Nameplate Prostitution Finds A New Standard Bearer

Alejandro De Tomaso was a pretty big player in the exotic car scene in the 1960s and ‘70s. He formed his company in 1959 in the industry’s hotbed of Modena, Italy, and began producing single-seat competition cars.

Four years later at the Turin Auto Show he displayed his first street machine, the mid-engine Vallelunga. Though that prototype was a roadster, the production Vallelunga was a Ghia-designed and built coupe. Underneath its beautiful fiberglass skin was a backbone chassis like Colin Chapman’s Lotus Elan, and a Ford four-cylinder engine provided the power. Approximately 52 Vallelungas were built over the next four years, making it clear that a four-cylinder sports car wasn’t the way to vault into the exotic car big leagues.

That sensational shape sat on a spine chassis, and packed Ford power in back. Car was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro.

That sensational shape sat on a spine chassis, and packed Ford power in back. Car was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro.

De Tomaso seriously upped the ante on his second street car. He stuck with Ford but made it a 289 V8, and the Mangusta that debuted at the 1966 Turin Motor Show blew everyone’s socks off. Stylist extraordinaire Giorgetto Giugiaro was now at Ghia and did the startling lines, and De Tomaso’s men somehow managed to shoehorn that V8 under the Mangusta’s low-slung roofline. They also bumped power up over 300 hp, giving Le Mans winner Paul Frere’s test car a 0-100 mph time of 14.1 seconds and top speed of 152 mph.  That was serious performance back in the day, and 401 Mangustas were built between 1967 and ’71.

Now that De Tomaso was on the map, its next model assured the company of exoticar immortality. The Pantera debuted in 1970, was also mid-engined (a Ford 351 V8), and sold in the thousands, not tens or hundreds like Alejamdro’s previous cars. The taut, timeless lines were the work of Ghia’s new head of design Tom Tjaarda, and the Pantera proved to be a true survivor. The basic design received mechanical and cosmetic upgrades until the early 1990s when the car was given a design massage by Marcello Gandini.

Shortly after that De Tomaso debuted an all-new model, the mid-engine Guara . It was compact in appearance, used a BMW V8, and offered stellar performance—60 came up in under 5 seconds, and top speed was around 170 mph. But that was not enough to entice customers and just 50 Guaras were built in coupe and roadster form, leading to De Tomaso declaring bankruptcy in 2004.

De Tomaso had other models (the sleek Deauville sedan and clean 2+2 Longchamp [also Tjaarda designs], and the Bigua that morphed into the Qvale Mangusta [a Gandini proposal originally shown to Piero Rivolta as a potential new Iso Grifo]), but from this snapshot of the marque’s history, one constant is obvious: The company was a maker of mid-engine sports cars. Plus, as the photo gallery above shows, most were design masterpieces.

So now we come to the nameplate prostitution part of our story. Since its bankruptcy, there have been on and off rumblings that somehow De Tomaso would be reborn, and a new Pantera would see the light of day. That was totally logical, seeing the Pantera was the car that brought De Tomaso fame. Even better, the two men who designed all the Pantera variants (Tjaarda and Gandini) are still active in the industry, and Alejandro’s son Santiago is still minding the Hotel Canal Grande in Modena.

Clean surfaces were the hallmark of early Panteras, like this "L" from 1973.

Clean surfaces were the hallmark of early Panteras, like this “L” from 1973.

In short, there were historic roots to create a new, authentic De Tomaso around a rebooted company, or at least enough to give any new corporate entity an official stamp of approval by living De Tomaso history. But all that obvious logic was completely thrown out the window at the previous and current Geneva Auto Shows when some entity calling itself “De Tomaso” showed, of all things, some sort of SUV offshoot. No mid-engine, no top flight designer, no two seats, not one design cue that recalled any of the previous De Tomasos. This vehicle is so completely unrelated to De Tomaso history that we all might as well try and mash a square peg into a round hole and dub it a pentagon.

We’ll now flash back to those new “Lancias” seen at Geneva in 2011 (you can read about them here). At least those cars had a thread of logic since Chrysler and Fiat (Lancia’s parent company) are joined at the hip, but this latest “De Tomaso” exhibits neither logic nor DNA of any type.

In sum, a new Nameplate Prostitution standard bearer has been crowned, and this one could prove be awfully tough to beat.

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