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BBC Autos

The Roundabout Blog

The return of the Pantera?

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

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Like a star-crossed Lazarus, De Tomaso has risen again and again, only to sink back into the mists of supercar legend. But new ownership has brought mojo to De Tomaso, and with it the tantalising possibility of a revival of the carmaker’s spirit animal, the Pantera.

The latest saviour for the Italian brand is Automobili Turismo e Sport (ATS Autosport), a northern Italian marque that is, coincidentally, also a revival story. Having been formed by ex-Ferrari personnel in the early 1960s, the company lay fallow for years until two importers of rare collector cars reinvigorated it in 2013. The ATS of the ‘60s campaigned Formula 1 racing cars, counting among its drivers Phil Hill, one of the most successful wheel men in motorsport history. ATS also built 12 examples of a sport touring car, the 2500 GT – a machine whose essential shape, name and engine displacement (2.5 litres) are reflected in the new ATS 2500 GT (above).

The 2500 GT is a standalone model with a heavily massaged, boxer-style four-cylinder engine sitting midships. With a dry weight of 980kg (2,160lb), the 2500 GT is projected to accelerate from a stop to 60mph in 3.3 seconds, and on to a top speed of “over 185mph”, according to the manufacturer.

What, then, does this have to do with the De Tomaso Pantera, that Ford V8-powered, Italian-built monster that emerged in 1970 as a chop-price alternative to the radical Lamborghinis and not-radical-enough Ferraris of its era?

ATS purchased the rights to the De Tomaso name in November 2013, and speculation has been rampant that the new 2500 GT would eventually form the foundation for a revived Pantera. (The name derives from the Italian word for “panther”.)

There have been other false messiahs in the De Tomaso narrative, and ATS has not commented on its strategy for the brand. For now, ATS is focused on bringing two racing-inspired street cars to European roads – the Sport and Leggera, with prices ranging from £45,000 to £60,000. (There are no plans to sell the vehicles in other markets.) The mongrel machines use small-displacement engines sourced from both General Motors and a certified builder of Suzuki Hayabusa units based in Cambridgeshire, England.

ATS is clearly serious about speed. With any luck, a big cat will eventually set the pace.

De Tomaso Pantera (Bob D'Olivo/Source Interlink Media/Getty Images)

De Tomaso Pantera (Bob D'Olivo/Source Interlink Media/Getty Images)