Concepts : Panther 6

Star of the 1977 Earl’s Court motor show was the sensational six-wheeled Panther supercar. For a while it looked like it was going into production, too, but its creator Robert Jankel was scuppered by delays in development.

We tell the story of Britain’s might-have-been supercar.


Six-wheeled wonder

Panther 6 press photo from 1977

Panther 6 press photo from 1977

Visitors to the 1977 London Motorfair were astonished when they cast their eyes on the Panther for the very first time. Most were stunned into silence; those who weren’t stuttered in single syllables. The car’s sheer scale – 16ft long and nearly 7ft wide – made it impossible to miss. Here was the ultimate supercar, courtesy of Robert Jankel, founder and managing director of Panther Westwinds.

Jankel clearly had form when it came to outlandish vehicles. He started early; the model he created in 1971, the Panther, was so well received that it proved the catalyst for him to leave the fashion industry. He sold his interest in textiles, and used the windfall to set up Panther Westwinds at a facility next door to Brooklands in Surrey. Jankel was in the car business full-time.

From 1972, the marque started building the SS100-inspired J72. Over the next few years Panther Westwinds earned a reputation for building fantastically expensive, outlandish and beautifully finished specials, such as the Felber Ferrari, DeVille and Lazer. During the brief boom of the mid-’70s the firm found success but, as the decade wore on, sales dipped and Jankel had time to begin to dream up his next creation.

Finally, after seeing the Tyrrell P34 Formula 1 racer at the 1976 British Grand Prix, he had his inspiration. As soon as he returned from Brands Hatch he started on the Panther 6 – in a separate workshop, away from the rest of the company’s staff.

Vauxhall’s Wayne Cherry and Geoff Lawson styled the new model under the guidance of Jankel himself. The droop-snoot wedge design was a Cherry speciality, and the 6 took that fashionable concept to the absolute extreme. Thanks to the four front wheels, it was already off to a flying start in terms of wooing extrovert customers. The Tyrrell P34’s victory in the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix only served to make the six-wheel concept look like a winner. In truth, on a road car, the technical advantages of this layout were far from clear-cut.

When Tyrrell pulled the plug on the P34 in early 1977, any marketing advantages for the Panther 6 should have been wiped out. Yet that didn’t matter to Jankel – his dream still looked shockingly good, and it still had the ability to deliver plenty of wow! A liberal dose of standard production parts went into its suspension. The front end featured Vauxhall wishbones (also found in the Lima), while the Cadillac Eldorado’s double-wishbone set-up (with the steering arms locked solid) kept the back end off the ground.

Jankel had planned to use Mini-type 10in wheels up front, but no tyre of that size could come close to handling the 6’s hoped-for 200mph maximum speed without failing. So he settled for two pairs of 13in rims at the front, and persuaded Pirelli to make P7s especially to fit.

To get the car up to that ambitious 200mph target, Jankel selected the largest engine in production at the time – the 8.2-litre Cadillac Eldorado V8. Because the Caddy was front-wheel drive, its engine/gearbox package could be reversed and installed in the back of the Panther 6 for a mid/rear configuration. In truth, the massive powerplant sat slightly behind the axle line, and its high mounting made for a less-than-desirable centre of gravity. In standard form, it put out 365bhp.

This was nowhere near powerful enough to give the Panther 6 Lamborghini Countach-busting performance, but coaxing more muscle out of it wasn’t difficult. American hot rod guru Ak Miller developed a neat-looking forced-induction arrangement, using two turbochargers, each fed by the exhaust from one bank of cylinders, supplying air into a single Holley carburettor. It was a simple and elegant arrangement.

Jankel claimed a maximum of 600bhp, which – in theory – blew away the sub-400bhp outputs of the Countach and Boxer. In fact, the one car Panther built didn’t come close to that, but the figure made great publicity at its launch. The 6’s power-to-weight ratio wasn’t helped by its massive chassis. This hefty and structurally rigid unit had been built up from welded square-section steel tubing. Panther’s claimed kerb weight of 1302kg was rather heavier than the opposition.

Jankel wanted the 6 to be easy to drive, and its American-derived mechanicals helped achieve that goal. As well as having the Eldorado’s automatic transmission, the 6 sported feather-light power-assisted steering, plus an air-conditioning system lifted straight from a Mack truck. This car might be a convertible, yet its occupants would remain cool in the hottest of climates – it was designed with the Middle East in mind, after all. The right-hand-drive cockpit would have impressed the richest and most discerning customer. It was a luxury environment dominated by electrically adjustable leather Cadillac seats, but it also had a digital instrument panel similar to the Aston Martin Lagonda’s. There were telephones in the armrests, a dashboard-mounted TV, combination locks for the gloveboxes, electric windows and – the pièce de résistance – a hydraulically operated engine cover.

And it was in this form that the Panther 6 appeared at the London Motorfair in October 1977. Robert Jankel was bullish about his amazing creation: ‘I am very serious indeed about it,’ he said at the time. ‘We don’t build motor show gimmicks, and this car will be in production by the early part of next year.’ At £39,950 (when a Ferrari BB cost £26,000), finding buyers was going to be tough, yet by the end of the show Jankel claimed to have taken 15 orders. These included Alain de Cadenet, who intended to run the 6 in the unlimited class in the 1978 Le Mans 24 Hours.

For those who wanted the ultimate, the Panther fitted the bill: it had been built to stop traffic and go like hell. The claimed 200mph top speed and sub-eight-second 0-100mph time seemed largely irrelevant, and Jankel himself alluded to this at the Motorfair, commenting: ‘Of course our customers won’t be able to drive it at 200mph. But they will want to say they have a car that’s faster than a Ferrari, a Lamborghini or a Porsche.’

However, the Panther 6 was far from ready for production. Jankel drove it back to his factory from Earls Court, but didn’t enjoy the experience. He later recalled: ‘The suspension hadn’t been sorted and it kept threatening to stop.’ But despite that, he’d made his dream come true. ‘What I remember was the reaction. Driving around Earls Court, it was just unbelievable. I can remember sitting in the cockpit, feeling so chuffed.’

Things went quiet after that. Promised production was delayed and, as the second energy crisis of 1979 took hold, Panther’s finances ran dry and the receivers were called in. South Korean investor Young C Kim took over, but the 6 wasn’t part of the deal. Jankel then left Panther to become a design consultant. He died in 2005, having never seen the car again.

As for the 6, only one complete example was built by Panther – the show model – yet a second, left-hand-drive version was subsequently finished with parts sold by the receivers. From here, things get a little misty. The white car featured in Octane magazine in 2010 and star of the Salon Prive concours d’elegance was the second of two; as for the first… we’re still unsure where that one is.

If you know more, please get in touch.

[Source: Octane magazine]

 

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

21 Comments on "Concepts : Panther 6"

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  1. This, above all other cars, was what I wanted. It was my favourite car ever in the Observer’s Book of Automobiles.

  2. Jemma says:

    Shows how lardy cars have gotten over the years, kerbweight of mine empty is 1345kg and while its narrower its not that much shorter.
    I’d heard of this car before, but didnt know all the details. With that engine and its location it sounds awfully like a T77 for grownups – ie lethal.
    Interesting too the way they repurposed all sorts of bits to do jobs they were never originally designed for. I have a suspicion that it would have gone through front tyres faster than a Maestro Turbo too.
    Its depressing that even firms like Ferrari & Maserati seem to have given up on tuning and grace these days, its all more electronics like everything else, theres no, or very little skill involved in making these cars, and very little innovation. Then theres the health & safety fetishism thats killed the skill & enjoyment of driving them. Drive a 250GTO fast & its your own skill and that alone. Drive a 500 fast and theres no skill to it, you’re nannyed all the way, unless you turn everything off at which point you find the things like a Eurofighter with the computer turned off – it has all the grace appeal & handling of a falling brick.
    Its one of the reasons I like classic cars, how they perform and how reliable they are and how they look is a function of what YOU, the owner, do to keep them in shape, you arent dependant on a grey box of CMOS chips every time you want to take a bend.

    Depressingly ironic in a way, since I have spent most of my life as an IT engineer working on grey boxes full of CMOS chips..

  3. Osella says:

    where is the windscreen from? another GM car or a Citroen perhaps??

  4. Andrew Elphick says:

    A tailgate surely? I wonder if a stratos one was tried at proto stage?

  5. The windscreen is a CX windscreen, I believe.

  6. KC says:

    Always looked like it should have been the updated transport for Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds

  7. Bernard Taylor says:

    I think there’s more than a hint of Wayne Cherry’s 1970 Vauxhall SRV in the rear wings.

  8. yereverluvinunclebert says:

    I remember seeing it at the motorfair, it was on a raised curved roadway and the Panther was the black one, with front wheels turning as if to take the imaginary bend. I remember potted plants and attractive 1970s females, I was sixteen years old and I found both the car and the girls equally alluring. The car did steal the show with its futuristic take on what vehicles might be in the years to come. I was on the Lada stand trying to hand out brochures on the new Fiat-styled Ladas and frankly no-one was interested. The Panther was the only car I can really remember, I have racked my brains but nothing else was close to being as stylish. I have to say it looked prettier then than it does now. Time hasn’t been kind to the design.

  9. Jonathan Carling jonathan carling says:

    A really extraordinary concept. If it was a good idea, wouldn’t someone else have copied it by now? The styling, although a bit glitzy, has some similarities with Cherry’s Vauxhall Equus sportscar, exhibited at the ’78 show in Brum.

  10. Marty B says:

    I remember this being in a pack of Top Trumps.

  11. cookie1600 says:

    One of my all time faves as well!

    There are widely believed to be two vehicles in existence. The LH drive, white and black one was built from left-over and copied bits after Panther Westwinds went into liquidation and was rebuilt in Canada IIRC during the last 5 years. It was up for sale for £150,000 (and possibly sold) last year at http://www.kidston.com.

    The original RH drive black showcar spent some time going around the World to dealers and interested parties but then disappeared. Like the elusive Holy Grail, it is rumoured to have been:

    1)Purchased by a rich Arab initially, but a Greek (or is it Bulgarian or Turkish?) millionare has present ownership of it. He is or was residing at the Greek/Bulgarian/Turkish goverments pleasure and his car is just stuck in a container slowly rotting away or

    2) Is dismantled and stored away in a barn in Southern England, but will need a great deal of restoration before it sees the light of day again.

    In any event I would be right on the tail of it if I get a sniff of where it is, so what about seeing it on the move?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ng01d496LeA

    More pics and info here:

    http://www.pantherclub.co.uk/P6page.htm

  12. Keith Adams Keith Adams says:

    Hi Cookie,

    The white car was eventually auctioned off at Monaco in 2011 after being on offer via Simon Kidston for quite a while. That’s the second car – and was bought from Bulgaria and bought back to the UK for recommissioning.

    We featured that car in Octane (follow the link, you can see me driving it there), and unlike the original motor show car, this one has analogue instruments and a toned-down interior. It does still have the same Caddy engine and twin-turbos.

    Regards,
    Keith

  13. cookie1600 says:

    Thanks for clearing that up Keith,It seems that the car you drove has been around the planet with various people, and has many stories to tell. It’s still the original RH Drive, electronic instrument show car (ROB 10) that’s missing and could be anywhere now. I’ve just read another web rumour that it is still exists with a smaller, non turbo V8 in it.I’d really love to know where that beauty resides!

  14. Mikey C says:

    I’m surprised that nobody has reintroduced a 6 wheel supercar (every other week there seems to be some new £200k car launched somewhere) as I find that most modern supercars look very samey, where as this would be a brilliant stand out from the crowd machine for a middle eastern prince or Russian Oligarch. It wouldn’t have to be fast either, as most of the time it would be used for posing…

  15. Andy says:

    I can remember a watch manufacturer (possibly Omega) using the Panther 6 in it’s Christmas TV advert, in the late 70’s early 80’s.It is a bit of a marmite car, but I have to say, even now after 30 odd years I think it still looks good.  Style over substance? Sure it is!  I suspect that even if it had gone into production it would have been a nightmare to own (Lagonda anyone?  No i thought not) but on the days it had worked, when you caught a glimpse of yourself in the bronzed mirrored window of that early 80’s braces shop window, I would imagine that you look down from your 6 wheel behemoth and laugh at the mere mortals in their M3’s and 911.  The Ultimate Yuppie Mobile!

  16. mark powell says:

    I remember seeing this car on an advert on tv racing across the screen in the nevarda desert advertising a bloody watch, they should have been advertising the car and i was 13 at the time and i still think the same now, what a missed oppotunity what a load of fools, But the car is fantastic its a shame its lost in the hall of fame….I would never have been able to afford one, but it would be great to envy some lucky person who owned one, well its not to be,….sigh

  17. pinkpanther says:

    The Tyrrell P34 win (actually a 1st & 2nd) was Sweden not Spain in 1976.

  18. Richard16378 says:

    I remember the Usbourne Book of Supercars had a feature on the Panther 6.

    One claim was it would be almost impossible to aquaplane it in heavy rain due to the 4 wheels at the front.

  19. Ianto Ianto says:

    This or a solo?

  20. Eric says:

    I remember seeing this car at the Motorfair one evening after school in 1977, it was so futuristic bit like Lady Penelopes FAB1, i think i still have the thick show edition of Autocar showing it on the cover.
    Didnt it share the same stand as the Panther Dolomite Rio? and the J72? or is my memory mixed up?…

  21. Dave Boon says:

    Possible overtones of Wayne Cherry’s Equus. That was also built by Panther.
    Equus now in US with Wayne.

    Wayne’s other toys Silver Bullet and Silver Aero in MY garage. Black Magic in my mates garage.

    Dave B

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