If there was ever a car that pushes the limits of custom carbuilding, just as it stretches the boundaries of sanity and believability, it may just be the Pink Panthermobile.
Consider this: It is 23-feet long, six-feet wide and shaped like a flamboyant anteater, or Barbie’s Dustbuster. The Panthermobile’s driver climbs into an open compartment well ahead of the front wheels, its 455-cid Oldsmobile Toronado engine poking against the back of his brain. (A helmet is required, or at least advisable.) Behind the engine and subsequently deafened driver is the Pleasure Capsule, what designer Ed “Newt” Newton intended as the ultimate limousine: a lie-down compartment of shag carpeting, satin and Naugahyde with square-tufted upholstery, mirrors, about half a dozen faux-fur pillows, a rotary phone, a black-and-white TV and a vase with flowers. All in pink. Well, except for the television. Is there a bar? Damn right there is a bar. Period chrome Cragars with whitewall tires are de rigeur, as well as the contrasting vinyl roof.
This was a time when every television show, from The Monkees to The Munsters, had to have its own custom car. And when the Pink Panther cartoon debuted on NBC in 1969, it fell to the aforementioned Newt to design it, collaborating with a who’s who of Kustom: Dan Woods (of Milk Truck fame), Joe Bailon (inventor of Candy Apple paint) and Bill Hines (“The Leadslinger”). Bob Reisner of California Show Cars built it. It cost over half a million dollars back then.
Of course, Newt was no stranger to this sort of thing. He collaborated with Ed “Big Daddy” Roth through much of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and not only designed the Orbitron but also lent the engine out of his own 1955 Chevrolet to it. If you thought the Orbitron was insane – and it is – the Laffy Taffy-shaped Panthermobile must blow your mind. Did I mention the Pleasure Capsule?!
Los Angeles-based Galpin Auto Sports, purveyor of ‘70s kustoms, purchased the front-wheel-drive Panthermobile five years ago at an auction in England. It was rough. The 7.0-liter Oldsmobile engine didn’t run. The interior was shot – replaced by cheap crap – and the exterior had been repainted multiple times. The bulk of the restoration fell to one Dave Shuten, who jumped on the project immediately. It took a while, he explained, and not just because he hired the Panthermobile’s original upholsterer, Joe Perez, to rework his magic nearly half a century later. “He’s 90 years old now, and it’s a really big car, so it took a really long time,” said Shuten. “But it adds a lot of pedigree.”
Certainly compared to the intricate interior, the all-steel bodywork was “not bad, typical old restoration stuff.” It wears a custom coat of PPG water-based paint and the Oldsmobile engine featured some go-fast bits like an Edelbrock manifold and Cal Customs valve covers, but also custom brass parts.
What’s it like to drive? “It takes up a shitload of room. You sort of turn before anything else does, so it’s hard to grasp what’s going on. There’s a video of me driving it down Roscoe Boulevard that’s pretty funny. I was really just trying to not get hit, I wasn’t looking at other faces.”
Galpin unveiled the car at its own annual car show last month, adding the pink-bedecked anteater to its kustom collection – right next to Newt’s Orbitron.