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The lesser-known history of De Tomaso, the car marque that rose from its ashes

Talk about sports cars and names like Porsche, Chevrolet, and Mercedes-AMG come up. Distill that conversation down to the Italian variety, and icons by Ferrari and Lamborghini get added into the mix. Yet if there’s one that deserves its time in the spotlight now, it’s De Tomaso — more so after just releasing what is inarguably the most impossibly beautiful car this year.

De Tomaso is now 60 years old. Its abovementioned car, the P72— unveiled recently at the Goodwood Festival of Speed 2019 — is perhaps better described as a bittersweet tribute for the Modena-bred badge, which has had to rise above tumultuous times on plenty of occasions.

Not that it didn’t produce good cars, too. Founded by Argentine-born Alejandro de Tomaso in Modena in 1959, De Tomaso started off producing prototypes and racing cars, including one for Frank William’s team in the 1970 Formula One series. The fledgling firm also found itself knee deep in building cars for Formula Junior, Formula 3, and Formula 2. While de Tomaso counted on his brother-in-law, Amory Haskell Jr. for most of the funding, Ford would later temporarily acquire an 84 percent stake, only to hand it back to him three years later. 

The Vallelunga. (Image credit: Wallpaperup)

The focus of de Tomaso’s passion for cars from then on translated into some serious stunners — this time for the roads.

His first road-going production model, the Vallelunga, was ambitiously named after the Autodromo di Vallelunga racing circuit just north of Rome. The roadster debuted as a concept car at the Turin Motor Show in 1963 with the hopes of being sold to another company. Long story short, there were no takers, but 53 of his debut offering — styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro of DeLorean and Volkswagen Golf fame — were produced anyway in 1965.

The De Tomaso Mangusta. (Image credit: RM Sotheby’s)

It was however the Mangusta that would propel the manufacturer to international fame. Now regarded a cult classic, the Mangusta — named after the mongoose— replaced the Vallelunga model, on which its chassis was based. If you’re thinking that a mongoose is as random an animal as a koala to name a car after, you’re not alone — rumour has it that de Tomaso did so in retaliation to a failed deal with Carroll Shelby, both of whom shared a whirlwind relationship in the romantic world of automobile manufacturing. 

You see, one of the mongoose’s most redeeming quality is the fact that it’s not only immune to cobra venom, but is also its only predator. One of Shelby’s most legendary cars is the Shelby Cobra. De Tomaso has never outrightly admitted the glaring coincidence but seeing as the Mangusta entered production in 1967 following a 1965 CanAm conflict between the two, it’s easy to put two and two together. 

Despite being de Tomaso’s first mass production car, the Mangustas’ rarity today stems from the fact that only 401 were made in the four years, few of which occasionally turn up at auctions today.

The Pantera (Image credit: WSupercars)

The cult Pantera (Italian for “panther”) followed from where the Mangusta left off. Powered by Ford and styled by Tom Tjaarda (whose exotic portfolio included the Ferrari 365 GT California), the supercar would be sold for more than 20 years to become De Tomaso’s most popular car. It was a thing of sheer beauty which fortunately came with a raunchy V8 engine note that made hearts flutter. Gradual updates would see it evolve from suave 70’s looks to muscular “futuristic” looks which were reminiscent of the decade — think the Delorean and Countach. 

The Pantera. (Image credit: Violet Mae Studios)

The Pantera was also unique because for several years, Lincoln and Mercury dealerships in the US would sell the exotic supercars. To the ‘delight’ of wives everywhere, men would go to purchase a new Continental and come home with the mid-engined exotic. Elvis Presley famously had one, but was known on several occasions to have shot it with his gun when it failed to start. 

But Presley isn’t the car’s only link to the big screen — the Pantera also featured in the cult classic film Cannonball, rendered in bright yellow paint to steal every scene it was in.

Up until 1990, the Pantera featured a 5.8-litre V8 with between 326 and 350hp. A smaller Mustang-sourced 4.96-litre V8 would later replace it and develop 305hp, equipped with the same brakes as the legendary Ferrari F40. The car would end its run in the mid-1990s and make way for De Tomaso’s last production model, the Guarà, until now.

Today, De Tomaso is one of the finest examples of how passion can sometimes be enough to survive liquidations, acquisitions, and everything in between. 2014 is perhaps one of its most seminal; Hong Kong-based Norman Choi of Ideal Team Ventures undertook the uphill task of reviving the brand, 11 years after Alejandro de Tomaso’s death saw the firm go into voluntary liquidation. 

(Image credit: De Tomaso)

The P72 that we see today is truly the embodiment of a fine legacy, one where Italian design meets American muscle and Argentinian passion. And what a way to say happy 60th birthday. Sporting curves legendary designer Peter Brock rightly describes as “sensual”, the car is an ode to old-school racers — the P70 in particular. The prototype was built by Carroll Shelby and then styled by Brock for De Tomaso in the late ‘60s — the same one that led them to fall out — so the homage came from a chunk of history that was integral to the brand. 

The De Tomaso P72. (Image credit: De Tomaso)

The gorgeous, retro car will be a limited-run GT with a manual gearbox, and is designed by Jowyn Wong, the same genius behind the equally awe-inspiring Apollo IE. This car is just as radical. Silver accents — traditional and hence boring — are replaced by copper accents everywhere, from the wheels and the headlights, to the script and retro-styled mirrors. 

Inside the P72. (Image credit: De Tomaso)

Inside, the P72 is a breathtaking trip back to the past. Under the shifter lies skeletonised steam punk-esque details that tell the lost tale of the glamour of driving. The dashboard is just as retro-futuristic, and the seats are quilted with the expertise of what we can assume are 100-year-old artisans in a small workshop in Italy. 

The closest you’ll get to this side of opulence? Pagani. 

(Image credit: De Tomaso)

As an analogue supercar, the De Tomaso P72 has plenty of work to do before it surpasses its pretty face status to become respected, but it’s already on the right track. We live in a world where car designs are plagued by sanctioning body rules. It’s about time someone said “screw it” and created a car that would once again make people tingle with excitement, just as they did back then.

We’re just glad De Tomaso rose to that challenge today, even after 60 years. 

The lesser-known history of De Tomaso, the car marque that rose from its ashes

Shatricia Nair

Managing Editor

Shatricia Nair has a passion for motoring, beauty, and wellness, and is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, retinols, and latest fitness trends. She has nine years of experience writing for digital media, and her bylines have appeared in Prestige, and Augustman. She'll do (almost) anything for good chocolate chip cookies.

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