Alejandro de Tomaso

Alejandro de Tomaso was born in Argentina in 1928. His father's family was from Italy, his mother's family were wealthy Argentineans. His father rose to political power as the Prime Minister of Argentina only to die of a heart attack at the young age of 38. Alejandro left school at the age of 15 to learn about running the family cattle business. By the age of 20 he was in charge of the ranches. During this time he also was involved with two other avocations, a racing career and an underground newspaper that opposed then Argentina president, Juan Peron. He became involved with a group seeking to overthrow Peron that was unsuccessful. Fleeing from Argentina to his father's homeland of Italy, he settled in Modena, getting a job as a mechanic for Maserati. It didn't take him long, with his racing experience to start driving for the Maserati team. In 1955 he co-drove a Maserati to win its class in Buenos Aires. One fateful day, at the Modena Maserati factory, a lady race car driver, named Elizabeth Haskins, stopped in to discuss purchase of a new Maserati race car. Haskins had been pretty successful in the SCCA races driving a Siata. Alejandro and Haskins met and became a couple on and off the race course. In 1957, they placed 6th in the race, winning their class, in a 1,000 kilometer race in Buenos Aires driving an OSCA. They married and continued racing. In 1958, they finished first in their class at the 12 hours of Sebring driving another OSCA. The next year he co-drove with Colin Davis at Lemans winning the Index of Performance, placing 11th overall. It was time for him to turn his energies to building cars instead of racing them, although he did drive in some races in 1960. He established de Tomaso Automobili.

de Tomaso started building limited production race cars. The first car was a Formula Two car with an OSCA engine and a Colotti transmission. The next car was a Formula Junior car running a Fiat engine. New cars and ideas came one after another. de Tomaso may not have had an engineering background, but he had plenty of great ideas which he gave to his engineers to complete. Too many projects kept him from finding the success he wanted. He was able to get a Formula One car into the Grand Prix but like many of his projects, it too died prematurely. One thing de Tomaso should be recognized for is his support of mid-engine cars.  Having the engine behind the driver and ahead of the rear axle helped balance the handling of the car and reduced the heat. Mid-engine cars did not suffer from over steer and under steer like front and rear engine cars did. He also worked with light metals.

In 1965 Ford Motor Company came to de Tomaso. Ford had tried to purchase several European car companies including Isotta Fraschini, Ferrari then Lancia. All these efforts failed. So Ford came to de Tomaso. It was a good fit. Small car manufacturers like de Tomaso purchased parts from other companies to keep costs down. But with parts coming from other companies, reliability was often sacrificed. Ford offered its engines. From 1965 on, de Tomaso used Ford power plants. The first engine used was a one liter Anglia, then the one and half liter Cortina motor. de Tomaso and Ford decided that de Tomaso Automobili should offer a production car. It should be a mid-engine car built like his race cars with central frame. The first car was called Vallelunga.

The Vallelunga was a low sports car. Powered by the Ford Cortina 100 horsepower engine, it would be nice competition to Ferrari. The first cars were aluminum bodied, the rest of the model were fiberglass. Due to lack of space, body production was given to Ghia. Volkswagen transmissions were used. But the Vallelunga was lacking in horsepower. de Tomaso followed the success of the Shelby Cobras and knew Ford could provide bigger engines. The success of the Cobras came from racing victories, something that would elude de Tomaso.  The exact number of Vallelunga's produced is not known, accurate records were not kept. Estimates were that between 50 and 180 were made. These cars were not shipped to the US.

de Tomaso used money from his wife's successful American brother and brother-in-law. He would later acquire Ghia, Vignale, motorcycle manufacturers Benelli and Moto Guzzi then Maserati. as well as a hotel in Modena and a small boat manufacturer. When he needed cash later on, he sold Ghia, Vignale and de Tomaso of America to Ford. He also got some money from the government of Italy. 

The next model was called the Mangusta.  A designer named Giorgetta Giugiaro created the body style at Ghia. It was the design de Tomaso wanted. It was sleek and sporty. What made the design totally unique was the gull wing doors on the rear of the car that opened to reveal the engine. Originally de Tomaso planned to cast a light weight version of the Ford engine but costs resulted in the cast iron Ford unit being used. There were 401 Mangustas produced.

Ford wanted an European car company. Up to this time each effort to acquire one had been thwarted. With the relationship to de Tomaso was a natural. The Pantera was the child of this relationship. But the Pantera was not a Ford designed car. It was solely designed by de Tomaso and his people.  Ford engineers got involved only in the areas of mass production and cost analysis, not design. In 1970 Ford and de Tomaso formed de Tomaso of America. European marketing were retained by de Tomaso, in America Ford offered the cars through its Lincoln Mercury dealers beginning in 1971. This lack of attention caused a lot of problems for Ford and the Lincoln Mercury dealers. There were structural problems, the engines tended to overheat, the air conditioners under cooled. After two years of production the partnership wasn't working. New federal regulations caused the car to start to become expensive to produce. The lack of reliability in the car was a huge headache for LM dealers. In 1974, the marriage was offer. Ford and de Tomaso separated. de Tomaso keep the Italian manufacturing and continued to produce Panteras. Ford closed down de Tomaso of America and Vignale but kept Ghia.

So how many cars did de Tomaso Automobili produce? There are no accurate records. Estimates are that as many as 7,000 Panteras were built, or as few as 6,000. After the divorce of Ford and de Tomaso, there were about 200 unfinished bodies left over. Those bodies lasted de Tomaso a couple of years. Production continues even today. Up until 1982, it is estimated the factory turned out between 750-500 Panteras. You can purchase a new Pantera. De Tomaso offers three models; the L, the GT4 and a GT5. The GT5 is styled after the Group 5 racing cars, even thought it is not one itself. It has wide fender flairs, body skirts, a rather large front air dam and a rear spoiler.  Each car is custom ordered. The newer Panteras rank near the top of sports cars available. The ones powered by the Cleveland 351 were outstanding performers.

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