Table of contents:
- The left leg begs for mercy: an excellent torture instrument has emerged from the heavy clutch pedal, which is also shifted far to the right. The air conditioner is not working, and in a few centimeters behind me a large V8 pulsates - therefore, despite the cool weather, the cockpit looks like a stoker. And, gear by gear, I add more and more fuel to this difficult car
Video: Life In The Moment: The Story And Test Drive Of The Amazing De Tomaso Pantera
2023 Author: Natalie MacDonald | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 02:36
The left leg begs for mercy: an excellent torture instrument has emerged from the heavy clutch pedal, which is also shifted far to the right. The air conditioner is not working, and in a few centimeters behind me a large V8 pulsates - therefore, despite the cool weather, the cockpit looks like a stoker. And, gear by gear, I add more and more fuel to this difficult car
I go around the bend and press the weak brakes with all my strength - you need to turn around and again drive past the camera. The steering wheel is devoid of an amplifier, nothing is visible on the sides, and the classic "three-step" maneuver becomes something between a lottery and a mockery. Tomorrow I’m unlikely to get out of bed, but today I’ll ride as much as possible. And then a little more. Because there will be no other chance to absorb De Tomaso Panter.
She appeared in Russia absolutely suddenly: I could not believe my eyes when I saw blurry photographs from the border customs. But the main shock came the next day, when it turned out that they were going to throw out all the giblets from this stunning classic coupe and install modern technology.
The Big Boys Big Toys workshop will turn the Panther into a full-fledged restomod, and it will surely be cool: the insane Chevrolet Nov project from these same guys leaves no doubt. But the modest mass Nova is one thing, and the rare and legendary Italian supercar is another. After all, this is a car from my childhood, from posters and candy wrappers from gum, and besides, made by a company whose story can be transferred to movie screens without any adaptation. An alarming chill runs down my spine from the prospect of an imminent rework, but now is not the time for reflection.
I have only a day - in fact, a moment to immerse myself in the life of Alejandro de Tomaso and his brainchild. They are inseparable from each other, and it is simply impossible to get behind the wheel of a Panther without studying history.
If things were a little different, the brand name De Tomaso would sound as proud today as Ferrari or Lamborghini. Even the headquarters of the company was located in Modena, practically in the middle between "horses" and "bulls", and Alejandro himself was a personality no less bright (and controversial) than Enzo and Ferruccio. Unless there was less Italian blood in it - only a quarter from the side of the grandfather - and therefore the corporate logo is painted in the colors of de Tomaso's native Argentine flag.
The whole story of this man is a combination of ambition, passion, complex character and severe trials. Born into a wealthy family, Alejandro loses his father at an early age: down with school, all efforts are put into supporting the family business, and soon the young Argentinian grows into a successful entrepreneur. At the same time, he is fond of auto racing, and here it is enough to say that as the first car de Tomaso chooses the legendary Bugatti Type 35. Not bad for a 17-year-old boy, right?
It would seem that here it is, life is a pleasure, but Alejandro follows in the footsteps of his father, not only in business. Antonio de Tomaso was also a prominent politician and, shortly before his death, was considered the main candidate for the post of Prime Minister of the country. However, then the dictatorial regime of Juan Peron was established in Argentina, and already the younger de Tomaso plunged into politics. He publishes an opposition newspaper, and in 1955 takes part in a coup attempt: on June 16, the infamous bombing of Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires takes place. The uprising fails: the regime will fall only in September, but for now, 27-year-old Alejandro is forced to flee to his grandfather's homeland, from where he will not return to Argentina.
What would you do if you find yourself in a foreign country without money? Well, probably, the first thing they would not have been checking into the most expensive hotel in Modena - but that's exactly what de Tomaso did. And after all, he held out for a long time: the administration put him out in the cold only a month later. Was he ashamed? Not at all! A young man accustomed to luxury will be so offended that in a few years, having accumulated the first serious funds, he will simply buy out the entire hotel! Here's a kind of revenge. By the way, the Canalgrande hotel still belongs to the heirs of the Argentinean.
But even more than money and eccentric behavior, de Tomaso loved racing cars.
Almost immediately he got a job as a mechanic at the O. S. C. A. - the Maserati factory team, for which another famous Argentinean, Juan Manuel Fangio, played in those years. Alejandro could not boast of a comparable talent, but nevertheless earned a place as a prize driver in the end and even performed at several stages of Formula 1. At the same time, he meets the American Elizabeth Haskell, a girl from a well-to-do family who is also fond of auto racing. This is love at first sight, very soon the couple becomes husband and wife, and the joint funds are enough to create their own car company.
At this moment, another talent of de Tomaso is revealed - design. For several years he has been creating a scattering of cars for junior formula classes, as well as a couple of sports prototypes. It comes to the point that the Argentine is approached by none other than Frank Williams, who has just launched his team in Formula 1! However, the idea turns into a nightmare: the car, designed together with Gianpaolo Dallara, turns out to be slow and unreliable, and Frenchman Pierre Courage gets into a fatal accident at the Dutch Grand Prix. They say that it was because of this loss that Williams forever swore to get closer to his riders and has kept his distance from them ever since.
However, all this will happen only in 1970, and if you go back six years, then another big name will emerge in the biography of the Argentinean - Carroll Shelby. Impressed by the De Tomaso racing cars, the American orders the development of a sports prototype to replace his own King Cobr in the Can-Am Championship. Alejandro gets down to work, and promises that he will be able to increase the volume of the Ford V8, which is used in Cobras, from 4.7 liters to seven exactly!
How this could have been realized, we will no longer know. It is only known for certain that work on the De Tomaso-Shelby P70 project was delayed, and Carroll himself received a tempting offer from Ford. Yes, yes, the very thing - to turn the Le Mans GT40 from a blank into a formidable weapon against Ferrari, without looking back at money and resources. Shelby gets out of the deal with de Tomaso, leaving him with an unfinished car and - again - with wounded pride.
This time Alejandro takes revenge on a larger scale. With financial support from Rowan Industries, owned by his brother-in-law, Emory Haskell, he buys out two Italian body shops, Ghi and Vignale. The first one employs a young but already famous Giorgetto Giugiaro, and the second one has good production facilities. It remains only to mix all the ingredients into a vigorous cocktail: the developments of the P70 project, the Ford V8 of the initial volume of 4.7 liters and the insanely beautiful body from Maestro Giugiaro add up to a formidable road supercar. He gets the name De Tomaso Mangust - in honor of the only animal that has sufficient speed to … kill cobras.
Obviously, the plan wasn't just to make a cool car with a bad name. Through Mongoose, the Argentine businessman planned to get to Ford's money: while Shelby dealt with Ferrari on the racetracks, de Tomaso made it clear that this could be done in the road car segment. What about? Sensual Italian design, proven American technology that can be serviced by any dealer, humane price tag - it all looked like a win-win. Ford President Lee Iacocca reasoned the same way and gave the go-ahead (and money) to create a new supercar.
This is how Pantera was born from a fusion of emotions and pragmatism.
But now I have only emotions - so many that in front of the owner of the car they have to be masked with composure. In fact, who will entrust a rarity worth 100 thousand dollars to a person who, at the first meeting, is speechless and just stares like a teenager who accidentally turned on an "adult" videotape? Half a century later, Panther still hypnotizes, drives you crazy, and against the background of the usual Russian entourage, her lines do acquire some kind of supernatural power.
It is all the more surprising that the luminaries of Italian design have nothing to do with them! By the time the work began, Giugiaro had already left Ghia to found his own studio, the friendship between Alejandro de Tomaso and Marcello Gandini would begin much later, and as a result, the appearance of the Panther would come out of the pen … of an American named Tom Tjarda. Among his most famous works are the Fiat 124 roadster and the first generation Ford Fiest - cars that are cute, but still do not draw on the status of style icons. And the Panter turned out to be revolutionary: debuting in 1970, it instantly aged the Lamborghini Miur and anticipated by a couple of years the fascination with wedge-shaped silhouettes and broken lines that would begin with the Lotus Esprit by the same Gandini.
It costs nothing to fall under the spell of the Panther. I will even say this: if nothing has stirred in you, this is the first symptom of automobile impotence. But if excitement at a particular moment suddenly turns out to be inappropriate, it is enough just to get inside - because the salon here has the effect of an ice font.
No, do not think: everything is in order with the entourage. The sloping center console with additional sensors looks great, all the auxiliary elements are meticulously bordered with chrome, and the landing resembles formula cars at all: the legs are raised almost above the butt and go far ahead. But the workmanship is discouraging.
I swear I saw the same buttons and toggle switches as a child, when I dashed around in an elderly groove that took me from a dusty stop to a summer cottage. And the vinyl upholstery of his seats was not much different from the material with which the front panel of the Panther was sheathed. Smooth seams? Exposed gaps? These are too thin matters for a car, in which even the speedometer with a tachometer is positioned exactly so that the most needed sectors are covered by the rim of the steering wheel!
And the buyers did not forgive the Panther for these sins. Yes, it cost half the price of a Ferrari, but at the same time it was almost three times more expensive than a Corvette - which means that the Americans had the right to count on a decent attitude towards themselves. In addition, copies of the first series suffered from a bunch of other ailments - problems with cooling, air conditioning, transmission wings and wiring. They say that at first it was not at all to find two cars assembled in the same way, or at least similar.
Our copy was released at the end of 1971, which means that some of the technical flaws have already been eliminated, but the final polish of the Lusso version, which will appear a year later, has not yet been put in place. Only a few hundred of such transitional Panthers were released: still possessing a terrible interior, they no longer upset on the go, although some inherent flaws will remain with them forever.
The clutch pedal torture tool, the fire-breathing engine right behind your back, the steering wheel without power steering … Damn it, stop whining!
This machine requires a steady hand. The tight transmission lever has to be literally pushed into the open curtain slots, but every shift is flawlessly accurate, and the clang of a gun adds a heroic ambiance. Vibrations of the engine penetrate every vertebra, at idle speed the interior pulsates from a low-frequency hum - and at the same time, the exhaust sound is not at all as brutal as one might think looking at the double-barreled pipes lifted into the sky. As if at the last moment, the creators remembered that their car was still European, and tried to smooth out the roughness of the Mustang engines of those years. But this will become clear a little later.
If you want peace, prepare for war. It is with this thought that I first decide to drown the heavy accelerator pedal to the end. An old mid-engined sports car with the legendary Ford V8 of the Cleveland series - 5.8 liters, 330 hp, 5.5 seconds to 96 km / h - on paper looks like a ticket to the express to the Underworld. If in a minute we settle in a red-blue pattern on the nearby trees, everything will be absolutely natural.
But instead of swinging into my insolence with a clawed paw, the Panther is just accelerating! Very powerful, leaving no doubts about its supercar abilities, but at the same time not frightening at all. Emboldened, I stomp on the right pedal from thirty in second gear - and get nothing but powerful acceleration! And if on the first place, but on wet asphalt, yes from three thousand? I drop the grip, a short squeal of rubber - and all the same feeling of an infinitely strong but kind giant who decided to ride me on his back. Where does so much friendliness come from?
It is enough to look at the tires: at the rear there are 255/60 "rollers" wide for the 15th diameter! And this is just the beginning, because the Panthers of the later series will reach a completely insane 345/35 ratio with the same "fifteenth" size. But even the initial width is enough to provide almost unlimited grip, and the motor and gearbox help: the thrust increases linearly, the second gear turns over a hundred, the third for 150 … I was ready for anything, just not for that!
And I certainly did not expect the Panther to be so obedient in the taxi. Although, if you look at it, it was worth expecting: the chassis was designed by Dallara himself, whom de Tomaso managed to lure out of Lamborghini. Unlike the Mangusta, it is based not on a backbone frame, but on a load-bearing monocoque, and in addition double wishbone suspension, disc brakes on all wheels and a rack and pinion steering mechanism. In other words, a full-fledged sports set of those years.
And it goes! Nice, fun and without age discounts.
Yes, the steering wheel has a lot of play in the near-zero position, but the chassis itself works excellently. Panter practically does not lurch, changes direction quickly and gives me absolutely all the information I need. If you burst into a corner with a frank overspeed, the tires of various sizes will play a role: the front axle will slip and try to drive past the trajectory. But as soon as you turn on your head, start braking a little early, drive into the apex with the front wheels loaded - and everything starts to work flawlessly! The trajectory is written in a delicate way, the flexible motor allows you to open long before the exit, and very soon I find myself merging with this ancient supercar into a single whole. Why isn't he trying to kill me ?!
Yes, because it is correctly configured. Although here you will not find the shock that Lotus Esprit threw me into - I will not forget how the Briton turned out to be a full-fledged, uncompromising track-tool even in the modern coordinate system. Panter is calmer, and if you go completely on the ears, it already begins to dance anxiously on the brakes. And an occasional bump in the middle of a turn can add gray hair. But when it comes to driving fast on the correct country lanes, it's pretty darn good. And half a century ago, all this definitely exceeded the needs of the target audience.
Which, strictly speaking, needed the same thing as now - a spectacular design, a powerful motor, cool sound. And it seemed that the Pantera, which was installed in every dealership of Ford's premium brands Lincoln and Mercury, was simply doomed to success … If not for the rush in which it was created. The nightmarish interior and a bunch of children's sores managed to scare away buyers and ruin the reputation of Alejandro de Tomaso's main car, and when everything was fixed, it turned out that it was already too late.
At the end of 1972, deliveries of the modified PanterL begin, but a year later, an energy crisis hits America, and on the 75th the government outlines new environmental standards. De Tomaso manages to send about six thousand cars to the States, after which Ford breaks off the contract with the Italian-Argentine company. Both body shops are leaving the American concern - and also for an extremely dramatic reason.
We remember that Ghi and Vignale were bought not by de Tomaso himself, but by his wife's brother - but in 1970 Emory Haskell dies in a plane crash, and soon his company, without much sentiment, parted with non-core assets. Alejandro himself ultimately remains only with the rights to produce the Panther and a tiny factory in Modena. The supercar will last in production for another 20 years, it will go through many upgrades, but during all this time it will sell only a thousand and a half copies.
I talk about what happened next in the video: if you can't do without a background to understand the essence of the Panther, then the further biography of the company is easier to glean from the video. And at the same time, look at this amazing car in motion, hear its heart beating, and with me feel the hope that the story of De Tomaso is not over yet.
In the meantime, I have a few more minutes to enjoy the last kilometers of my life on the Panther. With all my strength, twisting my leg so painfully, I press on the grip. Metal on metal - gear engaged. Gas without hesitation to the floor. Deep, low rumble behind the ear, tireless growth of traction up to 6000 rpm. The next step, the next moment, in which the lives of all of us fit - mine, the car and the amazing person who created it. Perhaps when I get to the classic Ferrari and Lamborghini, the emotions will be even sharper and brighter.
But for some reason it seems that they will no longer be so personal.