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From raging beast to pristine street machine

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Entertainment,Wheels,Trey Palmisano
De Tomaso Panteras are rare vehicles that catch the eye of many who see them precisely because they don't know exactly what they are seeing. While its 20-year run ended in 1992, the Italian-born sports car was riddled with problems that most likely held back a substantial number of exports to the United States.

The novelty of the car, which was sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, made it a prized acquisition among collectors with money to spend. The De Tomaso Pantera was not often chosen as a daily driver, but you could find them prowling the streets if you looked hard enough.

In 1979, Tom Kuester, a Pantera enthusiast, asked his girlfriend to marry him. She said yes, but there was one other question remaining to be answered.

"When I asked her if I could buy this car, the answer was, 'Over my dead body,' " said Kuester. "She lives and we are still married in spite of the car."

Stats box
» Exterior: Replated bumpers and exhaust tips, upgraded rearview mirrors
» Performance: 10.5:1 forged pistons, upgraded roller timing chain, Hi-Lift hydraulic cam, Edelbrock dual-plane intake manifold, polished Accel ignition, high torque starter, Holley four-barrel carburetor (850 CFM), Holley high-performance mechanical fuel pump, ZF transaxle disassembled and rehabbed, oversized radiators with dual oversized "hurricane" fans, stainless steel cooling lines, ceramic-coated big bore mufflers, Koni shocks

Kuester's 1972 model came from Ohio, where it had been configured for racing. The 700-horsepower monster was, in Kuester's view, unmanageable. And his wife lived in fear of its loud exhaust and heart-pounding ride. Despite its track use, the Pantera was in pristine condition, as its owner had retired the car for personal reasons, Kuester decided to purchase the Pantera and would eventually shave off nearly 300 horsepower to get the car back to specifications for road use.

Kuester's restoration was primarily aimed at fortifying the car's mechanical parts. First came the motor, which was rebuilt and dialed back to the 400-horsepower range. Next came the suspension, which was replaced to street specifications. All deteriorated metal was replaced and the body was completely smoothed and resurfaced. The frame-off restoration allowed Kuester to attend to every detail, even coating the undercarriage with Imron paint that provides a protective seal to limit road damage.

Kuester now has a lot to be proud of and a trophy collection to prove it. His De Tomaso is a gem among stones.

What do you drive? A 1972 De Tomaso Pantera.

Why do you drive it? It is a great blend of Italian styling with American muscle. It's exhilarating to drive in spite of its age.

What makes this car so special? Very few were built. The make has a great race heritage. Its styling has passed the test of time.

What is your most memorable driving experience? In this car, it was driving well above the posted speed limit on a Sunday morning and losing a rear wheel. Only the suspension was damaged lightly. My ego took a big hit.

What was the first vehicle you owned? A 1952 Jaguar Teardrop Coupe. I added a 348 Chrysler V-8 motor, something I would not do again. The car was less than safe, but great for adrenaline rushes.

What did you do to receive your first ticket? I was 95 mph over the speed limit in a 1963 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing Coupe. A friend and I were in high school parking cars at a grand opening of a boatel in Virginia Beach. The owner had too much to drink and let two of us drive the car. What else would any card-carrying teenager do but see what the car could do? The ticket was huge.

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