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Chris Kimball's Pantera Story (so far!)

Posted by Panteras Northwest on May 22, 2010 at 12:02 AM

The Pantera Story

 

Chapter One:  The Birth of a New Hobby (um, Obsession)

 

 

 

I’ve always loved cars.  From the red, blow-molded, toy race car I repeatedly sent down the stairway when I was a toddler (“when I gwow up I want to be a wacing car dwiver”;) to the thrill of watching races at Silverstone during an English vacation at age 9, my childhood revolved around Hot Wheels, Corgi Toys and Johnny Lighting.

 

I was ten years old when my family and I went to see the Walt Disney production of “The Barefoot Executive.”  I saw a car in that movie that eclipsed all others.

 

 

The lead character in the film, played by Kurt Russell, received the gift of a DeTomaso Mangusta from his corporate boss.

 

 

I had never seen a car so beautiful, and was frustrated when the movie only gave the gorgeous vehicle a few minutes of screen time. Something about the style and shape was intoxicating to my impressionable young mind.

 

 

The same feeling occurred again when, at age 16, I saw the cheesy David Carradine move, “Cannonball.”  In it, a strange, supposedly German driver streaked across the screen in a DeTomaso Pantera. The production quality of the movie was laughable, but Pantera was seriously fast.

 

 

Unlike the Disney Picture, Cannonball highlighted the car doing high speed runs and dramatic cornering.  Characters in the film even discussed how the Pantera was “one of the fastest production cars in the world.”

 

In Cannonball, the Pantera meets a rather unbecoming end after being booby-trapped by bad guys. It explodes when reaching 160 mph.

 

 

My desire for a Pantera didn’t end, however, but instead took residence firmly in the deep recesses of my brain; the area reserved for dreams, wishes and the cure for the mid-life crisis.

 

 

Thirty-five years later I decided it was time to stop wishing and fulfill the dream. Besides, a mid-life crisis was way overdue!

 

 

In October of 2006, with enthusiastic encouragement from my 2 sons, and Sebastian (the German exchange student we were hosting at the time), I began searching for the car I had always wanted.

 

 

My wife chuckles each time I point out "the car I’ve always wanted," because she claims there are hundreds of them. She’s right, of course. However, a Pantera is the car I’ve really, really always wanted…

 

 

I first looked locally and discovered how rare Panteras are. Then someone suggested joining the Pantera Owner’s Club of America.  I did, and found a number of enthusiastic members of the local chapter lived nearby.

 

 

I sent in the minimal dues and received my membership card, window sticker and first issue of the club’s magazine.  It was full of stunning pictures of my favorite car. Seeing those pictures was like throwing gasoline on a flame, putting raw meat in front of a starving lion, or opening Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory to Charlie Bucket.

 

 

I contacted the president of Panteras Northwest, Mike Thomas, who, along with several other members, gave me valuable advice about purchasing a Pantera.

 

 

Gary Herrig, a club member who has owned both Mangustas and Panteras, even went so far as accompanying me when I checked out a Pantera for sale in a neighboring town.  That particular car, although equipped with a Australian block, plumbed for nitrous and adorned with many body modifications, just didn’t seem right.  It wasn’t a color I particularly liked, had some damage to the ground effects, had seats which caused my head to hit the ceiling, and was priced just outside my budget.  Having Gary along was reassuring, however, and he showed me numerous things to look for when inspecting any Pantera.

 

 

Next I began perusing eBay motors.  There I found a constant supply of possibilities, ranging from low-ball rust-buckets to pristine trailer queens.

 

 

Egged on by an enthusiastic Sebastian (whose father had owned a Pantera in Germany), I actually bid on a few of the low-mileage offerings which looked to be in good shape.  Since I knew I was out of my element, however, I bid low and didn’t win any of the auctions.

 

 

Then, one day, I spied a beautiful 1972 model.  According to the listing, it had only 59,000 original miles and six years earlier had been bare-metal re-sprayed a beautiful, dark, metallic, Cadillac green.  Rust had been found on the rocker panels so they had been replaced, it had Recaro seats, custom wheels and a rare, dealer-installed luggage rack.   The only issue was a small leak in the gas tank.

 

 

In a moment of reckless abandon and without stopping to seek advice from my new found Pantera consultants, I kept clicking the mouse until I was the highest bidder.

 

 

Adrenaline pumped through my veins as I called Mike Thomas to describe the soon-to-be-acquired object of my affections.

 

 

My enthusiasm turned to dismay as he chastised me for bidding on the car without first consulting him.  It turns out, to remove a Pantera gas tank, one must first remove the engine and transmission!  Since I have never been much of a mechanic (I shredded my knuckles trying to change the water pump on my first car and swore in the future I’d let professionals do that sort of thing), I realized I was looking at potentially thousands of dollars’ worth of labor before even addressing the problematic leak.

 

 

I emailed the seller, explained the gas-tank repair dilemma, apologized and asked if I could retract my bid.   He graciously agreed and even thanked me for looking.

 

 

He then proceeded to post my email and his reply on the eBay listing site for all to see.  All did see, and all bids did immediately disappear!  The other bidders must have shared my lack of Pantera gas tank knowledge.

 

 

I watched sadly as the car languished on eBay below its reserve.  A few days later, the listing ended with the car unsold.

 

 

Something inside kept telling me I shouldn’t give up on that green Pantera.  After all, I’d always wanted a car that color!  Confirmation I should persevere came during another conversation with Mike, the illustrious Panteras Northwest president.  He said if I really liked the car enough to purchase it, he and some of the other club members would be willing to come to my house and help pull the engine and tranny out—for nothing more than beer and pizza!  As I have come to find out, that’s typical of the generosity indicative to the Pantera community.  I was amazed and rejuvenated.

 

 

I again contacted the owner and told him I was still interested in the car, but since it was located at the opposite end of the country in New Haven, Connecticut, I’d like to have someone there check it out for me before I made the trip.

 

 

There weren’t any members of the Pantera Owner’s Club close by, but he had heard of a guy in a neighboring town who had worked on and raced Panteras.  The only information available was the name of his shop.

 

 

I found the number for the shop and called him.  His attitude wasn’t overly friendly at first, but when I started talking Panteras his hard edge softened a bit.  He said he’d be glad to look at the car for me, but since it meant an hour drive, he wouldn’t do it for less than $250.00 (as I mentioned, he wasn’t a member of the Pantera Owner’s Club).

 

 

Figuring it was the prudent thing to do (and exhibiting what might be considered misplaced trust), I sent him a check.

 

 

Two days later I got the call—the car was in great shape and if I could get it for what had been the reserve price, $25,000, I should jump at the chance.  A week later I was on a plane to New Haven.

 

 

I arrived at an expansive motorcycle shop, behind which was the Pantera, protected in a climate-controlled garage.  It was parked next to a Robin’s-egg blue Porsche Turbo.

 

 

I’ve always loved 911s, but when I first gazed upon the Pantera everything else, including the Porsche, faded from view.  The deep, rich paint flowed across the curvaceous lines; the top of the huge V-8 was just visible behind the back window and the sharp nose and raised tail with chrome-tipped exhaust pipes screamed speed.  Speaking of which, the speedometer indicated a top speed of 200 miles per hour.

 

 

I’d never seen a more beautiful car.

 

 

The owner gave me the keys and hopped in the passenger seat.  I turned the key and drank in the brutally gorgeous sound of the “Cleveland Symphony.”&;;;nbsp; No smog-equipment strangulation, no miserly mileage castration, this was about one thing and one thing only; raw power.

 

 

I was directed to a tree-lined country road some distance from the city and experienced my first taste of Pantera driving.   I felt as if I was piloting a go-kart on steroids!  Within five minutes I knew I had to have this car.

 

 

Back at the shop, I asked the owner if he’d consider lowering the price just a bit to help cover the cost of shipping the car back to Washington State.  He said his price was firm, mainly because the guy I had paid to examine the car had made an offer higher than mine!  Being a gentleman, the owner said he felt he should still sell me the car for the $25,000 we had discussed, so I gave him the money and headed home with the title.

 

 

I was furious that the person I entrusted to examine the car prior to my purchase had tried to buy it out from under me.  If he had bought it, do you think he’d have sent my $250 back?  No wonder he isn’t a member of POCA, they probably wouldn't have him.

 

 

Once I returned home, it was time to find a shipping company.  This could be an entire story in itself, but suffice it to say there were a lot of promises made by a lot of carriers.  The frustrating thing was, of the many promises made, none were kept!  One even resulted in a contested deposit on my credit card (I won).

 

 

In the end, a friend of mine in the transportation business did me a favor, and $1500 later the car was shipped in an enclosed carrier.  The only catch was it wouldn’t be delivered to my house, but to a loading dock across town.

 

While I anxiously awaited the car's arrival, I ordered the first of what was to become a long list of Pantera purchases--a gold license-plate frame inscribed with the words, "It's not a toy, it's an investment!"  Being a financial planner, my tongue was firmly planted in my cheek, of course.

 

 

Finally, the big day arrived.  A friend dropped me off at a warehouse which was empty except for me and the Pantera.  I was nervous at the thought of driving it to my house since the car was so unfamiliar to me, not to mention I hadn’t used a stick shift in downtown traffic for almost 20 years.

 

 

Nonetheless, when I turned the key, the motor started right up with its deep, reassuring burble.  I made it about halfway home when I noticed the temperature gauge was creeping into the danger zone.  I remembered the previous owner had wired a switch in the dash for the cooling fans so I flipped it on. The switch was one of those inexpensive illuminated type which looked neat but simply wasn’t up to the task of dealing with the current necessary to drive the two fans.  Smoke began to curl from the disintegrating switch.  With a flash and one final puff of smoke, the internals of the switch melted into oblivion and the fans went dead.

 

 

With inoperative radiator fans I’d never make it home without overheating.  As luck would have it, I was close to my favorite car repair establishment, Total Performance, so I turned in to their shop and turned off the car.

 

 

My mechanic stood, admiring the Pantera as I explained what had happened.  He quickly wired in a beefier switch, but advised me I’d need to install some proper relays soon.

 

 

Hoping nothing else would break before I got home, I tentatively negotiated the car through traffic and soon enough made it to the safety of my garage.

 

 

For many days following, I’d almost have to pinch myself each time I went into the garage and realized the beautiful DeTomaso Pantera parked there was actually mine.  I had always wanted one, after all.

 

 

At this point, I need to momentarily digress.  A few years earlier, our three-car garage had been turned  into a "two-car, one drum studio" garage.  This meant with the arrival of the Pantera one of our “normal” cars would be demoted to outside parking.  Not wanting to clutter up the front of our home with cars, I had gravel spread between our house and the neighbor’s house. This allowed me to park one of our vehicles along the side of our garage, behind a gate.  I wasn’t thrilled, however, with the prospect of getting out of my car to open the gate at each departure and arrival, especially considering the Pacific Northwest’s proclivity for rain.

 

 

To solve the problem, I embarked on another project I essentially invented as I went along.  I started by purchasing an electric garage door opener, some pulleys, cable and a steel pipe.  Within a couple of months, I had the only remote controlled, Sears-garage-door-opener-powered gate in town!  (Note:  At this writing it’s been about a year since I constructed the contraption and, knock on wood, so far it’s worked flawlessly).

 

 

Meanwhile, true to their word, Mike, Gary and several other members of Panteras Northwest converged on my garage with tools and an engine hoist ready to help me get my hands dirty.  Since the engine had never been out of the car, it was difficult work and many a knuckle bore the brunt of frozen bolts and uncooperative snap rings.  Nevertheless, eight hours, two pizzas, many beverages and a few expletives later, the engine and transmission were pulled and the gas tank removed.   (Several pairs of shoes suffered oil and grease damage during the proceedings, so the following week I sent out a few Nordstrom gift certificates along with my thank-you notes!)

 

 

They guys left, John Prunty (my mechanic) took the engine to the shop for some upgrades, and I was finally able to examine the damaged gas tank.

 

 

At first blush, the gas tank didn’t look too worse for wear.  The sheet metal behind its location was a different story, however, with a 12” by 3” rust hole now exposed.  Upon closer examination of the gas tank, I observed several small holes midway down the side of the tank which I assumed would be easily repairable.  It turns out very few things on a Pantera are “easily repairable.”

 

 

I took the tank to a specialty radiator repair shop which was also known for refurbishing gas tanks.  In fact, several Pantera gas tanks had recently been restored there.  I got a quote of about $300.00 for a full reconditioning of the tank, including a special protective coating.  That was much less expensive than buying a new one so I left the tank in their capable hands and went home to tackle the newly-uncovered body-rust problem.

 

 

I barely had time to get out the trouble light before the phone rang and I was given the news the gas tank was worse than originally thought.  Larger holes had been discovered rendering it beyond repair.  I drove back across town to retrieve the obsolete tank, irritated that now I’d have one more useless item cluttering up my garage.

 

 

One of the many advantages of belonging to the Pantera Owner’s Club is access to the email forum.  Members pose questions, give advice, tell stories and list items they wish to buy or sell.  I described my gas tank plight on the forum, and within days received several offers of good, used gas tanks for sale.  I ended up purchasing a newly-reconditioned unit for $350.00.  I even managed to sell my old gas tank on the forum for $15.00; even in its terminal condition!

 

 

Before I could install the new gas tank, however, I knew I had to do something about the rust I had found.  I also figured it would be a good time to strip the interior and check for rust there, too.  Also, as is the case when restoring an old car, I decided I should attend to a number of other issues as well, such as replacing the hoses, cooling pipes, carpet, headliner (leather), bulkhead (leather), alternator, water pump, shift-linkage and trunnion, back-up light switch, clutch; aligning and checking the front end (had to replace ball joint and spindle on the driver's side) and brakes (including new front rotors, stainless-steel brake lines and Porterfield pads) as well as working on a number of modern updates I had planned, such as a windshield wiper delay circuit and a clock.  I immediately contacted Summit Racing Equipment and ordered a new Centerforce clutch,  a new water pump and thermostat and a cruise control.  I also called Pantera Performance and ordered numerous parts I was advised should be replaced while I had the car apart.  These included a new shift rod with support, a motor mount, alternator, air conditioning compressor, complete hose replacement kit, new weatherstripping, new deck latch and much more.  The reserve fund I had set aside for Pantera improvements was beginning to shrink!

 

 

Gary Herrig came over and welded a new piece of steel over the hole that had rusted out behind the gas tank.  He also repaired the other small rust spots we discovered, as well as welding the seat-bolt nuts to the bottom of the car.  This makes removing and re-installing the seats much easier.

 

 

Although many of my Pantera projects occurred concurrently, in the interest of simplicity, I'll describe each independently.

 

 

THE SIDE-ACCESS GAS FILL PROJECT:

 

As anyone who has owned an early Pantera knows, the Italians who designed the car placed attributes such as beauty and speed at the top of their priority list while barely considering such trivialities as practicality.  One only needs to attempt filling the gas tank to discover this, since the stock arrangement requires the opening of the rear deck lid to access the gas cap!  My car had a slightly curved pipe which angled somewhat toward the rear of the car.  I have heard that item was probably an after-market addition, since the early cars left the factory with nothing but a stubby, straight pipe requiring nothing short of contortions to access.  Nevertheless, fill-ups were still inconvenient and I knew there had to be a way to improve things.

 

For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why the gas inlet wasn't accessible from the driver's side of the car.  Indeed, there is a black, fluted "gill" at almost the exact height of the gas inlet pipe, and that would have been the logical place to locate the gas cap.   Later Panteras  did  have a  round access door cut into said gill, but I didn't know that at the time.

 

I decided since the gas tank was out anyway, the first project I'd tackle on my own would be to facilitate more convenient gas station visits.

 

I did some research and found the gill in question was attached to the car body with nuts tightened on four threaded rods attached to the gill.  With no engine or gas tank in the car, and with the curved, metal engine-covers removed, it was relatively easy to feel around and find the nuts.  I removed them, and the gill came off easily.  Underneath was sheet metal, and behind that was another layer of sheet metal on the engine-bay side.  The curved pipe I mentioned earlier is attached to the top of the gas tank with four bolts, equidistant around the flanged base of the pipe.  I reasoned that if the pipe were rotated 90 degrees and the appropriate holes were cut in the body, it should be in just about the right position to line up with the gill area.  Since I figured the pipe could be adjusted easier than the gill's position, and since I knew if I cut a hole and it didn't work the hole could be covered by simply replacing the gill (and no one would be the wiser), I proceeded to the hardware store and bought a 4 1/2" hole saw.

 

I've done some scary things in my life, but few of them compare to approaching a beautiful, rare sports car with a hole saw mounted in a high-powered drill.   I could just imagine the sharp teeth sticking, jumping out of place and gnawing their way across the smooth paint, decimating the glassy finish.  I measured twice, then three times and piled on layers of duct tape for protection around the hole's future location.

 

With a gulp and a prayer I fired up the drill and began pushing.

 

I knew the Pantera was a light-weight car, but I wasn't prepared for how quickly the hole saw cut through the first layer of thin steel.   Buoyed by my success, I kept the drill going until the increase in RPMs signaled I had made it through the second wall and into the engine compartment.  Now all I had to do was determine how much to bend the curved pipe to align it with the new hole.  Oh yes, and I'd also have to figure out how to hinge the gill.  And how to devise some sort of latch.  And how to open it.   These, I felt, were minor issues.  I had, after all, just successfully cut a hole in my prized possession!

 

First, to the pipe.  As I examined the it, I began to realize it was made of aluminum and probably wouldn't bend without breaking to pieces.  So much for my first brilliant idea.  I then proceeded with the only remaining option; I cut the pipe in half.  I reasoned I could remove the mid-section of the pipe and replace it with a curved rubber piece of fuel-proof hose.  Starting with loosened hose clamps, I could adjust the height and side-to-side location of the gas-cap end of the pipe and when correct, tighten the clamps to maintain the position.  I purchased an angled piece of fuel hose, cut it to size and it worked.  By temporarily positioning the gas tank in it's proper location and reattaching the newly-cannibalized pipe (now protruding through the hole I had cut) I was able to determine the correct angle and length of the rubber hose so that the fuel cap ended up just inside the plane of the outer sheet metal.  This would  give access to the gas cap and still allow the gill to fit back in its original location.

 

Next I had to devise a way to transform a fixed gill  into a hinged door.  This would require some time alone in a place where great car ideas are born--I paid a visit to the local junkyard.  There, I spent an afternoon examining the mechanics of dozens of gas-cap access doors.  Some were locking, some were not.  Some were square, some were round.  I had no idea there could be this much variation in such a simple concept.   Nevertheless, I  determined the best approach would be to use a spring-loaded hinge that would hold the door fully open, and then snap shut.  Since I didn't want reveal any evidence of my modification to the casual eye, I didn't want to use any kind of exterior lock.  Instead I planned on using a remote release located in the cabin.  I hadn't figured out exactly how I would accomplish this, but I planned on it anyway.

 

For the hinge I used the gas access door from a late-eighties or early-nineties Mercury Sable, or was it a Contour?  I don't remember.  It didn't really matter, since all I cared about was that the door spring was stout.  I knew I'd have to cut most, if not all of the original door from the hinge assembly anyway.  What was critical was that the hinge was attached to the car body by screws visible when the door was opened.  That was the only way I would be able to attach the assembly to the Pantera.

 

For the door release, I found a Honda which contained the requisite cable-to-the-cabin arrangement, although it incorporated two levers; one for the gas door and one for opening the trunk.  I briefly entertained the idea of using the trunk release lever for something, too, since it was already there (like maybe opening the trunk), but realized if I bit off more than I could chew, I'd probably choke.  I removed the entire lever assembly, but only took the gas door cable and latch.  When I got home I simply hack-sawed the lever bracket in half and with minor modification and some filing had a functional gas-door release.

 

Before a release does much good, it's important to have a door that needs opening.  So far I had a gill with no hinge and a hinge with a door I didn't want.  I again used my trusty hack saw to cut off most of the original door, leaving only the hinge.  It had been spot welded to the door and the hinge bracket itself wasn't the right shape to attach to anything on the gill.  Using trial and error I determined the only location on the Pantera the hinge would fit would be the upper-right hand  edge of the gill opening.  The reason for this is when the door closes, the hinge has to have an area into which it can swing without obstruction.  The gill is triangular, and the other two sides of the triangle on the car body were too shallow to accommodate the hinge.  The disadvantage I could see was that this meant the door would open "into the wind" as it were.  If the latch mechanism (which I hadn't yet invented) happened to fail while traveling at high speed, the wind could catch the door and fling it open with such force body damage could result.  Another problem to solve--some ambiguous day.

 

The more pressing concern at the moment was how to attach the hinge to the gill.  I examined the gill and the hinge and found if I could attach a steel bar to the hinge bracket at just the right angle, I could drill two holes in it which theoretically would line up with the two rear threaded studs on the gill.  With the proper spacers, I should be able to use the original nuts to combine the two pieces into a single, moving part.  By drilling the original stud holes in the car body to a size larger than the nuts, the gill would be able to close snugly against the body.  Theoretically.

 

I returned to the hardware store an bought a basic, 1/8" thick  piece of galvanized  bracket, about 1"x6" or so.  Since I don't  own a welder, I had my friends at Total Performance weld it to the hinge bracket after I had used pop-rivets to hold it in the proper position.  Before positioning the piece I used trial and error again (are you noticing a theme here?) to position the hinge on the car body so the mounting bolts that would eventually attach the hinge/gill assembly to the car body would be located in the best position.  With the hole cut in the side of the car it was relatively easy to try different locations for the hinge.

 

After the welding was done I ground and filed the hinge bracket to the most compact size I could, just long enough to accommodate the holes needed to accept the two rear studs on the gill.  Since the studs became larger at the point where they were attached to the gill, I had to drill holes in my new hinge bracket large enough to slip over the larger diameter bases of the studs.  The wide part of the studs were a little taller than the hinge bracket was thick, so just using the nuts wouldn't work since they would have tightened down on the base of the studs and left the hinge bracket loose.  To solve this problem, I used a couple of nylon washers as spacers which slipped over the raised portion of the studs before I put on the nuts.  Tightening down on the nuts now compressed the nylon washers, tightened the hinge to the gill and the gill was now almost a door!  I was then able to determine exactly where to drill the mounting holes in the car body so I could attach the other side of the hinge to the car.  I also ran a very thin strip of weatherstripping around the inside edge of the gill to avoid any scratching during opening and closing.

 

I must confess that once I had tightened all the bolts I had to forcibly bend the hinge slightly to precisely align the gill to the body, but  after a bit of tweaking, the hinge worked great and when closed, it looked as good as stock.

 

Now it was time to revisit the Honda cable.  I found a convenient location in the cabin to mount the release lever, just below the front hood latch.  I drilled holes in the Pantera to align with the holes in the bracket and mounted it with large sheet-metal screws.  Since I had removed all the old carpet and padding, it was easy to drill another hole directly below where I mounted the release lever.  This was to feed the cable toward the back of the car.  Getting it from the cabin to the engine compartment was not an easy task.  The DeTomaso folks must have had a side business building mazes for laboratory rats, because the more I tried to feed the cable along the inside of the rocker panel, the more I discovered what a labyrinth lies inside the body of a Pantera.  I had drilled a hole from the engine compartment through the rear firewall just below where the bottom edge of the gas tank would normally be located into what I thought was the rocker panel area, and yet I couldn't seem to connect that hole with the cable coming from the cabin.  Finally, after using a 16" long drill bit and drilling through what seemed an inordinate amount of layers, I  made the connection and fed the cable  into the engine bay and up toward the gas access door.

 

The cable terminates in a plastic sheath with an angled, plastic plunger sticking out about 1/4".  When the lever in the cabin is pulled, the plunger retracts.  When the lever is released, a spring extends the plunger back out again.  All I had to do was make a bracket to hold the plunger assembly and have it mate with a plate with the appropriate-sized hole into which the plunger would extend when not  retracted.  I  used a galvanized "L" Bracket for the plunger and attached another, thinner one to the lower front stud on the gill (using the original nut).  I had to file the hole into which that stud originally fit to a size large enough that the steel bracket could extend into the body and mate with the plunger.  I then determined the correct location to mount the plunger assembly, drilled mounting holes in the car body and mounted the plunger assembly using two bolts.  Next, I drilled a hole in the proper place in the gill's "L" bracket so the plunger would  pop into  it  when the gill was pushed shut.  Of course, leaving it at this would make opening the gill difficult since the hinge was sprung in such a way as to keep the door either open or closed.  I had to find a way to get the gill to pop open slightly when the plunger was recessed.  To do this, I found a spring that began with a small diameter and with each successive turn got significantly bigger.  I attached the spring to the gill's last unused stud so that it had just enough "spring" to push the door out slightly when the release lever was pulled and the plunger retracted.  For cosmetic reasons I used rubber grommets around the holes where the studs entered the body (the square-ish one I filed to accommodate the "L" bracket was tricky due to it's shape.  I tried heating up a round grommet to melt it into the proper shape with marginal results).

 

Using a semi-gloss black paint, I painted the area now exposed when the gill was opened.  I also cut a short length of rubber tubing in half and used gas-proof silicone rubber to glue in in place directly under the gas cap.  This prevents the cap (or anything else) from falling between the outer skin of the car and the inner wall of the engine bay.  With the gas tank in place, anything dropped there would be gone forever.  Later I covered that piece with black leather to make it look a bit better.

 

Finally, I purchased a small, plastic project box from Radio Shack to cover the bracket in the cabin.  I cut it to the size necessary to cover the bracket, sawed a groove in it so the lever could move in and out freely and covered it with carpet.  I attached it using Velcro for easy removal (and easy installation, too).

 

The arrangement worked great until I put the replacement gas tank back in.  Then, inexplicably, the lever in the cabin wouldn't move.  It turned out I had inadvertently placed the gas tank on top of the cable, pinching it.  Once I loosened the gas tank's hold-down strap and re-routed the cable so it ran freely between the gas tank and the car body, it worked fine.  Boy, was I glad I discovered that before I had the engine and transmission back in!

 

Recently I added a safety cable to address my concern about the door popping open at high speed.  I crimped and soldered a cable to an eye connector (the kind used for electrical connections) to attach to the same gill bolt that held the spring, attached it with an additional nut and lock washer and then used a piece of bolt at the other end.  I drilled a hole through the center of the bolt, ran the cable through it, frayed the end of the cable once through and taped the strands around the bolt.  That way the cable wouldn't pull out.  Then I wrapped the bolt in a thin layer of foam rubber (held in place with duct tape, of course!) and pushed it through the hole which lined up with the gill bolt.  I pushed it through lengthwise, but of course, as soon as it was through it sprung back horizontally in relation to the car's body, and since oriented in that position it was much longer than the hole, it stayed behind the hole and acts as a stop for that end of the cable.  When the gill is open, the cable limits its travel.  I'm afraid at high speed, if the gill did accidentally open, the little eye connector would probably disintegrate due to the extreme force.  I hope I never have to find out!  In the meantime, the "gill door" has worked flawlessly and never opened inadvertently.

 

Between major projects, I continued to make small upgrades, such as replacing the shift boot, adding windshield wiper delay (ordered from J.C. Whitney and mounted under the dash on the far left-hand side), replacing all the hoses, replacing sections of the rusted floorboards with new steel and purchasing new, copper cooling tubes (which run under the car from the radiator to the engine) and having them treated with an anti-corrosion coating.

 

I also purchased several quarts of "Rust Bullet" and since the engine was still out of the car, I painted every almost everything in sight with the stuff.  In fact, I purchased a plastic lawn sprayer and used that to spray Rust Bullet into all the nooks and crannies of the frame as well.

 

 

THE STEREO:

 

Music has always been important to me (I've been a drummer since age four) so having a great stereo system in the Pantera was a must.  The car came with an archaic, vertically-oriented analog AM/FM/Cassette unit in the dash and a couple of tired 6 1/2" speakers in the inner kick panels (facing outward from just forward and below the gauges).  I liked the '70's look of the original stereo and after weeks of unsuccessfully trying to locate a modern vertical unit (I couldn't find a single one), decided to keep it.  It looked period, and all I'd have to do to get it to work with modern equipment would be to use a speaker-level to line-level converter.  This would allow me to use a pre-amp equalizer, switcher, etc. with the original stereo and, hey--if needed I could listen to cassettes, too!

 

I browsed on-line and ordered a large, four-channel amplifier, a nine-band equalizer, a small, portable DVD/CD player, two 6" X 9" three-way speakers, two dome tweeters, a 12" dual-voice-coil sub-woofer and a roll of 14 gauge speaker wire..  I already had a four-position line-level switcher and misc. cables, so I figured other than the basic installation, all I'd have to do was construct some sort of sub-woofer cabinet behind the passenger seat.

 

The amp went into the front trunk fairly easily.  Nothing else about the stereo was easy!

 

Each door panel had a round, plastic disc located near the front at the perfect height for a tweeter.  The discs were actually access points so the windows could be manually operated in case the battery suddenly went dead with the windows down during an unexpected rainstorm.  (Actually, a more likely scenario would be the window motor failing, or the window switch giving out, or the window gears stripping, or the window fuse burning out, or...)  After removing the discs, all I had to do was use a small, round grinding wheel to shave about 1/2" from the plastic receptacle I found located there.  Once that was done, I placed the tweeters in the holes and mounted them with plastic upholstery-type fasteners.  That way, I could still quickly remove the tweeters and access the manual window crank apparatus.  I ran the wires through the door jambs along with the existing wires, terminating under the dash close to where I planned on mounting the 6" X 9" speakers (for simplicity I decided to just use a basic, non-polar, 2.2 microfarad crossover capacitor and run the tweeters in parallel to the main speakers).

 

I had planned for the new 6" X 9" speakers to directly replace the existing units.  After removing the kick panels, however I discovered two problems; first, the kick panels had more than one speaker hole cut in each (sloppily, too), and also, the magnets of the new speakers were so large the driver's side area lacked the required space.

 

With all the oddly-shaped holes, there wasn't much strength in the kick panels once the old speakers were removed.  I found the price of replacement kick panels a bit steep, so I simply used contact cement to glue a new sheet of plastic to the back of each kick panel for reinforcement.   I was planning on covering them with carpet anyway so I knew the fix wouldn't show.

 

I cut the appropriately-sized hole in the passenger side kick panel and managed to shoehorn the large speaker in place.  I recovered the kick panel using a scrap leftover from the new carpets Gary Herrig had made for me and used a piece of black, rubber door-edge protector on the leading edge to give it a finished look.  I did the same for the speaker-less driver's side.

 

The only place the driver's side speaker could fit was underneath the dashboard facing downward.  Since the tweeters were positioned so well, I wasn't too concerned about the downward orientation.  I knew with hundreds of watts of power in such a small cabinet, I could remedy any acoustic anomalies by simply turning the volume knob to 11...

 

I cut a piece of plywood to fit under the dash, cut a hole for the speaker and covered it with a scrap of black leather leftover from the new headliner Gary Herrig was making for me.  (Like the Indians and the Buffalo--I use every part of my projects' supplies).  In order to mount the newly-constructed speaker board, I drilled two holes up inside the bottom of the dashboard, close to the lower, front edge, and mounted a bolt in each, facing downward.  I used a nut on each to tighten it so I could then use them as mounting studs.  I drilled corresponding holes in the front of the speaker board, and one more hole in the back of the speaker board for a sheet metal screw I would use to support that end of the unit.  Due to the speaker magnet's large size, I had to bend some of the sheet metal under the dash out of the way.  It was also a lot more difficult than I had envisioned lining up the two bolts attached under the dash with the holes in the speaker board--especially when lying upside-down trying to support a heavy speaker with one hand and an acorn nut with the other!   Nevertheless, I somehow managed to get the nuts threaded.  I then drilled through the under-dash metal to accept a sheet metal screw that would support the back of the speaker board.

 

Because of the slight flexing of the speakers and the fact the driver's side speaker was facing downward, I found it necessary to use a little silicone rubber to glue the grills in place.

 

The line-level switch box I used happened to be almost the same width as the equalizer, so I used metal straps on each side to attach them together.  I located this assembly in the glove compartment.  To get the correct height I screwed a small block of wood to the bottom of the glove box, then used peel-and-stick Velcro on the bottom of the switch box and the top of the wood block to hold the components in place.  When the glove box is shut, it looks stock.  When open, the modern glow of the EQ's L.E.D.s looks great.  The amplifier had a built-in sub-woofer crossover, so all I had to do was run two pairs of RCA cables from the switch box to the amplifier in the front trunk--one pair for the main speakers, one pair for the sub-woofer.

 

I should stop here to explain that a few days before I watched in horror as smoke began billowing from my dashboard caused by the ammeter's corroded contacts.  While resolving this problem, I learned the best place to run accessories is not from the positive terminal of the battery as I had thought, but from the load side of the ammeter .  I twisted two 12-gauge, solid core wires together for maximum current capability and ran them from the correct ammeter location to the front trunk.  This enabled me to power the amplifier, cooling fans and other items properly.

 

Directly above the glove compartment on the flat section of the dashboard, I mounted a 12-volt cigarette-lighter-sized accessory outlet and a female, stereo mini-jack.  The 12 volt outlet had a black cover which helped it blend in when not in use.  By using a couple of strategically-located small, black peel-and-stick Velcro squares on the dash and portable DVD player, I could now quickly affix the unit to the Velcro, plug the audio cable into the mini-jack and presto!  Movies to go.  The mini-jack simply plugged into the switch box next to the original stereo's outputs.  By using the switch box, I now could choose to direct the AM/FM/cassette unit or the DVD/CD to the main audio system.

 

I also wanted to be able to use my IPOD Nano in the Pantera, and knew just where I wanted it to go.  I ordered a small, table-top IPOD dock on-line which included a plastic base with audio outputs and a 12-volt input to power the IPOD.  When it arrived, I was pleased to discover it was almost the width and depth as the car's ashtray.  I removed the ashtray and hack-sawed off the bottom.  I also cut off the back of the IPOD dock to facilitate its fitting inside the ashtray.  I cannibalized an in-line headphone volume control and ran the IPOD dock's audio output through it before running the cables to the switch box.  I aligned the top of the IPOD dock with the top of the ashtray, making sure the top could fully open and close, and pop-riveted the box to the ashtray.  There was just enough space on one side of the dock to place the small volume control; it was held in place by my old friend, silicone rubber.  I ran the 12 volt power input to a switched location under the dash, running along the inside of the console, out of sight.

 

The most difficult part of the stereo install was yet to come--namely, the sub-woofer.  With the engine out of the car I didn't know how much room I'd have in the engine compartment behind the passenger seat (the location I had determined offered the most free space).  I called my mechanic and had him measure the engine's width using the motor mount as a reference point.  I based the location of the sub-woofer and the shape of the box on these measurements.  Unfortunately, he didn't realize I had ordered the "flat firewall kit" which relocates the alternator to the lower right of the engine (if this were a novel, that statement is what we would call "foreshadowing...")

 

Using my trusty Sears saber saw, I cut a whole through the firewall behind the passenger seat large enough to accommodate the 12" speaker.  I also cut a smaller hole for a bass port.  I then built a box using 1" thick marine-grade plywood.  To maximize internal volume in the space available, the shape was odd and used many strange angles.  I completed the box mostly by, you guessed it--trial and error.  I cut holes in the box to match the holes in the car and used bolts through the firewall and the front of the speaker box to secure it in the engine compartment.  I angled the port tube so that it ran the maximum length it could in the box for better bass response.  The box was not only glued, screwed and nailed together, but to eliminate potential rattles I also sealed each seam with silicone rubber.  Once Mounted, I ran speaker wire from the box to the amplifier through the passenger side rocker panel.  I then covered the entire box with fire-resistant sound-deadener (the kind with silver metal on one side and sticky, black goo on the other.  I also used that on both sides of the firewall and applied it to may other places while the car was stripped down).

 

After the sub-woofer was mounted I cranked up the tunes and was very pleased with the result.  Not only could it actually play louder than the Cleveland, the sound quality was great, too.

 

And now, as Paul Harvey would say, here's "the rest of the story."

 

The day the engine came back from the shop, when my loyal compadres from the club and I attempted to replace the engine, the alternator bumped smack into the side of the sub-woofer box!  I couldn't believe it--after all the measuring and work I had put into it.  I had measured three times and cut once!  Since time was of the essence (the guys couldn't hang around all night) I did the only thing I could do.  I took out the woofer, grabbed my sawzall and from inside the car cut off the lower corner of the box.  Doing this allowed enough room to replace the engine, but left me with a big problem in the form of a big hole.

 

What I was finally able to do, was construct a inverted "box within a box" which I glued and silicone-rubbered in place from the inside the sub-woofer cabinet.  After doing so, the sub-woofer magnet just cleared it, and I was able to successfully rock out once again.

 

When I drove the car I noticed a whine coming through the tweeters that raised in pitch as the engine RPMs increased.  I tried every trick I knew to get rid of it, including adding extra ground wires between the body of the car and the frame, using chokes on the amplifier and components' power leads, incorporating noise filters on the RCA inputs of the amplifier, using resistor plugs and  spark plug wires, but nothing helped.  I found a black box that I saved from an old stereo that had several wires protruding from each end.  I realized it was a noise filter, and one which was more sophisticated than what had I tried thus far.  The only problem was the wire gauge was nowhere near robust enough to handle the power of the huge amplifier I had installed.  What I decided to do was add a second, smaller amplifier to handle the high frequencies and bridge the large amp to drive the subwoofer.  Not only did this increase the power to the subwoofer considerably, but it allowed me to use the noise filter on the power lead of the smaller amplifier.  Since the whine was inaudible through the woofer, using it on the amplifier driving the high frequency drivers solved the problem.

 

Another advantage of how I configured the stereo is that only three of the four switch box positions are filled, so the system is ready for the next generation of electronic wizardry!

 

 

POWER MIRRORS:

 

When I purchased my Pantera, it came with a pair of black rear-view mirrors, which, although sporty, didn't look period and weren't powered.  Panteras didn't arrive in America equipped with outside mirrors, so most had mirrors added at the dealerships with whatever happened to be lying around.  There have been reports of "stock" Panteras sporting Ford LTD mirrors, or worse.  Whatever my car had in the way of mirrors when it left the showroom obviously had been replaced with more suitable fare, but I wanted power mirrors and knew I could find a pair more to my liking.  I just didn't know where to look.

 

I started by perusing catalogues and the Internet, but couldn't find anything desirable within my price range.  So it was back to the junkyard, this time accompanied by my two sons, David and Donny, 14 and 12 years of age at the time.   After considering dozens of mirrors on an equal number of the sad, derelict remnants of once shiny prized possessions proudly parked in someone's garage, we decided the mirrors found on a 1980's 280 ZX would look good on the Pantera.  The three of us worked to remove the door panels, unbolt the mirrors, unplug the wiring connectors and remove the switches from the console.  An hour or so and $90.00 later we headed home with a cardboard box containing the start of my newest project.

 

The first job was to remove the existing mirrors, which proved simple enough.  They were held in place by two sheet metal screws and silicone rubber.  I had to use my fingernail to gently remove the remnants of the silicone rubber and was then left with two small holes in the top of each door.  After removing the Pantera's door panels, it became obvious the Datsun's mirrors wouldn't simply bolt into place with their existing mounting hardware.  The area inside the door where access would be needed was completely blocked by the electric window motor and gear assembly.  I certainly didn't want to have exposed sheet metal screws on the base of my new mirrors, so improvisation was again needed.  At the base of the widow motor assembly there was a bracket that had a horizontal flange protruding forward an inch or so.  By replacing each new mirror's mounting bolt with one long enough to extend to that flange, through which I'd have to drill a corresponding hole, I might be able to attach the mirrors in the desired location.  I removed the original, short bolts from the mirrors and took them to the hardware store for reference.  Bolts of sufficient length were not available, so I was forced to purchase threaded rods and matching nuts.  It was necessary to thread one nut on the end of a rod, then grind it down to make it thin enough to fit within the mirror's hardware, but once that was accomplished, I had a mirror with a really long mounting bolt that would reach to the flange.

 

By carefully using my cordless drill, I was able to create a hole in the flange of each door's bracket to accept the threaded rod.  The scary part came next:  I had to drill a relatively large hole right in the top of each door of my new Pantera!  I tapped a starting point with a punch, held my breath and started drilling.  Fortunately, the first layer of steel cooperated with the drill bit and the hole appeared with no problems.  As usual, however, there was another layer or two of steel angled inside the door.  It was too late to turn back now, so I just kept drilling until I could slide the rod through the top of the door all the way through the hole in the flange.  One advantage to the light steel used in making these cars is that drill bits don't necessarily have to be extraordinarily sharp to quickly make a hole.

 

At this point it became obvious the angle of the mirrors' bases was wrong for the top of the Pantera's doors, so I had to grind the bottom of each base until the angle was correct.  This changed the size, so the plastic flange no longer fit (the new mirrors had a flat rubber grommet which rested on the door surface followed by a plastic flange into which the metal base of the mirror fit).  Using scissors, I cut the rubber grommet to the correct size and simply placed the metal mirror base directly on the rubber grommet, discarding the plastic flanges.  I also drilled a second hole through which the wiring could be run.

 

In retrospect, I should have tested the angle of the reflective glass as I ground down the mirrors' bases because after final installation I found the mirror's angle wasn't adjustable to where it needed to be.  I was forced to place a spacer inside the mirror housing on the driver's side to move the glass out a bit.  Periodically checking that as I was grinding the bases would have alleviated that problem.

 

Since the mirrors were apart, I gave the housings to a guy who offered to paint them for me for a good price (more about this guy later).  After weeks of waiting, I finally got them back, painted the same color as the car (good) but with a few foreign substances mixed in with the paint (bad).  Using more silicone rubber (for extra stabilization) and the long threaded rods, I attached the mirrors to the car doors.  The wires were run alongside the stock courtesy light/electric window wires from the door, through the door jamb and up under the dash, then down through the console.  Despite the less-than-perfect paint job, the mirrors looked great!  Now, to the wiring.

 

I planned on mounting the control switches on the console, just ahead of the lighter.  I planned on tapping into the lighter's power wire to drive the mirror motors.  The first problem was I had no wiring diagram, and (of course) the wires coming from the mirrors had different color coding than the wires from the switches.   I would need to determine which wires connected where, but since there were only four wires from each unit, how hard could it be?  With a couple of lucky guesses I had the first mirror hooked up and working in just a few minutes.  The second mirror, however, didn't seem to work properly, no matter what configuration I tried.  Finally, in desperation, I did what I should have done from the start; I wrote down all 16 possible combinations, and with the help of my German exchange student, tested each one.  Oddly enough, none worked!  This had gone from irritating to downright frustrating, so I did the only thing left to do--I disassembled the switch.  Inside I found the problem.  Several of the small, copper "tracks' that made the various connections as the switch was moved were broken.  Had I thought to inspect the switches first I could have saved hours of fruitless work.  I returned to the junkyard and found a replacement switch (for which I was charged another $10) and soon both mirrors were working fine.

 

I drilled the requisite holes in the console, mounted the switches and this project was finally completed.

 

 

THIRD BRAKE LIGHT

 

Since the car was so low to the ground I thought it would be prudent to add a third brake light.  The open area just above the engine seemed the ideal place, so I went to AutoZone to find a suitable bracket and light.  I found a chrome license plate holder that I thought would do the trick, along with a red, Pilot L.E.D. light bar.  My plan was to mount the bracket and drill a small hole in the underside of the roof through which to run the wire the short distance to the back window.  There I'd drill another small hole for the wire to emerge.  The wire would then would run under the back window's rubber channel to the engine compartment (passenger side) where I had mounted the cruise control and, as part of its required wiring, established a wire connected to the brake lights.  Tapping into that would power the new L.E.D. brake light.  The Light bar had a peel-and-stick backing which was just the right width to fit on the bracket, too.

 

All went well until I tried to run the wire between the little holes I had drilled in the underside of the roof (being careful to put a stop on the bit so I wouldn't add unwanted perforations to the top of the car!)  Unbeknown to me, there was some sort of bracing sandwiched between the top and bottom sheet metal of the roof.  This blocked the wire from reaching the back hole I had drilled.  The only way I could remedy the problem was to drill a large hole midway between the small holes just in front of the brace, use the new hole as an access to drill another hole through the bracing, thereby connecting the two sections, feed the wire through the brace hole and out the hole by the back window, and plug the large hole with a chrome, snap-in cap I happened to have laying around.  Since the cap is on the underside of the roof area it's not noticeable, and since it's chrome, even if it is noticed, it looks OK.

 

The brake light works well and so far (fingers crossed) the heat from the engine hasn't caused the double stick tape to fail, dropping the light bar into the engine!

 

 

POWER LOCKS

 

This project would have been fairly straightforward:  Find "universal" power lock kit on eBay for $35.00, take of door panels, install via directions, and presto!  Similar to the power mirror installation, however, I spent quite a while trying to figure out where the wires were supposed to go, since they seemed to have no relation to the instructions I received with the door lock kit.  I called the factory and it was discovered I had received the wrong instruction booklet!  Once that was cleared up, things started making a lot more sense.

 

I routed the wires the same way I had routed the mirror wires, although the rubber grommets in the door jambs were over their capacity at this point so it was difficult to get the wires from the doors to the dash.  Perseverance prevailed, however, and soon the locks were installed.  The passenger door's lock, however, should have been angled slightly differently.  I found this out after reassembling everything and then finding it would occasionally bind.  After tweaking it a bit, it now works fine 95% of the time.  Part of the problem stems from the fact the previous owner installed some trick aluminum door lock pulls and shims which don't have much wiggle-room.

 

The locks use remote control key fobs to lock and unlock the doors, and after almost a year are still working great.

 

 

NEW AND IMPROVED DOME LIGHT(S)

 

Here's another "it should have been really easy but instead was a pain in the posterior" project.  I didn't like the puny, cheap-looking dome light that came stock in my Pantera.  I liked the look of my third brake light L.E.D. bar, however, and had seen them in green, which matched my car's exterior color.  The L.E.D. bars don't put out as much light as a standard dome light, so I knew I'd probably need more than one to do the job.  I decided to mount one in place of the original light (above the back window), one above the driver's side window and a third above the passenger's side window.  I found one at the local AutoZone and picked it up for about $15.00.  I asked them to order two more for me as well.

 

A few days later, I got a call informing me the green, Pilot L.E.D. bars were no longer available.  Great--I needed three and had one.  I resigned myself to settling for white L.E.D. bars instead, and purchased three of those.  Remembering the Indians and the Buffalo (see "The Fan-Loaded Engine Cover" below), I mounted the green light bar to the front of the car under the grill and hooked it to the running-light circuit.  A subtle green glow now emanates from the front of the car during my evening drives.

 

I mounted the three white light bars to the headliner leather (after cleaning it with alcohol for good adhesion) and was pleased with the result--for about three days.  At that point, one of the light bars inexplicably stopped working.  Since I always suspect my work as the first culprit for misbehaving components, I dutifully disassembled the headliner trim and checked the wiring.  To my surprise, the wiring was fine--it was the light bar that had failed.  About that time, one of the remaining two light bars decided to hide it's light under a bushel and started operating at about half its normal brightness.

 

I found this to be very infuriating and did what anyone would do in that situation; I removed all three light bars, tore them apart and replaced the L.E.D.s with new ones I purchased from Superbright L.E.D.s.  While I was at it, I took the liberty of using green L.E.D.s instead of the original, white ones, so in the final analysis, I ended up with what I had wanted from the beginning; green L.E.D. light bar dome lights.  Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is very circuitous!

 

 

ENGINE MODS

 

While I was busy with all the other projects, John Prunty at Total Performance was improving the 351 Cleveland which he had taken back to his shop.  He installed a new Comp cam, MSD ready-to-run electronic ignition and spark-plug wires, new tappets, new timing chain, new Centerforce clutch and probably a few more items I can't remember.  He also repainted the block stock Ford blue.

 

Back when I when I owned my first car and shredded my knuckles replacing the water pump, I decided mechanics would do my engine work.  Therefore, that's the area about which I know the least.  It also, therefore, becomes the most expensive part of my Pantera improvements since hourly shop rates aren't inexpensive.

 

 

THE BACK WINDOW DEBACLE

 

In order to repair the rust hole found behind the gas tank it was ne

Categories: Owner Experiences