared Levis.
Sold through this unlikely network from 1971 to 1975, Ford had a stake in the Pantera’s success, motivated as it was by a Cleveland 351 mounted amidships in its shapely wedge—itself another American connection, penned by Detroit-based Tom Tjaarda. Sold over an incredible twenty year run ending in 1991, the Pantera remains the most produced, most iconic Italo-American V8 sports car ever built—the king of a category popularized by 1960s manufacturers hoping to compete with Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini but lacking the resources to design and build their own powerplants.