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Pantera put Ford in the exotic business

January 17, 2006|by Wheelbase Communications

As an automotive work of art, the De Tomaso Pantera had few equals. On price alone it should have been one of the most successful sports machines ever created.

But, the "Panther" didn't turn out that way. The idea behind the Pantera was straightforward enough. Ford would import its Italian-crafted sports car to North America and offer it to the public for less than half the price of other exotic competitors. That was what Lee Iacocca, at the time president of the Ford Motor Company, had envisioned in 1969 when he convinced his boss, Henry Ford II, to purchase controlling interest in Alejandro De Tomaso's specialty-car company.

With the Ford-supplied 310-horsepower 351 cubic-inch V-8 and a five-speed manual transmission, the steel-bodied 3,100-pound Pantera's top velocity was 150 mph. The finished result was unveiled at the 1970 New York Auto Show. Priced at $10,000, it cost twice as much as a Corvette, but much less than a Ferrari. Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division dealers were charged with selling the first of the 1971 cars.

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Despite Ford's best efforts, Iacocca's import star was saddled with teething pains, from excessive engine noise and heat to a heavy clutch. On the plus side, the standard four-wheel power-disc brakes stopped the two-seater with fade-free authority and the throaty engine performed without flaw. In 1973 the Pantera's front and rear bumpers were changed to comply with new government-crash regulations. Ever-tougher laws were on the books for 1975, regulations the Pantera had no hope of meeting without a complete redesign. So, Ford bowed out of the exotic-car business at the end of the '74 model year after constructing close to 6,000 vehicles.

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