Pantera International Tracks Down the King's Pantera
Story and photos by Wallace A. Wyss, PI Editor in Chief
Special thanks to the Petersen Museum
Original story - Summer 2001 Pantera International Magazine

Elvis Aaron Presley was the undisputed king of rock and roll.

And what would you expect but for the King to own a Pantera (The King of Sweden. Gustav, owns one as well).

Exactly when the King (Elvis, not Gustav) bought this Pantera is unclear, but there is a Tennessee title to show that he owned it.

Ironically it is famous not for any great drive he took or it having been featured in one of his 31movies, but because, in a fit of pique, he shot at it one day when it wouldn’t start. The car received several wounds but, undaunted, with a battery charge, it starts right up. It takes more than a little flyin’ lead to stop a Pantera!

 

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President Richard M. Nixon and Elvis Presley - circa 1973

When PI previously saw this car, in the collection of the owner of Fritts Ford, Riverside, California, it had at least one bullet hole in the door. But this is now repaired——now there are only bullet wounds in the steering wheel.

The car also has the dubious distinction of having been sold for over $1 million. The previous owner said that a good deal of the million, though, was in gems which, when received by the seller appraised for far less than their stated value, so this part of the car’s claim to fame is on rocky ground.

 

The car is reasonably stock. It has the original Capri-derived steering wheel——the one most Pantera owners threw away——and under the engine lid is a box stock 351-C complete with low cost blue painted valve covers and a blue-painted block. The fender-wells still have the original coating on them.

After decades of inspecting restored-better-than-new Panteras, this reporter is almost shocked to see a stock Pantera——its crudity a reminder that Ford was originally creating a new niche between true exotics and American musclecars——in effect a new category called "budget supercar," with performance to rival a Ferrari but with an engine straight off the Mustang parts shelves.

The previous owner had a picture of someone driving this car away from a used car lot in Detroit——somebody with sideburns and sunglasses, such as The King sported. But at the Peterson Museum where the car now resides, they have no photographic evidence linking the car to The King. However, Richard Horvath was kind enough to inform us that he has found 2 photos of the King with his Pantera that are shown on this web site: kingcandids.com

 

I have seen pictures of Elvis with other cars he treasured including one of him with the white pearl Cadillac Fleetwood limo customized for him by George Barris, the Hollwood customizer. I know he owned a Stutz Blackhawk, the modern Stutz, not the prewar one, and this too was a car with an American V8 engine and an Italian body but built on a Pontiac floorpan. Like the Pantera, the Stutz was designed by an American——in this case Virgil Exner. Tom Tjaarda, a native of Birmingham, Michigan, designed the Pantera.

Elvis also owned a Rolls Royce Mulliner-Park Ward bodied Phantom V——a huge limo, one of a few hundred made, similar to that owned by the Beatles.

 

 

 

While stationed in Germany with an armored regiment, he bought both a BMW 507 sports car and a two-seater Messerschmitt——a car made by the same folks who brought us the Me-109 and other nasty attack planes of the Axis during WWII. Elvis was also crazy about motorcycles, especially Harleys. He rode them in several of his films.

 

But he never got enthusiastic about race cars despite simulating racing them in a couple of films (Spinout being one of them). Unlike some other entertainers who like cars, his taste in cars was never refined to the point where he commissioned special ones built (unless you want to count the Barris Kustom Cadillac.)

The present owner of the Elvis Pantera is Bob Petersen, the founder and former owner of the Petersen Publishing Corp., publishers of Hot Rod, Motor Trend, etc. Mr. Petersen has owned many exotic cars including a Lamborghini Espada.. He used to promote movie stars for the studios before starting his publishing venture so maybe his interest in the Elvis car was two-fold——owning a car owned by a famous celebrity and a high performance car with links to his hot rod youth as well.

In a way it is good that this car is in a museum because it prevents it from being restored, and in the case of Panteras, this "restoration" usually involves over-restoration, which accounts for this writer’s shock at seeing how stark a stock engine compartment looks after over 25 years.

As Pantera fans, we should be happy that Elvis chose one of our own instead of a Ferrari like James Coburn, Steve McQueen and other Hollywoodites did. We wish he would have done more with the car, but maybe it’s enough that he owned it at all, that he chose that make and model when he could have bought any car anywhere. Maybe all Panteras should have some Royal crest like many products do in England, something saying in effect:

 "This product chosen by The King."


Chassis number THPNESO1954 title certificate
Courtesy Jerry Sackett

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