December 6, 2005

The De Tomaso Pantera is an Italian stallion with a Yankee-Doodle constitution. Slippery, aero, low-to-the-ground, and fast. it is the ultimate Lincoln-Mercury supercar and has been for more than 30 years. Admittedly, a lot of us don't know much about the Pantera. We know they're good-looking, fast, and are "powered by Ford." But there's a whole lot more to the story.

According to Pantera International, the Pantera story dates back to an Argentina-born fellow named Alejandero De Tomaso, who was born to wealthy Italian cattle barons. De Tomaso dreamed of becoming a race car driver and went after that dream aggressively during the '50s. When he migrated to Italy in 1955, he was introduced to a tall, good-looking, blonde, American race car driver named Isabelle Haskell. De Tomaso and Haskell drove as a team during the magical motorsports era spanning the late '50s and early '60s.

In 1959, Alejandero and Isabelle set up shop with an operation called De Tomaso Automobili in Modena, Italy. They took on the big guns at Sebring that year with their first car in a 12-hour race. By 1962, they were racing in Formula 1.

As fate would have it, Ford was looking for an exotic Italian sports car company to buy in 1969. At the time, De Tomaso was building the Mangusta. Ford studied the Mangusta and concluded it just wasn't what they wanted. But at the time, the Pantera was on the drawing board, and De Tomaso allowed them a sneak peek. In the late '60s, Ford was in need of a high-performance GT to combat the likes of Ferrari and Corvette, and assist in generating additional dealership traffic for its mainstream product lines. The Pantera was more to Ford's liking. It had a wider track and more masculine lines. Ghia stylist Tom Tjaarda styled the new machine, and Giam Paolo Dallara was engaged for chassis and production design. The Pantera's layout differed from the Mangusta in several fashions. First, it was conceived with a full monocoque chassis layout, as opposed to the prior car's spine chassis design. Secondly, it was to be built around Ford's then-new 5.8L (351ci) Cleveland V-8. After Ford's failed attempt to purchase Ferrari, the Ford-De Tomaso marriage seemed quite natural, so a business/purchase arrangement was consummated. It wouldn't be until the early '70s that the Pantera got its U.S. start.

In the beginning, there were a lot of engineering problems that adversely affected the Pantera's reputation. Sales floundered. What made the Pantera exciting, however, wasn't just its styling and European persona. It was the powerful, just-introduced Ford 351 Cleveland powerplant--brute American muscle in an exotic Italian sports car.

Because the Pantera suffered from quality issues and poor sales, Ford stopped importing them in 1974. It had been a short-lived, high-speed ride for the company in the U.S. market. But the Pantera's reputation for raw adrenaline has never wavered. At the end of the '74 model year, Ford and De Tomaso Automobili dissolved their business arrangement, and importation of the Pantera to the United States was concluded.

Mr. De Tomaso reassumed ownership of the Pantera project, and production was continued on a more exclusive basis for markets other than the U.S. The last Panteras were built in 1993, bringing to a close nearly 25 years of continuous production.

To this day, they prove themselves on the racetrack time and time again against some of the most exotic European hardware, and Pantera buffs know this. That's why Tom Bechtel took his '72 De Tomaso Pantera Group V a step further.

No need to rub your eyes--that's a Sean Hyland Motorsport 4.6L DOHC Modular V-8 midship. A thirty-two valve concert that's pulsing out a very aggressive rhythm that fits this low-rise quite well. It's bolted right up to the polished ZF five-speed transaxle because the Mod' motor is a bolt-in swap where a 351C once sat. Heavy-duty Spicer half-shafts keep things glued together.

The custom-built cammer is a balanced and blueprinted piece with Manley rods, JE forged pistons, plasma moly rings, Federal-Mogul Speed Pro race bearings, ARP hardware (including studded mains), stainless steel valves, ported and polished SVT Cobra heads, SHM Hi-Lift camshafts, and a Cobra oil pump. It sports an eight-grand rev-limit with 450 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. This means the real power comes pouring on near the rev-limit, with a goosebump-inspiring sound at high revs. If a Modular Ford engine sounds like a stretch, consider this--De Tomaso uses Ford's Modular powerplant, the four-valve Cobra engine at that, for its current Guara coupe and Barchetta models.

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