Elvis Presley, the undisputed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, was known for his legendary affinity for Cadillacs. The Pink Cadillac he famously drove and his generous habit of gifting Caddies to friends and loved ones have become a part of his enduring legacy.
However, hidden within the annals of Presley’s automotive history lies a remarkable tale of passion and frustration revolving around a different kind of car – a 1971 De Tomaso Pantera – and the girlfriend he bought it for.
It was the summer of 1972, just months after the iconic singer’s marriage to Priscilla Beaulieu Presley ended in divorce, when Elvis’s path crossed with Linda Thompson’s at a private movie screening in Memphis, Tennessee. Presley, at 37, and Thompson, newly crowned as Miss Tennessee Universe at just 22, embarked on a whirlwind romance.
In 1974, Elvis Presley decided to make a grand gesture to express his affection for Linda Thompson. He purchased a used De Tomaso Pantera for $2400, a car that would forever link his name to the Italian sports car.
This 1971 Pantera, known for its hand-crafted Carrozzeria Vignale body and a potent Ford Cleveland V8 engine that could propel it from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, was an embodiment of speed and style. However, it was not without its flaws; the car’s finish quickly succumbed to rust, but it did come with an unusual feature – push-button door handles.
The De Tomaso Pantera, a unique fusion of American muscle and Italian flair, was produced in various iterations from 1971 to 1992, with around 7,000 of these sports cars rolling off the assembly line. Among them, the one Elvis Presley took to with a pistol became the most famous. While perhaps not as iconic as Presley’s Pink Cadillac, the high-testosterone Pantera became a notable part of the Presley legend after the rock ‘n’ roll icon took aim at it on two separate occasions.
Elvis Presley’s relationship with the Pantera soured as the car continually plagued him with problems. According to Hagerty, Presley’s frustration escalated to the point where he took potshots at the steering wheel and riddled the driver-side door with bullets, all because the vehicle refused to start. American radio personality George Klein even witnessed one of these car shootings.
The Pantera had broken down en route to Graceland, and, after being towed home, it was parked in a back driveway. During a visit to the rock star’s Graceland residence, Klein asked about the beleaguered car. In response, Elvis, clearly exasperated, pulled out a pistol and opened fire on the vehicle once more.
To the surprise of many, the Pantera miraculously started up and remained operational afterward, but the same could not be said for Elvis and Linda Thompson’s relationship. In 1976, Presley decided to end both the tumultuous romance and the Pantera’s tenure in his life. He sold the bullet-riddled car, marking the conclusion of a chapter in his automotive history.
Linda Thompson, having parted ways with Elvis and the Pantera, embarked on a new journey. She left the Graceland home she had shared with “The King” for over four years and set her sights on Hollywood, where she secured a full-time role on the popular countrified comedy show, “Hee Haw.”
Elvis Presley’s love affair with cars continued as he bestowed vehicles upon others, including a mint-green Triumph TR6 that he presented to Ginger Alden, to whom he was engaged when he tragically succumbed to an apparent drug overdose in 1977.
The story of Elvis Presley and his 1971 De Tomaso Pantera remains a captivating and colorful episode in the legend of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, a tale of love, frustration, and a car that bore the brunt of it all.