Road impressions: Panther Kallista

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The mistress!

As I approached the Panther Kallista a big smile broke across my face as the little boy in me anticipated with relish the thought of going to play cars. I am lucky enough to drive a great variety of vehicles every month, but the prospect of being unleashed in this projectile was very exciting, despite the scoffing of my colleagues.

The Panther puts one in mind of both the Morgan and Caterham Super Seven, although it does not quite have the grace of the former or the aggression of the latter. It does have a visual appeal of its own, particularly at the front, but the graceful line of the long bonnet and mudguards comes to an abrupt end just past the door, as it turns into a bumble tail capped by the spare wheel. Viewed from the side it looks a little out of proportion. The standard of workmanship, however, is high, with the aluminium body showing no signs of ripple and rattle-free when on the move.

With a design pretending to be pre-war, the feeling of being in a time-warp continued with the selection of the door key – it has been a long times since I have used a key with a single edge. Stepping over the chromed running board, I slid into the seat easily enough, but whenever I brought my right foot in I caught the right-hand edge of the seat. Although this Panther had only done 2,500 miles, there were already signs of wear.

Once seated in the car, the time-warp sensation was soon eclipsed by familiarity.

The long bonnet stretching out in front of me was flanked by proper mudguards topped with small sidelamps. The windscreen was split by a metal strip running from the mirror to the scuttle to decrease rattle. The site windows had quarter lights and the dashboard, on which the rev-counter and speedometer are most prominent, was made of a patterned matt black plastic which put me in mind, heaven above, of a Skoda.

Indicators were operated by the stalk on the left of the steering column which, when pulled, would flash the headlamps. Behind the windscreen-wiper stalk to the right of the column was the light switch – pushed up two notches to illuminate the headlamps, sidelights having been activated on the way.

With the stalk in this position, the tachometer was partially obscured. The dipped headlamps were so weak that I had to get out of the car to see if they were on, but I later discovered that they were malfunctioning.

Located as they are above the radio, buried deep in the centre console, the heater controls are out of sight but simple in operation. Air-flow and temperature could be easily controlled by touch without the need to look once the positions are learned.

The fuel gauge on the right is not calibrated but marked 0 on one side and 4/4 on the opposite end of a thickening arc, but it is totally obscured when driving with your hands in the “ten to two” position; likewise the water temperature gauge and clock. The speedometer had a mind of its own, with the habit of leaping off the clock for no apparent reason when cruising at 80 mph, and on one occasion indicated 140 mph as I parked in a cul de sac. This was presumably the same electrical error which affected the dipped headlights.

The tops of the doors were finished in walnut, which made the plastic imitation on the panel in front of the passenger, and on the centre console around the heater controls and radio, look rather cheap. I would have much preferred the doors topped with padded plastic and the imitation wood replaced with a facing more in keeping with the vehicle.

Rearward vision was marred, with the hood up, by the distortion created by the plastic rear screen; although improved with the hood stowed, the high ridge it created made reversing very tricky indeed. The hood went down simply and took less than two minutes to fold away and cover. It was just as easy to erect until matching the clips on the hood with the sockets on top of the windscreen. Even with the doors open, it required some strength to align and push them home but, once done, the ceiling was quite weatherproof. Luggage area is limited to a space behind the seats which becomes even more confined with the hood down.

Once on the move, I felt I was about to slide off the seat, especially when travelling at lower speeds; in fact it gripped me well, but I was always aware of that slippery feeling.

Safety belts were of the inertia-reel type which came in over the right shoulder on the driver’s side. The trouble with this set-up was that, with the hood down, the belt rubbed against the folded hood so the reel did not readily take up the slack, resulting in the belt lying loosely and uselessly in one’s lap. The answer was to tip the seat forward before getting in, and adjusting the belt so that it remained tight as you slipped it over your shoulder and into the latch.

The Kallista’s steering was precise and, despite the size of the 187/76 x 16 Goodyears, never heavy, but it did get caught out once when I braked while going over a slightly-raised rumble-strip designed to slow traffic on approach to a 30 mph zone. For a split second the car wanted to change direction and dart across the central white line, before regaining its composure. Although I braked on other strips to see whether it would give a repeat performance, this never manifested itself again.

Apart from this one occasion, I found the car’s handling good and predictable, although not top in class. When pushed very hard the back can be made to swing out, but since the driver’s seat is more or less over the back axle, there is ample warning of any imminent problem. In the wet, however, I found that just for an instant the car wanted to understeer, and then the weight would transfer to the back and very quickly the tail would come out; a more delicate situation.

Although the Panther was a delight to drive at speed, I found the g-forces in left-hand bends would force my knee against the door-handle. I was not left with a bruise because I learnt to lodge myself against the handle in anticipation, but it did create a tender spot.

Built from pressings from Korea and utilising Ford running-gear underneath, the Kallista comes in three guises. There is the Ford 1.6 CVH-engined model priced at £10,975, the 2.8 V6 (as tested) at £11,825, and the 2.9 injection at £12,995. The bigger-engined cars are equipped with either an automatic or five-speed box. While the 1.6 takes 12.5 seconds to reach 60 mph from rest, the 2.8 and 2.9 injection take 7.8 and 7.7 respectively, and have top speeds of 110 and 112 mph. Petrol consumption on the test car worked out at just under 21 miles per gallon.

The Kallista is like a mistress representing something you tell yourself you should not have, but if you are going to have a fling she will not disappoint, so you may as well sit back and enjoy it – bearing in mind that she’s expensive to run and it could end in tears. She’s also a little bit on the wild side, she lacks pedigree and she’s impractical but, you know, she turns heads, so it’s good to be seen in her company, she’s a fast mover and she brings out the boy in you. Dammit, I think I’m falling in love. WPK

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