The Pantera is DeTomaso's most significant production car to date and lived an overall production life of nearly 25 years. It is the model which most people identify with DeTomaso and completed the company's transition to a volume producer of high performance GTs. In describing the Pantera's career, especially from a U.S. perspective, it is easiest to view it in three separate stages: the Ford importation era (1971-1974), the post-Ford era (1975-1990) and the final iteration (1991-1994), as these last Panteras were substantially different than all prior machines.
In the late 1960s, 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. DeTomaso Automobili was relying on Ford for engines used in the Mangusta and had purchased the Ghia design and coach-building concern. After Ford's failed attempt to purchase Ferrari, the Ford-DeTomaso marriage seemed quite natural, so a business/purchase arrangement was consummated and work began on new mid-engined GT. It would be marketed in the U.S. by Ford's Lincoln-Mercury division.
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 to be built around Ford's then-new 5.7 liter (351 cubic-inch) 'Cleveland' V-8. This engine featured deep-breathing heads patterned after the very successful Boss 302 design, 4-barrel carburetion, and 4-bolt main bearing caps. The new V-8 was mated to a ZF fully synchronized 5-speed transaxle with limited-slip, and rated at 310 horsepower (SAE Gross, 1971 trim).
All of the expected race-inspired componentry is present: fully independent suspension with upper and lower A-Arms, coil-over shock absorbers, front and rear sway bars, 4-wheel power disc brakes, cast magnesium wheels by Campagnolo and rack-and-pinion steering. The front compartment houses the brake booster, master cylinder, battery, and tool kit; the rear trunk unit, easily removable for engine access, holds a considerable amount of luggage. The interior features an aggressive cockpit design, full instrumentation, factory air conditioning, and power windows. 1971 and 1972 cars carried chrome bumperettes front and rear.
In late 1972, the 'L' model was introduced, which features black safety bumpers front and rear, improved cooling and air conditioning systems, and other enhancements. For 1973, the 'L' model continued with a revised dashboard and instrument layout. The last Panteras constructed for the US market were built in late 1974 and included approximately 150 GTS models. The GTS featured fender flares and additional blackout paint trim. European versions received larger wheels, tires and other performance-minded enhancements.
The first Panteras were marketed at 'Around $10,000' as the advertisements would say: the final 1974 units carried prices approximately $12,600.