Six steps to buying a De Tomaso Pantera
Buying Guide The trouble-free classic Italian supercar? Read our buying guide to see if the De Tomaso Pantera really is too good to be true
What to pay
1 Roadworthy (but tatty) LHD cars start at around £70,000 for an early narrow bodied car that runs.
2 The ceiling for a narrow-bodied Pantera in the US is $150,000 (£120k) or so; the best wide-bodied cars will fetch $200,000 (£160k). Equivalent RHD values in the UK are £150k-200k and £200-250k.
3 A GT5S is the most valuable version, worth around £30k-£40k more than an equivalent GT5, but beware: in the US some GT5s have been converted to GT5Ss because the latter wasn’t sold there.
During the last boom most old supercars saw their prices rise to correspond with the eyewatering running costs of their highly-strung mechanicals. And while the De Tomaso Pantera has hardly avoided the surge in initial outlay, its low-tech Ford V8 remains tough, relatively frugal and easy to tune, maintain and rebuild. That makes it an attractive classic-supercar proposition, and although higher values have led to standards rising, you still need to go equipped with knowledge to make sure you’re getting the best you can afford.
‘Its tough Ford V8 is easy to tune, maintain and rebuild. That makes it an attractive classic-supercar proposition’
This buying guide pools the knowledge of Steve Butler – who has owned, maintained and restored numerous Panteras – along with the wisdom of fellow long-term Pantera owners Taz Zembashis and Colin Bradshaw. Says Steve, ‘Panteras very rarely come up for sale in the UK, so you’ll almost certainly have to look to Europe and the US. You might find a project in either of those places, but the chances of finding a right-hand drive project are pretty much nil; the club knows of all of the UK cars and many of the right-hand drive Panteras overseas. Of course there are some ropey Panteras out there, although most have been properly restored by now – especially those in the UK. As a result you’re less likely to get your fingers burned than ever, but you’ll also have to dig deep to acquire your own Pantera.’
Which one to choose?
Pantera was on sale from 1970, with a 330bhp 351ci (5751cc) Ford-sourced Cleveland V8. Earliest cars have push-button door handles. All Pantera production numbers are a bit hazy, but it’s reckoned 382 early cars were made, with total Pantera production around 7260.
Pantera L (Luxury) with safety bumpers and a lowered compression ratio arrived in 1972.
GT4 was a racer, of which just six examples were produced in 1972, with red and black paint, wider wheels and wheelarch extensions.
GTS debuted in 1973; European cars got 350bhp and stiffer suspension, flared wheelarches and fatter tyres, a matt-black bonnet and engine cover plus ‘Pantera GTS’ decals. US-market versions received only cosmetic changes, with no mechanical differences.
GT5 introduced in 1982, this was a GTS with a rear wing, bigger front air dam, heavily flared wheelarches and an improved interior; 252 were made.
GT5S launched in 1985 with the body addenda of the GT5, but with steel wheelarch extensions integrated into the bodywork; 187 were produced.
Pantera Si was a Marcello Gandini redesign – wider, with new suspension and brakes, plus a 302ci (4948cc) fuel-injected V8; 41 were made, with just one in RHD.
Bodywork and structure
New steel panels are long gone, and while some glassfibre parts such as engine covers are available, they look significantly different from factory-fit panels. Some decent used panels can be sourced from the US, but supply is patchy. Anything you buy will have to be made to fit as these hand-made cars were fettled on the production line. That pushes up restoration costs; if everything needs doing and lots of replacement panels need fabricating by a specialist, it could cost up to £40,000 before paint.
‘The ZF transaxle with LSD cost more than the engine. It’s a tough transmission unlikely to need major work ’
Most Panteras are now better than when they left the factory. Vignale built all of them up to 1977 when production moved to Maggiora, which did such a poor job that within two years the Pantera was being made by Embo. The GT5 and GT5S were made to a much higher standard than the earlier narrow-bodied cars.
The Pantera is no longer the bargain supercar it was – but most of them have been restored to a high standard now.
Right-hand drive cars are incredibly rare and items of interior trim aren’t available off the shelf, so retrimming is the only option for a ropey cabin.
Mid-mounted Ford V8 and five-speed ZF transaxle are robust mechanical hardware. This GT5 is unusual in being fitted with a Windsor V8 engine.
Narrow-bodied cars are less sought after than the rarer wide-bodied (GT5 and GT5S) editions; above is the last GT5 built.
Find a project and the chances are that the front valance will be rotten; replacing this costs around £1200. The bonnet and engine cover are doubleskinned, so check for rot, especially in the leading edges. Putting things right costs around £800 per panel including painting.
The rear two inches of the roof consists of a foamfilled box section. The foam absorbs water which then rots out the metalwork, resulting in a £2000 repair bill. Another box section to scrutinise is the mounting panel for the bonnet, which rusts from the inside out.
Look for bubbling because repairs typically run to £1500-£2000. The seams where the floorpan and sills meet can also rot (£500 per side to fix) and you can also expect corrosion where the wheelarch and toeboard meet – you’ll pay another £500 per side to fix this.
The Pantera’s bodyshell isn’t rigid enough considering the V8’s torque and the consequent flexing can lead to cracks at the top and bottom of the windscreen surround as well as the hinge mounts for the rear deck. Look for cracked paint and splits in the metal; the only long-term solution is to fully restore the bodyshell, seam welding in the process. By which point you’re into the realms of a body rebuild, at £20,000 plus painting, assuming few new panels are required. The wide-body cars are stiffer than earlier models, so they are less prone to these problems.
Finally, check the suspension mountings, especially at the rear. Cracks can develop which costs £500 to fix, including strengthening to prevent recurrence.
Until 1986 all Panteras featured a Cleveland V8, while later cars got a Windsor unit; both are Ford-sourced engines with a 5751cc displacement. Both are torquey, tractable and tuneable, but some owners mess about with cams and carbs, ending up with an engine that’s over-fuelled and not all that nice to use. Some cars have also been converted from hydraulic tappets to solid lifters, reducing reliability.
Both engines are reliable but can get cooked because of marginal cooling systems. You’re unlikely to find a car with its original radiator; most have been swapped for an aluminium item with uprated electric fans. If not, budget around £1000 to get the job done, including stainless steel coolant pipes to prevent corrosion. Running costs are low, with a full service pegged at £150, while a rebuild to standard spec is unlikely to cost more than £2500. Even a brand new V8 can be had for just £3500. These cast-iron engines are unbelievably tough; tired valve stem oil seals are the only likely wear item (given away by blue exhaust smoke on start up) and cost £600 for replacement.
A five-speed manual ZF transaxle with limited-slip differential was fitted to all Panteras. Hugely expensive when new (it cost De Tomaso more than the engine), it’s a tough transmission that’s unlikely to need major work; worst-case scenario is £18,000 for a new unit. Check for leaks, but a new set of seals costs £400-£600.
Howling at high speeds, especially on the over-run, indicates a worn final drive – a £3500 fix. Tired synchro rings are also common, revealed by baulky gearchanges; expect a £2500-£3000 bill, but check it’s not just a worn or mis-adjusted linkage. The linkage has four universal joints which wear; you’ll pay £300 for them to be replaced and set up. Just bear in mind that to select reverse you must first go into first gear.
Steering, suspension & brakes
The Pantera’s unassisted steering rack sits on solid mounts, so should provide plenty of feel. It doesn’t feel too heavy because of its low gearing, but it’s less direct than you might expect. If the rack is tired you can expect to pay £150-£200 to have it rebuilt.
Until 1981 the front discs were solid; later cars got ventilated items with a new caliper design. You can’t swap between them, but both work fine if maintained.
Trim & electrics
Replacement interior trim isn’t available, but if it’s tired it’s an easy job for any competent trimmer. Budget up to £5k to recover the bulkhead, dash top, seats and door cards, with new carpets £300 or so. Part-time electrics aren’t unusual, often because of a damp fuse box on RHD cars. This sits under the dash and if the windscreen leaks, things stop working. Cleaning the fusebox will be necessary, or you can swap it for a modern alternative for around £150. First the windscreen rubber needs to be renewed though, at £150 for the part and the same again for fitting.
Corroded rear lamp units are an expensive fix – they are Carello items, shared with numerous Alfa Romeos and Lancias, and cost £600 per pair.
Owning a De Tomaso Pantera
‘I bought my first Pantera in 1991, and since then I’ve owned 16 examples. Over the last 30 years I’ve restored all sorts of projects and still own two, one of which is the GT5 pictured that I co-own with Taz (see below). It’s unlikely that I’ll buy or restore any more of these cars because they’ve now all been done. Many of the really good Panteras have been exported to Australia, leaving fewer cars in the UK. In the Eighties and Nineties these cars were bought for some cheap fun; the cheapest I ever bought was a £12,000 Pantera L modified to GT5 spec. I used to take part in track days all the time, but nowadays the cars are too valuable – many are bought by collectors who rarely use them. But I still use mine – it’s far too much fun to leave it in the garage.’
‘I was working with Steve Butler 25 years ago when he showed me his Pantera. I fell in love with it and bought one of my own. Since then I’ve owned another ten of them, including the GT5 pictured here, which Steve and I bought to restore between us.
‘The car was a total basket case, but as the last GT5 made it had to be saved. The original buyer really wanted a GT5 although the model had been superseded, so in 1989 this car was made specially for him. It took four years to restore and the bill came to £120,000. The car is worth around twice that now – but if it were to sell, it would almost certainly be as an investment or collector’s piece, which is a shame.
‘It’s easy to see why Pantera values have shot up in recent years. These cars are utterly usable yet very fast, they look amazing, yet running costs are very manageable.’
‘I bought my 1972 Pantera L five years ago. It had been stored for years in a barn in California and needed restoration. I looked at a few other cars before buying this one, but most of them had been modified – I wanted one as close to original as possible. ‘I’ve averaged about 1000 miles per year with nothing more than an annual oil and filter change required so far. This, with an MoT and check over, costs me about £200, although I did pay £340 for a new Holley carburettor to fix a running issue. I’d say that’s pretty good value for a car that gets attention like nothing else on the road.’
Michael has bought a Mangusta, so his Pantera is now for sale (see ad below) – email [email protected]
Sponsored by Carole Nash insurance
’If the last 10 years are anything to go by, it would be fair to assume there will be a steady increase in Pantera value,’ says Peter McIlvenny of specialist classic car insurer Carole Nash. ‘In 2009 around £32k would have secured you a concours example, but in 2019 you could expect to pay around £110k. The values of rarer examples such as the GT5 and GT5s will command a premium, fetching anywhere up to £250k and will help to nudge up the values on the more ‘run of the mill’ Panteras. As with other classics in this area, buy the best you can afford, keep it serviced, document everything, and you shouldn’t lose on your investment – and that’s before you factor in the smile every time you turn the key.’
Classic car insurance quotes: 0333 005 7541 or carolenash.com
1972 De Tomaso Pantera L – £100,000 ovno
Apple Green with black interior, left-hand- drive, 50,000 miles. Imported from California in 2014 by model expert Mike Drew. Subjected to £100k concours restoration by Three Point Four to return it to standard specification, now fully bedded in and performing perfectly. Subtle upgrades made to engine performance, ignition, carburettor, clutch and interior.