Cus­tom Twin-Turbo Pan­tera

This Cus­tom Twin-Turbo Pan­tera Is One Ford-Lover’s Dream Car

Hot Rod - - Contents - Richard Prince

Like ev­ery red-blooded lad com­ing of age in the 1960s, Joe Cur­ley was ob­sessed with all things au­to­mo­tive. “I grew up in Chicago’s South Side, and by the time I se­cured a driver’s li­cense, I was al­ready bit­ten by the hot rod bug,” he re­mem­bers. “I was tin­ker­ing with en­gines and help­ing any­one who would let me hang around, as I didn’t have my own car, and I got an on-the-job, schoolof-hard-knocks learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Cur­ley’s love of fast cars even­tu­ally led to a spot on a rac­ing team run out of Chicago’s Cle­ments Speed Shop. “I had the great ex­pe­ri­ence to pit on the team’s short-track and long-track cars and ac­tu­ally got to drive the dragstrip car when we were not out of town on the rac­ing cir­cuit. My rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence lasted sev­eral years, but then I re­al­ized I needed to get a real job.”

Cur­ley found his way into the public re­la­tions and com­mu­ni­ca­tions field, and over a span of years, built up a very suc­cess­ful agency. Though Cur­ley had to step away from cool cars as he in­vested a great deal of time, en­ergy, and fo­cus into grow­ing the busi­ness, his deep-rooted pas­sion for the hobby never di­min­ished. As a child, he grav­i­tated to­ward Ford, and that hasn’t changed over time.

“I was al­ways par­tic­u­larly at­tracted to Fords, which is ironic be­cause my best friend grow­ing up, Jim McCul­loch, loved cars as much as I did, but he was a Chevy guy!” Cur­ley says. Some­times they raced against one another at their lo­cal Chicagoarea dragstrips, but the friendly com­pe­ti­tion only served to strengthen their friend­ship. When Cur­ley left the Windy City in 1971 for warmer wa­ters in Florida, their friend­ship en­dured, with each fre­quently vis­it­ing the other over the years. In 1980, un­doubt­edly in­flu­enced by his pal’s predilec­tion for Fords, McCul­loch bought a 1974 De To­maso Pan­tera GTS with the goal of turn­ing it into a wickedly fast, twin-turbo show­stop­per.

The project be­gan with a com­plete tear­down and chemical dip­ping of the body shell. Then the body, sus­pen­sion com­po­nents, and vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing else that at­taches to it was painted, pol­ished, or plated to the high­est stan­dards. Mod­er­ate but ef­fec­tive fender flares were added at all four

corners to pro­vide added tire clear­ance. Crit­i­cal ar­eas of the chas­sis were re­in­forced or re-welded, and the sheet­metal sur­faces and panel gaps were mas­saged well be­yond orig­i­nal fac­tory spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Ev­ery­thing was then coated in not-so-sub­tle Pan­tera Yel­low. Ad­di­tional body mod­i­fi­ca­tions in­clude European tai­lights and front park­ing lights, cus­tom air scoops in place of the stock sid­e­quar­ter win­dows, and a fiber­glass front bumper with an in­te­gral ra­dio an­tenna. One par­tic­u­larly clever ad­di­tion is a pneu­matic setup in the front that al­lows the driver to lower the front air dam for high-speed runs and then raise it up 2 inches to give needed clear­ance when nav­i­gat­ing speed bumps and steep drive­way aprons.

Five years later, with the project about 80-per­cent fin­ished, McCul­loch sold the Pan­tera to Cur­ley, and by the end of 1986, he com­pleted all of the work. “Of course, as any car guy knows, a ve­hi­cle like this one is never re­ally fin­ished, and I con­tin­ued to make changes to it over the years. It un­der­went a com­plete re­fresh in the sum­mer of 2011.”

Propul­sion comes from a 351 Cleve­land fit­ted with twin side-mounted AiRe­search tur­bos, ported open-cham­ber heads, and a Gilmer belt­drive sys­tem for the wa­ter pump, A/C com­pres­sor, and al­ter­na­tor. The en­gine’s in­ter­nals were all se­lected for dura­bil­ity, in­clud­ing TRW pis­tons, a Comp camshaft, Rhoads lifters, and a Melling oil pump. The stock crank­shaft was dy­nam­i­cally bal­anced and re­ceived a Tuftrid­ing treat­ment. The in­take man­i­fold was hand-fab­ri­cated, and a Carter 7.5-pound fuel pump feeds the en­gine’s mod­i­fied Hol­ley 780-cfm car­bu­re­tor, which has vac­uum sec­on­daries cus­tom-tai­lored to work with the turbo-boost curve to di­min­ish lag. Boost can be con­trolled by the Tur­bo­net­ics Delta ad­justable waste­gates with a con­troller mounted within easy reach on the shifter con­sole, al­low­ing the driver to ad­just the boost from a low of a cou­ple of pounds to a high of 14 pounds; the con­sole also has a knob to ad­just the ig­ni­tion tim­ing. The en­gine’s waste gases are chan­neled to cus­tom 3-inch pipes via hand-fab­ri­cated ex­haust man­i­folds, and the en­tire ex­haust sys­tem is sil­ver ceramic-coated.

Pan­teras are some­what no­to­ri­ous for run­ning hot, even in the best of cir­cum­stances, so Cur­ley knew he’d have to go to the ex­treme to keep his twin-turbo beast cool. The 3-inch Phoenix alu­minum ra­di­a­tor in­cor­po­rates one pusher fan and two puller fans on ei­ther side.

That, plus size­able lou­vers in the sheet­metal be­hind the transaxle, all work to­gether to keep the en­gine tem­per­a­ture rea­son­able, even on the hottest Florida sum­mer days.

On a dyno, the en­gine pro­duced 680 hp with 12 pounds of boost, which is more than enough brute force to pro­pel this car to a ter­mi­nal ve­loc­ity ap­proach­ing 200 mph with the 4.09:1 gear­ing in its ZF five-speed transaxle. A Cen­ter­force dual-disc hy­draulic clutch sys­tem and alu­minum fly­wheel get the en­gine’s power to the gear­box. Heavy­duty U-joints and axle­shafts com­plete the driv­e­train. Heavy-duty JFZ brakes, with 12-inch front and 10-inch rear ro­tors and pol­ished calipers, re­place the stock sys­tem.

The car rides on cus­tom-made, two­piece mod­u­lar knock-off wheels from Hall Pan­tera. They mea­sure 15x10 inches for the rear and 15x8 inches in front. Hankook Ven­tus tires sized at 295/50R15 in the rear and 225/60R15 in the front fill the wheel­wells, and ad­justable coilover shocks are on all four corners

The in­te­rior re­tains the stock lay­out and am­biance, but fea­tures a num­ber of cus­tom touches. One change that’s not easy to spot at first glance is the 3-inch dropped floor­pan, done to ac­com­mo­date Cur­ley’s taller-than-av­er­age frame. At the other end of the spec­trum is a very-easy-to-spot cus­tom Lexan bub­ble be­tween the seats. This un­usual piece pro­vides a great view of the en­gine, in all of its pol­ished and plated glory. Cus­tom Con­nolly leather seat covers and match­ing door panels blend seam­lessly with the Pan­tera’s orig­i­nal dash and other soft trim, and a pair of boost gauges (one on the dash and one on the driver’s door “for added vis­i­bil­ity”) aug­ment the orig­i­nal Veglia Bor­letti in­stru­men­ta­tion.

Af­ter the car’s com­ple­tion, Cur­ley took it to the track for what he calls “a few cau­tious runs.” On street tires, he man­aged a best of 10.75 se­conds at 138 mph. Since then, he’s shown the car reg­u­larly and en­joys driv­ing it when­ever the mood strikes. “Even af­ter more than 30 years, I still love this car,” he ex­plains. “The Pan­tera was the prod­uct of a unique mar­riage of the best European body de­sign by Ghia, chas­sis and sus­pen­sion by De To­maso of Italy, cou­pled with a Ger­man ZF five-speed transaxle and the high horse­power and re­li­a­bil­ity of Ford’s 351 Cleve­land en­gine. Its en­gi­neer­ing and de­sign were well ahead of its time, and more than 40 years later, it eas­ily blends with the look of to­day’s best sports cars. All of the mod­i­fi­ca­tions we’ve done have made an al­ready great car even bet­ter. It wows the crowds at re­gional and lo­cal shows and cruise-ins, and pro­vides in­cred­i­bly lively and fun driv­ing ex­cur­sions as well!”

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