Drivers Becoming Constructors: Alejandro de Tomaso

  • 29 June 2024
  • 3 min read
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Drivers Becoming Constructors: Alejandro de Tomaso image

Photo credit: Artcurial, RM Sotheby’s, Wheelsage

Alejandro de Tomaso arrived in Italy from Argentina in 1954 to continue his racing career. His destination was Modena, which was "the world capital of racing" at that time. There he met a young American woman, also a racer, named Elizabeth Haskell, who would be his lifelong companion. In his early thirties, Alejandro raced with an OSCA and together they competed in major races, including the famous Mille Miglia. Although he wasn't poor, she was very wealthy and they quickly made their way, soon opening a workshop with support from the Maserati Brothers, then builders of the OSCA in Bologna. This workshop soon became the platform for his life's success. Despite racing in a few Formula 1 events with Scuderia Centro Sud, Alejandro realized he shouldn't persist in racing, and his wife helped him finance what would become Automobili De Tomaso.

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Alejandro de Tomaso - 1 The Vallelunga, first shown as a concept car at the 1964 Turin Motor Show, was Alejandro de Tomaso's first production car.

Based in Modena, Automobili De Tomaso designed and produced both single-seaters and sports cars. Brilliant and empathetic, the young Argentine also gained the support of future design talent Gianpaolo Dallara. His ambitions extended beyond racing: In the mid-1960s, he introduced an attractive road car, the Vallelunga, which brought De Tomaso fame and respect. During this time, thanks to Elizabeth's influential family connections, he attempted a collaboration with Carroll Shelby, the creator of the Cobra. When they didn't meet, Alejandro sought revenge by creating the Mangusta with Giorgetto Giugiaro, a deliberate response to Shelby.

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Alejandro de Tomaso - 2 Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the 1967 Mangusta was created as "revenge" against Carroll Shelby, the creator of the Cobra.

The Mangusta attracted the Ford Motor Company, which commissioned De Tomaso to develop the De Tomaso Pantera, a significant success with over 7,000 units produced, remaining in production until 1993. De Tomaso's rise in the automotive industry involved acquiring struggling brands, financed by the Italian state, in both the car and motorcycle sectors. Maserati, abandoned by Citroën, found in him the man to save it, thanks to the success of the small Biturbo. He also acquired Innocenti, as well as coachbuilders Ghia and Vignale. Among motorcycles, the famous Guzzi, Benelli and MotoBi became part of his empire built on others' misfortunes.

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Alejandro de Tomaso - 3 The 1971 Pantera was De Tomaso's greatest success, with over 7,000 units sold with Ford's support.

In the 1980s, Alejandro faced the possibility of a merger with Chrysler, but the deal fell through and his companies' difficulties forced him to sell them one by one. Struck by a stroke, he retired from public life and ten years later, in May 2003, he passed away at the age of 75. He is remembered for his brilliance and talent, but also for his audacity and sometimes risky courage. A great figure, he embodied a time when invention could surpass reason and noisy sports cars made hearts race.

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Alejandro de Tomaso - 4 Alejandro de Tomaso didn't just produce cars under his name. He acquired several brands, including Maserati, which he revitalized with the 1982 Biturbo.