Cars that seem as British as Granny Smith apples and stiff upper lips such as Bentleys, Rolls Royces and the original Mini are now owned by foreign companies and the UK motoring industry has dwindled to almost nothing. However, it once thrived and even though our beloved Aston Martins are now owned by America, they'll always be English icons, along with Land Rovers and Jaguars. Everyone's heard of the Jaguar E-Type, but there are many smaller marques that didn't produce cars in such vast numbers.
Panther Westwinds manufactured luxury vehicles and nippy niche sports cars in Surrey. More commonly known as Panther, it was founded by Robert Jankel in 1972. Though largely forgotten now in the 21st century, Panther enjoyed a certain amount of success during the 1970s with their unusual retro-inspired cars, which were based on mechanical components from standard production automobiles of several other manufacturers.
They created several notable models. These included the 1975 Panther Rio, which was largely based on Triumph's Dolomite but interestingly boasted "Rolls-Royce standards". This meant that the price tag was that of three Triumph Dolomites! Another of Panther's outlandish models was the Panther 6, a three-axled vehicle.
Unfortunately, in 1980, the Panther Westwinds company collapsed and was eventually purchased by Young Kim, a Korean gentleman. He set up a brand new factory for the cars in Harlow in Essex and began assembly of new automobiles with Korean-based bodies. A few years in to the 1980s, the Panther company began to move in to the area of sports car manufacture, which culminated with the 1990 Panther Solo.
The Solo featured Ferrari-inspired styling and was originally a Ford-engined sports coupe. It was a rival to the Toyota MR-2, but was unfortunately largely outclassed by the Japanese car and so a Solo 2 was developed. The design team was four-strong - Martin Freestone on composites, Keith Hunter structure and underbody, Bill Davies on finer details and finally Mert Wreford, who was in charge of "making coffee".
The Solo 2 featured almost twice the horsepower of the original model and was marketed as a UK muscle car. Unfortunately it was a big flop - every Solo sold lost Panther money. Between 12 and 25 Solos were built (the exact number is unknown). Today in 2011, a mere 8 Solos survive in the UK but all have been declared SORN. The last licensed example was registered in 2010.
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