1977 Panther Six
Registration no. XPE 354S (UK)
Chassis no. XP3100
One of just two built.
Arguably the most outlandish 1970s supercar.
The centre of attention anywhere it goes!
"The most impressive feature of the Six is its smooth ride and tremendous cornering power...for the sensation of total front end competence and fine rear-end traction is vivid...Above all, the Panther Six is an extremely civilized conveyance, even when using its straight-line and cornering power. It never loses its well-bred character. Jankel and his men had aimed at producing an exotic car for the boulevardier which would remain a practicable and luxurious proposition for long distance grand touring, and both Jenks [1955 Mille Miglia co-pilot Denis Jenkinson] and I were deeply impressed that here was one open car in which 1,000 kilometres in a day seemed not only possible but positively attractive!" Doug Nye writing in Australian Sports Car World, May/July 1979, after being the first journalist invited to test drive the elusive Panther Six.
Young boys' automotive fantasies have taken all sorts of forms embodying ever wilder ideas since the dawn of the supercar concept four decades ago, starting with the Miura all the way up to today's 'hypercars' such as the Bugatti Veyron.
Back in the seventies, not an era known for automotive extravagance, the Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari 512BB ruled the roost pretty much unchallenged...until suddenly the walls at London's 1977 Motorfair show at Earls Court shook with a collective "Wow!" The culprit causing stiff upper lips to gasp was the Panther Six, featuring not only a mid-mounted, twin turbocharged, 8.2-litre Cadillac V8 claimed to develop over 600bhp, but also boasting a top speed north of 200mph...Oh, and it was a convertible with six wheels.
Potential millionaire clients doubtlessly also appreciated the one-upmanship afforded by telephones mounted in each door rest, combination lock storage boxes for valuables, steering wheel mounted clock and better still, a dashboard mounted TV (health and safety laws had a long way to come), not to mention the exclusivity guaranteed by a £39,950 price tag, about 40% more than the most expensive Ferrari or Lamborghini.
The unabashed and self confessed publicity stunt - inspired by Tyrrell's six-wheeled F1 challenger - had worked and Robert Jankel, the maverick founder of Panther Cars, suddenly basked in press coverage worthy of a major new car launch from one of the big manufacturers.
Having studied engineering at Chelsea College only to join his family's clothing firm and become a fashion designer, Jankel made his fortune in textiles and built his first 'retro-car' for himself after discovering how much an original Jaguar SS100 cost. Succumbing to requests for similar creations from friends and acquaintances, he almost unexpectedly morphed into a car manufacturer and became well known thanks to his J72 (from 'Jankel 1972') and De Ville models which were inspired by 1930s classics but offered modern performance and luxury, albeit at a price. Rock stars and actors such as Elton John and Oliver Reed were typical Panther customers.
Jankel soon had a successful business in Weybridge, a stone's throw from the old Brooklands circuit and a more affordable new model, the Lima, was gaining popularity on both sides of the Atlantic.
Against this backdrop his improbable new creature, with its long, sleek Manta Ray-like body was utterly unexpected. Infact, Jankel had kept it secret from all but two of his staff. He had a very acute sense of marketing, demonstrated by his price positioning: whenever another luxury manufacturer announced an increase - especially Rolls-Royce, who targeted the same ultra wealthy clientele - Jankel would promptly raise his, ensuring he remained the most expensive out there.
His ambition oozed out of every pore of the "Six" and what amazed public and press even more than its multiple wheels, or the claimed 200mph performance, was the electronic dashboard. Jankel had to have all of its components produced himself so that the lucky - and probably Middle Eastern - owner could boast an in-car display worthy of Star Wars. The chosen air conditioning system normally saw service in a truck so was powerful enough to be used, however extravagant, with the top down...
The big question, of course, was whether the six-wheeled layout made sense. Some journalists chided it, Fast Lane magazine's story headlined: "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a joke?" But it continued: "If so, it's a damned expensive one. Panther's unbelievable six-wheeler exists, it works, and Jeremy Sinek's been driving it."
The layout did help handling as turn in was certainly improved and in the rain the first front axle rinsed the road usefully allowing the second to brake very efficiently, while the rear axle found itself on much drier ground. No one actually verified the performance but whatever the real numbers they must have been impressive for today and extraordinary 34 years ago. One tester did however recall driving down a wet road leaving two dry tracks behind him with steam rising from the surface!
Only two were produced, one left the other right hand drive. The reason for that was disarmingly simple, if one is to believe the official explanation given by Robert Jankel (perhaps the call from Pirelli did not get through to him on the Six's mobile 'phone). The Italian firm had decided it would not after all produce the small 205/40VR13 front tyres beyond the initial prototype batch, and so the Six and Panther's purported 15 orders were consigned to history.
There is perhaps another explanation: Jankel's attempt at a more conventional production saloon, the Panther Rio, was too little, too late and when Midland Bank withdrew its loan facilities, Panther Westwinds Ltd closed its doors. A Korean investor did later revive the company, and production, but the Panther Six was not part of his plans and Robert Jankel left to concentrate on his other, very successful firm creating bespoke and bulletproof cars primarily for Middle Eastern clients. Jankel sadly passed away from cancer in 2005, but his son runs Jankel Armouring Ltd.
The whereabouts of the first Panther Six, the right-hand car which debuted at Motorfair 1977, are today unknown, although it may be in Middle Eastern ownership and there are rumours it has had its engine replaced by a smaller, non turbocharged V8. The second Six, the left-hand car offered here, was unfinished when the company folded. It returned to the Byfleet works for final fettling according to Panther historian Bruno Eismark, who spent 16 years working for the factory and helped complete this car, and then disappeared from the public eye.
Differences between the two Panther Sixes built include a fully opening nose on this car (à la E-Type), including a raised lip hiding the windscreen wiper as opposed to a conventional bonnet on the first one; this car lacks external door locks and the mirrors are different. The first car featured a three-seater bench seat and a column mounted gearshift lever which came in for some criticism on such a futuristic car; the second Six reverted to separate seats and a floor mounted shift lever. Painted like the other Six in various shades during the course of its life (to give the appearance that more cars had been built than actually had), the second car was dark metallic blue in the early 1980s before its current contrasting white over black scheme, also employed on the first car for some time.
This second Panther Six was offered for sale by dealership Straight Eight in London for £150,000 in 1985, is known to have sojourned in Canada where it was restored extensively (as documented on various Panther Club websites) and finally lay neglected for years in a customs warehouse in Greece. It was tracked down and acquired by the current owner, a British lawyer who was so taken with the Six after reading about it in a motoring book his wife gave him for Christmas that he determined he must one day own it. Lengthy and protracted negotiations followed with the Bulgarian former owner who had discovered God ...in jail. Nothing about these cars is dull.
After further fettling the Panther Six was displayed at the NEC Classic Car Show in November 2008 where it was awarded 'Best in Show' in a fitting nod to its Motorfair heyday. The car has a UK V5 registration document (although we have not found the chassis number on the car) and an expired MoT certificate. And, although the engine is running bidders should assume that full or at least partial re-commissioning is required if serious use is contemplated.
The Panther Six remains today one of the most striking and innovative motoring creations of all time, a car which left a lasting memory out of all proportion to its success and surely one of the great "what ifs?" of its era. As the venerable Autocar magazine commented in its 22nd October, 1977 issue: "The Panther Six is strictly for extroverts of the wealthiest kind."
Une des deux construites
Probablement la plus baroque des supercars des années 1970
Des specifications stupéfiantes.
À faire tourner toutes les têtes
Robert Jankel, styliste de mode et constructeur des automobiles Panther « rétro » à partir du début des années 1970 secoua les visiteurs du Salon de Londres 1977 avec sa Panther Six à six roues, moteur Cadillac biturbo de 600 ch et un luxe d'équipements à couper le souffle. Jankel dont le modèle Lima se vendait bien proposa tout simplement la voiture la plus chère et la plus rapide du monde à l'époque : 320 km/h !
La Panther Six quoique décapotable offrait même à la plus riche des clientèles visées l'air conditionné sous les climats les plus torrides. Le projet avait été tenu secret et la couverture presse fut digne du plus grand constructeur du monde !
Deux "Six" furent construites, l'une avec volant à gauche, l'autre avec volant à droite. Il semble que Pirelli n'ait pas voulu finalement produire les petits pneus de 13 pouces chaussant les quatre roues avant à moins que les problèmes de production de la Panther Rio n'aient été suffisamment graves pour entraîner la cessation d'activité de Panther Westwinds Ltd.
Le devenir de la première Panther Six à directon à droite du Salon d'Earls Court est inconnu et elle serait au Moyen-Orient. La seconde "Six" à conduite à gauche offerte à la vente était inachevée lors de la fermeture de Panther. Revenue aux ateliers de Byfleet, elle y fut achevée puis disparut aux yeux du public.
Les deux voitures présentent des différences notables, celle de la vente ayant un capot ouvrant en totalité (façon Type E), mais pas de poignées de porte extérieures et les rétroviseurs sont différents. Elle offre deux sièges séparés au lieu d'une banquette et un sélecteur au plancher. Peinte en différentes couleurs au cours de son existence connue, la seconde voiture était bleu métallisé au début des années 1980 avant de recevoir une livrée bicolore blanc et noir.
La seconde Panther Six proposée à la vente par Straight Eight à Londres pour 150 000 livres en 1985 aurait séjourné au Canada où elle fut restaurée selon plusieurs sites Internet avant d'être abandonnée dans un entrepôt douanier en Grèce. Retrouvée, elle fut rachetée par le propriétaire actuel, un juriste britannique qui s'était passionné pour cette Panther Six, après de longues négociations avec l'ancien propriétaire bulgare qui avait découvert Dieu ...en prison ! (Décidément, l'histoire de la Panther Six ignore la banalité.)
Après remise en état, la Panther Six fut exposée au NEC Classic Car Show en novembre 2008 où elle fut gratifiée d'un "Best of Show". Elle possède un document d'immatriculation V5 du Royaume-Uni (le numéro de chassis est absent sur la voiture elle-même) et un certificat du MOT non valide. Bien que le moteur fonctionne, il est conseillé de procéder à une révision de la mécanique si l'on veut l'utiliser normalement.
La Panther Six apparaît aujourd'hui comme une création folle, innovatrice et exceptionnelle dans l'histoire de l'automobile et sa notoriété est inversement proportionnelle à son succès commercial. Sa carrière hypothétique suscitera toujours des questions. Mais le magazine Autocar du 22 octobre 1977 avait su définir ses cibles : « La Panther Six est strictement destinée aux extravertis de l'espèce la plus fortunée. »