World’s “rustiest Pantera” is worth every penny to owner’s family

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

1972 DeTomaso Pantera Project group
(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.

1972 DeTomaso Pantera Project side low rocker
Bring a Trailer/andytrio

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.)

1972 DeTomaso Pantera Project rear
Bring a Trailer/andytrio

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.”

1972 DeTomaso Pantera Project engine bay
Courtesy Krekeler Family

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.”

Krekeler says that with only three hours left in the auction, bidding sat in teens, so he sent the link to Gray. “It was a Saturday morning, he was at college, and I didn’t think he’d be awake. I mean, 51 of 52 Saturday mornings a year, he would have still been sleeping. But that morning he replied immediately with one word: ‘DUDE!’”

Jeff called his son. They discussed what they’d do if they owned the Pantera. “You can’t restore it—the cost would be way too much. So what in the world would you do with it? Then Gray says, ‘I’d take it to the most high-end car show and put it next to all the nice cars and watch people walk past the million-dollar cars to see the rusty Pantera.’”

1972 DeTomaso Pantera Project front three quarter
Bring a Trailer/andytrio

Krekeler loved the idea. Since he had some money set aside “for something entirely different,” he convinced himself to place a single bid “and let the universe decide.” That bid didn’t remain on top for long.

Father and son reconvened. Jeff took matters into his own hands by placing “a second, ill-advised bid.” It turned out to be just enough.

“I couldn’t believe I got it,” Krekeler says of the car, which Hagerty UK featured shortly after the auction closed. “Then I had to tell my wife that I did something incredibly stupid. Not only that, [the car] was in Georgia, north of Atlanta, and we’re in southeast Missouri, so I had to figure out how to get it here. So all of us went, put it on a trailer, and brought it home.”

Facebook Patina Pantera on trailer
Facebook/Patina Pantera

Although Jeff jokes about having to break the news of the purchase to Sheila, he says his wife has been “incredibly supportive” of the project. “None of this happens without her encouragement. We’ve been invited to show the car at the BaT Alumni event at Laguna Seca during the Rolex Monterey Reunion in August, and when I told her she immediately said, ‘You’ve gotta do it.’ That’s pretty awesome. Not everyone gets that kind of support.”

He would need it. Once the Pantera arrived in Missouri, reality set in. “It sat in a barn for a very long time—like 20 years—much of that time under a roof that leaked, so obviously it isn’t in the best shape. All of the wiring was chewed up by rodents, and massive amounts of that unibody are missing.”

In addition, Krekeler says, “It’s not an easy car to get in and out of, or to steer. The idea of taking it to a car show and then putting it back onto a trailer at the end of the day seemed a little arduous.”

So the De Tomaso sat on the back burner for months. Then Krekeler saw a photo of a GT40 on a custom trailer, being towed behind an older Ford station wagon, and he was inspired. He bought a 1971 Ford F250—“a nice, two-tone blue truck but with some rust and bruises, and cheap”—and converted an old boat trailer into a car hauler. In June 2023, “Blue Lou” towed the Patina Pantera to its first show, a cruise-in at Griffin Automotive Design in Bonne Terre, Missouri, and Gray Krekeler’s initial prediction proved to be true: The car was a huge hit.

“We enjoyed our fair share of attention,” Jeff admits. “It may be the saddest, rustiest Pantera alive, but everybody loves it.”

1972 DeTomaso Pantera Project interior
Bring a Trailer/andytrio

There’s plenty of work yet to be done. First, the truck broke down on the way home from a second show appearance, so Blue Lou will need to be made roadworthy again. And Gray Krekeler has been diligently working to get the Pantera running before he adds some subtle upgrades. Part of that pursuit was accomplished earlier this week, when he sorted out the most pressing of the engine’s issues and proudly drove the Pantera up and down the family’s long driveway … without brakes.

“That was pretty exciting to see,” Jeff says. “People want to know if it runs; they want us to start it so they can hear the engine, so it’s cool that we’ll now be able to do that.”

Although everyone in the family has contributed sweat equity to the Pantera project, Gray has taken the leading role in resurrecting it—and he’s definitely qualified. He already has an automotive degree in high-performance vehicles from State Technical College of Missouri, and he’s currently studying engineering at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. 

“Gray’s pretty focused, so I’m sure he’ll have the brakes sorted out before too long,” Jeff says. “For every step forward there’s six steps back, but the kid has no quit in him. When he runs out of ideas he calls his buddies, or his mentors, or searches the internet until he finds the answer. Last night he worked on getting the wheels off, but galvanic corrosion [where two metals fuse together] made that a really tough job.

“He really wants to be the guy who brings it back to life, and he’s taking his time to do it right. The plan is to gift this to him when he graduates, so who knows what he’ll eventually do with it, but for now we’ll tow it around behind Blue Lou and let people enjoy it.”

Among the planned upgrades are new tires and, of course, those new brakes, but additional repairs, like dropping the floor pan and repairing some gaping holes, will need to be made if the car is expected to ever make a safe return to the road.

“The trick,” Krekeler says, “is to do the work without enhancing the aesthetics.”

That’s right, he said without enhancing the aesthetics. Not only does Krekeler love the car’s patina, but he also knows there will come a point when “good enough” is plenty for the Pantera. He credits MotorTrend Roadkill’s David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan for changing his attitude in that area.

“When those two idiots—and I say that with the utmost love and respect—started their YouTube show with the goal to ‘just get it running,’ it changed people’s perspective. Cars and trucks don’t have to be perfect; they can be enjoyed as-is. When you allow yourself to think that way, it takes away a lot of the stress.

“Life is short, you know? I could throw clichés at you all day long, but the old saying that ‘you’ll regret the choices you don’t make more than the ones you do’ really rings true. You just have to be fully committed to it. I’ve lost the fear of ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen?’ Now I think, ‘What’s the best thing that could happen?’”

Krekeler already knows the answer when it comes to the Pantera. “This thing has cost us less than the price of a new minivan. It’s just about the most fun-per-dollar you can ever have,” he says. “We’re taking our time, and we really enjoy doing the work together. That, to me, means everything. I’m excited that I’ve been able to pass on my passion for this stuff to my boys. It keeps us connected. It’s pretty special.”

It’s no wonder Krekeler thinks the world’s rustiest Pantera is worth every penny.




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    I tried real hard to transfer the car gene to my son but it didn’t take. Godspeed to you and your boys!!!

    I smiled all the way through this great article, lol. Jeff sounds like a guy I would really like, who works to keep his little universe positive and interesting. To me, car restoration is like that in the sense that it can build camraderie with other enthuiasts and certainly stays interesting and challenging. In a country that is just so divisive right now, wrenching brings people together.

    “People think I’m wealthy, but I’m just wildly irresponsible.” The perfect description for a large number of car collectors, myself included!

    It’s not surprising that a guy would pay $33,333 for a Pantera with that much rust, after all it’s a family project. But the fact that others were bidding right behind him is a little mind-blowing, lol. Those boys will remember that car forever.

    I am surprised Alex Manos from Beverly Hills Car Club did not buy it, he has had rustier ones on the site. The Pantera began to rust on the boat on the way here. Good Luck, I went upside down in a hurry with a similar 912 rust bucket.

    Such a cool barn find!
    Much respect for keeping it with ‘patina’….LOL
    I wouldn’t be able to resist making it pretty again.
    DO get that nasty 351 Cleveland in top shape!

    Try as I might, I simply cannot understand this fascination with ‘patina’. We didn’t use that term; we called them ‘parts cars’. Leave it to our hobby to turn ugly and unsafe into a virtue. Now, I’ve certainly bought cars as bad or worse, but I turned them into if not show cars, at least attractive drivers. What confuses me more are patina’d retro mods. New chassis, driveline, top notch leather interior, new glass and rubber- the drop a crusty body on top. I thought the idea of ‘patina’ was to showcase the car’s age and condition. Don’t get me started on cars the fake the patina……


    Some of us don’t have unlimited money to spend $35-45k on a paint job ….
    Just for —appearance——

    And some cars simply are not worth the expense of the aforementioned $40k paint job .

    Plus , then you have to worry every time you drive it , that it’s gonna get a chip or a ding .
    So you have a trailer Queen .
    That’s stored in a climate controlled garage , winched into a trailer , hauled to a snooty car show , rolled out of the trailer and parked with mirrors under it so you can see how pretty the bottom is , then winched back into
    The trailer for its haul back to storage .

    I’d rather drive the car and not worry about getting a chip or ding in the paint .

    A couple of years ago I was at a local farmer’s market getting some really good fried chicken. The parking lot is usually filled with pickups, octogenarian econocars, and sorry looking minivans. This day, out among those vehicles, there was a 1970-something Porsche 911 targa. Other than the fact that it was a Porsche it fit right in. I could tell just by looking at it that the owner had been driving it forever, doing enough to keep it going but not much to keep it pretty. It was at the farmer’s market because it was shopping day. It would get loaded with groceries and driven back home.

    I don’t what you call that. It might not be ‘patina’. But it sure was cool.

    I totally agree with you. At 81 I have restored more than a dozen cars, ranging from a 1931 Ford to a 1959 Cadillac. I can not count the number of cars I walked away from. Yes I love to see cars restores, but I am not rich. I can not see spending much more restoring a car than I could ever possibly ever recover. I can no longer do all the heavy lifting or crawling around so I purchased my dream Aston Martin that needed minor mechanical work and a lot of detail and minor part work, most all of which I could handle. I often see cars I would love to tackle, but force myself to be realistic.

    I’m with you Scott, “patina” is a sad state for a car to be in. Those that boast about it say “it’s original”. SERIOUSLY?!?!?! So your saying it came from the factory looking like crap all dull, rusted and worn out? PA-LEASE! Hopefully this silly ‘fad’ will end soon.
    Yes, fake patina is just ridiculous, and really nasty when they clear coat over it.

    I second that. I just almost finished a 1972 corvette, have 2 M 3’s and just started working on a 1975 Honda CB550 Four so here we go again. It’s great when you can take a vehicle in said condition and maybe not make perfect but at least get it drive able. Great find, good luck.

    Great article! I was living in Germany with my father, a career soldier, when the Pantera came out. I went to see it at the Frankfurt International Car show. I have lusted after one ever since. In 1973 Camel Cigarettes was giving away one as a prize. You either had to send in empty Camei cigarette packs or a 3X5 index card with the words Camel GT written on it. I must have mailed 100 of those cards. My father always put a stamp on them and dropped them in the APO. He asked me once what was I going to if I won, as I couldn’t drive yet and it would have to shipped to Germany. I said that we would worry about it if I won. He laughed and said yes we will. Gee, I miss my dad.

    I love this story and this minding. Do we need perfection to have fun and be satisfied? Of course no.

    RESTORE IT!!! I have a yellow 72 and it does need and will get a restoration (eventually, but where do u bring it to have it done?).

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