Friday May 3, 2019
Many an owner of a classic car will have experienced being approached at a show or in a petrol station with the opening gambit ‘my dad/mum/aunt/uncle/headmaster had one of those. However, this is very unlikely to occur to Peter R Mayo, the press secretary of the Panther Car Club and the owner of SAY 300 R – one of just six Rios believed to survive. ‘A lot of people don’t know the car’s history, but as soon as you say it was based on a Dolomite, people usually say “yes, I can see that now”.
Panther Westwinds Ltd. was formed in 1972, and the Rio was in part a by-product of the 1973 Fuel Crisis, which had greatly impacted the sales of many high-powered cars. By late 1974 Panther’s founder Robert Jankel and his co-director David Franks had evolved the idea of a new form of 2-litre “town car”, one that would appeal to owners of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and indeed Panther’s own De Ville. Furthermore, Jankel was keen that that Panther was not just known as ‘the company that builds old-fashioned motor cars’.
The Triumph was an excellent choice of base vehicle but as Motor pointed out in the following year ‘the Rio is different enough to be regarded as a model in its own right’. In addition to the new grille and the altered roofline, the body was fully re-skinned in hand-beaten aluminium alloy panels, and there was extra sound-proofing.
Opening the doors revealed a cabin upholstered in the finest Connolly leather and fascia clad in burr walnut veneer. The standard equipment included electric windows, a radio and a cigar lighter on each door. The detailing even encompassed a Union Flag on the hub of the alloy wheels.
The Rio was available in two trim levels – standard and the Especial, which was based on the Sprint as opposed to the Dolomite 1850. SAY 300 R is an Especial Automatic and Peter also notes that it is ‘the second from last Rio built’. In the event, the Byfleet factory built a mere 18 examples between 1975 and 1977 – ‘not 36 as the books say, as Panther used every other serial number’.
One issue was price, for by 1976 an Especial cost £9,445 – considerably more than a Ford Granada Ghia and even a Jaguar XJ12. As the motoring historian Keith Adams observes, at that time a Triumph Dolomite Sprint would have cost £3,283. Peter acquired his Especial two and half years ago and it is believed to be the finest Rio in existence – ‘it creates a stir when you go out, as people either love or hate it at events’
In terms of keeping such a rare vehicle on the road, Peter finds that ‘the mechanicals are ok as it’s Dolomite Sprint’, but many items of trim are sourced from other cars – the front lights and indicators are from the Granada Mk. I and the rear lights from the TR6. ‘Most switches are Jaguar XJ Series 2, so the key is knowing what was used and where to try to find it’.
Fortunately, ‘the Club is brilliant, as people there had these cars many years back’ while ‘the air-conditioning works too!’. The Especial is not the only Panther in the Mayo collection, which also includes ‘two De Villes, a J72, a Kallista and a Lima’. Nor is it his sole Rio as Mr. Mayo is the custodian of a standard model in yellow & white that is ‘the third from last made’.
In 1974 a Motor Sport profile of the Panther works noted that ‘Ideas and design are Bob Jankel's particular forte, coupled with the ability to transform ideas into successful solid fact in a remarkably short space of time.
The concept of the Rio was ahead of its time and as Peter observes ‘Its unique, built for a market that never really existed, the super expensive economical car. Since then Aston Martin has the Signet etc. but the Rio was the first of the kind’. And 42 years after production ended, one of Britain’s most exclusive cars now receives the attention it always merited.
WITH THANKS TO: Peter R Mayo and the Panther Car Club Ltd. - https://www.panthercarclub.com/PCC_index.php