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Panther cars!


garethj

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I make no excuses for the exclamation mark, Panther cars were fucking awesome.  Want to know more?

Let’s start with a video to lure you in, this is a news report from the 1977 Motorfair where the Panther Six made its debut.

Fabulous, isn’t it?  Before we go forwards, let’s go backwards.  Bob Jankel qualified in aeronautical and automotive engineering and with a friend he used to visit Lotus when they were based in North London.  His first car was a home-made Austin 7 special, which he used to teach himself all the fabrication skills he needed.  After this was finished he built cars in the same garage next to the house for other people, and he bought old parts from the defunct Connaught racing car company to use.

It’s a familiar story that he built himself a club racing car, a Ford Anglia, and made some money by making and selling parts to other racers.  He was also working as a fashion designer in the family textile business during the week but on a visit to Beaulieu he saw a (Jaguar) SS100 and had an idea.  Vintage style but modern engineering and performance.  The Panther J72, named after Jankel and the year the company was founded, used a Jaguar 3.8 litre straight six, ladder chassis, beam front axle, Jaguar Mk2 solid rear axle with 5 links, and an aluminium body.

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I know how with the Wide World Web today, kids have information at their fingertips, but back in the 70s we only had occasional car magazines or Top Trumps to learn about cars.

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Although their fact checking is about as good as the internet 🙄. It had a straight six, not a V6 and was much quicker 0-60 than 10 seconds, the 3.8 litre cars could do it in under 7 seconds, much quicker than a Morgan Plus 8.  There were options for the other Jaguar engines of 4.2 litres and 5.3 V12.

The quality of paint finish and interior trim was extremely high and Panther Westwinds, as the company was called, made 12 cars in their first year.

Everything you could imagine about sourcing parts from the British motor industry in the 70s was true, to get engines they had to buy them from a local BL dealer (the video suggests they bought entire E-Types and stripped them to use parts) but the V12 J72 came up with the goods with 0-60 under 6 seconds and Motor in 1974 coaxed it to 146mph.  With the air at that speed rushing under the front wings, anything over 100 must have been extremely savoury.

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In 1978 the J72 was updated, using Opel Commodore front suspension and rear axle and it stayed like this until 1980 when the company changed hands, Bob kept ownership of the J72 name and the car became the Brooklands, using XJ6 suspension front and rear but using a GM 5 litre V8 and 3 speed auto.  These last ones trickled out of the factory through the early 80s.

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If the SS100 inspired the J72, it was the Bugatti Royale that inspired their next car, the De Ville, in 1974.

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Available with a 4.2 straight six or the 5.3 V12, this had an options list of a telephone, cocktail cabinet, TV and video recorder.  Fuck your cup holders, Hyundai, where’s my cocktail cabinet?

This used a very strong ladder chassis, XJ6 suspension, a wood frame for the aluminium body and doors from the Austin Maxi.  The wheelbase was 142 inches and this enormous machine obviously attracted star owners.  Oliver Reed, Elton John and Billy Connolly are famous enough that even I’ve heard of them, and Olly is the only one who got close to matching the car’s colossal thirst.  Magazines say 10-11 mpg but I used to get that from my XJ-S which was much lighter and aerodynamic.  I bet you’d be filling up with four star to the tune of 8mpg if you were gentle.

A few cars were made as 2 door versions and some convertibles too.  The chassis was so strong that it didn’t need extra strengthening.  The last car was made in 1983 and optioned to £105,000.

And what better choice for Cruella to drive?

 

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Panther Rio


In 1975, Panther approached HR Owen, the London car dealership, with a plan to build a small, luxury saloon.  Bob Jankel thought there was a market for people who might like a Mercedes or Jaguar but wanted cheaper running costs.  This car would be based on the Triumph Dolomite.

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It was priced at £9445 but you could buy a Mercedes 350SE for £9300 or a Jaguar XJ12 for £7500.  That’s always going to be a tough sell, so what did Panther do for the money?

They took off all the body panels except the doors and replaced them with aluminium ones.  Leather interior was to Panther’s usual high standards and loads of soundproofing tried to quieten the harsh 4 cylinder engine and different wheels and tyres helped to give a smoother ride at the expense of the Triumph’s agility.

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The headroom was a bit cramped and a wonderfully made centre console with his ‘n’ hers ashtray and cigar lighters can only get you so far.

Production is a bit uncertain but probably less than 40 cars were made and the last one was built in 1976.

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The Panther Six.  Not difficult to see where the name came from.


I read somewhere that the reason the car had six wheels was that Bob Jankel said most customers couldn’t tell the difference between a Porsche and a Ferrari, so he wanted a car that would stand out.  Having said that I also think I remember a TV advert in the 70s for a Timex watch that featured the Panther Six and there’s no evidence of that at all.

What is certain, is that the Tyrrell was easy to spot in a grid of 1976 F1 cars and who wouldn’t want some of that?

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The chassis of this car was fabricated from 2 inch square section 14 gauge tube with two girders running front to back that swept around the cockpit.

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There were stressed bulkheads, transverse tubes and the biggest door sills this side of a gullwing Mercedes if you check the video.

The front suspension was Vauxhall wishbones although obviously the quantities were increased somewhat, and for the engine they found the biggest V8 available at the time - an 8.2 litre Cadillac.  What a shame it only made 190bhp.

It was turned around to fit in the rear, an easy installation from the FWD Cadillac with its 3 speed Hydramatic auto box, and after some work by A.K. Miller, an American hot-rodder, twin turbos at 5psi were added which allegedly gave the car 600bhp and 600ft.lbs of torque.

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The racing Tyrrell used 10 inch wheels at the front and it was the tyres that were its downfall.  With all the other teams using 13s, the tyre manufacturers had lots of data to make improvements and lots of customers to buy them.  With only Tyrrell using 10s, who could be bothered with improving compounds, tread patterns and sidewall strength?  The grip from 4 front wheels was soon eclipsed by stickier 2 front wheels and once the extra weight was factored in, it was uncompetitive.

Panther used 205/40 13s on the front and 265/50 16s on the back and they just weren’t available as a mass produced product.  The prototype used hand-cut treads but that wasn’t going to work for type approval.

The rest of the car was thoroughly engineered; mindful of where in the world the customers would be, the air conditioning was from a truck and in that huge tail there was room for twin fuel tanks to give 30 gallons capacity.

Panther owned Panther Electrocraft so made their own digital dashboard with LEDs, buttons and gas plasma barographs for rpm, volts, oil and fuel.

By 1979 a second prototype was underway but the company was in financial trouble and was only 75% completed by the time the receivers were called in.

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The Panther Lima started life in 1976, made to compete with the Morgan or Caterham 7.  Panther wanted to make a car which was cheaper to produce so would sell in higher quantities.

They were going to use a Triumph Spitfire engine and chassis, but BL did a BL and weren’t interested in selling things so Vauxhall were approached with a view to using parts from their Magnum.

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Vauxhall supplied parts direct from the Luton factory and they even arranged for their dealers to market and service the Limas.

The car used the Magnum steel floorpan, but with Panther’s own bulkhead and strengthening metalwork around the doors.  Front and rear suspension were standard and delivered as pre-assembled items although different springs and dampers were used to allow for the Lima’s lighter weight.  The engine and gearbox were moved back by 14 inches and the whole lot was covered by Panther’s first fibreglass body, but using MG Midget doors.

100mph and 0-60 under 8 seconds were pretty speedy for the time.

With access to the Vauxhall parts catalogue, one Lima was made to DTV (Dealer Team Vauxhall) spec, basically their version of Ford’s RS.  Using twin 48 Dellorto carbs, a big valve head and free flowing exhaust this made 145bhp and zoomed you to 60 in 6 seconds to a top speed of 125.

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The interior was to Panther’s usual standard, obviously much higher than a Caterham 7 or a Vauxhall saloon.

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They made about 600 Mk1 Limas up to 1979.

The Mk2 used a box section ladder chassis and there were minor changes to the interior, helped by a wider cabin.  The DTV spec used a Garrett T3 turbo to make 190bhp and bring the 0-60 down under 6 seconds.

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In 1979 sales were falling but there was an order of £250,000 from the Japanese importer which Panther built cars for.  Unfortunately the letter of credit never appeared so their stock level was too high.  The German importer was slow paying for their £150,000 order and a small company can’t last long with £400k of debt and slow sales.

With other debts from investments, the bank called in the receivers at the end of 1979.  A Korean businessman, Young Chull Kim had approached Panther to build him a one-off car and Bob Jankel convinced him to buy the company, concluding the deal at the end of 1980.

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Gosh, I really hate Panthers. I hate all 'neo classic' type cars but these have always seemed to be particularly bad. I can just about fathom a Deville as a guilty pleasure, because at least nobody can see who's driving.

HOWEVER. I always thought the Rio was such a great 'almost, but not quite' effort at modernising the stodgy old Dolly. I think the styling is genuinely sharp, streets ahead of the donor car and equal to what any other junior exec/sporting saloon of the time looked like. It's such a shame they put that stupid grille on it, which ruins the whole thing. If I won the lottery, I'd buy a Rio and restyle the front end to make it less characterful but more in keeping with smart mid-70s saloon design. I have been inspired to do a quick sketch of the sort of thing I mean - imagine a black plastic honeycomb grille and some Hella spots under the bumper. Much better, no? If Triumph had built this it would have really freshened up the look of this platform I reckon.

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11 minutes ago, barrett said:

Gosh, I really hate Panthers. I hate all 'neo classic' type cars but these have always seemed to be particularly bad. I can just about fathom a Deville as a guilty pleasure, because at least nobody can see who's driving.

HOWEVER. I always thought the Rio was such a great 'almost, but not quite' effort at modernising the stodgy old Dolly. I think the styling is genuinely sharp, streets ahead of the donor car and equal to what any other junior exec/sporting saloon of the time looked like. It's such a shame they put that stupid grille on it, which ruins the whole thing. If I won the lottery, I'd buy a Rio and restyle the front end to make it less characterful but more in keeping with smart mid-70s saloon design. I have been inspired to do a quick sketch of the sort of thing I mean - imagine a black plastic honeycomb grille and some Hella spots under the bumper. Much better, no? If Triumph had built this it would have really freshened up the look of this platform I reckon.

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I don’t disagree with you about the styling, although the Lima looks quite nice in black and red.  My interest is partly in the Six because it’s bonkers and the Solo because it’s a tragic missed opportunity so typical of the British car industry.

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My bosses wife had a Lima in about 1986.I had a drive in it and it was a quirky little thing.You sat pretty much over the rear axle and the bonnet seemed impossibly long.Went well with the 2.3 Vauxhall lump but getting in and out was a challenge with those short doors.I think it was a '77 on an R reg and had the Magnum gauge cluster centrally mounted and angled towards the driver.

 

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10 hours ago, garethj said:

It was turned around to fit in the rear, an easy installation from the FWD Cadillac with its 3 speed Hydramatic auto box,

If the GM power unit was turned around it would have gone backwards faster than forwards!

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Sold in a Monaco auction for €41400 in 2011. https://cars.bonhams.com/auction/19465/lot/153/1977-panther-six-chassis-no-xp3100/

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18 minutes ago, Asimo said:

If the GM power unit was turned around it would have gone backwards faster than forwards!

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Sold in a Monaco auction for €41400 in 2011. https://cars.bonhams.com/auction/19465/lot/153/1977-panther-six-chassis-no-xp3100/

Sorry, I meant moved from the front to the back!  I was obviously tired by that point and checking my work went to zero😀

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I love the ott tackiness of the j72- an essential accessory for a 70s celeb that wants to make a spectacle of themselves. A bizarre clash of  kitsch and 70s taste. So much so that i cant decide if our fictional celeb would park it outside a modernist glass box or a Georgian country house, with their chunky  fur coat on.

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1 hour ago, HMC said:

I love the ott tackiness of the j72- an essential accessory for a 70s celeb that wants to make a spectacle of themselves. A bizarre clash of  kitsch and 70s taste. So much so that i cant decide if our fictional celeb would park it outside a modernist glass box or a Georgian country house, with their chunky  fur coat on.

You’re absolutely on the money, in America they had the Excalibur - a representation of the late 20s Mercedes SSK.  You couldn’t move on Hollywood Boulevard for these in the 60s.

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When I was a lad, in the late '70's, an elderly Wing Commander Kite type used to swan around Cottingham in a dark blue Rio, green tinted windows, cream upholstery. 

Also, Mr Wardle, a haberdasher, ran a maroon Jensen Interceptor,  during the halcyon times of the Rio.

Nowadays I realise how unusual this was, but back in the day, because of the regularity of seeing them, I took little notice.

(incidentally, my knowledge of cars back then was from the yearly purchase of both The Observers Book of Automobiles (still got 'em) and the glossy World Cars album that was published by The Telegraph I think)

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