History of De Tomaso automobiles

The history of the De Tomaso brand through its automobiles (part 2)

Here we close the story of the multifaceted Alejandro de Tomaso and his excellent work, starting by talking about what would be his most famous and remembered model: the Pantera. Next, new and very interesting proposals will arrive, although none will reach the popularity of this one.

We end with the two chapter series with the history of the De Tomaso brand, by David Rodríguez Sánchez, who also signs the cover illustration.

From fail to convince Ford of the possibility of marketing and distributing the Mangusta with the Shelby brand in the USA on a large scale due to the innumerable changes that would need to be made to the car, De Tomaso urges Tom Tjaarda to develop a completely new style model as soon as possible, aesthetically more conventional than the Mangusta and, now, industrially feasible, which can also be equipped with regular Ford V8 engines and ZF transmission. A model, in short, able to seduce lee iacocca and other Ford executives.

To these, de Tomaso promises the cherished chimera of a mid-engine sports car ready for production in nine months only, from the moment the Americans approved the idea. As it was! And thus Project 874 – Cobra / Pantera was born. Di Biase, good at everything, designed two very worthy style proposals that the Ghia modellers built on a reduced scale prior to Tjaarda's arrival at the coach builder, but the one presented a little later by the newcomer was the preferred one. A detailed 1:1 scale model was quickly created, which Ford approved without reservation. To take this model to a massive industrialization process required by high sales expectations, de Tomaso, always timely and opportunistic, effortlessly acquires the Vignale bodywork, which was in serious trouble but had much greater manufacturing capacity than Ghia. In order to create a monocoque structure required by Ford and advised by Dearborn accountants and engineers, Di Biase, supported by Giuseppe Maggiora and engineer Dario Trucco, hires and coordinates the services of dozens of Fiat technical designers who are dedicated to the project at the end of his regular work day at the Turin colossus.

De Tomaso Pantera
A STAR IS BORN. A brilliant pre-series Pantera during its first photo session, in Rome. Without a doubt the most important De Tomaso of all time

This not being enough to arrive on time, Ford of course also pitches in and provides a reserved amount of technical assistance. to De Tomaso and Ghia/Vignale especially for the design and development of the vehicle's monocoque structure (a first for a high-end Italian sports car), its industrialization and certification. The Modena technicians, with Dallara, Del Vacchio and Molinari at the helm, the same ones who in parallel designed the notable new F2 and F1 (505-38) of the brand, they integrate the auxiliary components, brakes, steering, gearbox, pedal board, etc. And very important, They work on the design and optimal tuning of the suspension and the dynamic behavior of the car.


Di Biase has a hard time with the prototypes in their first Crash Test, but it is possible to present a brilliant yellow specimen, quite close to the production standard, in Modena in early spring 1970. This same copy made its international debut shortly after at the New York Show and was immortalized in the classic setting of the eternal city of Rome during its first publicity sessions. De Tomaso acquires several buildings adjacent to the headquarters on Via Japoco Peri to accommodate the ambitious production of the Pantera. In them, the bodies received from Vignale will receive their mechanical, general finishing, tuning and minimum running-in before their mass export to the United States. The Lincoln-Mercury commercial network began importing the Pantera in late 1971.

Despite the innumerable difficulties that the project faced at origin, at destination and in the hands of the end customers (which Ford largely corrected throughout 1972 by equipping Vignale with modern precision machinery and introducing the Pantera L or Lusso in August and the slightly later GTS version), De Tomaso lived his most splendid period between 1971 and 1975 as a brand., a period in which it even surpasses all its Modenese rivals in production figures. With the progressive fall of Iaccoca, his projects and ideas, into the disfavor of Henry Ford II, De Tomaso began to not feel comfortable or secure in the direction of companies in which he was no longer a majority partner and which begin to undergo organizational and strategic changes (gradually destined for closure) that he clearly does not share. The time of a car like the Pantera suddenly seemed close to expiring: the unbearable union pressure at its origin, the oil crisis of 1973, the tighter and tighter safety and anti-pollution measures seemed to spell its end. Ford's immovable resolutions and the sad rupture between the parties affect hundreds of employees in Modena and Turin. Ford sends administrative personnel to Italy in charge of liquidating all operations.

De Tomaso, who saw it coming and had already drawn up his “post-war” plans, not only guaranteed the land for a small, modern new factory in Modena; also manages to recover the rights to its trademark and, after a tough process of rebirth that he attends to as best he can, since the reins of Benelli, Moto Guzzi, Innocenti and soon also Maserati were now accumulating in his hands, he continues to produce new versions of the Pantera with Cleveland V8 engines of 351 cubic inches now imported from Ford Australia in a new factory located at number 1.250 Via Emilia Ovest, in the Modenese town of Bruciata, since 1974. Ford is very careful that the new De Tomaso cannot obtain the old Vignale bodywork production tools, which he had destroyed, so from now on The monocoque bodies of the Pantera will be produced in a more artisanal way at the Embo Spa of Caramagna Piemonte in Cuneo, without ever again taking advantage of the beautiful and expensive presses, dies and machinery of Turin. Grugliasco's SALT continues to take care of the Pantera's interior garrison.


We continue with the history of De Tomaso automobiles whose Pantera continued to sell in dribs and drabs, refreshing its image and updating components periodically through the new versions GT5, GT5S and Si until the early-mid 1990s. The virtues of its design, its relative mechanical simplicity, its wide diffusion (about 5.500 cars sold only in the USA until 1975), its mestizo charm, its more muscular and aggressive iconic image but enduring in its essence with the passage of time, its fascinating name has made the model a true legend idolized by thousands of fans.

While the “miracle” of the Pantera was happening on the front page, several other interesting things (of course) were happening in De Tomaso outside the main project. To begin listing them we need to go back to 1970. Supporting the immediate takeoff in popularity and diffusion of the brand with the Pantera, De Tomaso enters the F1 arena with the incipient team of Frank Williams and the interesting 505-38 conceived under the tutelage of Dallara entirely in the factory itself, with the exception of the usual Cosworth DFV engines and Hewland DG300 transmission. After a hesitant start to the season, misfortune befell the team with the death in an accident of the promising British driver Piers Courage during the Dutch Grand Prix at the Zandvoort circuit on June 21, the 5th GP of the season.

De Tomaso had shown solid progress and was beginning to be competitive in the top half of the squad at this point, but after Courage's death, De Tomaso decided to suspend his support for the program in F1 and Williams had to continue the season without the support of the factory or the possibility of receiving new developments from it. During the second half of 1969, in parallel with the design of Formula 1, with one eye always fixed on the New World, De Tomaso had involved Ghia and De Tomaso's technical office in the project (which did not go beyond the conceptual phase). of a new sport for the prestigious Can Am series. A sport that was to make use of the new 102-liter Type 12 V5 engine presented during the New York Motor Show in April 1970. More tangible than the Can Am was the curious naked frame that De Tomaso showed at the end of the year at the 52nd Motor Show. from Turin, a chassis destined for the “LMS” project, internal code 502-40, almost a new Vallelunga, but this time a 2+2 equipped with a 1.600 cm transverse Ford BDA engine3 coupled to a specific De Tomaso change and called to be dressed by a cunea mono-volume body, according to the most current canons at the time. Extensive and promising market research was done for the LMS, but Ford did not “buy” the idea.

De Tomaso City Car
CINQUECENTO BASE. The very nice urban car study by Moselli for Vignale from 1970. Another unhappy “could have been”, now gone.


At the Vignale stand next to the same Turin Hall, De Tomaso presents a graceful and modern “city-car” on the Fiat 500 platform, entirely designed by her very young favorite stylist, Giulia Moselli, Tjaarda's collaborator at Ghia, which is evaluated in Dearborn months later. During the same show, but also at the adjacent Ghia stand, De Tomaso exhibits its luxurious four-door sedan for the first time. type 892 – A/506-39/ Deauville (in honor of the coastal town of Normandy, the Tomaso couple's favorite vacation spot) with a very elegant Ghia-Tjaarda body, eternal Ford Cleveland mechanics and a virtuoso and advanced Molinari frame. The Deauville entered production with few changes compared to the prototype, but he was unfairly treated as a copy of the contemporary Jaguar and Tomaso himself, as usual, did not fight much for his cause either. Another could be singing if he lowered the hood he could have boasted his own V12, like the 105 cm Type 4.7823 designed for the purpose and which showed its imposing figure during the New York Motor Show in April 1971, but things went no further than that. In production to order until 1985, Deauville is much better regarded today than in its time and its great scarcity (less than 250 cars produced in total) make it a distinguished rarity.

De Tomaso Deauville
REPRESENTATION SEDAN. World presentation of the misunderstood but brilliant Deauville at the Turin Motor Show in 1970.

The introduction of the Pantera and Deauville imposes a brief lapse in the copious creativity of Alejandro de Tomaso in the field of four wheels. However, he returned to the fray very soon and generated enormous controversy by presenting at the 53rd Turin Salon in November 1971. a deliberate clone of the imminent Fiat Bertone X1/9, built in a hurry on the redundant LMS platform of last year, just to demonstrate to Fiat in “his” living room that he would have made it faster and “almost” as nice as Bertone. Yes, on this occasion he forgot to baptize him with one of those names of his loaded with symbolism, as was particularly the case with the Mangusta. Maybe it would have been the last straw. The big news at the Ghia stand at the same show is a new edition of the urban car idea (project 508-41), again on the Fiat 500 platform, less graceful than the Moselli Vignale of the previous year and which will not find the investment either. necessary to move on to the series.

De Tomaso 1600 Spider
FIASCO. The De Tomaso 1600 Spider. A pressure maneuver from De Tomaso to Fiat (no less!), which angered everyone, although it turned out beautifully.

Behind the scenes, the designers from Turin and Modena are also working on another program for a vehicle with a much wider distribution than the Pantera and Deauville.. This is Ancona (for the homonymous Italian provincial capital bathed by the Adriatic), presented to Ford in April 1971 and intended to turn the Ford Pinto (on which it was based) into a much more attractive vehicle than this one, in order to counteract the Opel GT without exceeding the final price of $3.000. The Ancona (not shown in any room) did not travel alone to Dearborn for her evaluation.

De Tomaso Ancona
ANCONA. Mix of Capri and Pinto for all audiences, with the Opel GT in the spotlight. It was repurposed as Mustang II, before disappearing forever.

He was accompanied by the ambitious Zonda (due to the dry and warm Andean wind, project 509-42). Built on a shortened Deauville chassis and equipped with the 8 liter Ford Cleveland V5,7 with overhead De Tomaso cylinder heads and automatic transmission, The Zonda aimed at the waterline of the Ferrari Daytona promising a much lower price. Originally designed by Moselli and finished by Tjaarda, it was very reminiscent of Giugiaro's Ghibli in its proportions and general appearance. It had a discreet world premiere during the Geneva Motor Show in March 1971, and was sent to Dearborn once it closed its doors. Unfortunately, he was never heard from again.

De Tomaso Ghia Zonda
EPHEMERAL. The 1971 De Tomaso Ghia Zonda arrives late and Ford disdains it. It goes unnoticed and the Ghibli and Daytona, whom he wanted to beat for price, don't even flinch.

Since other efforts focused on illuminating a model for access to the range had failed so far, the Pantera 290 (511-45) with V6 Capri prepared engine of Ford's German subsidiary tempts its luck during the Geneva Motor Show in March 1972. It also presents some slight differentiating aesthetic changes, but Ford does not support the idea.

De Tomaso LMS 2+2
LMS 2+2. Full of the DNA of the brand and with a reasonable approach, planned to be mass produced in 1974.


Also on the shortened platform of the Deauville was presented at the 54th edition of the Turin Motor Show in November 1972. Type 892 B / 510-44 / Longchamp (for the homonymous Parisian racecourse on the banks of the Seine). An elegant and classic two-door coupe, 2+2 seats and the latest De Tomaso model to take full advantage of the synergies of Ford, Ghia, Vignale and De Tomaso itself. It is an attractive design, not very risky and rectilinear, in the style of the Marica, but more manly, this time oriented towards the similar offering from, above all, Mercedes-Benz. In production since 1973, its bodies were first built at Ghia and, when this was no longer possible, EMBO took over. SALT trimmed the interiors and De Tomaso assembled the mechanics, in both cases. About four hundred units were produced until 1989.. It was slightly modernized in 1980, at the same time as the GTS version was introduced. It was later “made up” for a final version called GTS/E. The goodness of the platform allowed the model to be provided with few changes such as ideal base for the Maserati Kyalami (first of the De Tomaso era in the house of the Tridente) and the third generation of the Maserati Quattroporte.

The Tomaso Longchamp
LONGCHAMP. He took advantage of the mechanical development of the Deauville and exuded personality, but how could he be a rival to the Mercedes? It looks here at its launch during the Turin Motor Show in 1972.

La breakup “by installments” of Ford and Tomaso between 1973 and 1974 causes the absence of joint future plans for the De Tomaso brand, forcing Dallara, Molinari and several other important figures to say goodbye even before setting foot in the new offices of the new factory on Via Virgilio/Via Emilia Ovest, operational in 1974. Alejandro de Tomaso concentrates his efforts on Benelli, Moto Guzzi and, above all, Innocenti and Maserati, which barely fell into his net. At the Geneva Motor Show March 1976, the Maserati Kyalami is presented, drawn by Giulia Moselli on Longchamp base. In successive years it arrives with a body designed by the old “friend-enemy” Giugiaro. production version of the Maserati Quattroporte III (Turin Motor Show, April 1978), based on Deauville, and the smaller, charming Biturbo (Geneva Motor Show, March 1982), a rehash of old Maserati and De Tomaso “hardware” updated and dressed with a nice bodywork from the then acting stylist of the house, and former Pininfarina, Pierangelo Andreani probably based on Giugiaro's original idea. The objective is to grow in the market for small BMW and Mercedes sedans. Much more technically refined versions of the Biturbo, which we will not deal with in this text, constituted Maserati's main offering until 1993.

De Tomaso Pantera X7
FOR SURVIVAL. The 7 Pantera 1973X, seen here in Ghia's yard, was a frustrated attempt to adapt the Pantera to rapidly changing tastes and legislation.

Throughout the 80's, De Tomaso is relegated to an almost marginal role within the business group from De Tomaso, with an obsolete product and a testimonial production that, however, maintains a loyal audience and sales figures that, although minimal, allow the survival of the brand and the gradual introduction of improvements that culminate with the highly renovated Panther Yes presented in Turin in April 1990. Behind the scenes, proposals for joint programs offered to Iacocca (CEO of Chrysler since 1979) are frequent throughout the 1980-1990 period, but only the unsuccessful Chrysler Maserati TC roadster 1986 reached production.

De Tomaso Pantera Si
1990, 20 YEARS LATER. Gandini's superb Pantera SI makes its appearance. The best possible culmination to the eventful life of the model.


Making good on the rumors that throughout 1992 announced the arrival of a completely new De Tomaso model, the sensational Type 893 / 519 / Guará (by an extinct fox-wolf from the Falkland Islands) caused a sensation when it was presented, in the form of a full-scale static model, in March 1993 on the occasion of the Geneva Motor Show. The bodywork, made of synthetic materials, owes its wedge-shaped, harmonious and original style to Carlo Gaino, ex-Italdesign. Next to the model you could see the magnificent chassis planned for the model, a magnificent and shiny aluminum central beam equipped with an aluminum BMW V8 rear central engine and suspensions. in-board Formula 1 work of the Argentine engineer Enrique Scalabroni, collaborator of the brand's technical office now headed by Giordano Casarini; a frame that recovers the quintessence of the De Tomaso from the exact point where it left off with the goodbye of the Mangusta.

By Tomaso Guará
NEW ERA. The beautiful style model of the new Guará, prior to its shipment to the 1993 Geneva Motor Show, was to begin the era (soon aborted) in which Santiago de Tomaso took control.

The Guará, produced in about fifty units since 1994 until the end of the brand ten years later, it is the twin brother of the barely preceding Maserati Barchetta and the first cousin of the announced extreme sports car “Chubasco”, both projects that, together with a new edition of the Quattroporte (the fourth), the new Ghibli and Shamal of extremely refined mechanics, give Maserati the necessary polish for the profitable sale of 51% of the trident brand in the hands of De Tomaso to the Fiat group, already owner of 49% of the shares since 1989, in June 1993. That is a certainly transcendent year for Alejandro de Tomaso, since on the 24th of January he suffers a stroke whose consequences will keep him stuck to a wheelchair and very disabled for years to come, but this does not completely extinguish his overflowing creativity. and love of work.

De Tomaso Mustela
THE RIPROPOSTA. The beautiful Mustela from 1969 renovated for the 1973 Geneva Motor Show, but not even so. Where will he be today?

Free from the burden of managing the Maserati and Innocenti companies, Alejandro de Tomaso launches the program DTX – Biguá (by the neo tropical cormorant) intended to offer a new De Tomaso with a modern previous Ford V8 engine and retractable hardtop certified for sale worldwide, equipped with all the technological safety advances (ABS brakes, airbag...) required by new times and the fruit of many other innovations resulting from the collaboration between Casarini and Scalabroni. The pre-series prototype was released in March 1996 during the Geneva Motor Show., arousing great interest, although it is criticized for its very personal aesthetics, the work of Marcello Gandini. Tom Tjaarda, Carlo Gaino and Marcello Gandini himself presented De Tomaso with proposals for a more conventional nose and rear, but none were approved and the appearance remained unchanged. For marketing reasons and the entry of other partners into the project, the model is renamed De Tomaso Mangusta facing production, and this was known until De Tomaso's loss of interest in him. Thanks to its technical excellence, however, it continued to be manufactured and sold without major changes in the USA until 2002 as Qvale Mangusta by a company founded in Italy by Kjell and Bruce Qvale for this purpose.

By Tomaso Biguá
TECHNICAL VIRGUERY. The Biguá, a notable effort to create an impeccable product, was misunderstood and aesthetically abhorred. One of Gandini's most notorious failures.


With the factory celebration of the company's 40th anniversary in the spring of 1999 came the presentation of the static model of an amazing new Pantera, designed by Marcello gandini. Present, Alejandro de Tomaso and a large part of his family, dozens of guests, journalists and friends of the brand. The development of the new model had to be sufficiently financed with part of the profit from the production and marketing in Europe of the UAZ Simbir all-terrain vehicle of Russian origin, an ambitious and interesting program that, in an advanced state of gestation, ultimately did not come to fruition, which It was a very hard blow for de Tomaso. A large new factory in Cutro, Calabria, was planned for this purpose to be operational from 2001 and new Vallelunga and Longchamp models were sketched by Gandini and Scalabroni secretly for a grand refoundation of the legendary De Tomaso Automobili.

By Tomaso Pantera 2000
THE YEAR 2000 ARRIVES. And with it, the spectacular Pantera 2000 again by Gandini, unveiled on the occasion of the brand's 40th anniversary. He could have taken advantage of the Guará platform with few changes. What a great missed opportunity.

None of which, unfortunately, came to pass. The death of Alejandro de Tomaso in May 2003 It annulled all viability of any future plans and the apathy and inability of the witness' holder plunged the firm into a decadent calm that led to its very sad closure and tragic disappearance a few years later. The history of De Tomaso automobiles was closed forever.

De Tomaso Villalonga
UNTIL ALWAYS. A new Villalonga that could also have been and was not, as a culmination and return to the origin. The death of Alejandro De Tomaso ended all hope of a possible future for the brand.

Text by David Rodríguez Sánchez. / Images by De Tomaso, author's files.

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