I made the first Pantha in my Palmerston North shop Pedal Pushers in
1978. Being a frame builder of racing bikes I was approached by some
young teenagers with a US magazine on the craze that had just started
their.Suddenly all hell took place and demand for the bikes meant I had
to do some thing about it.
In those days the only way you could import anything was to have a Import Licence....impossible to get.
So what the hell do we do, I had some cycling connections with Dixon Engineering, so we sat down and nutted what was required, we had to make the bike from materials readily available in NZ.
We made the frame from a high quality steel incorporating an english style bottom bracket that only took 3 piece cranks ( as do the top race bikes of today)
We made the seat post, handlebars,and stem ,
The alloy cast pieces were done by Dixons casting them.
The biggest concern was wheels, yes we could make the hubs,and could get the spokes, but the rims were the problem, we looked at getting aluminium window manufacturers extruding the aluminium roll the rims and drill them. We put that on hold as the cost of tooling was prohibitive.
Dixons made custom gravity cast wheels so we worked out the sizing, and David Dixon sketched out the design which we all know so well. We used the best single row bearings ,made the axles, and the campagnolo style wheels nuts. And best of all made it a freewheel hub.The first and only one in the world.
The forks we originally made round section as Tange at the time. We were offered a new profile steel flat to oval which proved superior and these also were a world first.
All those items were then sold to individual dealers who added their own cranks pedals etc.
I had discussions with the Goverment who arrived at my Pedal Pushers shop,The minister of Trade and Industry Lance Adams- Snieder (spelling) had all his staff with him and the local MP John Lithgow who helped with the meeting.I had just made a road frame and on the spot, the minister allocated Import Licence to enable us to import the parts we were not making......that was the real start of Pantha.
In Bunnythorpe there was an abandoned Dairy Factory of 25,000 sq ft, formerly owned by the NZ company Glaxo, Thats where we got Pantha Underway on a large scale.
In 1979 I went to the US to West Coast Cycles in California where they marketed Cycle Pro BMX components, I did a deal with them. They also saw our alloy wheel and couldn't get over the design and freewheel as well. The only other alloy cast wheel was a back pedal Bendix hub job, it was heavier than ours and shoddy.
Pantha then was produced as a complete bike the first being the MX1002.
Cycle Pro Snake belly tyres
Cycle Pro Shotgun saddles
Dia Compe brakes
Hanabishi Alloy cranks ( the other brands were held by other NZ factories)
DID BMX chains
All components were anodised and colour matched: Red-Blue-Gold the odd silver.
Frames were originally wet spray painted as were handle bars. We then powdercoated the frames bars and stems.And then produced powdercoated wheels in colours to match the components. we then coloured the handlebars.
The Bunnythorpe factory was a large complex so we made the first BMX track in NZ to test the bikes, soon this track became an 8 lane one very fast as it went down a slope. We formed the first BMX club.
The factory was alongside the main trunk railway line and had its own railway siding.It was over grown and we were producing over 700 bikes a month and still not keeping up. I personally dug the rail siding clear to enable the carriages to be put on the siding.
Pantha was the first brand of BMX in NZ .Morrisons, and Healings and a couple of others followed on 18 months to two years later.We were approached to make other brands but decided not to.
Other models were introduced, Pantha Cub 16" possibly the best 16" ever made.Pantha Assasin 24" Pantha Scout with one piece BB and Pantha Pro.The first I hand made from a chrome moly Tange tube set, it was raced for years winning many events and NO1 plate.
Because the Pantha company had grown so fast I had to get partners on board. I met future partners at the then biggest show in NZ the Easter Show where we had a large display, the organisers had put down a BMX track for us as well.
In any business you have to keep moving forward with innovation, After a visit to the UK I had an agreement to make Holdsworth racing bikes under licence and was ready to set up brazing lines my partners didn't want to go ahead.
Difficulties arose as I had lost majority control and decisions were made I didn't agree with. The decision was to move the factory to Avondale I resigned retaining share holding, Pantha went into receivership overloaded with management and overheads 18 months later.
Finally a comment was made that Pantha had a lot of frame breakages....the fact was we had possibly 10 out of hundreds. We sent the frames to be tested by the then DSIR the problem was we had made the rear end too strong this was quickly rectified with lighter gauge and section tubing ..we never had a breakage again.
The Pantha alloy wheels went thro 3 generations where we worked with Dixons to lighten then by the spoke design reduced the rim width, next stage was to use a lighter stronger aluminium. thousands were made. We then introduced some TUFF wheels and then Araya anodised rims with Suzue anodised hubs which we spoked here.
Good news I have since retained the Pantha name...watch this space :-)