Looking like something out of "Thunderbirds," the Panther 6 featured an 8.2-litre twin-turbo Cadillac V8 in the rear, which could supposedly provide a 320 km/h top speed.
Англичанина Роберта Янкеля регулярно кидало из стороны в сторону: он то занимался автомобиля, то сколачивал состояние на торговле тканями, то снова уходил в автобизнес… Окончательно отдавшись страсти к машинам, покоя Янкель не обрел: запустил в производство несколько реплик довоенных автомобилей, но вдруг взялся строить современный седан, а однажды надолго заперся в гараже, откуда через некоторое время выехало вот это. Шестиколесный суперкар должен был бросить вызов Lamborghini и Ferrari, разогнавшись до 320 км/ч и покорив клиентов близкой к идеалу управляемостью. Кого только ни привлекали к работе над "шестеркой" - от нарисовавших кузов дизайнеров марки Vauxhall до американского хот-род-гуру Арка Миллера, присобачившего две турбины на 6-литровую "восьмерку" от Cadillac Eldorado и заставшившего ее развивать 600 сил.
Система кондиционирования воздуха от седельного тягача марки Mack, телефон в подлокотнике, вмонтированный в переднюю панель телевизор и крышка капота с сервоприводом – на Лондонском автосалоне 1977 года автомобиль произвел фурор. Янкель собрал полтора десятка заказов, хотя цена на Panther 6 была раза в полтора выше, чем на самый дорогой из серийных Ferrari. Англичанина не напрягали ни высокий центр тяжести автомобиля (мотор разместили мало того что сзади, так еще и чуть ли не над осью), ни проблемы с покрышками (Pirelli только после длительных уговоров согласилась сделать шины нестандартного размера), ни очевидная утопичность заявленных характеристик ("До 200 миль в час покупатель, конечно, не разгонится – но он может рассказать всем, что его автомобиль быстрее итальянских и немецких машин!"). Но стоило автосалону в Лондоне закрыться – и Янкель со своим шестиколесником как сквозь землю провалился. В условиях очередного кризиса не приносили прибыли и более реалистичные проекты.
В итоге кроме выставочного праворульного экземпляра собрали еще лишь один. Первый Panther 6 быстро и надолго осел в коллекции одного ближневосточного богача, а второй (с левым рулем) долго ходил по рукам, напоминая непоседливостью вдохновителя проекта. Нынешний хозяин выкупил машину у канадского бизнесмена, сидевшего в болгарской тюрьме – при этом сам автомобиль находился на складе в Греции, где его регулярно перемещали с места на место при помощи вилочного погрузчика…
Anyone who was a child in the 1970s can testify to the cultural import of The Thunderbirds. It wasn’t just the dashing derring-do of Scott, Virgil and the rest of the Tracy brothers that got little boys frothing with desire for adventure. In a forward thinking piece of proto feminist iconography, the Anderson husband and wife team made aristocratic badass superbitch Lady Penelope the kick-arse star of the show. The good Lady combined the strangely vapid expression of Paris Hilton with the comic book posh totty drawl of Margaret Thatcher. She was clearly as image obsessed as the former and as power-crazed as the latter. Just look at the way she ordered Parker, her long suffering butler around.
But it was, of course, the good Lady’s ride, the six wheeled FAB 1
Rolls Royce in shocking pink, that was the centrepiece of the Anderson aesthetic. Whether or not the backroom staff at the normally conservative Panther Westwinds company were Lady Penelope fans, they went ahead and produced in 1977 a car that was the inverse to the FAB 1: every bit as outrageous, but futuristic in the mean, menacing way that the fictitious Rolls attempted to disguise in that shocking pink paintjob. The Panther 6 was a convertible powered by a mid-mounted 8.2 litre Cadillac V8 with twin turbochargers, apparently capable of producing over 600bhp. Only two were ever produced and though the car’s top speed was never verified, the manufacturers claimed that the car was capable of over 200MPH, which would have made it the first production car to hit that magic watershed. It included a detachable hard top and a convertible soft top as well as a full array of electronic instrumentation. Air conditioning was included, as well as an automatic fire extinguisher, electric seats and windows, a mobile telephone and a television.
Panther Westwinds had enjoyed success since its launch in 1972 with its series of retro-styled cars based on the mechanical components of standard products from other manufacturers. At the end of the seventies the company experienced financial problems, was sold to Korean interests and moved disasterously into racing, before finally being swallowed up in 1990 by the Syang Yong corporation
. The producers of the Panther 6 may of course, have been equally inspired by the P34 Tyrell that had rubbed motorsport’s cloying orthodoxy in the mud in 1976
. Tyrell designer Derek Gardner’s theory that smaller front wheels could drastically lessen drag; the reduced grip offset by an extra set of steerable wheels, proved a hit, until Jody Sheckter dismissed the car as a piece of junk (despite having won the Swedish Grand Prix in the thing with team mate Derek Depailler in second place). Poor old Parker’s saving grace was that he, like Sheckter and Depailler and only a handful of other individuals, got to experience serious driving in a six wheeled supercar.
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, 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.