9 December 2010

Pantera: Ripe for picking up, not picking on

A few months ago, we included the Pantera on our list of "Yesterday's Misfires, Today's Collectibles." Some of our readers took exception to our characterization of the Pantera as "poorly built and (with) numerous mechanical flaws." In an effort to make peace, here's the other side of the story from a dedicated reader and client -- and Pantera fan -- Adams Hudson.

“No, it’s not a Ferrari,” I said, trying to look as if I hadn’t been asked this question thousands of times. “It’s a Pantera.” From there, the discussion with my newest 14-year-old best friend flowed: the Ford desire for Italian connections, the GT40, and ultimately, the Pantera.

“Awesome,” was the reply, many times over in fact. And he was right each time.

The original “hybrid” concept – before the Prius came to save the planet and spotted owls – meant marrying reliable American power into a svelte European body. Even John Apen, noted Ferrari collector and historian commented, “Euro-Americans are the ultimate street rod, with plenty of parts to increase the already great performance relatively cheaply”. Totally agreed.

Now you’re thinking: “Weren’t Panteras flawed? Didn’t they overheat to the point of singularly causing global warming?” Rather than me whine about how unfair that is, or rewrite history to serve my passion, consider…

  • A Jaguar E-type (raise your warm beers now) is a milestone car. Period. It also had more flaws than Paris Hilton’s morality code. Personally, I’d rather wake up next to an E-type.
  • Muscle cars are straight line rocket ships with true-blue roots, fixable by Roy and the boys using coat hangers and a NAPA coupon. Yet they handle like a wheelbarrow full of gelatin but with worse brakes.
  • Ferraris are lovely mistresses, just as enchanting, and just as likely to drive a Borrani spoke figuratively through your heart and wallet when it darn well feels like it.

The Pantera was given no such leniency, except by a very “inside” group, until now. Why? I believe the Pantera was held to an impossible standard. It was sold new in Lincoln Mercury dealerships for the bargain sum of $9,800. It was “positioned” as a supercar (which it was) but compared to Ford fit and finish, which it wasn’t.

Yes, it overheated when new, but please, that was 30 years ago, so get over it. All the owners have. Yes, it had some electrical gremlins. Ditto. For about $174, you solve them. Basically whatever shortcomings existed when new have been correctly re-engineered by enthusiasts (see www.panterainternational.com and www.panteraplace.com) who were creating “resto-rods” before anybody knew what that was. They just thought the car was cool enough to improve without asking the mythical Italian Gods of the Concours first.

Market emergence

The downside to this “anything goes” mentality is that the car is difficult to price. You’ll see twin turbos, nitrous, crazy wheels, wings, and as Sports Car Market editor Keith Martin once said, “Rainbow Trout on acid paint jobs.” Market pricing requires a standard, and for Panteras, it didn’t exist. Things change.

When the late ’80s craze for Italian machinery took off, the Pantera was left looking at a bunch of taillights. The cars poked their head into $50K range before settling back to the mid $30s for the duration of the ’90s.

The money for Panteras is now higher for the few unmodified examples out there. I looked for 5 months before parting with low $30s on my extremely original one-owner car (tires, paint, tags, books) and put in another $18,000 or so to make it more livable without altering the “original” status.

The Pantera is getting its share of attention from both the exotic and the muscle car camps. A solid car is in the mid $40s, with lesser examples (Nos. 3 or 4 conditions) in the low-mid $30s. A No. 1 Pantera is perhaps a $60,000 car, which compared to the very useable performance level, is a bargain.

Things the car needs

  • Overheating of both the engine and occupants is easily corrected. Modern water pumps (Edelbrock FlowKooler about $85) and high volume fans (Spal, for another $170) take care of the motor, while a rotary AC compressor will take care of the rest. Make sure this gets done or you’ll be tempted to follow Elvis’ lead and shoot it.
  • The Dallara-designed suspension was non-adjustable and just barely ‘off’ optimum, but modern-day gurus like Pat Mical (www.patsauto.com ) have erased a 30 year technology gap with “stealth” adjustables that work. This Pantera is as crisp as my 996 twin turbo, but more of a workout with manual steering. Yet that’s how real men do it!
  • The 300 hp engine is adequate for what the car was designed to do. I also put a set of Mical’s headers on mine, since the originals are really junk. It breathes about 35 hp better and sounds unreal. For about $500, you can “upgrade” intake and carburetion, putting the originals on a shelf and pick up maybe 40 more horses. American ponies are cheap, boys.
  • Electrical bits. The window and headlight motor gears break. Replace with $50 of bronze gears. Put modern relays in the ignition to lessen the load and increase the chances that your car will actually start when you need it.

What the car will do for you

Put the key in. Engage the starter. Feel 300 horses of reliable Cleveland power bounce off your right shoulder blade. Engage first, down and to the left. Pull off – at any speed you like – and try not to smile. Dare you. This car makes you younger, stronger and better looking.

Loafing at 70 in fifth barely awakens the V-8. Stab the throttle and wake up whatever zip code you’re in. The smile returns. The car is a superb blend of V-8 pragmatism and mid-engined Italian elegance in a bargain package. The Tjaarda-designed body is so gorgeous – even today – that you forgive the idiosyncrasies.

The bottom line

A Pantera is a man’s car: A hard-edged, prize fighter punch in a nicely cut suit, still requiring some manners out in public. It’s poised for an overdue comeuppance in the collector ranks.

Keep your eye out for a solid original car. Camps are divided on aesthetics of the chrome bumper cars (1971-mid ‘73) or later, more-refined rubber-bumper cars (late ‘73-‘74). The market slightly favors the later cars due to the engineering upgrades that Ford spent to get “right”… before the car went away.

No matter what, the deTomaso Pantera is a car that is right for picking up, not picking on.

What you’re likely to pay for a 1972 Pantera*

Condition # (based on Hagerty's Cars That Matter Vol. 13)

  • 4:  $26,800 (A needs work car, not fully streetable, potential rust issues.)
  • 3:  $34,100 (A sound driver, presentable and useable, yet with needs.)
  • 2:  $44,000 (An exceptional car, solid and considered “show worthy” to the average observer.
  • 1:  $53,700 (Either a flawless, low-mileage original, pristine in all respects or a painstakingly executed resto-mod tastefully upgraded to modern driving standards.

*Generally speaking, later cars are more “improved” than earlier ones and thus more valuable. Also a factory GTS would add about 10% to the above figures.

Sources for Pantera info

Performance Automotive Technology: Pat Mical is both a “re” engineer and sympathetic prophet for the Pantera. He “senses” what the car needs and often has a better solution than the factory had. From suspension to engine to electrical, his work is astounding. Ph. 978-649-2211.

Pantera International Car Club: The club of clubs for all things Pantera. Incredible website represents a wealth of information.

The Pantera Place: A goldmine for almost any repair, upgrade, do-it-yourself project you can imagine. One man’s Pantera passion personified, Mike Dailey should be voted King of Selfless Pantera Knowledge.

Pantera Owners Club of America: POCA is dedicated to supporting Panteras owners and the owners of other De Tomaso cars in the U.S. and around the world.

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