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A repeat of what I posted on the DeTomaso Forum, but it took darn long to write so I'm sending it to anyone who will read :-)

Dear Pantera Diary,

Here's the "Reader's Digest" version of last weeks adventure. 2,750 kilometers in the Pantera, nearly a week visiting the chateaux in the Loire Valley in France, and then the annual trip to the 24 hours of Le Mans.

Hopefully I can get pictures posted somewhere over the weekend or something, since some of these sights really need to be seen to be appreciated.

In past years we had merely zoomed up to Le Mans for the 4-day event and rushed back as soon as it was over, spending nearly as much time traveling as at the event itself, and without having even seen the actual center of Le Mans the city. As far as we knew, the city of Le Mans was basically made up of several campsites, a Carrefour grocery store, and a track with really noisy cars. Now that I am fully into the swing of having 5 weeks of vacation like all good Europeans, we decided this year to smell the coffee a little bit and visit some of the surrounding area beforehand.

So we headed out Saturday morning for Nantes, France, where I used to live. The drive itself was uneventful, with the exception that for the first time in my Pantera ownership, two Panteras-worth, we had a fully functional A/C system. It was a novelty to be able to roll with the windows up and have icy cool air blowing out of the vents. The car is much quieter at 100 mph with the windows up - heck you could probably even listen to the radio to help pass the time! What a novel idea! 7 hours later we arrived in Nantes and visited my old apartment... looking at soil that soaked up oil from having changed my old Pantera´s fluids in the parking lot out front... Everyone gets nostalgic about different things... We strolled around the city and I showed Amaya the sights. We met up with friends of mine from when I lived there and got caught up on old times until the wee hours.

It was a great visit, complete with the obligatory rides in the Pantera for everyone (and parents of some of my friends) and then we headed out for Blois. We had plenty of time, so I told the GPS to avoid highways and take only backroads, following the Loire river. What a great drive! Very little traffic, and lots of tiny, winding roads that went through little villages and took us past innumerable chateaux. We stopped for a few happy-snaps, and regretted not being able to visit many of them because they really did look fascinating. But we had our itinerary that we needed to stick to and we'd have to come back to visit those some other time.

Blois has a fascinating palace that was the center of the French kingdom for a period way back when. I should have listened to the guide a little more and I'd know exactly when. We saw where king Henri II ordered his main rival (the Duc de Guise) assassinated, and had his brother bumped off as well the next day for good measure. That was enough to get him excommunicated by the Pope, apparently. The French do a really nice job with their "son et lumiere", a sound and light show at night with some of their classic buildings. Got some really nice pictures.

We headed out the next day for Chambord. Once again we followed the Loire and avoided large roads. We saw farms, chateaux, tractors, bicycles... it was great! Of all the castles and palaces I've seen in France, this has to be one of the most impressive. Built in the forest as a hunting lodge, it was the home to the French court until Louis XIV built Versailles. And it looks like a French king's idea of a "lodge". It was built to impress his peers, and it sure impressed me (even if he wouldn't consider me a peer). The castle has a neat auto-guide format where you type the room number into your little handset and it tells you what you are looking at. The castle is nearly fully decorated and was really fascinating.

Unfortunately, it had been raining on and off for a good part of the day. I say unfortunately because I suspect that somehow something electrical got a little damp in the Pantera and decided to act up. We left the chateau around 4pm because we had a solid 4 hour drive to go to Chartes, and we were hoping to spend part of the evening exploring the town. We came out of Chambord, I pushed the button on my remote that should open the doors and deactivate the alarm and anti-theft device, but nothing happened. So I pushed the button again. Doors still locked. Amaya pushed the button. Nothing.

My alarm has a plan "B". On the steering column is a little button and a few lights. If you open the door with the key, you can disarm the system by entering a code using the lights and the little button. But I was concerned because I saw no flashing lights, which should have indicated that the alarm was armed. Maybe it was disarmed? I opened the door with the key and the alarm didn't sound, which was weird. I tried starting the car and it immediately fired to life, and then just as quickly the immobilizer cut the electron flow off to the ignition and the engine died. I tried to start it again and rev the engine to see if it would keep running, but it ran for all of a half-second and then quit.

I had no idea what to do. I was hoping that perhaps the battery in the remote had simply expired, and in its death throes was sending a funky signal to the alarm that left it in a state of limbo - neither activated (the alarm didn't sound when I opened the door) nor deactivated (it wouldn't let me start the engine). I didn't believe what I was saying, but I thought that perhaps a fresh battery would send a good signal and would completely activate or deactivate the alarm.

So in the pouring rain we went to the various souvenir stores in search of a battery. Nobody had one my size. Out of ideas, we headed to the Gendarmerie. I explained my plight to the police chief, who immediately called for a subordinate. It was kind of surreal because his subordinates were entirely made up of young women in battle fatigues and combat boots, some 15 of them! For some reason I thought of a Monty Python skit. He got out his phone book and began calling around looking for a spare battery for us, and found one in a village about 15 km away. Did I mention that Chambord is REALLY out in the middle of nowhere? When the kings wanted to get away from it all, they really got away from it all!

So Amaya and I piled into the police van and a young gendarme in her battle fatigues drove us the the nearby town. 2 euros later and I had a new battery. During the drive back I began to formulate a plan "B" if the fresh battery didn't perform miracles. The problem was that I just couldn't come up with a good plan B.

That was a problem because, of course, even with a fresh battery my car just sat there staring at me dumbly while I pushed the button. The doors didn't lock or unlock, and the alarm remained just as flaky as ever.

The police chief stopped by to see how we were doing. I think he also wanted to see the car, but it was nice of him to stop by. He heard me start the car for the 3 milliseconds that it would run before the alarm cut the life off and came over to chat. I could see him thinking and he pulled out his cellphone and made some calls. He had a friend who helped the gendarmerie out with odd electrical problems (such as the sort you could find in a 15th century castle I suppose. The wiring back in the 15th century isn't like it is nowadays you know!) He also just so happened to work in a car audio and alarm store. Too good to be true! He gave him a call and he said he was busy, but could stop by in an hour. But based on the symptoms, the brain box of the alarm had gotten fried and the only solution was to bypass it.

Not having a better plan "B", we waited with the chief in the rain and chatted. You can get to be good friends when you've got nothing better to do than sit in the parking lot in the rain and talk. My alarm decided to get even more schizophrenic and would periodically sound the siren for no good reason, and then just shut up. We'd go back to talking and the alarm would sound again. It got annoying so I disconnected the battery. That showed it!

His friend showed up a little later, and armed with a voltmeter tried to learn how my system worked. Between the shrieks of the alarm, he more or less figured it out. He disconnected a wire and asked me to start it up. It fired first try! So we took a little spin around the parking lot. So far so good! Hooking the wire up immediately caused the alarm to sound and the engine to die. Looks like we found the magic wire!

So of course I had to give people rides. First the police chief. The speed limit in the whole park is 60 k/hr, and I didn't know really how much to push it with the head of the police in the car, but I ran it to redline through the first three gears to give him an idea. But when it was time to turn around, I put my turn signal on, the alarm shrieked, and the engine stopped. Merde. We are several kilometers from the parking lot and the car was dead! But I turned the turn signal off and the car started right up. This was odd... Doing a little test, I put the turn signal on and once again the alarm sprang to life to let me know that it was defeated, but hadn't thrown in the towel completely! Well ok, as long as I understand the rules - the turn signals are actually wired into the electronic brain, and that part was somehow still active. So turn signals would be out.

A ride was arranged for my saint (the electrician guy), and we turned around sans turn signals. Great! But we had now lost a total of 5 hours, it was 7pm, and we had a hotel pre-paid 4 hours away in Chartres. However the police chief insisted that we stop by his house for drinks and to meet his wife. After having saved our bacon it would have seemed impolite to decline, so away we went for an icy cold beer.

I was torn because we were really enjoying ourselves and everybody was very friendly, but we really had to go. Before going, he insisted on giving us two bottles of wine as a present (him, giving US a present for letting him bail us out???) and we eventually headed out.

The drive to Chartres was uneventful, but we got kind of lost looking for the hotel. It was now 11pm, we hadn't eaten dinner, lunch was at noon, and we didn't know where the hotel was. But a fellow jumped out of the car behind us at a stoplight and invited us to have coffee out of the blue! He was a Corvette fan, had one at home, and was heading for Le Mans the following weekend. Under normal circumstances we would have accepted, but we had a very early morning the next day and were really looking for a little less hospitality and looking to have dinner! So we politely declined as best we could and found the hotel.

We had a lightening tour the next day of Chartes, because much of our free time had been consumed sitting in the parking lot at Chambord. We saw the largest collection of medieval stained glass in Europe in the cathedral and wandered the streets for a little bit. But we couldn't dawdle too much because Mt. Saint Michel was awaiting us.

Once more we took all backroads as we headed into Normandy. The drive and subsequent hotel was pretty uneventful, but it was hard to not use the turn signals. I don't know how many times I started to signal a lane change before I was rudely reminded that the alarm was only sleeping and would awaken if provoked.

The next day we headed out under overcast skies to Mt. Saint Michel. When I brought my old ´72 Pantera to Europe, oh, 9 years ago, I stopped by Mt. Saint Michel and snapped a picture of the car with the monument behind. I wanted to re-create the exact shot, so just like last time I sweet-talked the guard into letting me go past to be able to shoot a picture right in front. I can honestly say that I had no idea when I took that first picture back in 1998 that nearly 10 years later I would be standing in the same spot with a GT5-S, living in Spain, and visiting with my Spanish wife! Life is funny sometimes. But there I was.

We purposely scheduled our visits to avoid Mt Saint Michel on the weekends, when it can be absolutely overrun with those darn tourists. Since we arrived early, it was relatively empty. Our souvenirs from the visit include a Mt. Saint Michel umbrella, since the heavens opened up and a steady rain fell for much of the day. The monument is famous for a reason - it really is spectacular. A fortified city with an enormous cathedral and monastery on top of the mountain that has withstood attacks for centuries. The engineering required to design and build such a creature 1000 years ago is quite impressive, and the site is a must-visit for anyone remotely near the area.

From there, we headed toward the ultimate goal - Le Mans. But on the way we saw signs for the US Military Cemetery, so we stopped by. This isn't the large one in Normandy, but is a smaller one in the province of Brittany. But standing in the rain, looking at the rows and rows and rows of white crosses, the perfectly manicured lawn, while "Taps" was played over a distant sound system was quite moving. The cemetery is US soil, given as a gift to the citizens of the US by France. There was a small church in the center with a memorial to the servicemen inside, and maps showing the major lines and battles of the end of the second World War.

Once again I asked TomTom to plot me a route to Le Mans that would avoid all highways, and we really went through no-man's land, speaking of wars. We occasionally stopped at an isolated chateau to look at it from afar, or in a little French town for lunch and an espresso. It was slow going, but that was fine because we weren't in a hurry and the landscape was gorgeous. A few hours later we pulled into Le Mans and basically immediately ground to a halt.

We had the misfortune of arriving just before Wednesday night qualifying, and the traffic was absolutely horrific. At one point I shut the motor off for a good 15 minutes because we just weren't advancing. It took literally 90 minutes to go from the town of Arnage to our campsite, which was all of 7 kilometers away. Those interested may calculate the average speed. When we (finally!) arrived at the campsite, Camping Bleu, we found that the system had changed from previous years. Traditionally, you had a camping pass which allowed you to enter a large campsite. It was basically a free-for-all, with no marked campsites. Those who arrived early could spread out and had larger plots, while the late arrivers sometimes had to squeeze into the remaining cracks. This year, the ACO (the organizing body) had more or less marked out plots, and you had to indicate how many were in your party and they would help you mark off your area. We came prepared with long stakes and safety tape in order to reserve our campsite, since we would be meeting up with many people. So we told the helpful attendant that we had 5 cars attending, we took a lap to check out the campsite and select our 5 plots, and then marked off "our territory" with the tape.

We set up our tent, and then decided that all that work called for a celebratory beer. Since we brought no food or supplies with us, we piled back into the Pantera and headed for the nearby town of Arnage and our favorite outdoor restaurant. We parked next to a rather special Ferrari F-40, had the largest and coldest beer I'd had in ages, ate dinner, and watched the cars.

The next day we went grocery shopping, and then headed back to the campsite to wait for the rest of our group to arrive. The first to arrive were David and Edurne, friends of ours from Spain. As usual, David came with a completely stocked car that included ice-cold beer, sausages, Spanish ham, cold cuts, Spanish olives, and an entire feast. We were just relaxing in the campsite when I got a text message from Mike Drew - it was raining, they were approaching Le Mans in Stephane Bergeron's Renault, and they had Robert and George behind them in Robert's 1950-something Jaguar Special.

A word about Robert´s Jaguar Special. It began life as a Jag XK120 (or 140, I forget), and was later converted into a racecar. As such it had no roof. It had no windows. It had no trunk. It had no heater. I don't remember if it had windshield wipers or not, but it was really a moot point due to the lack of roof. So of course it was the perfect car to travel from England to France in, especially in a weekend where it did nothing but rain! The car was wonderful! He uses it primarily for vintage racing, and the restoration is sort of a permanent work-in-process. It was just rough enough to give it character, but oozed charm and charisma from every pore. (I can say that - my car had a roof. I don't know how much charm the soaked occupants thought it oozed after their drive). That night dinner was an improvised affair in the campsite with the items brought by various people and the food that we had bought in the supermarket... The last to arrive were two more friends of mine from Spain, Miguel and Juanjo, who rode in comfort in their Audi but won't have half the stories to tell that Robert and George can tell!

Friday morning came early, and we kind of organized ourselves to have breakfast and coffee. Friday morning is one of my favorite parts of Le Mans. Much of the race is held on public roads, and Friday morning the attendees typically cruise a part of the course known as Indianapolis, and it is one of the most amazing sites you will ever see. You'll drive along and see 35 TVR's parked together... 3 Ferrari Dinos together. 20 Marcos. A pair of F40s. 4 Lambos. 5 Nobles. You'll see another DeTomaso, so you stop and chat for a while and watch the parade. There go a gaggle of Astons, a flock of Ferrari, and a gander of Lotus. It is one of the most impressive moving collections of amazing cars you will ever see. So it was full of illusion that we headed out of our campsite - 5 cars in all - and headed for Indianapolis. Imagine my surprise when the Gendarmes had the entrance to Indianapolis blocked off! What? This can't be! What are they doing?

In the subsequent confusion we got slightly separated and somehow managed to meet up again at the grocery store. So we went food shopping and tried to figure out what had happened. It appears that some of the qualifying sessions couldn't be run because of the heavy rains, so they had shut down the road to allow the cars more practice time and more qualifying time. Rats! Of all the weekend, that part had been my favorite!

So we headed back to the campsite and the groups split up. We headed for the pits to see what was happening. After watching the mechanics do their magic in the "regular" pits, we headed for the classic paddock. Before the main event, there is a one-hour "classic Le Mans", with the actual cars that originally did battle in the 50's and 60's. These are the cars that I REALLY like.. seeing classic Maseratis, Jaguar D-types, Ferraris, Ford GT40's, classic Astons... Later they allow you to enter the pits and look at the cars up close, but for the moment they were closed to the public while the mechanics and teams prepared. However, ever the resourceful one, Mike Drew had somehow snagged two "entrant" passes and came out, gave one to me, and the two of us went in. Mike's friend Andy Prill would be driving an original Ford GT40, so we went to go talk to him for a while. The gear selection mechanism wasn't working quite right (the GT40 has a ZF transaxle, same as the Pantera) and they had some other minor glitches to get straightened out. Mike offered some advice and suggestions, and then we left them to their preparations.

We headed back to the campsite to watch the action in "burnout alley". This is the road between our campsite and the campsite across the street, and is hooligan heaven. Every time an interesting car comes along, a self-designated burn-out master steps in front to stop them, waits for a small space to clear in front, and then encourages the driver to entertain the crowd with a burnout. A surprisingly large percentage of the cars oblige. It is the only place where you will see burnouts by Bentleys, by a Ferrari 550 Maranello (that made two laps to do more burnouts), and by a Lamborghini Murcielago. Some impressive performances were put on by some of the Caterhams, as usual, and a rather notable performance was given by a certain white DeTomaso Pantera GT5-S, whose owner wishes to remain anonymous.

From there, since the weather was temporarily holding, we headed back to the campsite for a special treat. Edurne's family is involved in the organization that manages a prestigious grade of cheese (Idiazabal), and she and David were kind enough to bring a huge hunk of cheese and a couple of bottles of wine to help wash it down. So during a dry moment, they cut the cheese up and served. Yumm! It was a rather large cheese she brought and it lasted a rather short time.

Saturday morning began dry, which was a good sign. We had a hasty breakfast because at 10am the classic cars take to the track. Roughly 50 cars took the warmup lap, and every hair stood up on my arms from the amazing noise of sheer power as they rumbled by. The green flag dropped and a fantastic battle developed between a Lola and a Ferrari... The drivers may have been driving cars worth millions of dollars, but they were here to RACE and they traded positions and fought elbow to elbow. Unfortunately, toward the end of the race the Lola ended up in a sand trap, leaving the Ferrari to take home the honors. After a full hour of watching past glory being recreated our ears were ringing but we had smiles from ear to ear.

Now we had some time to kill before the start of the "real" race at 3pm so we visited some of the shops. I bought a huge book on the history of Le Mans (the race), since I really know very little about how this whole thing got started, or some of the more tragic or historic events in its past. We had lunch, and then selected a point to watch the start.

Le Mans these days has a rolling start. The cars do a warm-up lap, the safety car seeks shelter, the lights turn green, and all Hell breaks loose. Well, at least that is what has traditionally happened. But, although few people have realized it, the past era has ended and we are in a new one. The era of the diesel.

That's right, the winning car at Le Mans last year was a diesel. And this year, the 5 fastest cars on the track were all diesels. And I decided that I hate them.

When the green flag dropped during the classic race, I was serious about the hair on my arms standing up on end due to the wonderful sounds. THE NOISE! But the diesels whooshed past after the green flag and all I heard was a very quiet "whooooosh", like a vacuum cleaner at 200 yards. Thinking about it, since it sounded so much like rushing air instead of a motor I wonder how much of the noise was the air being displaced by the car? But there was no NOISE! No glorious howling, popping, spitting flames, the noises that make race cars CARS! The first five cars tiptoed past (granted, tiptoed past at a much higher rate of speed than anything else out on the track), and then finally, FINALLY, came a REAL car. The first of the non-diesels. And it virtually screamed past. Then came the Astons, bellowing out their warsong. The Corvettes with their guttural roar that you can identify without looking. The Ferraris. Those cars, the REAL cars, spitting flames from the exhaust with each gear change, popping and banging on trailing throttle... Those are race cars and touch your 5 senses and emotions.

I have to acknowledge the tremendous work done by the Peugeot and Audi engineers in preparing a diesel engine in such a short period of time that is capable of withstanding 24 hours of racing, and not just withstanding, but WINNING. As an engineering feat, it is truly astounding. But I really hope that the future of the sport does not go in this direction as it removes such a critical element from a race car - the sound. We'll have to see what happens in future years.

Not long after the race began, another downpour began. Then there was over an hour of full-course caution as someone piled into a barrier and they had to repair it. An hour to repair a barrier? So we alternated between seeking shelter from the rain and watching the action on the track.

The race began as billed - Peugeot vs. Audi, both of them diesels. The remained of the field was made up of Pescarolos, a pair of Saleen S7s (as soon as I hit the lottery, one of those will be parked next to the Pantera), a few Ferrari 360s, a Lamborghini Murcielago that burned to the ground during qualifying, was rebuilt in 2 days and lasted exactly one lap before self-destructing during the main event, a pair of Corvettes, a handful of Porsches, as usual, and some Aston Martins. Quite a varied crowd, and at least most of the cars still make the right noises.

Saturday was mostly made up of watching the race from various points, and then we headed into Arnage for a last night's supper. We arrived fairly late, but as the weather was momentarily cooperating we decided to eat outdoors. To add a touch of symmetry to the weekend, Amaya and I had dinner in the same restaurant on the first night with a Ferrari F40 next to us, and now on the last night a Ferrari F50 pulled in. The dinner crowd swelled as some friends of Stephane's joined us. A couple at our end of the table spends their yearly vacations retracing portions of the Paris-Dakar race... So they drive to the desert in northern Africa and follow the exact route through the sand dunes and mountains.. Their daughter is now 12 years old and hasn't missed a year since she was born. You meet some really interesting people at Le Mans.

Sunday was, well, wet. We did manage to find some good vantage points to see the racing action. But at about 1:30, 90 minutes before the checkered flag, we decided that it would be best to begin our trek home. The Pantera does rather poorly in the rain, and I had an early flight the next morning for work. So we said our goodbyes, wished all the luck in the world to Robert and George who were bundled up as best they could to protect them from the driving rain, and headed south toward Spain.

It was quite slow going due to the standing water on the highway. The recently repaired A/C was a lifesaver, because the window kept fogging up due to the cold and rain and the A/C did a great job at clearing the mist. It took us over two hours to reach Tours, which should have been a 40 minute trip. Shortly thereafter the clouds began to part and the weather gods decided that enough was enough and let us continue more or less in the dry. The rest of the trip was how it should be - uneventful.

The car was filthy when we got home - 10 days of insects, rain, mud, more inspects, more rain... Each time I saw the car dirty during the trip I thought about washing it but it would start raining more or less immediately, making washing it seem silly. Since it was late we just unpacked and prepared my suitcase for the following day. A good, thorough cleaning would have to wait until next weekend.

So, looking back on this all, it was one more fantastic adventure in the Pantera. In any other car it would have just been a long drive with very little to tell. But it was comfortable, reliable (the alarm problem wasn't anything DeTomaso related), and, um, quick. We met a lot of people that we wouldn't have met in a brand X car.

Next year we will most likely be attending the Classic 24 hours of Le Mans in July, so anyone interested shoot me an e-mail and I'll keep you up to date with what the plan is. I promise there won't be any diesels on the track for that event!
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Thanks for making me feel like I was there too.

I realize what you mean by just going to and being there. Indi is that way too.

The race is what it is all about but it becomes an almost secondary event. These things truely become sociological events.

I know that it makes it extra special to be there with someone very special and a very special vehicle.

Sounds like one of those "having the time of your life" events. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for the "screen savers"
Last edited by panteradoug
Thanks for the feedback - I really do appreciate it. Andriyko (or anyone else) I can send you the full-size original photo if you'd like. It was a digital photo that may not blow up to poster size well, but could probably be enlarged to a more moderate size fairly easily.

Forest Majors, of PONE, is working on posting all the photos, some 300MB worth, on PONE's website.

In the meantime, those interested in the photos may download them at the following links:

Like Mission Impossible, these links will self-destruct this weekend, so it would be best to download them asap. Each link is to a roughly 100MB zip file with the photos compressed. Begin with Le Mans 1, then 2, then 3. (seems obvious, but I'm not sure what order I posted the links above).



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