1989 De Tomaso Parts
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De Tomaso was a small, specialty automaker founded in 1959, but its cars remain popular with aficionados and collectors. In many ways, the company was a passion project for its founder Alejandro de Tomaso, and De Tomaso cars became objects of passion for their owners.
Alejandro de Tomaso, Rancher and Racer
Alejandro de Tomaso was born in Argentina to an Argentinian mother and an Italian father. His mother’s family owned a number of productive cattle ranches. His father, Antonio de Tomaso, became Argentina’s Minister of Agriculture. Antonio died in 1933 at the age of 38, leaving the ranching business to Alejandro.
Although ranching was a lucrative business, it wasn’t where Alejandro’s heart lay. He was developing a passion for racing, and participated in several races in South America. In 1955 he took first in class at a 1000km race in Buenos Aires in a Maserati.
He also had a keen interest in politics, which lead to his eventual exit from Argentina. Alejandro ran a newspaper critical of Argentina’s then president Juan Peron. For this, he was arrested. He later took part in attempt to overthrow Peron’s government and was forced into exile. He moved to Italy, his father’s birthplace.
The exile turned out to be just the thing Alejandro’s racing career needed. He began working as a test-driver for Officine Specializzate Costruzione Automobili—Fratelli Maserati S.p.A (OSCA), the company founded by the Maserati brothers after they left the company that bears their name. De Tomaso met his wife, Elizabeth Haskell, while he was working for OSCA. Haskell who was also a racing driver (and the granddaughter of Chevrolet founder William Durant), and was looking for a new car, which she found, along with her future husband. The two occasionally raced as co-drivers.
In 1959, De Tomaso set up his own shop in Modena, Italy to build racing cars. In 1961, he built a small number of his De Tomaso F1 cars using OSCA and Alfa Romeo engines. Each entered only one race, and each was retired without finishing. In 1962, he entered the De Tomaso F1 and the new De Tomaso 801, which used a flat-8 engine designed in-house, in the Italian Grand Prix. Both failed to qualify. He made one last attempt at the Italian Grand Prix in 1963, with the De Tomaso F1 now using a Ferrari V6. It, again, failed to qualify.
The Mangusta and Pantera: De Tomaso’s Sports Cars
Perhaps running a racing team was not De Tomaso’s forte. So he started development of a road car, the Vallelunga. The Vallelunga featured a mid-engine, rear wheel drive layout, which would become a staple of De Tomaso’s sports cars. Ford had previously partnered with the British automaker AC, and Carrol Shelby to build a European roadster with a Ford V8, the Shelby Cobra. The team-up was a success that Ford thought it could repeat in Italy. The Vallelunga’s somewhat unusual backbone chassis, although it was very light, couldn’t handle very much torque, and so a 1.5 Liter Ford straight six was used. The Italian coachbuilder Ghia manufactured the car’s sleek body, beginning the relationship between De Tomaso and Ghia. The car weighed in at a mere 1600 pounds. Less than a hundred were built.
Some of those who drove the Vallelunga noted its lack of power. De Tomaso teamed up with Ford and Shelby to try and build a car around Ford’s 289 cubic inch V8. The new car was to be called the De Tomaso Sport 5000. Shelby withdrew when he was offered the chance to work on Ford’s GT40 racing car. Ultimately, only one Sport 5000 was built, with bodywork again by Ghia. It was entered in one grand prix and one hill climb event, both of which it failed to finish.
In 1967, De Tomaso bought Ghia outright. It also introduced a new sports car, The Mangusta. The Mangusta name was a direct jab at Carroll Shelby, being the Italian word for the Cobra-killing Mongoose. Nonetheless, the car was still built with Ford engines—at first the 289, and then the 302 V8. It still used a backbone chassis like the Vallelunga, but was ahead of its time in incorporating such features as rack and pinion steering, power windows, and air conditioning. The Mangusta’s most memorable feature was probably the gullwing doors that covered the engine compartment. The design remains striking even today. In fact, one was used in Quentin Tarantino’s film Kill Bill. The innovative design, combined with the car’s rarity—fewer than 500 were built—have lead prices on the collector’s market to reach around $200,000 for examples in good condition.
When De Tomas followed up the Mangusta, he kept up with the animal naming scheme, introducing the Pantera (Italian for Panther) in 1971. The Pantera kept the Mangusta’s mid-engine layout and Ford power, but used a monococque instead of the backbone chassis for better handling.
Ford distributed the Pantera at Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the US, meaning they got much more attention stateside than De Tomaso’s previous models. Magazines compared it favorably to other Italian sports cars. The Ford 351 cubic inch Cleveland engine was easier to drive in traffic and easier to maintain than Italian engines. Magazines also noted that the Pantera’s price tag of $10,000 at the time was much easier to bear than the cost of a Ferrari or Maserati. Car and Driver called the Pantera “the very hottest item in this year's automotive haute couture.”
The Pantera was attractive, affordable, and quick, but it wasn’t without its flaws. Many found the seating position awkward. The car seemed to be built for drivers with short legs and “simian arms,” according to the German newspaper Der Spiegel. Early models also sometimes suffered from electrical problems. Elvis Presley famously shot his Pantera once when it failed to start on him. To be fair, though, it wasn’t the first car Elvis had shot (the other was a Cadillac Eldorado).
De Tomaso got to work improving the Pantera and introduced the Pantera L late in 1972. The L stood for Lusso or Luxury. In 1973, Road Test magazine named the Pantera L its import car of the year. Still, in 1975, Ford stopped importing the Pantera. There was probably limited overlap between buyers who walked into Lincoln-Mercury dealers and potential Pantera purchasers. About 5,500 Panteras had been sold in the US – not bad numbers for a niche product.
De Tomaso continued to sell Panteras in Europe. In 1980, the Pantera GT5 was introduced with a new chassis and fiberglass body. Two more generations followed, the GTS5 and the SI, before production ended in 1993. Over all those years, Panteras continued to use various Ford V8 engines.
The Deauville and Longchamp: De Tomaso’s Luxury Cars
At about the same time that De Tomaso was selling the Pantera, it began selling luxury cars. The first of these was the Deauville. The Deauville was a luxury sedan that used the same Ford V8 as the Pantera. The Deauville used a more typical front-engine, rear wheel drive layout, and unlike the Pantera could be had with an automatic transmission. The chassis was borrowed from the Maserati Quattroporte. Only 244 were built, including one station wagon (for Elizabeth Haskell De Tomaso), and two armored sedans, sold to the Belgian Royal Family and the Italian government, respectively.
In 1972, the Deauville was joined by the Longchamp coupe, which used the same drivetrain and suspension as the Deauville, but with, ironically, a shorter wheelbase. 409 Longchamps were sold.
By 1975, Maserati was struggling, and De Tomaso was able to buy the company. This led to the introduction of the Maserati Kyalami in 1977. The Kyalami was essentially a Longchamp with a Maserati, rather than a Ford V8. De Tomaso was the primary owner of Maserati until 1993 when he sold his shares to Fiat.
The Last De Tomasos
In 1993, Alejandro De Tomaso suffered a stroke that led him to take a less hands on approach to the company. His son Santiago took over running the business. The last project Alejandro was personally involved with was another mid-engined two seater sports car, the Guara.
The Guara, introduced in 1993, was the road going version of the Maserati Bachetta racing car which had been built at the De Tomaso factory from 1991-1992. It featured a backbone chassis like De Tomaso’s first road car, the Vallelunga. The Guara used a BMW V8 from 1993 to 1998, but then switched, in true De Tomaso fashion, to a Ford V8 in 1998, continuing with the Ford until 2004.
In 1994, Maserati’s technical director Giordano Casarini wanted to bring a new sports car to the market. Casarini designed a front-engined two seater around Ford’s Cobra SVT V8. The car was first displayed as the De Tomaso Bigua at the Geneva Motor Show in 1996. De Tomaso was now short on capital and was looking for investors. Qvale, an American importer of Maseratis, was willing to fund the project if the name would be changed to the De Tomaso Mangusta.
Qvale built its own factory in Modena to produce the new Mangusta in 1997. Around the same time, Alejandro De Tomaso wanted to start work on a new sports car under the Pantera name. Qvale, which was bankrolling De Tomaso was not fond of the idea of competing with itself. Qvale and De Tomaso went separate ways, and since Qvale had funded the project and owned the factory, it got to keep the Mangusta, which was sold as the Qvale Mangusta from 2000 to 2002. Around 280 Qvale Mangustas were sold.
Alejandro De Tomaso died in 2003. Ultimately, the company had been Alejandro’s passion project, and so it didn’t make much sense to carry on. The company liquidated its assets in 2004.
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