While modern cars equipped with substantial aftermarket parts and custom body bits are often deemed feature-worthy, few share company with this one-off creation. In fact, forget what you thought you knew about custom cars, because this Pantera redefines the segment. Every nut, bolt, clip and panel has been replaced or fabricated, making this beauty more rolling artwork than car.
"I've been fascinated with cars since I was in diapers and was raised in a household with classic cars, since my Dad was a partial owner of a restoration shop," owner, Marc Campolieto said. "In the early 80s the shop started doing restoration work on Panteras and that's where I really fell in love with these unique cars," he added.
Of course we don't have to tell you how wicked the De Tomaso Pantera is, because as you know, it was designed by American designer Tom Tjaarda and built in Italy at the De Tomaso factory. The steel monocoque design was ahead of its time back in 1971, as was the well-appointed interior with such luxuries as power windows and a cigarette lighter.
What wasn't quite so cutting edge, though, was the pushrod American V8 that sat behind the driver. Oh yes, for those unaware, the Pantera is a mid-engine supercar and it's got plenty of grunt thanks to a 5.8L Ford V8 under the bonnet good for 400hp. The 3100 lb rockets were harnessed by a ZF transaxle, and various magazines recorded 0-60 times of just 5.5sec with a top speed of 160mph. Don't forget, this is 40 years ago!
Early Panteras were sold at Ford dealers, but after poor reliability and small sales numbers, Ford discontinued its sales partnership in 1975. After Ford dropped the Pantera from showrooms, only a handful of shops imported grey market examples, which meant US production numbers were minimal at best. The final Pantera rolled off the De Tomaso assembly line in 1991, ending the era of a unique supercar with the chassis of a European sports car and the heart of an American hot rod.
"I've owned many nice European cars and currently own an Aston Martin Vantage and a modified Shelby Mustang GT500, and yet the desire for a Pantera never died, but I didn't want just any example, I was looking for a project with a colorful history," Campolieto said.
After countless dead-ends attempting to find the right example, Campolieto got a tip from a fellow Pantera enthusiast at PI Motorsports (a renowned Pantera shop in Orange, CA) that Pantera International (another shop specializing in these rare cars) had recently acquired a former racecar. The car had been baking in the Las Vegas desert for decades and was begging to be rescued.
"The guys at Pantera International bought it from a gentleman who acquired the car when his father passed away," he explained. "It was a racecar in the late 70s and at one point it had a built 351 Cleveland motor, Weber carburetors and Group 4 wide fenders - it was eventually put out to pasture in Las Vegas where it sat for years."
Just days before Pantera International was to start using the weathered ex-racer as a parts car, Campolieto rescued it with a deposit. A few weeks later he arrived with an empty trailer and started what would become one of the most intense restorations we've ever seen.
"It was in rough condition from sitting in the desert for so many years and it lacked an engine and transmission, but as they say in the hot-rod industry, it was straight and it was all there - even the remains of a dead bird," he laughed.
Although the road ahead was long, Campolieto set out down the lonely path to renovation with countless nights in the garage and hundreds of hours in labor. The car was painstakingly stripped down to a bare core and then methodically sandblasted to remove blemishes and bits of rust.
Since Panteras are known to have rust problems, the former racer received plenty of attention in the form of POR15 sealant. This amazing stuff actually seals in rust and prevents it from spreading. We're not just talking about sealing the fender wells either, we're talking the undercarriage, interior, firewall and anything that wasn't slated for paint or powdercoat.
Speaking of paint and powdercoat, the firewall and engine bay were sealed, smoothed and painted in PPG Gloss Black for a show-car touch. As for the powdercoat, every suspension piece was coated with the shiny stuff before receiving plenty of top-shelf parts like Polygraphite bushings-but more on that later.
After the bare shell was prepped and sealed, it received plenty of chassis stiffening braces on all corners.
"The Pantera might have a monocoque construction, but when you run them hard with a powerful motor they can flex quite a bit, so modern chassis stiffening pieces do wonders to brace them up," Campolieto explained.
By now it was time to slowly add more pieces onto the bare shell and this is where the plot further thickened.
"I wanted the best suspension available so I added custom billet coilover adapters with Koni shocks, custom spring rates and I even had the rear axle bearings converted to oversized Timken units since it's a known weakness on the Pantera," Campolieto explained.
Yup, it was the beginning of even more custom work that also included new bearings and races for all suspension pieces along with a PI Motorsports steering rack upgrade, rebuilt factory brake calipers, CNC machined rotors and stainless steel brake lines.
Since the motor that was being built for the project was slated to be rather rowdy, a hefty cooling system was needed. Like most mid-engined sports cars, the Pantera carries its radiator in the nose. While this setup places the radiator in the way of airflow, it also necessitates painfully long coolant hoses to circulate the coolant between the front mounted radiator and the mid-mounted motor. A large Fluidyne lay-down aluminum radiator with twin Spal electric puller fans from Pantera International along with polished stainless lines and silicone hoses, a thermostatically controlled electric water pump and exterior body mods to help with airflow were added to keep the beast underneath cool.