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393-cube Cleveland-powered 1971 De Tomaso Pantera

By Dave Carey | Photos: Jordan Leist, 29 Mar 2020 Features

393-cube Cleveland-powered 1971 De Tomaso Pantera

It's a 600hp Italian supercar, but unlike a Ferrari or a Lambo, this one has a muscle-car heart that bleeds blue

WHAT if you like Italian supercars but don’t fancy the prospect of a 48-valve, 12-cylinder engine rebuild worth 90 grand? And what if you like Ford muscle but simply don’t want a V8 Falcon or Mustang? Kevin McDowall harboured such conflicts. Alejandro de Tomaso solved them.

This article was first published in the January 2015 issue of Street Machine

De Tomaso Pantera onroad

Pantera GT5s normally sported riveted wheelarch flares, tacked on like an afterthought. Terry was keen for Kevin’s Pantera to look more like the later all-steel GT5-S, so set about smoothing the joins between the flares and the quarters

Kevin has always loved his Fords; back in the 80s, the WA chippie stalked the mean streets of Sydney in an even meaner XB Falcon. By his reckoning, it was the best one in town. Of course, like every muscle car in the 80s, it was stolen, only to be returned in the same condition as Kevin – gutted.

Read more: GT5-spec 1977 De Tomaso Pantera

De Tomaso Pantera rear

To take his mind off things, Kevin dropped by The Toy Shop, Paul Halstead’s exotic car dealership, to smudge up the front window and dream. Spying a De Tomaso Pantera, his life changed forever: not only did it look awesome, but right there between the rails was a good old Cleveland V8.

Read more: De Tomaso Pantera in the Red Centre

De Tomaso Pantera side

“When I saw that motor, I just fell in love,” Kevin says. “Here was a supercar that any donkey could work on!” His path was set, but it would take 20 years before it would merge with that of his Pantera.

Read next: 454-cube big-block 1982 Alfa Romeo GTV

De Tomaso Pantera rear

Beyond the fact that it was built in Italy in the early 1970s, the history of Kevin’s Pantera (build number 217) prior to the new millennium is sketchy. But certainly by that time it was in the care of Pantera guru Laslo Antal, who had built it up to be the ultimate machine, fitting the GT5 body kit and a nitrous-fed 500hp Clevo. In 1999 the car won the prestigious Jaguar Concours d’Elegance, and even cracked the Summernats Top 25.

Read next: Ferrari-inspired big-block VH Charger

De Tomaso Pantera wheel

Kevin “wasn’t looking” when he happened across the Pantera up for sale, as he had promised the family a holiday to the USA. This presented Kevin with an age-old quandary: the family or the car?

De Tomaso Pantera

Wife Nancy wasn’t going to let the holiday go, but equally she understood his passion. “If you think we can afford it, then just do it!” she told him. Kevin didn’t have to be told twice.

De Tomaso Pantera

Holiday done and Pantera delivered, Kevin’s grin was impossible to wipe off for the first couple of years. He’d lived through some tough times – a previous marriage split and three bouts of cancer certainly count as tough – but his hard work, tenacity and literal ‘never say die’ attitude had paid off.

De Tomaso Pantera engine bay

Body guy Terry smoothed a few lumps and bumps in the engine bay, but nothing serious – what you see is surprisingly as De Tomaso intended. Extractors are a work of art

Like any supercar, the De Tomaso Pantera was built to be driven hard, which is exactly what Kevin was doing when the old Clevo finally threw a leg out and cried: “No more!”

De Tomaso Pantera engine bay

“It was the 200-shot of nitrous that probably did it,” Kevin chuckles. But with the Pantera laid up, it was a good opportunity to right some wrongs: the engine, obviously, but a tidy-up of the body and interior was also overdue.

With the engine out, the Pantera was trucked to Terry at Xtreeme Custom Restorations in Bellevue. First up, he took care of the door margins, which were all out of whack. “Truth is, they could have been like that from new,” Kevin admits.

More troubling though was the effect all those horses were having on the rest of the chassis, with cracks appearing around the windscreen and in the sills.

De Tomaso Pantera

By fabricating a bolstered sill panel in steel that was some three inches deeper than the stock fibreglass GT5 item, Terry was able to replace a rusted section as well as solidify the structure. The car was going to need the extra strength, with 516ft-lb expected from the new motor that was being built by Pavtek Precision, in the Mexican suburb of Epping.

De Tomaso Pantera interior

“I can build a motor,” Kevin explains, “but Theo at Pavtek can build a motor! If you’re going to smash it on the dyno to 7500 revs, you’ve got to have some faith in your work!” Theo promised it would be good for around 600 horses, and he’s a man of his word – the combination showed 596hp when strapped to a dyno.

De Tomaso Pantera interior

But 600 neddies aren’t much chop if they don’t fit in the car, and while the Pantera’s engine bay should house any Clevo you throw at it, the high-flow Pavtek oil pan fouled against the chassis, just as the last bolt was nipped up. “I had that bloody motor in and out four times!” Kevin laughs. But after a bit of tampering, a tight fit was finally achieved.

De Tomaso Pantera seat

Speaking of tight fit, Kevin was keen on a set of 20s, but remains satisfied with the 18-inch OZ Racing wheels fitted by Laslo, wrapped in Hankook 255 front and Pirelli 335 rear hoops. The Pantera will shred tyres with ease, but its real talent is grip. It just shoots forward, tyres scrabbling against the tarmac the whole way. Kev’s been through three pairs of rears in 6000km!

De Tomaso Pantera dash

But Australia doesn’t present a lot of chances for a car like Kev’s to blast out the cobwebs, so he entered Racewars at the Wyalkatchem Airport, a straight-up, one-kilometre long, winner-takes-all speedfest. Needless to say, the most awesome cars are always the most photographed, but the snapper’s Bluetooth camera system ended up interfering with the Bluetooth timing gear, meaning the most awesome cars never got an official time! “I saw an indicated 267km/h on the dial,” Kev says, “and it showed a clean set of heels to everyone there. I had an Aventador, a Gallardo Superleggera, a 458 Italia and a McLaren MP4-12C all covered, no problems!”

De Tomaso Pantera console

Although re-trimmed, the interior is surprisingly standard, right down to the sideways stereo installation. “I dunno why they did them like that; can’t hear it anyway!” Kevin yells

And best of all, if the Pantera goes out of tune, Kevin doesn’t have to fly in an expert; he can just grab a screwdriver.

KEVIN McDOWALL
1971 DE TOMASO PANTERA

Colour: Ferrari 300 Rosso

GRUNT
Engine: 393ci
Block: Ford Cleveland
Intake: Pavtek 3V Intake
Throttlebody: Holley 750cfm
Heads: Pavtek 3V, alloy
Pistons: SRP flat-tops
Crank: 4340 steel
Rods: 4340 H-beam
Cam: Pavtek custom solid
Ignition: MSD
Exhaust: Custom-built

SHIFT
Trans and diff: Standard ZF five-speed transaxle with Exedy clutch

BENEATH
Brakes: AP Racing; six-spot calipers (f), four-spot calipers (r)
Suspension: Fully adjustable A-arms (f), standard (r)
Springs and shocks: Koni (f & r)

ROLLING
Rims: Custom OZ Racing; 18x10 (f), 18x14 (r)
Rubber: Hankook Ventus 255/35 R18 (f), Pirelli P-Zero 335/30 R18 (r)

THANKS
Terry Rowe at Xtreeme Custom Restorations for the body, brakes and just about everything else bar the motor; Theo at Pavtek Precision for screwing together a beaut donk; my wife Nancy and kids Khia and Zak for putting up with me