Can American V8 beat the European V8 and V12? Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111, Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S

Charlie Magee & Drive-My

Power struggle – can American V8 beat the European aristocracy? ‘Power is power whether it’s delivered in a howling crescendo or a subterranean earthquake’ The Big Test Can US V8s really challenge the European establishment? A showdown between the Iso Grifo, De Tomaso Pantera GTS and Bristol 410 and aristocratic Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Daytona and Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111 provides the answer. Clockwise from above: Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, Iso Grifo GL 365, Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé, Bristol 410, Lamborghini 5000S, De Tomaso Pantera GTS. Hybrid theory. If power is what’s important, does it matter where it comes from? We pit a thoroughbred European coupé, GT and supercar against their American V8-propelled counterparts to see if cubic inches really are a substitute for old-world breeding. Words Sam Dawson. Photography Charlie Magee.

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111, Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S - Giant retro road test
Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111, Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S – Giant retro road test


Thoroughbred. Sounds special, doesn’t it? Reassuring. Suggestive of cost-no-object bespoke engineering. Of uncompromising engineers stamping their authority all over products of the highest quality and road cars still warm from the embers of motor sport’s crucible.

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111, Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S - Giant retro road test

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111, Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S – Giant retro road test

But it can also mean expense, fragility and scarcity which is why American V8 crate engines have such appeal. But do Euro-American V8-engined hybrids really stand comparison with genuinely bespoke thoroughbreds? We’ve brought together three pairings to answer that very question. Each of Detroit’s Big Three – Chrysler, Chevrolet and Ford – is represented in the respective engine bays of the Bristol 410, Iso Grifo GL365 and De Tomaso Pantera GTS, but do they have the crucial combination of power and refinement to challenge the Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupe W111, Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and Lamborghini Countach 5000S?



This battleground is one of refinement, and with its 5.2-litre Chrysler big-block, the Bristol 410 echoes the first of the Euro- American breed – the Facel Vega HK500. But unlike the Facel, Bristol’s image has always been one of whispering old money embodied in cars that seem slightly ungainly – austere even – until you get up close and experience their sheer quality. But there’s no avoiding the fact that the automatic shift lever sprouting from between the front seats would look right at home spinning the drums of a Las Vegas slot machine.

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111

The noticeable clonk from the transmission and constant muted chunter from the engine bay as I pull away aren’t overtly offputting, merely a reminder of the engine’s sudden delivery of low-down torque. You’d get silence and total smoothness from a Rolls-Royce, but the £5000 410 was only half the price of a Mulliner Silver Shadow two-door when it was new – Mercedes money, in other words. The Bristol’s gearchanges aren’t entirely seamless during moderate acceleration but it never feels breathless and rides a consistently ample wave of torque.

I push it slightly and all 250bhp arrives with a muted thud at the base of my spine. I’m left in no doubt that it’s a powerful machine – the chassis and vague helm don’t protest outright, but a slight squeal of understeer at the first corner gently reminds me that it’s just not that kind of car. If this is a grand tourer, then the emphasis is definitely on the ‘grand’. I take the hint and switch my driving style to Rolls-Royce mode. I sit back, relax and loosen my grip on the steering wheel until I’m guiding the 410 with nothing more than fingertips and toes, conscious of the chassis’ low roadholding limits and that it will drift with alacrity if I hurl its considerable bulk a little too heavily into a corner.

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111

There is no sense – especially at cruising speed – that the Bristol suffers for having an American V8 any more than a Silver Shadow does for having such an offbeat-prone cylinder configuration. In fact the heavily damped muscle-car rumble somehow adds to its uniquely British character. A combination of high artisanal quality and homemade charm, of the finest leather nestling next to exposed screwheads and neatly knotted pullcords where you would expect to find handles and latches.

The Mercedes-Benz 280 SE W111 on the other hand feels more extravagant from the moment you step aboard. The way the dashboard wood is shaped around the instruments and the lustre of its chrome pushes Sindelfingen’s inherent professionalism into the realms of glitziness – if the Bristol taps into the quiet, responsible respectability of lightaircraft ownership, right down to the yoke-shaped steering wheel and pod binnacle, then the Mercedes carries strong overtones of a Fifties cruise liner cabaret bar, a place in which to lounge in a white dinner jacket and listen to Henry Mancini. I’m surprised there isn’t a cocktail set in the glovebox.

You only hear the engine on start-up – a brief, sudden whoosh – before it settles to an idle so silent you have to check the rev counter to make sure it hasn’t stalled. Pull away – with a surge rather than a jerk – and the supportive seats give a strong impression of stability and strong roadholding. Of a car built for the autobahn.

I quickly learn not to push it. The Mercedes that seemed so incredibly well composed and quiet at a 70mph cruise suffers from extreme dive under braking. It’s easily done because the pedal lacks feel, yet the brakes themselves bite strongly and suddenly.

Tighter corners punish its size, weight and soft springing, its heavy lateral roll clawing at your torso as you struggle to remain upright, convinced that the lower front wings must surely be scraping along the tarmac.

The Bristol and Mercedes are a curious pair. Both are superb luxury cars designed for gentle cruising but, while neither handles particularly well, there’s a sense that the Bristol is more honest about it; it telegraphs warnings that it’s very close to reaching its limits. The Mercedes feels perpetually numb through its thin plastic steering wheel rim, its orthopaedic seats kneading you into unwittingly driving it too hard. There’s no denying that the Mercedes’ engine and transmission are masterpieces of smoothness but ultimately it’s the Bristol that demonstrates a more genuinely luxurious composure.

It is proof, perhaps, that while the smoothness of a European hand-built V8 can add to a car’s sense of luxury, true refinement is the product of far more subtle factors that a volume manufacturer – even one as experienced as Mercedes-Benz – can often overlook.


‘I enjoyed 20 years with a Corvette until I realised I was falling rather than stepping out of it,’ says 410 owner Harry Crowther. ‘A friend found this Bristol for sale in Kent three years ago – it was a basket case but just about MoT-able. Originally dark green, it’s now Inferno Red Pearl which looks period but is actually a modern Chrysler colour.

‘A chap in Somerset did the bodywork. Aluminium isn’t as straightforward to restore as steel because it can suffer from bad paint reactions – he had the car for a year! The new rubbers, windscreen, headlining and dashboard veneers were done by a specialist in Wales and my wife did the carpets and leather trim.

‘It’s fantastic to live with because it’s so well designed. It has built-in jacks and there’s plenty of space in the back. I’ve just driven it 1000 miles around Snowdonia and the engine and gearbox are just wonderful. The three-speed Torqueflite automatic transmission was once used on airport tugs!’


I’d always had small sports cars but I wanted something that I could grow old with,’ says Paul Thompson, who has owned his 280 SE 3.5 Coupé for ten years. ‘It’s excellent for longdistance touring – we’ve taken it to Germany and all over France.

‘It’s only left me stranded once – on the day I bought it, in fact – because the fuel pump had gunged up through lack of use. It was a sobering introduction to Mercedes parts prices, especially coming from a Triumph TR4.

‘I’ve overhauled the brakes and valve guides – the engines get smoky after 100k miles – and tidied up the interior. They’re amazing quality but the leather cracks and the wood is complex to repair, especially the wraparound bit under the windscreen that gets warped by the sun.

‘There are 21 chassis grease points that need attention every 3000 miles otherwise the suspension seizes and collapses.’


Engine 5211cc, V8, ohv, Carter four-barrel downdraught carb

Power and torque 250bhp @ 4400rpm; 340lb ft @ 2800rpm / DIN

Transmission Three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Steering Power-assisted recirculating ball

Suspension Front: independent, unequal-length double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers. Rear: live axle, Watt’s llinkage, torque tube, torsion bars, telescopic dampers

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear

Weight 1600kg

Performance Top speed: 130mph; 0-60mph: 8.8sec

Fuel consumption 16mpg

Cost new £5673 (1969 UK +Tax)

Values now £14.5k-£37.5k (2017 UK)


Engine 3499cc, V8, sohc per bank, Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection

Power and torque 200bhp @ 5800rpm; 211lb ft @ 4000rpm / DIN

Transmission Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Steering Power-assisted recirculating ball

Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, single-joint swing axle, coil springs, hydropneumatic compensator spring, telescopic dampers

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear

Weight 1570kg

Performance Top speed: 127mph; 0-60mph: 9.4sec

Fuel consumption 22mpg

Cost new £4376 (1970 UK +Tax)

Values now £82,600-£125,000 (2017 UK)

‘Push the Bristol slightly and all 250bhp arrives with a muted thud. The chassis and steering don’t protest outright but gently remind the driver that it’s not that kind of car’

‘You only hear the 280’s engine on start-up – a brief, sudden whoosh – before it settles to an idle so silent you have to check that it hasn’t stalled’

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111

Mercedes’ weight and soft suspension mean its straightline composure disappears in tight corners. M116 3.5-litre V8 went on to power two generations of S-class, not to mention the SL, SLC and SEC. Thin-rimmed steering wheel – black only on the 280 SE – offers little driver feedback. Driver’s seat is heightadjustable but fixed steering wheel’s position was tailored to its first owner by the factory. 410 gained twin brake master cylinders operating new Girling disc brakes, along with a small bore increase over the preceding 409’s Chrysler V8.

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There’s more than just Ferrari’s pride in Gioacchino Columbo’s V12 engine at stake here. The 365 GTB/4 Daytona was the car that – on track at least – ultimately replaced Giotto Bizzarrini’s 250 GTO. Bizzarrini created the Chevrolet small-block-powered Iso Grifo for Renzo Rivolta after Enzo Ferrari unceremoniously sacked him. Can the Daytona – the road car many Tifosi consider to be Maranello’s finest of any era – really counter the challenge of a car built by a disgruntled man in possession of all Ferrari’s secrets, even if he was using the world’s most common V8 engine as a power unit?

Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona

Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona

Having climbed inside this Daytona – one of just two finished in orange from the factory – my first impression is of a near-perfect and comfortably reclined driving position with a friendly spacing of pedals and gearlever that would later be lost in the mid-engined Seventies generation. Only the steering wheel angle detracts – it’s a little too steeply raked, as though the steering column was designed around a more upright and pedestrian car.

Then I attempt to manoeuvre the Daytona at low speeds and realise there’s a price to pay for such a louche driving posture. The combination of a high, almost domed scuttle clearing the tall Weber 40 DCN 21 downdraught carburettors, steeply raked windscreen, a bonnet that seems to comprise half the length of the car and a near-horizontal rear screen running into a high Kamm tail makes placing it on the road even more difficult than it is in a two-metre-wide Testarossa. Thankfully, once I’ve got it moving on Chobham’s test track I can forget about such terrestrial concerns and focus instead on exploiting that V12.

North of 80mph – around 4000rpm – the music on the other side of the bulkhead is intoxicating. It’s not a loud, race-bred blare-and-crackle but rather a sleek Jaguar-style whirr that loses any pretence of civility somewhere around 3000rpm. At this point it breaks into the heavily amplified scorch of a fat spark travelling down a length of fuse wire towards a stack of TNT in some bombastic Hollywood action-comedy film.

The grip from the bulbous Pirelli tyres – 215/70 VR15 front, 225/70 VR15 rear – in broader bends leads you to think that the chassis is exceptionally well-balanced, especially given the rear transaxle. However, while a degree of throttle-steer is possible, the nose washes alarmingly wide in tighter bends, unable to truly tame the engine’s mass in a car that – at 1280kg – is otherwise commendably light for its class. The supercharger-like whine from the camshafts on downchanges is simultaneously enthralling and intimidating as the rev counter’s needle flexes into its upper quartile – it’s just as well the gearbox is so user-friendly because wrong-slotting it when the engine is being worked as intended would get expensive very quickly.

Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona

Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona. Grifo delivers its peak power and torque nearly 2000rpm lower down the rev range than the Daytona.

I don’t feel the same sense of anxiety with the Iso Grifo’s Chevrolet small-block V8, but suffer the worst extreme of Italian driving positions. Shallow legroom is exacerbated by an intrusive transmission tunnel and a low-set fixed steering wheel that grazes my splayed knees. The brake pedal is near-inaccessible to the long- legged and I’m forced to operate it with the outer edge of my right foot. It’s odd, because the Iso cabin’s luscious hardwoods and excessive leather makes the stainless-steel-and-Alcantara Daytona look stark and businesslike by comparison, even though the Ferrari is more comfortable.

This might not be a car I can heel-and-toe in, but with an engine that prioritises low-end lugging torque over screaming high-note power delivery, will I have to? I row the heavy metal gearlever up through its wide-spaced ratio slots to third and hit the throttle on one of Chobham’s straights. At over 4000rpm the Daytona’s V12 shriek is replaced by a deep, resonant rumble like a distant earth tremor and a sense that I’m nowhere near the engine’s limits.

The Grifo gathers pace at a similar rate to the Daytona but uses torque rather than revs to get there. Its 0-60mph time is nearly a second adrift of the Ferrari – 6.2 seconds as opposed to 5.4 – but the V8’s torque means it feels stronger in the crucial midrange lunge than the slightly delicate Ferrari V12. The Ferrari requires constant ratio-swapping to make the most of its searing power band but the Iso has a seemingly bottomless supply of instant torque to draw on with the slightest flex of my right foot. The Chevrolet V8 may be the opposite of exotic but it’s more user-friendly than the Ferrari V12 – on the road as well as in the workshop.

The Grifo’s easy-going nature extends beyond its blue-collar engine in the twists and turns of Chobham’s handling route. Bizzarrini’s decision to squeeze the compact V8 back against the bulkhead may have compromised the driving position but it makes for an altogether better-balanced chassis. The nose feels much lighter than the Daytona’s but it resists float, its more natural mechanical balance brought about by concentrating weight in the centre of the front-mid-engined chassis, rather than juggling the weight of a V12 at one end and a transaxle at the other. It may lack the Ferrari’s dramatic astronaut-on-a-launchpad driving posture but the flat bonnet and upright driver’s seat make it much easier to position on the road than the Daytona even if it’s more painful to drive.

Both cars wear identically sized Pirelli tyres, which makes me wonder how the Daytona might have turned out had Giotto Bizzarrini designed it. It has long had a reputation for being obstinate to drive if it’s not flat-out on a deserted road but the Grifo has a distinct feel of accessibility – provided you don’t have long legs. I can’t help but think that Bizzarrini might have found a way to integrate the V12 into a neater and more compact chassis.

That said, the Grifo’s chassis is as track-bred as the Ferrari’s – it also underpinned the brutally effective Bizzarrini A3 sports-racer – and works perfectly well with the compact Chevrolet V8 nestling in the middle. Maybe this kind of car doesn’t need an extravagant hand-built Italian V12 after all.


‘It’s nice to have something different – one specialist I know claims that engine work on Maseratis and Ferraris can average out at £3500 per cylinder!’ So says Barry Twitchell, who has owned his Grifo for 40 years.

‘It has more torque than any other car I’ve driven – I love the fact that it’ll pull away strongly from 35mph in top gear without the need to change down. It gets very hot inside, but I’ve had it all these years, so I suppose if I didn’t like it I’d have got rid of it by now!

‘I’ve had the engine rebuilt so it’ll rev to 5000rpm but it’s still fairly docile, although it’s not so good in slow-moving traffic. It’s not overly temperamental, though – it’s never threatened to foul its plugs and I can leave it standing for 12 months and it still fires up first time.

‘By comparison a friend of mine has a Ferrari 330 GTC and has no end of engine issues.’


Justin Cottingham oversees the service department of Cottingham family run Ferrari specialist DK Engineering and has years of experience looking after Daytonas. ‘There are no real fatal foibles unique to the Daytona,’ he says. ‘Just “normal” Ferrari stuff.

‘They have a reputation for being a bit heavy to drive at slow speeds and engines can easily flood in the wrong hands. They’re quite difficult to start cleanly and inexperienced owners tend to over-prime the carburettors, which doesn’t help. An engine rebuild costs £20k-£30k but the engine is much stronger and longer-lasting than earlier-generation Ferraris.

‘A lot of coupés were converted to Spiders 20 to 30 years ago but now that they’re less valuable than genuine coupés owners are actually converting them back – it’s an extremely involved process but rising values have made it viable. ‘The front light lenses are hard to get and reproductions don’t have the prancing horse logos on them. ‘Right-hand drive doesn’t make as much of a diference to prices as an original set of period-optional Borrani wire wheels. They’re so valuable that many owners keep them of the car and use standard cast-alloy Cromadoras instead.’


Engine 5354cc, V8, ohv, Holley four-barrel carburetor

Power and torque 350bhp @ 5800rpm; 360lb ft @ 3600rpm / DIN

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Recirculating ball

Suspension Front: independent, unequal-length double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: De Dion axle, trailing arms, Watt’s linkage, coil springs, telescopic dampers

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear

Weight 1594kg

Performance Top speed: 157mph; 0-60mph: 6.2sec

Fuel consumption 18mpg

Cost new £6200 (1971 UK +Tax)

Values now £100,000-£195,000 (2017 UK)


Engine 4390cc, V12, dohc per bank, six Weber 40DCN 21 carburettors

Power and torque 352bhp @ 7500rpm; 318lb ft @ 5500rpm / DIN

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Worm and roller

Suspension Front and rear: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear

Weight 1280kg

Performance Top speed: 173mph; 0-60mph: 5.4sec

Fuel consumption 12mpg

Cost new £8300 (1970-1971 UK price +Tax)

Values now £325,000-£525,000 (2017 UK)

‘The Grifo’s user-friendliness extends beyond its blue-collar engine in the bends’

‘Row the Grifo up to third gear, hit the throttle and you’re rewarded with a deep, resonant rumble and a sense that you’re nowhere near the V8 engine’s limits’

Iso Grifo GL365
Iso Grifo GL365. Grifo’s high-compression V8 uses mechanical rather than quieter hydraulic tappets so it can reach higher revs. Wide transmission tunnel means Grifo driver’s clutch foot has to rest beneath the pedal.

Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona
Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona Ventilated centre panels in Daytona’s reclined seats are removable. 38 separate parts in the Daytona’s throttle linkage alone help explain why its all-alloy V12 is expensive. Daytona’s steeply raked steering wheel is at odds with its relaxed driving position. Central pod ahead of the gearlever contains aircon controls.
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The American V8 faces its greatest test when it’s in a rearlocated engine bay. You could argue that the natural home for a Detroit iron-block in a car is up front behind a gaping grille to disperse the masses of heat generated. But there’s something distinctly bespoke about a mid-engined supercar, especially one with a V-configuration powerplant mounted longitudinally, F1-style; you can’t just transplant a humble saloon’s drivetrain and cooling system into a car like this on a tight budget.

De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S

De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S

And then there’s the challenge of combining chassis balance with the right amount of aerodynamic downforce to avoid the nose-lift that often affects cars with little weight over the front end. Building a mid-engined supercar, then, just doesn’t suit the cost-cutting mindset that bulk-buying Ford Cleveland V8 engines might suggest – not that it stopped Alejandro de Tomaso from trying.

The Lamborghini Countach oozes this sense of expense. There are plenty of Italian parts-bin bits all over the cabin but Bertone’s concept-car coachwork – derived from Marcello Gandini’s Carabo redesign of the Alfa Romeo 33/2 Stradale – seems so impractical that its very existence outside of a motor show defies logic. It’s as though no one was allowed to ask ‘But why…?’ at any point during the design process. It’s a product of pure enthusiasm, artisanship and clean-sheet modernist endeavour.

Noise rampages out of the engine bay the second I turn the ignition key and there’s a sense of vacuum-sealing both in the vertical closing of a door that angles so severely above your head and the way in which the car feels pressed to the road – even at low speeds – as a result of its jiggly ride.

I point the base of the windscreen – the furthest forward-point visible from the driver’s seat – at the horizon, use my little toes against the extremities of the cramped pedal box to judge where the throttle and extremely hard-sprung clutch pedal are and hit the accelerator. The Countach howls on to the straight on a surfeit of screams, yelps, bangs and clatters, the scenery blurs as the revs zing past 4000rpm and my eyes struggle to keep up with road furniture. It’s more comfortable than you might expect – my head may be jammed against the roof but there’s plenty of legroom, although the pedal offset is such that the brake is almost where you’d expect to find the clutch in an ordinary car.

De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S

De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S

The Countach remains impressively flat in the corners, its wide front 225/50 VR15 tyres and huge 345/35 ZR15 rears seemingly impossible to unstick – from dry tarmac at least. The thick-rimmed heavy steering wheel and wide tyres rob it of the delicate, tactile feel that characterised the previous generation of supercars but you never lose the sense that you are the centre of gravity – the focal point of all this rage and thunder. The power and responsibility of directing it all is almost as dizzying an ego-boost as catching sight of yourself at the wheel in a shop window.

The question is, can a car devised to cost not much more than a Jaguar XJ12, powered by ostensibly the same engine as a Ford Mustang Mach 1 and constructed as a steel monocoque rather than the Countach’s exotic racer-style tubular spaceframe convince as a riposte to Sant’Agata’s finest?

The De Tomaso Pantera GTS – easily Tom Tjaarda’s finest production design – certainly looks as dramatic as the Countach. It may lack the Lamborghini’s wild scissor-doors and doublestacked front lights but combines swaggering, exaggerated muscle-car curves with futuristic surfaces like nothing else. This is most obvious in the severe swage-line kick-up behind the doors, devised – Tjaarda says – to draw attention to the engine’s position. Admittedly the Countach’s bespoke glassfibre aerodynamic addenda make the manner in which the Pantera draws attention to its GTS-model status – essentially through matt-black paint and big decals – look a bit cheap. And it sells the car short; those three letters point to high-compression cylinder heads and heavy-duty solid valve lifters, courtesy of Ford Motorsport of Australia, that lend the out-of-the-crate engine genuine Bathurst credibility.

Jump in, and it’s immediately obvious that the Pantera sits even closer to the ground than the Countach. The GTS warranted a more powerful engine than the Pantera L but it had a lower floor too for improved usability. Having said that, the driving position isn’t as comfortable as the Countach’s and forces me to suspend my left knee awkwardly between the Seventies accessory shop-style steering wheel and brittle-looking indicator stalk. It’s also baking hot in here thanks to the swathes of unventilated black vinyl and radiator pipes running below the cabin floor.

I fire up the Ford V8 and the Lamborghini’s scream is replaced by an even louder boom, its deep, resonant frequencies pulsing painfully across my eardrums. I soon discover that I don’t need to rev the Pantera hard to access its performance. Instead I use the V8’s sheer tractability, treating the gear ratios as wide spans of performance potential – rather than constantly shifting through them – and trusting that a planted throttle will keep delivering endless amounts of torque. It seems a strangely undramatic way to make progress until a glance at the dashboard dials reveals that while the V8 may only be turning over at 2500rpm it’s also pulling 100mph with shocking ease – and I’m still only in third gear.

The Gian Paolo Dallara-devised Pantera is just as planted and balanced as the Countach in the corners – both cars employ double-wishbones with coil springs front and rear so perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising – but the steering is more redolent of an earlier era. It feels light and twitchy through its larger-diameter steering wheel despite having the same-size front tyres as the Countach, and although the De Tomaso’s 275/55 ZR15 rear tyres are smaller than the Lamborghini’s they still look and grip like period Formula One balloon slicks, so there’s no threat of breakaway.

The Countach and Pantera make for perhaps the most unusual comparison of all here. Bristol and Iso may have taken on their thoroughbred rivals at the same price point in the hope that thorough engineering would find them a market but Alejandro de Tomaso saw an opportunity to use mass-production components – and, with the steel monocoque, mass-production methods too – to subvert the supercar world’s exclusivity and bring the concept and its comparable performance to a much larger market for nearly half the Countach’s price.

De Tomaso was certainly audacious, but he succeeded. The Countach and Pantera may look similar, corner almost identically and produce the same kind of performance – 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 179mph for the Pantera, 5.4 seconds and somewhere upwards of 160mph for the Countach – but they achieve it in dramatically different ways. And it’s all down to their respective engines. The Countach behaves exactly how you would expect an Italian supercar to behave when you drive it exuberantly – the driver clinging grimly on inside an avant-garde sculpture while 12 tiny cylinders flicker around an extravagant quad-cam engine to a chorus of banshee wails and machine-gun chatter. Doing the same thing in the Pantera is rather like bracing yourself for a bomb blast directly behind you and then feeling its relentless shockwave propelling you forward.

Each car’s engine is intrinsic to its individual character, and you’d be satisfied with the performance and handling whichever one you chose. There is one key difference between the two that’s worth remembering, though – you can replace the De Tomaso’s entire engine for a quarter of the price of a Countach V12 rebuild. Funnily enough, the Pantera’s gearbox – a ZF unit it shares with the Ford GT40, with clusters set up for Le Mans’ long straights – costs more than the V8 engine to which it’s attached.


‘They’re in the blood – my mother had a Urraco when I was growing up. She’s still got it, actually,’ says Countach owner Simon Hutson, ‘although I’ve wanted a Countach ever since I watched The Cannonball Run.

‘I’ve never had any issues with it in ten years – contrary to popular opinion they just don’t break down as long as they’re looked after. Any issues are likely to be electrical, but engine-wise they’re bulletproof. Out of all my cars, this is the one I’d keep the longest – I just love going out in it and being a lunatic.

‘France used to be the best source of Countaches but now it’s Germany. It’s fast even by modern standards and has a real sense of occasion thanks to the noise, the smell of the leather and petrol and the fact that you’ve got to properly drive it. I also have a Murciélago SV and everything happens in that at the touch of a button. The Countach is much more visceral.

‘That said, don’t reverse one out of the garage with the doors up. I learnt that lesson the hard way…’


‘I was early for a dentist appointment, went into a secondhand bookshop in Stamford to kill a bit of time and bought Panteras For The Road. It turned out to be the most expensive dentist appointment I’ve ever had,’ jokes long-term Pantera GTS owner Ashleigh Reeves.

‘I fell in love and not long after a classic car magazine pointed out that they were no more expensive to own than a Jaguar E-type. I had to wait until I was 24 before I’d saved enough money and could afford the insurance. By that point there was only one left in my budget – I bought it without driving it first.

‘Running costs are rather unusual. Small parts are often hard to find and can cost a small fortune but things you’d think would be expensive aren’t – and not just the Ford engine. One of the driveshafts on my car went ten years ago and I had one made for just £150.

‘I always keep a couple of spare engines in the garage because it’s surprisingly easy to over-rev and blow them up if you change down too early.’


Engine 4754cc, V12, dohc per bank, six Weber carburetors

Power and torque 348bhp @ 7000rpm; 319lb ft @ 3600rpm / DIN

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Rack and pinion

Suspension Front and rear: independent, unequal-length wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear

Weight 1506kg

Performance Top speed: 160mph; 0-60mph: 5.4sec

Fuel consumption 14mpg

Cost new £71,250

Values now £115,000-£190,000


Engine 5763cc, V8, ohv, Autolite four-barrel carburettor

Power and torque 350bhp @ 5500rpm; 362lb ft @ 4000rpm / DIN

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Steering Rack and pinion Suspension

Front and rear: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar Brakes Discs front and rear

Weight 1382kg

Performance Top speed: 179mph; 0-60mph: 5.6sec

Fuel consumption 10mpg

Cost new £38,630 (1979 UK + Tax)

Values now £25,000-£65,000 (2017 UK)

De Tomaso Pantera GTS
De Tomaso Pantera GTS. Pantera’s torque allows it to pull strongly and cleanly from 1200rpm in fifth gear. Pantera driver sits even closer to the ground than the Countach pilot.

Lamborghini Countach 5000S
Lamborghini Countach 5000S. Countach’s heavy clutch and steering and hopeless visibility are forgotten the second you drop the throttle in second gear. Visual drama of the six two-barrel Weber carburettors is matched by the acceleration and the noise they produce when you put your foot down.

‘The Pantera seems strangely undramatic until a glance at the dials reveals we’re doing 100mph at just 2500rpm – in third gear’

‘The Countach remains flat in the corners and is seemingly impossible to unstick’

‘Noise rampaging out of its V12 engine, the Countach howls on to the straight on a surfeit of screams, yelps, bangs and clatters and the scenery blurs as the revs zing past 4000rpm’

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There can be no denying the appeal of a thoroughbred engine, be it silent refinement, thunderous urge or – in the case of an Aston Martin V8 Vantage – both. However, there’s no ignoring the fact that power is power, regardless of where it comes from. Whether it’s better delivered in a howling 7000rpm crescendo or a subterranean 4000rpm earthquake is a matter of personal opinion.

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111, Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111, Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S

The key factor across all our tests on the other hand is the importance of thorough design. Whether it’s the attention to cabin detail and subtly massaged road manners in the luxury coupés, chassis balance and ergonomics in the GTs or power management and cornering feedback in the supercars, the points of difference among our pairings were rarely a result of their engines but rather other aspects of their engineering.

One thing’s for certain – the work involved in successfully integrating an American V8 into a European chassis is far from inexpensive. In fact, it could be argued that the work of Giotto Bizzarrini and Gian Paolo Dallara prove that if any one component makes a car a thoroughbred it’s actually the chassis. Either way, a look at the values of our Euro-American-Big-Three-engined trio shows that what made economic sense to manufacturers back in the 20th century makes for fantastic value today. They’re cars to jump into and enjoy – something that’s made all the easier by their simpler servicing demands.

Thanks to: DK Engineering (, Barry Twitchell, Slades Garage (where the Mercedes-Benz 280 SE is for sale – sladesgarage., Harry Crowther, Danny Sefton, Lynne Bull, Simon Hutson, Lamborghini Club UK (, Ashleigh Reeves and Paul Thompson

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111, Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S

Bristol 410 vs. Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupé W111, Iso Grifo GL365 vs. Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona and De Tomaso Pantera GTS vs. Lamborghini Countach 5000S. Iso Grifo proves that a simple V8 in an exotic chassis is more than a match for higherstrung European rivals.
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