In the late 1950s, he decided to make the world a better place by starting to build cars. The new company that took his name was based in Modena, Italy, and was focused on race machines in the early days, developing several interesting prototypes. As the years went on, with the help of his American brother-in-law Amory Haskell Jr, they would expand to road-legal sportscars with the little Vallelunga and the Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed Mangusta, all while forming a strong partnership with Ford in the process.
After failing to buy Ferrari a few years earlier, the Blue Oval was preparing to take over an 80% stake of De Tomaso, Ghia, and Vignale from its original owners and future president Lee Iacocca wanted to make a P.R. stunt out of this occasion by bringing a gorgeous Italian-built sports car with a powerful Ford engine to the U.S. market.
Along with his team, he drew up the smooth bodywork while Gian Paolo Dallara designed a state-of-the-art steel monocoque chassis that would eliminate all of the Mangusta’s shortcomings. For the powerplant, they had the potent M-Code 351 cu in (5.8-liter) Cleveland V8 to work with which was tuned to produce 330 hp and was bolted to a five-speed ZF transaxle.
Development started in 1969 and only 9 months later, the completely new car took to the stage at the 1970 New York Motor Show, a few weeks before its European debut.
The spectacular Pantera oozed luxury and Italian design, offering standard features such as power windows or air conditioning. It wasn’t perfect since those over 6 feet (1,83 m) struggled with the lack of headroom but both Ford and DeTomaso promised it would deliver enough performance and a thrilling driving experience that would more than make up for any apparent flaws.
In late 1971, the first batch of 75 units crossed the Atlantic. These examples are known for their particularly imperfect Carrozzeria Vignale bodies, but thanks to Ford precision stampings, another 932 cars were shipped from Modena with better bodywork.
One could own this new and intriguing car for a starting price of $10,000, ($66,467 in today’s money), which wasn’t particularly cheap at the time. However, they sold well and for the 1972 model year, numerous modifications were made to make the model even better.
In August 1972, the "Lusso" (luxury) Pantera L was also introduced in the U.S. with a batch of welcomed cosmetic and mechanical upgrades that made it exponentially better and more elegant. It was such a good car that a year later Road Test Magazine declared it Import Car of the Year, ahead of much more popular models from the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Porsche.
Back home on the Old Continent, the car was doing even better, morphing into the sportier GTS which was already roaming the streets. Developed for Group 3 racing, it made 345-hp thanks to engine upgrades such as larger Holley carbs, forged pistons, an aluminum intake manifold, and bespoke free-flowing exhaust headers. The model also came with wider wheels, ventilated disc brakes, adjustable suspension, and a more aggressive steering setup.
Unfortunately, that year Ford decided to pull the plug on De Tomaso, selling its stake back to the company’s founder and officially ceased all imports by 1975.
Now on their own, the Italians continued to build the car and improve it, using Ford V8s sourced from Australia where the Cleveland remained in production until 1984. The engines were shipped to Europe where they were tuned to make up to 355 hp.
The most outrageous version of them all was the limited-series 90 Si. A thoroughly redesigned track-oriented beast with the same Brembo braking system as the Ferrari F40.
it was powered by a heavily modified 5.0-liter 302 derived from the old Mangusta unit that received a modern ECU, direct port fuel injection, redesigned cylinder heads, intake manifolds, camshafts, valves, and pistons.
Only 41 of these fantastic machines were built between 1990 and 1993 when the DeTomaso Pantera finally rode into the sunset.
Some might argue that it wasn’t a true Italian sports car because of what they see as cheap American engines but there are many far more people out there who see it as one of those rare cars with a unique personality that you couldn’t help but love. It delivered smooth, linear torque through a heck of a V8 mounted in the right place, all while looking and handling as an Italian sports car should. Because It epitomized the best of both worlds it earned its place among the most iconic sports cars of all time.