In a world where the best examples of collectible cars bring six figures or more at auction and pristine automobiles are admired at concours, Jeff Krekeler’s barn-find Pantera is the worst of its kind—a distinction that he wholeheartedly embraces.
“It’s the world’s rustiest Pantera,” Krekeler says of the 1972 De Tomaso that he nicknamed the Patina Pantera. “I’d be amazed if there’s another one out there that’s rustier.”
So why did he pay $33,333 in April 2022 for the dilapidated, non-running exotic offered on bringatrailer.com?
(L to R) Gray Krekeler, Zack AuBuchon, Jeff Krekeler, and Henry Krekeler Courtesy Krekeler Family
“I’ve always loved them, always wanted one, and finding a good one that’s affordable is almost impossible these days,” he says. “People think I’m wealthy, but I’m just wildly irresponsible. The Pantera is the perfect example of that.”
Introduced to the world at the 1970 New York Auto Show, the mid-engine Pantera was Ford’s entry into the exotic car market. Under the deal with the Italian automaker, the Blue Oval would import 10,000 De Tomasos to the U.S. and sell the cars through Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. Early production issues plagued the Pantera, with fit and finish leaving much to be desired. After three years, fewer than 6000 had been sold—at a base price of about $10,000 ($73,000 today). Ford pulled the plug. De Tomaso continued to sell the cars in Europe through 1992.
Krekeler isn’t alone in his infatuation for the low-slung Pantera. In August 1971, Car and Driver opined: “As you skim over the pavement in the Pantera you can’t help feeling smug. You hear the engine rumbling along from its station back by your shoulder blades—a mechanical arrangement even novitiate automotive visionaries will recognize as a little piece of tomorrow today. And the looks. Oh, wow.”
Krekeler, a third-generation jeweler from Farmington, Missouri, says his love of automobiles came naturally. “Dad liked cars—he bought a new one every two years. Whenever something new and shiny came along, he bought it. When I was 10 or 11, I bought my first car magazine. I don’t remember the magazine, but to this day I remember every single car in it.” (No, it wasn’t the Car and Driver mentioned above; Krekeler would have been only five when that issue was published.)
The first car that Krekeler owned was a 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster Deluxe that his grandfather drove into the late 1960s. “It sat out in the barn, and I’d sneak in there and pretend I was driving it. When my grandfather passed away in the late 1970s, my parents arranged for me to get that car.”
Krekeler learned how to drive in the Fleetmaster, but it wasn’t practical to drive it to high school every day, so he bought a 1973 AMC Hornet, which he hot-rodded. “I didn’t appreciate it at the time—straight six, metallic blue, hatchback—but in hindsight it was such a cool car. I get nostalgic about it once a year and think I should look for another one, then I remember all the other stuff I’m not working on.”
Among the cars he owned back then were a 1980 Ford Mustang Turbo, a full-size Bronco, and a new 1987 Pontiac Grand Am. “I have a short attention span, plus I’m easily amused.”
Krekeler has a few partners in crime that encourage his behavior. He and his wife, Sheila, have two sons, Gray (22) and Henry (19), “plus we took in a stray—Zack [AuBuchon, 20], who’s our bonus kid,” Jeff jokes. “All three boys are car guys.”
Krekeler specifically blames his eldest son for the purchase of the Pantera, although he didn’t exactly need a ton of encouragement to buy it. “The Pantera is a car that has always been in the back of my mind,” Jeff says. “The looks, the gated shifter, the Ford engine [330-horsepower V-8] and drivetrain. There was a time when you could buy a decent example in the $35,000–$40,000 range. I missed that window.”
15 months ago, the window opened a crack, revealing a less-than-perfect 1972 Pantera on Bring A Trailer.
“A colleague of mine sent me a link to a Porsche bus he was bidding on and, of course, they tracked me and started sending things to my feed,” Krekeler says. “Low and behold, there was the rustiest Pantera I’d ever seen.”