Hugh Kleinpeter purchased chassis 1603, then entered it in IMSA racing by the end of 1974. He was no newcomer to racing, and had entered many international events before. He was a true Pantera fanatic, and he purchased a 1971 car, which he modified extensively. He replaced the body with a fully detachable fiberglass one, which allowed an easy access to every mechanical component. The car was also a right hand drive, which was also unusual in the US. Hugh Kleinpeter had been successful in many races, and he had been involved in the development of American built cars such as Begra and Beach racers. When he decided to get involved in GT racing, it was because this kind of racing looked much more promising in terms of financial reward. He had the choice to opt for the ever winning Porsche Carreras, which were the obvious car to buy, or the ever impressive Chevrolet Corvettes, which needed to be rebuilt from scratch (too dumb from Hugh's viewpoint), and the Ferrari 365GTB4s, which were sturdy and very expensive to maintain. The De Tomaso Pantera, on the other hand, appeared as an obvious choice. It was aerodynamically efficient, and not too costly to run. The car obviously looked attractive, and the whole package was interesting. The first cars which had been run in some international events had grabbed some success, with Herbert Müller, Clay Regazzoni, Jean Marie Jacquemin and Mike Parkes at the wheel. So, it was attractive for the potential sponsors. However, the car was intended to be raced as an IMSA GTO car, which the equivalent of the FIA Group 4 class. It would evolve with time, and the car was to be modified later to become a true GTX racer, challenging the Porsche 935s in the process. From the beginning, the racing budget eventually soared. The car had a great potential, but it was to be hampered by some conceptional problems. Back in 1974, the car had showed some great potential, and Hugh Kleinpeter finished twelfth at the Daytona Finale. The engine used for racing was a Boss Cleveland one, along with a ZF transaxle. The original one was suited to racing, but you could not hope any win, so a special racing transaxle was needed, and it allowed gear ratio changes.
Copyright Fred Lewis(courtesy Racingsportscars)
The 1975 season was to bring some disappointments, with fourteenth place at Road Atlanta, a thirtieth at Mid Ohio and a twenty eighth at Daytona. No valuable result to boast for. The car was still used in its nearly standard form and it needed to be developed. Moreover, it needed to get more reliable, as some parts were not designed for competition. At Daytona, in 1976, the car showed great promise, and posted an excellent ninth place in practice. The race was another disappointment, with a dnf after forty two laps. Sebring was a little better, with a twenty first place at the finish. At Road Atlanta, a tenth overall rewarded Hugh Kleinpeter. Lime Rock was a race to forget, with a twenty fifth, and dead last position at the finish. The car was not to be seen later in the season. Again, the car was to be entered at Sebring, and Hugh Kleinpeter, along with Jef Stevens, posted a twelfth place on the grid. But again, it was a disappointing race. The car ran very well, and was in sixth place when it retired again, this time with an exploded clutch. At Road Atlanta, Hugh Kleinpeter had a great race. Starting eighteenth, he worked his way through the field and ended up eighth overall. It was his best result so far! The car, again, disappeared from the racing scene until the end of the season. Hugh Kleinpeter had a great project : the car was to be extensively modified in order to meet the new GTX rules. It was the only way to improve the car and to make it become a true racer. The rear end of the car had been entirely re-designed and a new rear wing had been added, in order to improve the stability of the car. The car now was three hundred pounds lighter, had fifty more horsepower, and was aerodynamically more efficient, so. It now sported a full race ZF transaxle, which should be a welcome addition to a better servicing. The car was enhanced, with a detachable front and rear. It was renumbered GT4K-011. The engine was an Australian fuel injected NASCAR block. The car had become a real eye catcher, and was extremely impressive. It no longer looked like a GT car, but it was now a true GTX. At Daytona early in the season, the car failed to start the race, and it was due to an engine failure. Defective valve springs were the reason for this failure.
Copyright Paul Woodbury
At Sebring, ot looked like things were going to improve, and the car qualified eleventh. Hugh Kleinpeter and Jef Stevens were running great, but they were out of the race by lap seventeen. They were running at a very conservative pace of 2m57s. It seemed they could have run at this pace until the end.
A blown head gasket and burnt pistons were the cause for the team's new disappointment. Low grade fuel was perhaps the cause for this new shortened stint.
However, the 1978 season was again to be on Team Pantera's schedule, with many improvements. The engine was expected to give out 600hp, which should be enough to be a contender for the win. Reliability remained the main problem. At Road Atlanta, the car was still entered, but it did not sport the awaited improvements, as the team had to rebuild the engine. Qualifying in ninth position, it seemed again that the car could do really well. Starting very strong, Hugh Kleinpeter was in the top five positions in the very first laps. However, he was to pit for shifting problems on lap ten. The transaxle cooling pump failed, and the ZF overheated subsequently. A lack of cooling was what caused the whole package to overheat. So Hugh had no choice but retire from the race instead of damaging the car a little bit more. Then, and sadly, the car was no more to be entered in any race. Was it because the car was not reliable enough and needed some development. In fact, it looks like the major problem was stemming from the ever persistent lack of money. Without a strong backing from a big name, you could not hope for the win. The car had the potential, and it seems like Team Pantera finally decided to drop from the compettion. The car was to be parked for a while.
It was later sold to Vic Manuelli, who would campaign it in some West Coast races in the early eighties.
- Talladega 21
- Daytona Finale 12
- Atlanta 14
- Mid Ohio 30
- Daytona Paul Revere 28
- Daytona 62
- Sebring 21
- Atlanta 10
- Lime Rock 25
- Sebring 45
- Atlanta 8
- Mid Ohio DNS
- Daytona DNS
- Sebring 67
- Atlanta 32
Hugh Kleinpeter had been too much optimistic in the first place! But no one could blame him for that. He passed away in 2002(RIP), and he can be remembered as one of the men who wanted to win by himself. He failed but tried hard. (to be continued)
Many thanks to Philippe Olczyk, whose great book "De Tomaso, Macchine da corsa", helped a lot. You can visit his site : http://www.classicscars.com.