Six Wheels Good

Cars

panther_r_med_1

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.

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