1966 de Tomaso Sport 1000 Spyder by Fantuzzi 1966 de Tomaso Sport 1000 Spyder by Fantuzzi

de Tomaso Motor Cars

If you make racecars you know that the pilot may not return

Alejandro De Tomaso was born in Argentina, to a wealthy Italian family who ran a cattle ranch on a great piece of land along the Rio de la Platte river, land originally granted by the King of Spain to one of De Tomaso’s Spanish forebears.

But rather than settle for the life of a cattle baron, De Tomaso yearned to be a race car driver, and in the early ‘50’s, he managed to achieve that aim, driving borrowed Italian cars in local races.

But his political commentaries in a student newspaper ran him afoul of dictator Juan Peron and he fled to Italy in ‘55, where, soon after, he met lsabelle Haskell, a tall blonde American woman race driver.

After driving as a team in several International races against famous racers like Carroll Shelby, Masten Gregory, Juan Manuel Fangio, and Phil Hill, in ‘57 they were married in a society wedding in West Palm Beach, Florida.

In 1959, they founded their auto building firm, De Tomaso Automobili, in Modena, their first car was a 1.5 liter Formula 2 car built along Cooper lines with an OSCA engine built by the Maserati brothers. De Tomaso brought this car to Sebring in 1959 for the 12 hour race and drove it himself.

The next car was built for the Formula Junior class. In 1962, he had worked his way up to Formula 1, using an Alfa engine, and he began to be well known for his far-out experiments, like designing a flat-eight engine, or casting the monocoque tub for a single seater chassis in magnesium.

Like many a race car builder, he hoped to emulate Ferrari and build road cars that would embody the qualities of his racing cars and be fast, good handling cars. His first effort at a road car, introduced in 1963, was the Vallelunga, a small fastback coupé named after a racetrack near Rome.

It had exotic styling - almost like a mini Ferrari 250 LM - but was powered by a practical four cylinder Ford Cortina engine. This became a De Tomaso hallmark - to feature exotic styling on the outside but always have an off-the-shelf production engine under the engine lid.

After 52 Vallelunga coupés were made, De Tomaso received some investment capital from his in-laws and he and lsabelle took a gamble on upsizing to a bigger car; the Ford V8-powered mid-engined Mangusta. The crisp styling by young Giorgetto Giugiaro of Ghia Carrozzeria set the sports car world on its ear.

Visually, it was a match for Lamborghini’s Miura, though its Ford V8 was not high-tuned as the engines in purebred foreign exotics. Kjell Qvale’s British Motor Car Distributors in California ordered over 200 of them and, for one brief shining moment in time in the late ‘60’s, the Mangusta was the car to have.

They say - luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity - and that is precisely what happened next. In 1969, Ford Motor Company in Dearborn happened to be looking for an Italian exotic car company to buy. His merger proposal having been rebuffed by Enzo Ferrari several years earlier, Henry Ford II, grandson of the first Henry Ford, sent emissaries to De Tomaso after looking at the Mangusta.

His men decided that the Mangusta wasn’t quite right for Ford, but very close in concept. Fortunately, De Tomaso gave Ford an advance peek at models for his next car, the unitized body Pantera.

Ford decided that this new design built more like a Detroit car was right for them and in 1969 Ford bought a good piece of De Tomaso’s firm, along with the Ghia and Vignale coachbuilding firms that De Tomaso had bought earlier.

There was talk of Ford USA importing 10,000 Panteras, starting with the 1971 model year. But the Pantera got an auspicious start. Plagued with early teething problems, there was a recall right at the beginning and the car was saddled with an undeserved reputation for poor quality.

Today Panteras are among the most bulletproof of exotic Italian cars on the road and, as a result, they are far cheaper to run and own than Ferraris, Maseratis and Lamborghinis due to De Tomaso and Ford’s fortuitous choice of an off-the-shelf Mustang engine, the robust 310-hp.

Even though Ford canceled importation of the Pantera to the U.S. in 1974, the story didn’t end there. De Tomaso had retained the right to market the car in the rest of the world and he built several thousand more Panteras in the next two decades, including the exciting GT-5, with its deep front spoiler and tall Countach-style rear wing-on-stilts.

The last Pantera design was the Pantera Si, redesigned from front to back by the famous Lamborghini Miura and Countach designer, Marcello Gandini, who created an exciting up-date, while still retaining some of the unique forms Tom Tjaarda’s original design had in 1971.

In 1993 De Tomaso introduced the BMW-powered mid-engined Guara, a modern sports car only sold in Europe.

De Tomasos’ old friends, the San Francisco-based Kjell Qvale family, decided to repeat history in 1998 and inked a deal to import another new De Tomaso design, a car which they called the Mangusta. A front-engined car powered by an aluminum Ford V8, it boasts a novel roof design that can be configured either as a closed coupé, as a targa or as a fully open convertible.

In early 2000, there was a divorce between the Qvale Automotive Group and De Tomaso Modena S.p.A. Each firm went their separate way.

In July of 2000, De Tomaso Modena S.p.A. announced two new cars, an affordable Vallelunga and the 2002 Pantera. In August of 2000, DeTomaso Modena S.p.A. began production of a sport utility vehicle known as the Simbir.

Sadly, Alejandro De Tomaso passed away on May 21, 2003. Approximately one year later, the factory entered liquidation and was eventually wound up by 2005.

de Tomaso

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