Every gearhead wants to drive something unique. We yearn for the thrill of g-sled acceleration, the feel of cornering as though on rails, and styling that makes you the envy of everyone at Cars and Coffee. This usually means an exotic or nearly exotic car. The thrill of being shoved back in your seat, hearing the wail of a high performance engine, as the scenery outside your window blurs, as you watch the speedometer tell you you’re approaching warp speed, it’s an experience few others eclipse. The problem, for most of us, is that exotic car experience is usually accompanied by a hefty price tag, and that job working at Uncle Plucky’s House of Chicken hasn’t impressed your loan officer enough to finance a new Aventador. So, how do the true car geeks among us scratch that itch to go fast, corner hard, and look cool without selling off our first born? Look for those rare-but-attainable affordable exotics. As the average price for a new car is just over $33,500, I have tried to find exotics with an entry price around $40,000. Compared with the sticker of the 2018 Ford GT (around $450,000), Porsche 911 Turbo ($159,200 base), Ferrari 488 ($245,400), and the Lamborghini Aventador ($399,500), $40k begins to look like an absolute bargain.
DeTomaso Pantera 1971-1992- From the recently disqualified file (there are still some well-worn examples out there that fit our price parameters), comes the DeTomaso Pantera. A mid-engine design by Ghia, the Pantera was propelled by a Ford 351 Cleveland feeding a German ZF transaxle. The 351 was rated at 330 hp (this was a known farce by anyone who drove one. 380 hp was a common rating for stock models in later dyno tests) and pulled hard and fast for a car of this era. A top speed of 159 mph was complimented by a sub-six second zero to sixty time. The Cleveland was easily serviced with inexpensive American parts available at most any Ford dealer. Finding an inexpensive one may be tougher now than it once was, but the owner will be rewarded with a truly reliable exotic.
Pros: Easy to maintain, inexpensive parts, massive performance that is impressive even today. You will be assured exclusivity, as total production was just over seven thousand units. The ZF transaxle is nearly indestructible, and the 351 has proven longevity.
Cons: The Panteras were not properly galvanized, so they would rust if you looked at them cross-eyed. The 351 and ZF trans were hampered by cheaper parts and lousy craftsmanship in other areas of the car. The Pantera had deplorable Lucas electrics, nylon drive gears for the pop-up headlamps that easily stripped the teeth, and interior quality that looked as if it had been done “third shift on a Friday, after a couple bottles of wine”.*
Verdict: Buy one if you can, because they are only going up in value. The Pantera is infinitely modifiable, has great club and vendor support, and is one of the few really reliable exotics to be had.
*Quoted from a McPherson College Auto Restoration student with a truly wicked sense of humor.