Me & My Car: ’71 Pantera in Livermore proved to be a good investment

Not that owner plans to sell it, but year-old Italian model he bought for $8,050 now generally worth over $124K

This issue’s 1971 De Tomaso Pantera is a stunning vehicle. Of course, it’s Italian (“pantera” is Italian for “panther”), designed by Carrozzeria Ghia.

Alejandro De Tomaso, an Argentine race car driver, founded the De Tomaso company just over 60 years ago. His ambition was to build precisely engineered high-performance sports cars with beautifully styled Italian bodies. He worked as a test driver for OSCO, an Italian manufacturer of race and sports cars, before launching his own company.

The Pantera is a mid-engine sports car that was produced between 1971 and 1992. It was their most popular model, but only slightly more than 7,000 were sold in 21 years, with approximately 75% of those sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers between 1972 and 1975. The car is powered by a 351-cubic-inch Cleveland V8 engine from Ford that produces 325 horsepower.

The early Pantera cars had some quality issues, including inadequate rust proofing, fit and finish, and the use of a lot of body solder to hide body flaws. As a result of Ford’s involvement in production, the quality improved.

My limited experience and knowledge have taught me that when two different automobile manufacturers from different countries try to collaborate to build a special car, there are bound to be complications. Management styles clash, there are overlapping authority issues, company jealousy, and language issues, all of which result in delays and, in some cases, missing the target market entirely by the time the vehicle is produced.

Some of that appears to have been the case with De Tomaso and Ford, as Ford stopped importing the Pantera to America in 1975, and both companies appear to be doing well now. What is it that makes cars sell? Price, yes, but what about features? Comfort? Performance? Size? Style?

I suspect that several of those factors influence our purchasing decisions, but not all of us. Ken Levin, a Livermore resident, purchased this edition’s 1971 De Tomaso Pantera solely for the sake of style. He’d never driven a car or even sat in one. He simply saw it and desired it.

That appears to have been a satisfactory decision for Levin, as he purchased this very unusual car as its second owner in November 1972 and still owns it today.

“I bought it from the Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Burlingame,” says Levin. “My parents and I used to go to the International Auto Show in San Francisco when I was a kid.” As we walked in, there was a huge double door open, and right in front of me was a yellow Pantera on a pedestal.

“It was love at first sight for me.” But I wasn’t looking for anything exotic; I was always pro-American, but when I saw it had a Ford engine, I thought to myself, ‘That’s my dream — Italian styling with American horsepower.’ The price was reasonable; they retailed for $9,995 (roughly $73,400 in 2023 dollars). I didn’t have that kind of money because I had just graduated from college, but I had always wanted to own one of those.”

Levin had been working and saving money for months when the Pantera bug bit him again. He began looking at Panteras and visited the dealership. They had one on the showroom floor, but the sales associate didn’t think Levin was a good candidate because he was young and dressed like a college student.

A future appointment, however, was made. The sales associate failed to appear, and Levin discovered that the dealership had just received a used Pantera. Because their asking price was nearly the same as the cost of a new one, Levin left, but the Pantera bug did not.

“I return to the dealership on a Sunday night several days later.” The doors are open, and all of the lights are turned on, but no one is present. I called the salesman, who said he had forgotten to lock up and would be there soon. While waiting, I notice a box of 3-by-5 cards listing all the used cars and their prices at the dealership.”

That proved very useful in his successful negotiation for this used 1971 Pantera for $8,050 (approximately $59,130 today). I requested and received a ride in this fire-engine-red sports car from Levin. It’s so low that it almost feels like you’re sitting on the ground.

On the freeway, we passed some 18-wheelers, and the tops of their tires were above my eye level. Levin demonstrated its cornering ability, and I wondered if I had paid my accidental death policy premium.

The car has 82,000 miles on it now, and the owner has not had any major expenses since purchasing it. The engine has been rebuilt twice, and the car was repainted 26 years ago, but it appears to have been repainted just yesterday.

Levin has no plans to sell, but the current market value of a 1971 Pantera is $124,642. It was a wise investment decision.

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