Panther Kallista 2.8

Panther Ka!lista 2.8

THERE ARE two things to constantly keep in mind when considering the Panther Kallista. The first is that, despite recent price increases, it remains relatively inexpensive for a distinctive, hand-built sports car with exceptional finish. The second is that its main attraction is its styling, a respectful evocation of the 1938s. The importance of the car's looks become apparent as soon as you pick up the press pack, technical details are rather skimpy but there is a comprehensive colour chart and a long list of optional extras none of which will improve performance but all of which will enhance the car's visual impact. It is an old adage that one must make sacrifices to be stylish or fashionable and this is certainly true of the Kallista. Everything is made secondary to its lines so, for example, the cockpit is narrow while,

outside, the !lowing wings sport wide running boards. The length of the bonnet leads toss imperfect seating position and a tiny luggage space. The looks may turn heads in town but on the open road, despite having 135 bhp from a Ford 2.8 carburetter engine, at 90 mph you seem to hits wall of solid air.

Sixty mph is reached in a lively 7.8 sec, another 10 sec takes you to 90 mph but to measure it ftvm there suits top speed of 105 mph, you throw away the stop watch and reach foes calendar. On mentioning this to a couple of young enthusiasts who were admiring the car, one said: "Who needs to go fast in a car like this? It's for being seen in." Out of the mouths of babes. . . . My wife enthused over its looks when the car arrived home but started to cool rapidly when she found it impossible to enter or

leave it with any degree of elegance, when she sat in the hard and narrow seats (how hard becomes painfully apparent after a 100 mile journey) and when she found herself being thumped by my elbow every time I changed from third to fourth. The overall layout of the cockpit, together with the finy luggage space, means the Kallista is defmitely not for touring.

Once seated, the next thing is to try to find a comfortable seating compromise. This I failed to do despite being, in vertical dimensions at any rate, of average build. I found a fairly happy position for most circumstances but found that the length of the travel of both the clutch and accelerator stretched my legs to the limit while lifting my right leg for braking usually resulted in my being impaled by the petrol filler key hanging down from the ignition. The steering column comes from a Ford Escort XR3 and the pleasantly squat three spoked wheel has a "Panther" badge set in the boss. Adopting a "10 to two hand position on the wheel, however, means that one's hands and arms completely obscure the temperature, oil pressure and fuel gauges together with the rather vital 10-70 mph range on the speedo. If the headlight and wiper stalks are both pushed up, then much of the tachometer is obscured stool!. The Ford five-speed gearbox is, of course, delightful but it is placed so far forward, and the lever itself is so long, that one has to lean to engage first or reverse. Engaging third or fifth invariably raps one's knuckle under the dash and, as has been said, third to fourth means an elbow into the passenger. The gear lever also manages to obscure bout the cigar fighter and radio controls which are

mounted centrally under the fascia.

The test car had optional walnut trim and the dashboard looked lovely, but you were left wondering why, when even the cheapest Eastern European import has a clear dash, that Panther have got it so wrong.

Given the vulnerability to theft inherent in all soft tops, it was surprising to find that a lockable valuables compartment is an extra, and one not fitted to the test car. The hood itself is fairly easy to erect and, when it is folded, there is a tonneau cover to smooth over the arrangement. When up, there were gaps between the hood and the top corners of the windscreen. Wind noise is quite high with the hood in position and you can forget the radio at motorway cruising speeds. It may seem odd to criticise a soft top for poor ventilation but, given the English climate, a lot of motoring will be done with the car closed and the ventilation system is not efficient enough to stop the car from quickly becoming stuffy.

The range of the 11 gallon fuel tank is 198 miles. This I discovered eight miles from the next motorway service station with the fuel gauge reading a quarter full. The overall consumption worked out at 18 mpg.

This has been a long list of criticisms. Taken individually, they all slightly detract from one's enjoyment of the car. Taken Nether, they raise serious questions about It. The sad thing is that almost all of them are relatively easy to rectify. On the road, some of the criticisms are forgotten as you feel the sensation of willing Power with 135 bhp having to cope with just 995 kg. There is little competition in its Price range in terms of acceleration, though tines feel over-geared and when driving in .40 mph traffic queue, engaging fourth gear Presents the engine with some problems. The steering is delightfully precise, feeding a lot of information back to the driver. This !tecring power combination makes driving 05 City traffic, on Motorways and good c°!..otry roads a very pleasant experience. The ride is harder than it perhaps needs be and the back wheels will skitter when tneeting a small pothole or manhole cover at

even moderate speeds. Drive the car fast down a country lane and you will soon discover if you have any loose fillings.

The disc / drum braking, which has no servo assistance, inspires confidence on most surfaces except uneven ones, when the front wheels chatter. The car naturally oversteers and it is not difficult to induce a rear-end slide, but it is always predictable and safe. During handling tests on a circle, it was comforting to find just how much one could hang the tail out and immediately bring it back under control. This gives one a certain amount of optimism about the new EM25 2+2 which Panther will announce at the Motor Show. The car is undeniably fun to drive under most circumstances even if one has the feeling that most modern designs would be quicker through the bends with less flurry and that its handling thresholds have been set to flatter the driver. The Panther price range begins at £7,825 for a basic 1.6 litre Kallista with a four

THE MODERN Ford steenng wheel looks shghtly out of place among the walnut and running boards. A larger, mood-rimmed wheel would not only be nwre in character btu might give the driver a clearer view of the dials.

speed gearbox while the top-of-the-range 2.8 Injection starts at £9,625. The standard 2.8 begins at £8,425 but, with extras, the test car was valued at £10,000. Even on the comprehensively equipped Injection model it is possible to order over £3,000-worth of listed extras, including a leather trim made to exquisite standards.

MOTOR SPORT reported on a visit to Panther in September 1983 but my trip to pick up the test car was my first visit. The factory has grown since last year and now a workforce of 80 produce 12 cars a week and the order books are bulging. They have come a long way in a short time and their pride in that achievement as well as their pride in their standards is justifiable.

The Kallista clearly has found a niche in the market, not as a first car or even as a serious sports car but, perhaps, as a fun car for the wealthy who appreciate style and craftsmanship. With its rugged chassis, corrosion-resistant aluminium body and the reliability of Ford components, it is a sensible car within its niche.

When the Kallista came to the office, a bun of excitement went around and everyone wanted sorry it. It has, I suppose, definite sex appeal and, all its shortcomings notwithstanding, it is fun to drive and be in. From the purist's point of view, though, iris not a true sports car.

Still, the Kalista has got the company back on its feet and should guarantee it for some years to come. In the meantime one can only wait, with anticipation, for the EM25. They have started that car with a clean sheet of paper and have the ability to make it a serious proposition. —M.L.