The news that Italian supercar maker De Tomaso has filed for bankruptcy could mean the end of one of the most enigmatic of marques, albeit one that languished in the shadow of near neighbours Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini. Indeed, De Tomaso – formed by Alejandro de Tomaso in 1959 with the intention of making racing cars – will always be associated with Maserati thanks to its one-time acquisition of that company. The early days were focused on racing cars, including a foray into Formula One that involved Sir Frank Williams, but it is for a range of often beautiful supercars that the company will be remembered. One in particular – the Pantera – holds a place in the heart of many a lover of fast cars.
The Vallelunga – a Flawed Beauty
The first production road-going De Tomaso, the Vallelunga, appeared in 1963. Compact, pretty and powered by a Ford engine, it set the scene for De Tomaso producing Italian style with power plants from elsewhere. The car was produced in small numbers and contemporary reports point to it being somewhat under-developed. Nevertheless, it was a promising start from a company that showed ambition, and a top speed of 134mph (215km/h) was impressive enough. Always a rare beast, the De Tomaso Vallelunga is particularly so now, and the remaining examples command high prices on the infrequent occasion they appear on sale. You can expect to pay upwards of £60,000 (£92,000) if you are lucky enough to find one.
Mangusta – a Potent Beast
The De Tomaso Mangusta was first shown to an admiring public in 1966, shortly after the company had acquired the Italian styling house Ghia. Designed by that outfit, it was a move in a different direction from the Vallelunga. The Mangusta was intended as a true supercar, and featured a 4.7litre Ford V8, enclosed in – in this writer’s opinion – a very beautiful body, as designed by the legendary Giorgetto Guigario. Later models featured a 4.9 litre engine, and some 400 of the model were produced in total. 155mph (250km/h) put the Mangusta firmly in the supercar league, but again there were some misgivings about the chassis and handling. Still, they are very collectable these days, and fetch high prices at auction.
Pantera – The Making of De Tomaso
When de Tomaso hired the very talented Tom Tjaarda to design its next car – the Pantera – he could not have envisaged the success that the car would be. Beautiful and sleek in its original, clean form, the Pantera was a hit in the USA where a deal with Ford led to it being sold through Ford dealers. This allowed for over 6,000 Panteras to be built between its introduction in 1971 and 1973, when Ford pulled out of the deal. Powered by the famous 351 Cleveland Ford engine, the Pantera was a very fast car indeed, and became even more so with the arrival of a face-lifted and be-winged model, the GT5, in 1980. The trend for overblown, heavily bloated wide bodies in supercars did not pass the Pantera by, and with the GT5 and subsequent GT5-S model the car lost its original, very pretty shape. Still, the company continued to build around 100 cars a year – by hand – until it was finally killed off in 1993.
Guara – The Last of the Line
Having acquired Maserati in 1976 – and sold it to the FIAT empire in 1993 – it is no surprise to find that the last real de Tomaso, the Guara, is based on a Maserati platform. A radical design that was only ever built in very small numbers, the Guara is one of those cars that people either love or hate. It is somewhat awkward from some angles, yet surprisingly attractive from others. The car has used both BMW and Ford components, and sources say that fewer than 100 cars – possibly much less – have ever been built.
This is not the first time that De Tomaso has been on the brink; in 2004 the company went into liquidation, and a buyer was found that time. We should also mention the very limited run of luxury saloons – the Deauville, a four door saloon intended to rival Jaguar, introduced in 1971 and with a production run of fewer than 250 cars, and the Longchamp, a two door coupe version that numbered 400 examples. Notably, the Maserati Kyalami – produced during De Tomaso’s ownership of the company – was a revised version of the Longchamp. This time around it is unlikely that company will survive; the world is in recession, and nobody wants to take on a struggling luxury car maker. It may be that we have to mourn the loss of a name that should be more famous than it is.