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American Automotive 'De Tomaso' Renaissance

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American Automotive 'De Tomaso' Renaissance

From the late 19th century to the mid twenties, it’s estimated that over four million Italians emigrated to the USA and today, the 'tricolore' descendants are the fifth largest ethnic group in the country. The majority came from the south of “The Boot” seeking a better life. Skip forward to the present day and one of the most famous Italian sports car manufacturers – De Tomaso - is about to make the same journey, but for rather different reasons.

Four centuries on from the wonders of the Italian Renaissance, a reborn De Tomaso is moving from Modena to the States, relocating its production and design facilities with a long term plan it has named Mission American Automotive Renaissance or AAR. According to an official statement, “the company wants to “inspire innovation and build passion in America’s auto industry” and is “deeply committed to returning America's automotive industry to its golden era of design, and to the treasured respect it earned between the 1920s and the 1960s.” A bold claim or a slap in the face, depending on your point of view!

The company was originally established in 1959 by Argentine-born Italian Alejandro de Tomaso. In his early years, while working on his parents ranch, he developed a love of motor racing and competed at the wheel of a Bugatti Type 35. In the Fifties he also took part in the Buenos Aires 1000 Km endurance race. Alejandro was not just a rich playboy racer, he was politically active, but his involvement in a failed attempt to overthrow President Peron meant he had to flee his native Argentina and so he headed for Italy. His personal links with America were forged when he met and married the granddaughter of one of the founders of General Motors. The De Tomaso company’s connections to America date back to 1971, when Ford acquired a major stake in the company, as well as providing its fabled V8 engines to power such beauties as the Pantera, which was designed by Detroit-born Tom Tjaarda and sold in the States through the Lincoln-Mercury network. 

If you’re an Italian performance car manufacturer, you just have to get involved in motor racing and De Tomaso went as far as having a fling with Formula 1, running its own cars between 1961 and ’63 and the firm even built a chassis used by the Williams Grand Prix team during the 1970 season. That car was designed by Gian Paolo Dallara, who has gone on to create one of the most successful single-seater race car production companies in the world. De Tomaso was liquidated in 1993 and went through several inevitable but failed attempts at CPR, until it was acquired by current owners, Hong Kong-based investors, Ideal TeamVenture. 

Spearheading De Tomaso’s ambitious plans is the P72, which echoes themes of the beautiful but short-lived P70, the name signifying a prototype car powered by a 7 litre engine, born in the Sixties out of an unlikely collaboration between De Tomaso and brash American motoring legend Carroll Shelby. It was destined to race against the best sports car of the day, but the project was canned. Designed by Peter Brock, who also penned the Shelby Cobra and the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, it was in many ways ahead of its time, with a small frontal area and an adjustable rear wing integrated into the body, something that would be seen 20 years later on the Ferrari F40. However, the ill-fated project did go on to form the basis of one of De Tomaso’s greatest road cars, the Mangusta. 

Today, the P72 continues the tradition of Italo-American cooperation with its engine developed with fabled Michigan-based Roush Performance, famous for tuning Ford engines for such diverse vehicles as the Mustang, the F150 pickup truck and the Focus. Current plans are for 72 P72s to be built. The jaw-dropping hand-built machine was first unveiled at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed, the perfect venue to show off a car that harks back to the golden era of 60s Sports Car racing. Its designer is Joe Wong, known for having also designed the Apollo IE, but Peter Brock was also brought back into the fold to provide some input. “Joe has taken the 1960s GT look and elevated it to a new level,” said Brock at the Goodwood event. “It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture and I’m very excited for it and the fact they’re calling it the P72 is really an honour for me.”

One of De Tomaso’s stated aims in switching from the Old Continent to the New is to “inspire innovation and build passion in America’s auto industry.” Time will tell if it can succeed, but for now, the P72 is a work of art every bit as stunning as anything produced during the Italian Renaissance.

Images courtesy Automobilist / De Tomaso

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