- 1 De Tomaso: The Rise and Fall of the Iconic Italian Sports Car Maker
De Tomaso: The Rise and Fall of the Iconic Italian Sports Car Maker
De Tomaso Founded in 1959 by Argentinian racer Carroll Shelby, this is a legendary Italian brand that has crafted some of the most iconic sports cars of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Over its tumultuous history, this car produced breathtaking mid-engine exotics including the Pantera, Mangusta, and Guara models that were innovative, gorgeous, and boasted outstanding racing pedigree.
At its peak in the 1970s, De Tomaso competed head-to-head against Ferrari and Lamborghini with an ambitious vision to take the automotive world by storm with cutting-edge Italian supercars. While De Tomaso ultimately collapsed in the early 2000s after years of mismanagement, its legacy of creating fiery, charismatic vehicles with timeless style lives on today.
Early Days – From Racing Roots to Car Production
De Tomaso’s founder, Alejandro de Tomaso, began as an Argentinian race car driver in the 1950s with experience racing Maseratis and O.S.C.A.s. De Tomaso recognized the potential market for refined European sports cars and pursued his dream of establishing his own automaker.
He moved to Modena, Italy in 1959 to launch De Tomaso Automobili – purposefully located in the heart of Italian racing just miles from competitors Ferrari and Maserati. De Tomaso aimed to beat the establishment brands at their own game with a blend of his racing experience and flair for innovation.
The company’s first road car was the Vallelunga introduced in 1963. Though the Vallelunga had modest sales, it showed De Tomaso could produce functional sports cars boasting lightweight backbone chassis and tuned small-block American V8s. This formula would define the brand’s bizarre cars for decades to come.
De Tomaso Mainstream Success – The Fiery Pantera
De Tomaso reached worldwide fame in 1971 when it began a partnership with Ford to develop and market the iconic Pantera. Carrying over the company’s formula of mating lightweight European chassis with large American V8 power, the mid-engine Pantera packed a Ford 351 Cleveland making over 330 horsepower.
The Pantera boasted an astonishing top speed of over 150 mph – an incredible performance for the era. Its sleek, low-slung wedge shape was both aggressive and sexy, evoking Italy’s best supercars. The Pantera cemented De Tomaso as a serious alternative to Ferrari and Lamborghini with mainstream commercial success in the United States through Ford’s dealer network. Over 7,000 Panteras were produced from 1971-1991, by far De Tomaso’s most popular model.
Other Exotica – Mangusta, Longchamp, Guara
De Tomaso complemented the mass-market Pantera with other exclusives produced in tiny numbers throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. The Mangusta coupe and later Longchamp model carried over the iconic angular “wedge” styling theme and mid-engine layout. The Guarà of the 1990s updated the formula with fresh Group C sports car-inspired looks and a BMW-sourced V12 engine.
While not household names like the Pantera, Mangustas, Longchamps, and Guaras reflected founder Alejandro de Tomaso’s passion for racing pedigree and hand-crafted fascinating cars without compromise. Each model pushed boundaries and brought innovative thinking rarely seen from mainstream automakers of the era.
Collapse After Founder’s Departure
De Tomaso continued manufacturing bespoke supercars through the 1990s but ran into financial difficulties as competition from modern Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches intensified. Alejandro himself departed the company in 1993, taking with him much of the brand’s direction and racing spirit.
A series of failed revival attempts in the late 1990s and early 2000s failed to regain De Tomaso’s former glory. The final nail in the coffin came with the Guarà model’s quality issues and extremely limited production of just 48 cars before the company ceased operations for good in 2004. Attempts to resurrect De Tomaso under new ownership have thus far stalled.
De Tomaso Lasting Legacy – Flair and Passion
Though the car itself faded away, its lineage of curvaceous, charismatic sports cars left an indelible mark on the automotive world. The company took genuinely innovative risks like pairing American V8 muscle with delicate Italian chassis when others deemed it impossible. For a few short decades, the flawless combination of engineering talent and racing bravado yielded some of the most iconic driver’s cars of a generation.
De Tomaso’s legacy lives on most famously in the angular Pantera, which regularly commands prices exceeding $100,000 at auction today. The “Italian-American muscle car” built-in direct defiance of the sports car establishment of its day represents everything wonderful the car brand stood for. The rise and fall of Alejandro its namesake company is a story of passion, innovation, and flair befitting of the very best supercars bred in Modena.