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Born in London in 1938, Jankel was educated at St Paul's School and studied engineering at Chelsea College. He was an avid sportsman and a member of the St Paul's rowing team. Jankel built his first car in 1954: a wrecked Austin 7 which he rebuilt and customised. After an unsuccessful attempt at selling cars he agreed to join the family fashion business, Goldenfelds. During his time as a fashion designer, he still worked on cars, including a classic 1930 Rolls-Royce, which he completely rebuilt in 1970. On a trip to Spain, a bullfighter offered Jankel £10,000 for the Rolls-Royce. It was this sale that inspired Jankel to found an automobile company.
Jankel married Jennifer Loss, daughter of bandleader Joe Loss, in 1962. The couple had three sons and a daughter.
In 1972, Jankel left the fashion industry to found motor company Panther Westwinds in Weybridge, Surrey, England. The company was named "Panther" because of its similarity to Jaguar and "Westwinds" after the Jankel family's home. The company's first car, a prototype two-seater called the Panther J72, was powered by a Jaguar engine and modelled after the Jaguar SS100. Although the asking price for the J72 was around twice that of contemporary Jaguar models, magazine advertisements generated enough interest for Jankel to produce one J72 a week during the car's production. Roughly 500 were produced.
In 1974, Jankel produced the Panther De Ville, powered by a Jaguar engine and modelled after the Bugatti Royale. The De Ville cost twice as much as a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, and only the wealthiest of collectors could afford it. The Panther Rio, launched after one year, was based on the Triumph Dolomite. The luxurious saloon cost three times as much as a Dolomite, however, and only 38 were produced.
Jankel's most successful vehicle was the Panther Lima. The Lima was styled like a 1930s roadster but used modern fibreglass technology for the body, which was built around a steel framework and chassis. More than 1,000 of the two marks of this popular model were built.
The Jankel Group
Despite the success of the Lima, Panther Westwind went bankrupt in 1979, and it was subsequently sold to South Korean businessman Young Kim. Jankel then turned his focus to the Jankel Group, a coachbuilding company he had founded in 1955 but the firm had been little more than a hobby.
For the Jankel Group, Jankel concentrated on building specialist versions of cars for other high-end manufacturers, mostly Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar. From 1983 to 1989, Jankel was the exclusive subcontractor to Rolls-Royce to build more than 100 units of the Silver Spur Limousine. For Range Rover, he built a number of specialist hunting and all-terrain vehicles for Middle Eastern customers.
In 1992 he built the Jankel Tempest, a Chevrolet Corvette-based super car, with ultra-luxury interior and 6.7 litre supercharged V8, which produced 535bhp and was capable of 200mph, as well as holding the 1992 Guinness Book of Records 0-60mph acceleration record of 3.89 seconds.
Most of Jankel's work from the 1990s to his death in 2005 was dedicated to building police vehicles, high-protection armoured cars and exotic luxury stretch limousines. In 1995, Jankel produced armoured cars for law enforcement agencies, including the Metropolitan Police. All of Jankel's police vehicles were built on GM and Ford chassis. Jankel bought back the Panther name in 2001 and was working on a new Panther sports car when he died.
Jankel was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2001, but remained an active member of the Jankel Group until his death on 25 May 2005.
The Jankel Group continues to build made-to-order speciality vehicles to this day.