Revisionist Theory: One Man’s Idea Of The Perfect Pantera
Photography by Shane Allen
I’ve always been a fan of the De Tomaso Pantera, but it’s never been one of those “must have cars” for me. So, I honestly didn’t know all that much about them, which was fine because I wasn’t all that interested—that was, until a few months ago when I stumbled upon the car photographed here.
While making my rounds at the local cars and coffee, a group of five or six Panteras rumbled in. I can’t remember the exact number but that’s irrelevant because there was only one I remember: this crisp white 1974. The others were wilder looking, one so modified it was barely identifiable, some wearing shouty “look at me, I’m a super car” paint, but this car – this is the only one I circled, dumbfounded at the overall quality.
Scratching my head, I couldn’t quite place my finger on what it was exactly, but nothing looked out of place. Everything looked right and that’s quite a rare thing. As the C&C came to a close, I just barely caught the car departing, insisting to owner Bruce Singer I had to get the lowdown on his classic.
Andrew Golseth: Bruce, before we dive into the main course, tell me about your petrolhead beginnings.
Bruce Singer: My whole life has been cars and motorcycles. I had an uncle who bought a ’65 Mustang GT convertible new and had speed boats and motorcycles. That was exciting to me. My family was somewhat conservative, nobody liked cars except one of my brothers and nobody liked motorcycles. I loved all that stuff. When I was 17 I bought a 1970 Datsun 240Z, production number 2112. I loved that car. It, like the Pantera, was a lot of bang for the buck. If I had the chance to get another one of those, I would. That was a great car for me.
I was fortunate to have this great mentor, a man by the name of Dan Kolodziejski. He had the means to have all these great cars. In 1990, he bought a 1973 Pantera, pumpkin orange, with a built 351 and he’d let me borrow it on a regular basis. I just fell in love. It was so much bang for the buck and it was a force to be reckoned with. Back then, I remember racing a guy in a Saleen Mustang. Needless to say, the Pantera had its way with him. That began my love affair with the car.
AG: Sounds like a great mentor to have! Tell me, why the De Tomaso Pantera, what was it that lured you into that car?
BS: They were, and in many ways still are, so underrated. Mid-engine, Italian design, brute American horsepower, low production numbers, the gated shifter, and the attitude. It’s just so sexy, and you could pick one up for a really affordable price. I thought, “This is my chance to own an exotic.” You know, if I had $35,000 to spend on a Porsche or a Pantera, there was no question for me: the Pantera was the way to go.
AG: It’s certainly a lot of value for the money. Your car: when and where did you find it?
BS: I found the car, a one-owner, for sale online in 2002 and it was listed for an ungodly amount—double what the car was worth at the time. It appeared very stock, only had 8,000 miles on it and looked pretty clean. I watched it for a year and nothing happened so I called the guy up and said, “Look, I’m interested in the car but the price is just too high. There’s no point in flying out to Chicago to see the car if we can’t work on the price.” The car was in Springfield, Illinois, so I told him, “If you get real with the price I’ll buy a plane ticket.” He told me, “Buy a plane ticket.”
In October 2003, I flew out to see it. The car was pretty good but it had a light dusting of rust here and there, the motor was very un-kept. It was a little rough, but the bones were excellent. We sat down and worked out a deal, with shipping to California included in the price.
The first thing I did when I got the car to California was strip it down, there wasn’t really any serious rust issues, so I tidied it up. Cleaned everything off, undercoated it, had it repainted, and then spent the next 12 or 13 years slowly going through the mechanics, the electrics, the plumbing, and now the car is where you see it.
AG: Obviously the car is modified, but it looks like it could have come from the factory as is—sort of an OEM-plus type build instead of a full-on restomod. Was that planned or just sort of happen along the build?
BS: It was planned from day one. It all started when I took the car to Don Byars of Full Throttle Panteras to get the transmission repaired. It had a bad second gear synchro. It’s funny, I showed up to his shop and there are no signs, you’d never know he was there. It’s all very innocuous. He came to the door and asked, “Who are you and what do you want.” I heard, “Who sent you?” It was quite memorable. It felt exclusive. He lets me in the shop and there were probably 8 or 9 Panteras in there, one more beautiful than the last. His shop is like a hospital, super clean. I was impressed.
When I started telling him what my long-term goals were for the car, they were in perfect alignment with his desired vision for Panteras which was stock appearing but enhancing the fact that this car is a thug. It deserved really clean, really heavy horsepower without being ridiculous or unrefined. It deserved a heavier stance where it sat down as if it was going to attack.
Don is the kind of guy who would repair something and if he saw something else out of whack, he’d tidy it up and, showing me with excitement, “Look at that!” Everything was always perfect and of the highest quality. It was just this meticulous attention to detail, and he’s a one-man operation. Nobody else touches the cars! It’s fascinating.
AG: The attention to detail certainly shows through. Walk me through the build.
BS: The story, as I was told, was after the car was purchased in May of ’74 it was sent to Roush. The owner had Roush build the stock 351 up with all of the Ford “off-highway” factory parts with 14:1 compression. It was horrific. I tried to make that motor work but it ran rough, vibrated everything to death, leaked oil, and it was just not ideal. It was making high 400 horsepower but it just didn’t run right.
Don ended up building the motor that’s in the car now. It’s a 427 stroker, basically a Windsor block that’s been bored and stroked to a 427 with stage two heads. The motor makes somewhere between 550 and 620 horsepower. You’d have to drive it to form an opinion. Whatever it is, the car is amazingly quick. We’ve never dyno’d it but it’s brutal, the power comes on really strong but it’s visually subtle from the outside. We rebuilt the factory ZF five-speed manual transmission and had it completely safety wired.
When we went through the interior, we wanted to keep it clean but I was kind of inspired by the Singer Reimagined Porsches—specifically, the seats with the metal grommets in them. We applied that detail to make the interior pop and it gets a lot of positive reactions from people. I always cringed at the factory shift knob—something about it was just off. I had a traditional round ball knob that was more in line with the exotic style of the time and had the shift pattern engraved on it. Subtle changes that still appear to be correct to a car of this type.
It still has working air conditioning, windshield wipers, and power windows—everything works. It all had to work and work well. There’s no radio to keep things looking minimal, but it’s got a hidden Bluetooth so I can connect my phone for music.
The stock side view mirrors never looked right to me, they used Mustang mirrors and it made me cringe. I put on the Talbot bullet mirrors, even though they’re a more late ‘60s design, and they just look correct on the car. There were little aesthetics that make the car look silly. For example the skinny rear wheels and tires made the car look like a gooney bird—the stance wasn’t heavy enough.
There was somebody making the current wheels that are on the car and they look like the original magnesium Campagnolos but are staggered aluminum reproduction wheels that are wider and bigger—17 inch. We redid the suspension so that it sits and rides how it always should have.
I was fixing and upgrading things throughout ownership, like the brakes needed to be redone so we went with a Wilwood setup. When something became a necessity to fix, we fixed or upgraded it. I didn’t drop it off and say, “Replace everything and let me know when it’s finished.” I have to say that the car wouldn’t be as tidy as it is without Don Byars. He’s a guru.
We just finished the car with custom machined aluminum valve covers we had made that say “De Tomaso” and below that in smaller script it says “427 Alte Prestazioni” which is “high performance”. Sort of the cherry on top for the build.
AG: That’s a great touch! You guys did an incredible job. The car looks and sounds so solid. What’s your favorite aspect of the car, if you had to pick just one?
BS: I love that it’s such a brute. No matter how refined you try to make it, it brutalizes you. When you get out of that car you’re a little wiped out. The power, the stance, the low seating position, the gated shifter, how planted it sits on the ground, it’s hard to narrow it down to one thing.
The roar of that V8 is exciting, even just loping it around. It’s fantastic. It will seduce you. It’s clean but it’s got just enough patina so that it’s real. It’s not a trailer queen. I drive it 1,500 to 2,000 miles a year. It actually just turned 34,000 miles on the way home from the photoshoot.
AG: How do you refer to the style? Would you call it a restomod?
BS: I don’t want to come off as being arrogant but my goal was to build my interpretation of what I believe this car really should have been. I thought if I could take De Tomaso’s Pantera and make it into something De Tomaso himself would approve of, that’d be perfect. I never wanted people to see the car and think, “That’s a Pantera, its just got a Ford motor.” I wanted people to see it and think, “Now that car looks vicious.” And that’s always been the reaction. Even guys with way nicer cars have told me how great it looks, and to me that’s doing right by the marque, doing right by the builders, and doing right by the designers.
I wouldn’t call it a restomod. I think a restomod would be more radical. I would call this a classic Pantera that’s been gone over—more of a contemporary upgrade of the original idea. I think I’ve taken all the basic foundations of the Pantera and brought them forward in terms of power, handling, and aesthetics. I tried to preserve the basic platform, just improve everything so it has the classic appeal but it’s still 100% beast.
AG: It certainly has a unique feel about it while still being unmistakably a Pantera. It’s been a long process—15 years with the car—now that you’re done with it, are you planning on keeping it?
BS: I don’t see myself ever selling the car. We’ve been through so much, it’s such a story for me personally that I’ll keep it ‘til I die. My daughters are already negotiating who gets what!
A friend asked me hypothetically, “If someone offered you $250,000 for it, would you take it?” What would I buy that would get people more excited than this for $250,000? There’s nothing that gets me excited more than this car. Anyone can buy an Audi R8 or a Porsche GT3, but I’ve massaged this car for the last 15 years! I’ve had this experience where I now feel responsible to let people enjoy seeing it and be an ambassador of this “supercar stepchild” and represent the quality of a good Pantera.
It’s the sum of the experiences I’ve had with the car that make it so significant. I’ve got a couple friends who have Ferraris and I went out on a Ferrari Club day at Willow Springs. I turned about six laps and came in and looked at the car, and the vibe I was getting back from the machine was, “That was fun, but that’s not what I’m made for.”
I really felt like I was beating up the car, stomping on it around that track and it felt like I wasn’t doing right by the car. It was as if the car was saying, “If this is how you’re going to treat me, I’m going to let you down.” This car wants to run, it doesn’t want to be raced and beaten on around a track, and I can feel it. It wants GT and canyon driving on the open road.
I’m not one to apply human qualities to a car, but this car has a heartbeat. It has an energy about it that’s very much alive.