Vernon Bland recalls the first time as a kid when he discovered the Italian De Tomaso Pantera mid-engine sports car that he knew at first sight to be his dream car:
“Sometimes on Saturdays I would tag along with my father to the St. Louis dealership where he worked as a new car prep mechanic.
“On this particular Saturday, he was preparing a Pantera for display and, for some reason, I immediately became enamored with it. It was the coolest car I had ever seen. Of course, my father did not allow me to touch or sit in it, but I never forgot that moment.”
You can see by looking at this 1971 entry into the American sports car market why it would capture the imagination and admiration of a youngster and see it last for 35 years.
“In June 2007, after a friend introduced me to the DFW Pantera Club and the Pantera Owners Club of America, I was moved to action,” Vernon says. “I had to own one and found my dream car.
“This Pantera is extremely unique. I’m the third owner and there is no record of how this vehicle made it to California where I found the one-off, hand-built vehicle that was only the 89th of a total production of around 6,000 coming out of the partnership with De Tomaso and the Ford Motor Company.”
The car is powered by a Ford 351 Cleveland “King of Torque” V8 engine producing 285 horsepower able to achieve a top speed of 140 miles per hour via its 5-speed manual transmission.
Ahead-of-its-time features include pushbutton door handles with hand grips molded into the body, Italian gauges, a remote deck lid release located in the driver side door pillar, single-double slot Campagnolo wheels, the small De Tomaso Pantera script on the back panel and the smooth rear deck lid with no ridge.
Having the sports car that had been rushed to market by Ford’s Lee Iacocca to get a jump on the competition proved to be a challenge with incomplete design and engineering problems resulting in some frustration by its owners, including Vernon’s own experiences.
The Pantera would evolve and become Road Test Magazine’s Import car of the year, beating out the Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Porsche within two years of its debut. Getting there, however, required some patience and perseverance.
“Driving it was exhilarating until gremlins that are associated with an un-restored 1971 vehicle were problematic, even when it was new. My tipping point occurred when it was overheated on the Dallas North Tollway – in traffic with no means to exit, the engine seized.
“This event started what amounted to a four-year restoration. The more we repaired, the more we found, and parts were hard to find or nonexistent.
“Only my blind love for my Pantera moved the restoration along.”
Even Elvis Presley had similar problems with his Canary Yellow ‘71 Pantera that produced a very different reaction. To relieve his frustration with the car’s malfunctions, the King of Rock-n-Roll took out a pistol and shot two bullets into his.
However, Vernon’s persistence in getting his into top shape and dependable operation through his resolve to make it what it is today resulted in the collection of accolades from major car shows and rallies he’s eager to join.
Among his trophies are place and class winners from The Concours d’Elegance of Texas, the Southwest Classic Car Show, The Texas Show Promoters Texas Live, the Red River European Car and Motorcycle Show, the Yellow Rose Classic, and the Concorso Italiano in Monterey, Calif.
He was also chosen to participate in the first Luxury and Supercar Showcase at Park Place and Summit Racing as Display Car of the Month.
With a big smile and pride showing in his demeanor, he concludes his story:
“My car has no problems keeping up with the best of the best. Much love is given and much love is received!”