If you want to trap a wild Jason — perhaps for the meat or luxurious pelt — a great way to do so is to tell one he can drive something interesting. That's what happened with this customized Pantera. It's an old car, given new life with some help from Nike's skunkworks design team.
And while I wasn't actually able to drive it much, I did get to really scrutinize it and talk to one of its creators, Mike Ring.
The car that proved such effective bait started life as a 1971 DeTomaso Pantera, and is now known as ADRNLN, which, if you add a ".EXE" at the end, sounds a bit like an MS-DOS game you'd have played in 1988. Funny names aside, the car is pretty striking, and this is its first public outing since being unveiled at SEMA this past year.
I was supposed to get a chance to drive this 600+ HP V8 monster; that didn't really happen because of snow. Which sounds odd, since I'm in LA, but hear me out, since there's a lesson to be learned here for all you home supercar-builders.
The Ringbrothers shop is in Spring Green, WI — a tiny town of under 2000 people that's still covered in snow. That means until they brought the Pantera out to utopian California, it'd had only really been run on the dyno, which is why they didn't notice that the exhaust manifold was cooking spark plug wires so gleefully. They're going to relocate some coil packs and fabricate a heat shield, but at the moment I saw the car it was technically a V7 (thanks to a cooked plug wire) and could only be driven short distances.
So, I only got to drive the car around a little parking lot. But I did get to rev it a bit and hear how great it sounds, even with one cylinder down, so that's something.
The car started life as a 1971 DeTomaso Pantera, and you'll see that "71" motif echoed throughout the car. It was brought to the brothers as a rough basket case, the dream car of a man who died of cancer. His widow brought the car in, determined to get it finished to the state her husband would have wanted. His dream car was a yellow Pantera, but he seemed to be no stickler for originality, as the brothers Ring made many dramatic changes to make the car something really special and unique.
Nike's skunkworks team (shoe companies are full of people who wanted to design cars — they've worked with ICON, too) came in to assist in the design and execution of the car — mostly the interior — and also made a set of custom sneakers using many of the same materials as the car.
The car itself still feels like a Pantera, but pretty much every body panel has been changed. The car sits much lower, and the overall shape has been smoothed and updated to have a more modern design vocabulary. The lower rocker panels are more dramatically sloped inward, the fender peaks are higher, flares are wider, and most of the details have changed.
The headlights are now integrated units instead of the old flip-up ones. And, fun fact, Mike Ring told me that the actual light units themselves, inside the custom-made optically-clear composite enclosures, are from his daughter's Audi A4, which she flipped.
The car is full of great details, and the design motif is surprisingly honest and practical. For example, you can see a pair of battery charging ports right in the front air dam of the car, a very useful addition for a show car that will likely spend much of its time sitting. Hell, I'd love that on my cars.
The interior has a few themes going on. First is the limited-scale gauges, which only show one or two significant numbers on the dial, like on the speedo, which only has a solitary "71" for speed reference.
The big design theme of the interior started out as a sort of joke between the Ring brothers. They'd always talked about making a car that deliberately reduced the importance of the passenger, since, as any serious driver knows, they're just dead weight that complains when you take a turn too hard and they clock their head against the window.
With this comically-dickish concept in mind, they created an interior that's clearly divided between driver and passenger: the driver gets a vibrant citrus-colored cocoon, with bright, big instruments, and all the knobs, screens, touch buttons, and levers they'd want. The passenger's side is finished in a dull, matte grey and doesn't even get an A/C vent. No glovebox, no access to the radio, even the door panels are more basic.
And, if that doesn't convey the contempt for the passenger enough, there's an EJECT button on the dash. Though, significantly, there is no provision for an opening roof, so any ejector seat would likely just cram a hapless passenger up into the headliner.
Even in its crippled state, the Pantera is a very compelling car to drive. Hell, it's fun to even just sit in it and blip the throttle. The engine is an LS3 from Wegner Motorsports and makes about 600HP when all the actual cylinders are firing. Mike said it dyno'd in the 460-500 HP ballpark at the wheels, so that's no joke.
The five-speed ZF transmission is set up dogleg-style like an original Pantera, so that 1st gear is down where you'd normally expect 2nd, which is a nice nod to the original car.
What I found most interesting is the builder himself: Mike Ring is a remarkably friendly and down-to-earth guy for someone who builds cars like this. The brothers' main business is still a collision/body shop, and they make one of these one-offs at a time, mostly because they just love it.
Mike described how they design their cars, and there's not a computer involved at all. I'm not even totally sure there's calculators involved. There is lots of cardboard and standing around and looking at the car and repositioning hacked up boxes with tape and looking again. For a taste of how their design process works, listen to how they decided where to place a vent on a Mustang project recently:
So my brother takes a spray can and sprays his [the client's] hand black — like that's the vent... so he sprays his whole arm black, and he had him move it around so he could get a visual of how the vent would look on the body.
That's a pretty novel way to make a dynamically-moving mock up element, though I'm not sure all clients would be so cool with it.
One of the drawbacks to their very physical, visceral, the-whole-thing-is-a-working-sketch approach is that they don't get to see the whole car together until everything's almost finished. With the Pantera, that meant that a lot of trim and color changes happened quite late in the game, as the brothers evaluated the car when it came together. If it doesn't look and feel right, you can tell, and it has to get fixed.
Mike is always thinking about that next car, and I'm very excited at what that next direction seems to be. American muscle cars — Mustangs, Camaros, etc. have long been the bread and butter of many of these sorts of builds, but Mike's starting to feel that those cars are getting played out.
I suggested some options — Volkswagen SP2s, Zaporozets 969s, and others, but I think Mike's got a good direction in mind: a Volvo P1800.
I'd really love to see a P1800 given the Ringbrothers treatment. I'm sure, like with the Pantera, purists will be clutching pearls and swallowing monocles, but that just means you're taking the right amount of risk.
I think we should come up with some other suggestions here as well, in the comments, and I'll pass them along. It'd be pretty fun if their next car idea came from one of us, right?