I Was There

by Chris Kimball


In Greek mythology, Pandora's box is the large jar carried by Pandora that, once opened, unleashed many terrible things on mankind: ills, toils, sickness, and worse. At the very bottom, however, when all seemed lost, there was one more thing left… Hope.

So, what does this have to do with a 1972 pre-L Pantera? Let me start at the beginning.

Back in 2006 I realized there wasn’t much in life I’d always wanted to do but hadn’t had the chance to experience, save that one thing I always wished for: The chance to own a DeTomaso Pantera. In December of that year, after searching hither and yon I found what I was looking for--on eBay, no less.

I flew from Washington State to New Haven, Connecticut, saw the car, fell in love and drove it away. Well, actually I had it shipped to Tacoma and then drove it home. (As a quick aside; when I drove into my driveway, my wife was waiting at the front door. She had heard me coming from a block away and she watched with amusement as I tried to extract myself from the Pantera. As I clumsily attempted to exit the car, my foot caught on the seat and I almost landed on my keister in front of the whole neighborhood! Vicki chuckled and said, wryly, “Any cool factor you may have by owning that car will immediately be obliterated when they see you trying to get out of it!”)

Anyway, as a new member of Panteras Northwest, I was relieved to have my fellow club members around to help me figure out what needed to be done to the car.

Quite a bit, as it turned out.

After having the stock motor “worked on” by a local mechanic (I did this without first checking with my Pantera buddies), it proceeded to smoke like an inmate on death row.

Over the next year, after installing new axles and a host of other parts too numerous to mention, I decided I’d drive my Pantera, blue smoke and all, to the POCA Fun Rally in Las Vegas, and bring along my oldest son, David.

We made it as far as Medford, Oregon before I realized that it might not be wise to attempt crossing a desert in a car which burned a quart of oil every hundred miles. I left it at the home of an understanding, fellow Pantera owner, Paul Rimov, and David and I drove the balance of the trip in a rented econo-box.

After returning from Reno, I determined I would do whatever it took to get to the 2009 Fun Rally in my car.

In January of 2009 I decided the only logical choice was for me to buy an entirely new motor. I enlisted help from members of Panteras Northwest and all the great people who populate the Pantera email forum.

I’m not very motor savvy, so naturally, I asked advice about what parts I should use, how I should have the motor built and so on. In retrospect, what I now realize is that the guys were all telling me what they would do if they were me--except it was my money being spent! Nonetheless, I was using a well-known, local engine-builder who was happy to oblige, and the final decision was to use a sonic tested Cleveland block bored and stroked to 408 cubic inches. The modifications and price went up from there!

At this point I reasoned that with the new motor’s additional torque, I might need to have the frame checked. The last thing I wanted was to end up with a Pretzel-shaped DeTomaso.

I was referred to a gentleman named Larry Rebsamen who was known for expert frame work. So, Panteras Northwest club members Mike Thomas, Doug Braun and I took the car to his shop, a large metal building bursting at the seams with tools, parts, and a half-dozen cars in various stages of restoration.

Before taking the car to Larry, I had noticed the inner edges of the car’s back tires were significantly worn. One look at the situation, and Larry announced that the frame was in such bad shape the shock towers were collapsing into the engine bay!

The next thing he did was get underneath the car with a large screwdriver and begin whacking various locations on the frame.

The alternating sounds of “thunk” and “shloop” were mirrored by his murmurings of “that’s OK” and “Oh, that’s bad.”

The final result was that the rear portion of the frame would have to be rebuilt and the shock towers replaced entirely.

It was then that Doug and Mike decided since every car needs a name, my Pantera should be named “Pandora” due to the fact it seemed there was an unending parade of issues to address.

At the same time the frame was being repaired (March of 2009), the new motor was being built.

Here’s where things get interesting, and this is the part of the story that demonstrates exactly why “Pandora” is the perfect name for #3846.

In late March, the new engine was complete. I took my family’s SUV, and using a borrowed engine cradle, brought home my prize.

In a repeat of what they had done for me less than two years earlier, the local club members showed up on a Saturday to help me install the new 408.

We installed it, and once started it sounded fantastic. I was excited, because I had at least two months before the POCA Fun Rally to work out any bugs that might develop.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until said bug did, indeed, develop, in the form of a rear main seal oil leak.

In a brief moment of brilliance, I had asked the engine builder if he backed his engines with a warranty. He assured me he did, so when I called him about the oil leak he said he’d take care of it. His shop was designed only to build engines, not to install them, but he told me he had a good friend who was a mechanic with a shop close by who would extract and replace the engine once fixed. I said that sounded good (BIG MISTAKE!)

On May 13th I dropped the car off at the engine builder’s shop. He told me the engine should be out of the car, repaired and replaced within a week or so.

Later that day my cell phone rang. It was the engine builder who said the mechanic had arrived, but was unable to open the rear deck, and now the key was jammed in the lock. I explained that the lock had never worked, and all that was required to open the deck was to apply slight downward pressure while pushing in the button. Too late--the lock was jammed for good. He said at his expense he’d have a locksmith repair the damage.

A week later I returned from a trip and called the engine builder to check on the progress. I was surprised when he told me he hadn’t yet received the engine from the mechanic. He said to check back in a day or two; he would contact the mechanic to see how things were going.

A few days later I checked in and was told that, unbeknownst to the engine builder, the mechanic had moved his shop with no forwarding address. I asked for the mechanic’s phone number, but when I called, it went to voice mail. I left a message asking to be contacted. No contact occurred.

At this point, I was getting nervous because the Fun Rally was quickly approaching, and I had no Pantera. In fact I had no idea where it was.

At the end of May, the engine builder said he had reached what appeared to be the mechanic’s girlfriend. He told her to have the mechanic call him ASAP.

Days went by, no response.

Meanwhile, I'd been trying to reach the mechanic several times per day with no luck and was now getting a stupid "voice mailbox is full" message every time I called.

A day or two later, however, I was able to leave a voice mail, which I did, imploring the mechanic to call me back.

I left another message the next night, and another the next morning. The engine builder also left a message letting the mechanic know that I was talking with my insurance company, Hagerty Insurance, about filing a lost vehicle report. We figured if he heard that he'd respond for sure.

Still nothing, so I told the nice folks at Hagerty to get to work on finding my car. They promised to start trying to track down the mechanic.

At this point, I was pretty much (sadly) resigned to the fact I'd be driving the Magnum to Reno. For 2009 I had promised my younger son, Donny, he could attend. After a year of preparation, to be denied the experience of a lifetime for Donny and me because of some mechanic's incompetence was very difficult to swallow.

The way I figured it, there were several possibilities for what was going on.

1) The mechanic was completely lackadaisical and hardly ever checked his voice mail,
2) The mechanic had screwed up the car so badly he didn't want to face the engine builder or me until he figured out how to fix what he'd ruined (which might be impossible if he didn’t have a clue about Panteras), or
3) The mechanic was a charlatan who was selling my car piece by piece on Craigslist.

I figured it was probably a combination of #1 and #2.

It was now June 3, and I began getting very worried. I put the word to the Pantera forum that if anyone saw anything on E-Bay or Craig's list that looked suspicious (including a great deal on a dark green '72 Pantera with a new engine), to please let me know.

I also asked that if anyone knew the whereabouts of the mechanic’s shop to please let me know immediately.

On June 8th I filed a police report. It turned out they had a residence address for the errant mechanic. They agreed to deliver a note to him asking him to call me, and suggested that if no response was forthcoming I hire a litigation lawyer and pursue it as a civil matter.

That seemed like a big hassle, of course, but the saddest part was I wouldn’t be driving my Pantera to Reno. I was bummed.

By the third week of June there still had been no contact with the mechanic or my car, so I again called the police. This time, (against regulation, but as a favor to me) they gave me the mechanic's address. I plugged it into the GPS and set out on a 35-minute drive to his house.

As I drove up, who should I see just leaving but the man himself. I flagged him down, he got out of his truck, and I introduced myself.

Strangely, he seemed to be expecting me, since he said, "I figured it was you." I was cordial, as was he, and we engaged in a long conversation about cars, engines and such. Finally, I asked him where my car was. He gave me the address (only a few blocks away) and apologized for taking so long. He said he had a friend's truck in the shop blocking access to the Pantera, but as soon as he was done with the truck, he'd finish my car.

He claimed it would be done by that Wednesday. “Sure it will,” I thought.

By the way, before I left he mentioned he still had the lock rolling around on the floor of his pickup because he hadn't had a chance to get it to the locksmith yet.

Hmm, almost two months and he hadn't had a chance to get to the locksmith. Right.

He also said since he was so large, he couldn’t fit into the car, so to unhook everything at the front of the motor, he was forced to hang towels over the window edges and lean through the windows for access. Well, he was large, and even with towels draped over the doors, I knew that metal was thin and, as you know, would dent very easily (especially when straining to support a 400-pound mechanic!)

After talking with him, I was really, really nervous about in what state the car would be when (and if) I finally got it back.

I then drove to his nearby “shop” (which turned out to be nothing but a large garage he was renting from the owner of the nearby house). I peered through the window and sure enough, hiding in the back of the garage, barely visible through the window, was Pandora. Ironically, even if I were to have arrived with a flatbed, there would have been no way to retrieve the Pantera, since it was trapped behind the partially-disassembled tow truck he was repairing (and I use the word “repairing” loosely).

To give you just one example of why I was so terrified; while discussing my car he said, "man, there sure were a lot of washers in that car. I've never seen so many washers. I'll try to put them all back in."

And the nightmare wasn’t over.

On June 29th I called the engine builder one final time and told him I had met with his mechanic friend. I told him I was not confident in the mechanic's abilities, let alone timeliness and I wanted the car back by Thursday.

He apologized profusely about the situation and said he wished he'd never used his friend the mechanic.

Here's where it turned ugly.

He said he would try calling the mechanic, but when I pressed that I wanted my car delivered to me by Thursday, either together or in pieces, he said he had no way to get it. He sounded irritated that I would expect him to do anything more than try calling the mechanic, especially when I told him I thought he should just do what I had to do; namely, physically drive out to the mechanic’s house (since the mechanic, as you'll remember, had a penchant for ignoring phone calls).

I got the impression he now thought it was my problem and not his. I gave him the mechanic’s home address and suggested he hire a flatbed to get my car back.

I decided to speak with an attorney for some advice.

It was now July, and I told the engine builder I wanted the car delivered to my house the next day--I didn't care what condition it was in, I just wanted my car back. He became indignant and said he had no way to get it. I told him to rent a truck.

Knowing the chances of him taking action were slim to none, I contacted a good friend named Vince. He had known the engine builder personally for years and offered to talk with him.

Long story short, Vince called back and said the engine builder was working to get the mechanic to finish the car that night.

The good news was it seemed there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

The bad news was a mechanic who thought Panteras had too many washers was the one putting it together.

Vince and his truck-owning friend agreed to help me retrieve the pieces of my car. The Auburn Police Department said they could easily do a "civil standby" whereby they dispatch an officer to monitor the proceedings.

Before the embarking on the “repossession” of my car, I thought it wise to revisit the car’s location and contact the owner of the house whose garage the mechanic was renting. I needed to be sure she would be home to let us in when we arrived with the flatbed, in case the mechanic was a no-show (d'ya think?)

I tried to call the mechanic, but of course, he didn't answer and his voice mail was again, you guessed it... full.

When I went back to the “shop,” the owner wasn’t there. The neighbors saw me looking forlornly thought the shop window and asked what I was doing. I told them the whole, sad story assuming they’d sympathize.

I guess they didn’t, because soon after, the mechanic called. He was furious, and said his neighbors told him I was planning to come to his shop with the police (which I was). To say the least, this didn't sit well with him. After a barrage of profanity he said he'd been working on the car for the last three days, and was trying to get it done. He claimed he had tried to call me back several times, but was forwarded to my office. I explained that's what happens when my cell is off--it forwards to the office (why he didn't leave a message is beyond me). He said he was irritated that I had tried to call him so much. Why he didn't return my calls was also beyond me.

He claimed he was going to try and fire it up that day, but didn't think he could get the rear deck on by himself, so he might just leave it off (bad sign). I told him I'd be glad to help him put on the rear deck, or better yet, take the entire project off his hands.

He went off about how he would get it done and he wasn't the fastest mechanic, but he'd been doing this for 37 years. He again complained about the small size of the car, and said how nothing ever goes together as quickly as it should, and also (here's the bad part): he had never worked on a Pantera before!

He told me not to bother him again and to only talk to the engine builder. He said he thought we had a good conversation when I visited him at his house the week before, but that the talk he heard of me getting the police involved… Well, he told me, and I quote, "I don't need that #*&$%#!" Apparently, he had other issues going on with the police.

I gently reminded him that when we had talked he assured me he'd have it ready by Wednesday or Thursday, which elicited another burst of expletives.

He made it painfully clear he resented having to work on the car over the weekend, which really wasn’t my problem, of course.

As far as I was concerned, this guy was a loose cannon. The smart thing for me to do, I thought, was to try my best to keep him calm, then have him deliver it to the engine builder’s shop so I could retrieve it as expeditiously as possible.

What a nightmare!

On July 9th I got a call from the mechanic. He said he was finally "done" with my car. But "done" didn't mean the car was actually finished. It meant he simply wasn’t going to work on it anymore and he wanted me to come and get it.

He said the motor was in, he had run it for a couple of hours, didn’t see any leaks and was confident I could drive it home. However:
1) He couldn't get the rear deck aligned and had chipped the paint.
2) He couldn't get the rear deck shocks to mount correctly, so they were laying in a box with a bunch of other parts.
3) The rear deck lock was still messed up and not even installed. For the trip home the rear deck would have to be held down with bungee cords.

I didn’t how many other things he might have screwed up.

I told him I'd come and get it the next day.

I realized I might need someone to help me and also be a witness--someone with a good camera.

I remember thinking, “I’ll be talking to the lawyer again.”

The next day, Vince, his friend Don and I took Don’s truck to the shop and met the mechanic (miraculously, he actually showed up). I could tell he was sweating even more than usual; after all, there were three of us and only one of him.

The good news was the Pantera drove on to the trailer under its own power. The bad news was it looked as though somehow the mechanic had dropped the rear deck under a moving locomotive, then jammed it down on something, bending its top edge (where it meets the roof). This tweaked the hinges and chipped the paint all along the leading edge of the deck and the corresponding roof line. There was a little rippling on the roof, too, where the deck lid had been forced against it.

In addition to the deck hinges being out of alignment, the license-plate light was sitting in the passenger foot-well along with the frozen rear deck lid lock and other miscellaneous nuts, bolts, and more of those pesky washers. The rear deck lid shocks were laying in the engine bay, unconnected to the deck lid, the shifter needed adjusting, the air filter and cover were sitting next to the other parts on the floor, and there were numerous paint chips along the back of the car just above the "Pantera" script.

I was fearful of what else I might find upon closer inspection.

The nervous mechanic said he had talked to the engine builder about the situation, and that things would be "taken care of." He said he already had a body shop owner friend of his come by and give him an estimate of what he thought it would cost to repair the damage, although, he said he figured "I'd probably want to use someone I knew." Was that even a question? I was afraid to think of what the difference would be between what his friend thought the repairs would cost and reality.

I don't think anyone had any idea of the actual repair cost.

The following morning I gingerly drove the wounded Pantera to a nearby body shop which I had used before (they are really good--not cheap--but really good).

They were horrified at how badly the car had been defiled, and at once began calculating a repair estimate.

The final bill was approximately $4,000.00. I called Hagerty Insurance, they contacted the body shop, and within a week the check arrived to cover the damage. (Note: I have had two claims with Hagerty and in my 36 years of driving have never had such incredible service from an insurance company).

It took some time, but I finally got the call from the body shop--my car was done!

I immediately went to the shop and reclaimed Pandora. The paint work was absolutely beautiful and the car seemed to run great, although the trip from the body shop to my home wasn’t long enough to confirm everything was truly OK. I was determined to give it a longer run, just to be sure.

I drove it for a couple of weeks and...another oil leak.

This time I decided to use Panteras Northwest resources, for obvious reasons. It appears when the engine builder replaced the motor he munched the edge of the oil pan, where seepage ensued. To fix the problem, I tightened the oil pan bolts, especially the ones around the damaged area.

Things might be turning around for Pandora. In 2010, I was contacted by Microsoft, and they came to Tacoma, took 500 digital pictures, and are now using my Pantera in their new “Forza Motorsports III; Drive the Dream” video game. I consider that a good omen.

I also successfully drove the Pantera to the 2010 Fun Rally--I guess third time’s a charm!

I’m planning to do the same this year. Will I make it?

When it comes to Pandora, there’s always hope.

2012 update:
Since writing the mini-history above, Pandora has been running great. Last April I drove her to and From Phoenix, Arizona for this year’s Fun Rally (1500 miles round-trip). Aside from a couple of minor issues experienced on the Phoenix trip--such as the a/c malfunctioning in 100+ heat (I got that fixed right away)--and a rather expensive ticket (I won’t say how fast I was going, but the ticket was $850), the trip was fantastic!

Recently I’ve added gold graphics along the rocker panels, as shown in some of the later photos, which I really like.

She’s even been featured in a couple of magazines, and I now have 20 trophies won at various car shows held around the Pacific Northwest.

And she sure goes fast!