John Storey IMSA GTO Pantera
At Riverside Raceway,1986, Photo: Kurt Oblinger
In the early-mid 1980’s several POCA (Pantera Owners Club of America) members were building some impressive race Panteras to compete in joint Ferrari-Pantera club events. These cars, unencumbered by restrictive rule-packages, were modified well beyond what was done on the factory Group 4 cars, and they regularly set the fastest laps at tracks such as Riverside and Laguna Seca. Around that same time, Ford began to dominate the professional IMSA GTO endurance category with the Jack Roush Protofab built tube-frame Mustangs.
One intrepid Pantera racer, John Storey, had already developed his club racing Pantera to the limits of the stock chassis with extensive reinforcements, modifications and aerodynamic enhancements. So to move up to the professional level, it seemed a natural progression to leverage the formula that made the IMSA Mustangs so successful and package those same engines in a purpose built mid-engine chassis using the latest GT and GTP technology to create a Pantera race car specifically for IMSA GT competition.
John Storey's 1st Pantera racer built for "club" events. Served as a test-bed for the later IMSA car. Pictured here at Riverside Raceway. Photo: Matt Stone
John sold his club racer and spent over two years building his new IMSA Pantera in collaboration with some highly experienced builders and with sponsorship from Earl’s Performance Products, Hall Pantera and others. The car was completed in 1986.
On display at the Newporter Concours d'elegance ,1986
The chassis, designed by Steve Ruiz, utilized suspension uprights from a Lola T-600 and incorporated some of the best technologies and design practices available at that time. The engine followed the same general configuration as race proven IMSA Mustangs, based on a 351 block with Ford Racing SVO aluminum heads.
A new composite body was designed to maximize aerodynamic efficiency and was wider in order to cover the GTP sized BBS wheels (also from a Lola T-600) and race tires. It was only loosely based on the stock Pantera profile. The front fenders were similar to what would come later on the Pantera GT-5S model, and the rear, with wider buttresses, was reminiscent of a Lamborghini Diablo (which also came later). John and his team pushed the limits of the IMSA rules at the time.
Extensively tested at Riverside and Willow Springs earlier in the year, the Pantera made its IMSA debut at the 1986 6-hour LA Times Grand Prix at Riverside Raceway. When John rolled his car out of the trailer, some of his competitors, upon initially seeing the Pantera, assumed it would be classified as a GT “prototype”. They were certainly not happy to find out they would be competing against a mid-engine car that used the same Ford engines which were already dominating the GT endurance races in the Mustangs!
Early testing at Riverside Raceway, 1986, Photo: Matt Stone
Unfortunately, those concerns were not warranted, as the Pantera did not qualify for the 6-hour race. Late to the grid for qualifying, after a last minute gear change in the Hewland transaxle, it ran only a couple of laps. These would have easily qualified the car based on several “unofficial” pit watches. But IMSA’s timing system never registered those times. Even Gary Hall, who provided sponsorship via Hall Pantera, tried to convince the IMSA officials of the qualifying times, but to no avail.
A few months later John’s team arrived at Portland Raceway for the July 27th round of the IMSA GT series, only to crash in practice when the Rocketsports Olds Tornado of Paul Gentilozzi came across the nose of John’s car with the Bruce Jenner driven Roush Mustang following behind.
After the crash, the chassis was rebuilt (reportedly on one of the same surface-plates that Ford used during their GT-40 program). The chassis was further improved, and a new engine was built to use electronic fuel injection. However by that time, John ultimately decided not to chase the increasingly well funded factory teams. And so the Pantera was set to the side. Sadly John passed away before the car could be returned to the track. Eventually the car was sold to Dennis Quella at Pantera Performance Center and then later sold to a private party.
It’s currently being rebuilt with the help of some original team members, including John Bender and John Storey’s brother, Ed, to reflect its final evolution as raced along with a few updated components (such as a Motec dash and data logging). The intent is to bring the Pantera back to the track at historic racing events, and maybe prove that the competition back in the day had good reason to be “concerned”!
At Riverside Raceway, 1986, Photo: Kurt Oblinger