Supercar ownership is fraught with danger, but a classic De Tomaso Pantera with Ford Cleveland V8 engine make it a smarter choice.
As much as we’d all like a supercar in our temperature-controlled garage, not many want to endure the sky-high maintenance bills. Mechanics are of course at an advantage, able to handle a lot of potential pitfalls of owning classic exotica, but really, not many are specialist – or foolhardy – enough to tackle the rebuild of a Lamborghini Miura’s temperamental Italian V12.
Back in the early 1970s the supercar scene was booming. Alongside the gorgeous Miura, Ferrari had its 365 GTB Daytona and Maserati its Ghibli. Yet for roughly half their price you could buy an equally striking Italian supercar called the De Tomaso Pantera. It offered the required “go-fast” wedge shape and purity of line, but instead of a highly-strung European sports motor, mid-mounted in front of the Pantera’s raised angular rump sat a tried- and-tested American Ford V8 engine.
The desirable combination of a relatively simple performance engine housed inside an elegant shell was of huge appeal to the Sunshine Coast’s Dave Farrer. He owns no less than three Panteras (Italian for ‘panther’ by the way), and his striking light blue example was one of the earliest made, delivered to its first owner in California in 1972.
Dave’s no stranger to Italian exotica and other valuable classics. His current inventory includes a Ferrari 308 GT B, Lamborghini Countach and Porsche 356B Roadster. But he certainly has a thing for these De Tomasos. He also cherishes a 1974 red example and a 1972 orange monster complete with metal flared arches and almost impossibly fat wheels and tyres. “I do all the maintenance myself on the Panteras,” said Dave. “The Ford V8 used in them is one of the most common engines you’ll find in Australia, so parts are everywhere and maintaining it now and in future is a lot easier than my other cars. It’s also the most affordable to maintain. Anything with Ferrari or Lamborghini written on it, when it comes to maintenance, you can move the decimal point the wrong way.”
While Dave happily gets his hands oily working on his De Tomasos, he said when it comes to the Lamborghini he has found a specialist individual living not far from him who used to work for the brand. “If you don’t have a contact like that you’re going to be paying through the nose,” he said.
The sound of an Italian V12 is utterly unique, but returning to the Pantera, its burbling Ford heart has its own intoxicating appeal. “I think it was entrepreneurial to use the Ford V8 engine,” Dave said. “Alejandro
DeTomaso (the marque’s founder) was essentially a race driver, and he’d seen what Carroll Shelby had done with the AC Ace by putting a Ford V8 in to make the Cobra,” he said. “He’s done the same thing here using a big American V8, but this time in an Italian car. It helped the production, it made them very affordable for a supercar, and they sold a hell of a lot in the US.”
Celebrities of the day caught Pantera fever, with notable owners including racing legends Sir Jackie Stewart and Mario Andretti, the King of Sweden and even Elvis Presley, who allegedly shot the steering wheel in his when it refused to start.
fever, with notable owners including racing legends Sir Jackie Stewart and Mario Andretti, the King of Sweden and even Elvis Presley, who allegedly shot the steering wheel in his when it refused to start.
As mentioned, Dave’s 1972 Pantera, bought two years ago from an auction in America, was one of the first off the production line. “It was original right down to the spare wheel,” he said. “It had all the bits and pieces you want to see on a car, including an original California smog test sticker on the windscreen from December 1975. It had been a California car its whole life, still with its original blue plates (California license plates) adding to the desirability. A lot of cars are made to look like something they’re not, but I’d been completely over this Pantera and it had lots of originality, so we brought it back to Australia.”
“DAVE’S 1972 PANTERA, BOUGHT TWO YEARS AGO FROM AN AUCTION IN AMERICA, WAS ONE OF THE FIRST OFF THE PRODUCTION LINE.”
Dave said the car was rust free – rare as these early De Tomasos are prone to rot – and it was registered and on the road within a week of him taking delivery. “It was completely original so it was debatable whether we’d have the outside painted,” he said. “But it was 45 years old so it had all the nicks, rubs and fades, and we just wanted it fresh.”
The original blue colour – a kind of Ford Grabber blue – was repeated on the body, and today, as you can see in the pictures, it presents immaculately after an impressive job by Dave’s local Bissell’s Paint & Panel body repair centre.
Fortunately it isn’t adorned with the later Pantera’s cumbersome black safety bumpers, looking much cleaner with skinny chrome items. With pop-up lights down it is at its wedgiest (with lights up Dave calls it a bit goofy), but it is from the rear it looks most wonderfully supercar. The rear engine cover is almost impossibly long, wide and angular, while an upswept back end dramatically exposes the angled quad exhaust system.
The black cabin is unrestored yet has barely suffered for its 45 years. A few creases in the seats and some light fading on the switchgear show it’s been used, but also well cared for: there’s no hint of a crack in the dashboard, while the original Veglia instruments still have their luminous glow.
As Mr De Tomaso was an Italian-based Argentinian, the blue and white Argentine flag colours adorn the dials, gearshift knob and floor mats. The only later updates are a more modern Sony radio (mounted as per original on its side) and a Dino steering wheel.
It’s a cosy cabin, and the pedals in this left-hand drive car are offset far to the right thanks to the encroaching wheel well. But you sit sportily low, the metal gate around the dog-leg shifter is wonderfully of its era, and there’s nothing quite like having a thumping V8 mounted almost right beside you.
As for the drive itself, Dave has nothing but praise for his very original Pantera. “It’s beautiful, raw and powerful, and while it’s certainly fast there’s nothing unpredictable about it. I’ve had no huge problems keeping it on the road through the corners,” he said. “The centre of gravity is extremely low so it handles very well, and once you get used to the gear shifter gate and the fact it’s a dogleg ‘box you can have great fun.”
The plan is to simply maintain and enjoy this original Pantera for now, but Dave admits he’s having an arm wrestle with his wife on whether to sell it or not. “We’ve got three Panteras, and do you really need three?” he asked. “The blue one is my wife’s favourite, so she’s keen for us to hang on to it.”
With the graceful 1972 Pantera sitting in early evening soft light, then the intoxicating sound of that American V8 being fired up (it started first time incidentally), the look in Dave’s eye and the smile on his face suggest it would be too hard to let go.