Top 10 American-Engined Cars
American horsepower and European styling flair make for a winning combination. Richard Heseltine picks ten of his favourite V8-engined hybrids
In the immediate post-war years, Sydney Allard made cars that were equally robust, competitive and rough around the edges. His ‘Clapham Fliers’ represented the antithesis of purebred European fare but they worked (once you’d become accustomed to the ‘Allard Weave’) and also earned valuable Stateside dollars. Models such as the J2 were generally shipped to the US minus an engine for the simple reason that the American V8s weren’t readily available in Blighty. Aside from his many successes on track and in hillclimbing, Allard also introduced drag racing to the UK.
AutoFact: Allard won the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally in a P1 model (pictured).
The 1950s represented the acme for the less racy, American-engined European glamour wagon. In many ways, Franco-Greek Jean Daninos had already blazed the trail. His Chrysler-powered Facel Vegas were hideously expensive and, by extension, made only in penny numbers but the beautiful people flocked to them. It didn’t matter that his creations didn’t handle particularly well, they looked glorious – the HK500 and Facel II in particular. The real pity is that the marque didn’t live long enough to see out the ’60s, in part due to the crippling warranty claims racked up by its in-house four-cylinder engine conceived for the Facelia model.
AutoFact: Owners included Pablo Picasso, Stirling Moss and Tony Curtis.
De Tomaso Pantera
For sheer audacity, few could ever match Alejandro de Tomaso. The combative Argentinean émigré built-up a business empire in his adoptive Italy. His biggest coup was the ensnarement of the Ford Motor Company to back his Pantera supercar. Picking up from where the template setting Mangusta left off, this Tom Tjaarda-penned machine married otherworldly beauty with American grunt. On paper, it sounded perfect – Ferrari-baiting performance, slinky looks and an engine that could be fixed with a hammer. Off paper, it suffered build quality issues from the outset in 1971. While the Pantera would live on for two decades, Ford bailed early on.
AutoFact: Around 7000 Panteras were made from 1971-1992.
Sydney Allard did more than most to instil in the burgeoning US ‘road racing’ fraternity the belief that a European chassis with Detroit firepower was a likely recipe for circuit glory. One such disciple was Carroll Shelby. He took the notion a stage further: he merely took an existing sports car and substituted a bigger engine. The AC Ace-based, Ford-engined Cobra remains an icon of sports car lore, even if its merits are to some degree obscured by bovine excrement, with the very British AC Cars being largely airbrushed out of the story (some marque histories dismiss the firm as being a mere subcontractor).
AutoFact: The Cobra was only a marginal commercial success with production barely reaching four figures.
This short-lived marque was born out of an unfortunately-named Chrysler concept car called the Firebomb, which was in itself a reworking of the better-known Ghia-built Firearrow showstoppers of the early to mid ’50s. Its flame would likely have been extinguished were it not for trucking magnate Eugene Casaroll. The Detroit native was so taken with the car he approached Chrysler with a view to buying the rights to the design. With Ghia agreeing to make a lightly reworked version of the car, the Firebomb morphed into the Dual-Ghia in honour of Casaroll’s trucking firm Dual Motors. The laborious nature of the build – 1500 hours per car – effectively hobbled its chances.
AutoFact: 117 cars were made with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Lucille Ball early adopters.
This shadowy marque has produced a bewildering array of models since 1959. It's spanned everything from Formula Junior single-seaters to Checker-based ‘neo-classics’ via luxury GTs and exacting VW Kübelwagen replicas, and on more than one continent. Formed in Italy by Frank Reisner, Intermeccanica was also involved in countless projects as a sub-contractor, not least undertaking shooting brake and convertible conversions for mainstream Detroit fodder. Yet it’s a brand where myth and reality rarely seem to overlap, American-engined models such as the Itala and Indra (pictured) being among the most beautiful of the 1960s and early ’70s, if not the most commercially successful.
AutoFact: The firm has more recently found success producing Porsche 356 replicas in Canada.
This intriguing Italo-American hybrid was conceived by New Yorker Peter Kalikow. Its outline was mapped out by Kalikow and designer/artist Gene Garfinkle with the Tom Tjaarda-penned, Ghia-built Lancia Marica acting as inspiration. Nevertheless, the definite design was the work of Pietro Frua who was also engaged to manufacture 25 bodyshells. Stanguellini, meanwhile, was roped in to design the chassis which employed all-round independent suspension and a 5.7-litre Chevrolet V8 power. The prototype was displayed at the 1971 New York International Motor Show. However, exchange rate fluctuations, allied to Italy’s political and social unrest, meant Kalikow pulled the plug shortly thereafter.
AutoFact: Kalikow has one of the world’s largest collections of Ferraris.
Jean Tastevin was nothing if not a dreamer. As the chairman of CFPM [Compagnie Française de Produits Métallurgiques] which made and leased rolling stock, he had the means to indulge himself. That meant creating what was, in effect, a nouvelle Facel Vega. Fast-forward to November 1974 and a production line was in place in Balbigny, near Lyon. After a protracted genesis, which had witnessed engine swaps (Triumph to Martin to Chrysler) and more than a few squabbles over the styling, the Monica was finally ready only for the Arab-Israeli fuel crisis to ensure that a 5.6-litre V8-engined saloon wasn’t going to be an easy sell.
AutoFact: Just 32 cars were made, the final two being completed by Panther Westwinds.
Two years in the making, the Monteverdi 375S broke cover at the 1967 Frankfurt Motor Show to considerable acclaim. Powered by a 7.2-litre Chrysler V8, and supposedly styled by marque instigator Peter Monteverdi (Pietro Frua felt otherwise…), it cost a staggering five times as much as a Jaguar E-type. Further variations on the theme ensued, including the elegant 375L, but Monteverdi’s Hai supercar (pictured) stole the headlines when unveiled at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show. With a Chrysler ‘hemi’ V8 mounted amidships, it promised much but delivered little. By the mid ’80s, Monteverdi the constructor was effectively dormant.
**AutoFact:*** Monteverdi dabbled in Formula 1 as a driver and entrant without success.
Few cars, if any, could upstage the Panther Six. Conceived by Panther Westwinds’ Robert Jankel, and inspired by the Tyrrell P34 grand prix car, it featured six wheels and 8.2-litre Cadillac V8 power. US hot rodding legend Ak Miller breathed on it a little, not least by adding a twin-turbo set-up. The styling, meanwhile, was by Jankel and Vauxhall design chief Wayne Cherry. Priced at £39,950, for 1978 it was eye-wateringly expensive, but demand was there. Unfortunately, it became a victim of the Surrey firm’s crash a year later. Only one car was completed by the factory, another being cobbled together from parts by an outside concern.
AutoFact According to period blurb, the Six was theoretically capable of 237mph. Theoretically…
Pictures courtesy of Rota Archive