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Alejandro DeTomaso, 74, Maker of Sports Cars, Dies

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Old 05-24-2003, 06:50 AM
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Unhappy Alejandro DeTomaso, 74, Maker of Sports Cars, Dies

Alejandro DeTomaso, 74, Maker of Sports Cars, Dies



Alejandro DeTomaso, whose company produced a sports car that combined Italian flair with American horsepower, died on Wednesday in Modena, Italy. He was 74.

The cause was heart failure, his family said.

In 1971, Mr. DeTomaso's company, DeTomaso Automobili, based in Modena, began selling the Pantera, a sports car with the sleek, angular profile of a jet fighter, which had a Ford V-8 placed behind the two-seat passenger compartment. Mr. DeTomaso built the car after being approached by Lee A. Iacocca, then president of the Ford Motor Company, who a few years earlier had helped create another populist sports car, the Mustang. Ford, which had failed in an attempt to buy Ferrari, wanted a high-performance European car for its showrooms.

The Pantera was sold in the United States by Lincoln-Mercury dealers at prices starting at $9,000. Although that was more than twice the cost of a typical sedan, it was also less than half the price of a Ferrari, Maserati or similar limited-production Italian sports cars of the time, making it an exotic car accessible to the middle-class buyer.

As many as 6,000 Panteras were sold before Ford ended the arrangement in 1974 because safety and emissions laws would have required a major redesign of the car. Mr. DeTomaso continued to make the car through the 1990's, selling it in countries other than the United States.

Like Ferraris and other similar boutique sports cars produced in and around Modena, Panteras could frustrate their owners. The earliest versions were prone to overheating, and one unhappy owner, Elvis Presley, fired a gun at his Pantera when it would not start.

Unlike a Ferrari, the Pantera was not a pure-blooded Italian; besides its Ford engine, it had a body designed by an American stylist, Tom Tjaarda. But to the extent that the car incorporated trans-Atlantic influences, it was a reflection of Mr. DeTomaso himself.

He was born on July 10, 1928, in Buenos Aires, to parents prominent in Argentine politics and agriculture. In 1955, Mr. DeTomaso fled Argentina to avoid the wrath of Juan Perón. He moved to Modena, where he raced cars for Maserati and OSCA, another limited-production auto maker.

Through racing, he met his second wife, Isabelle Haskell, a member of a wealthy family from Red Bank, N.J.. She bought Ferraris and raced them against the world's best drivers.

In 1959, the couple formed DeTomaso Automobili, starting off by building racing cars. Their first car for public roads, the Vallelunga, had its debut in 1963.

It featured an unusual backbone chassis, a central spinelike frame running the length of the car. About 60 were made.

A few years later came the Mangusta, designed by the Italian stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro. It caught Mr. Iacocca's eye and led to the Pantera. The success of the Mangusta and Pantera allowed Mr. DeTomaso to acquire Maserati in 1975 and keep it running.

In the 1980's, Mr. Iacocca, then at Chrysler, again collaborated with Mr. DeTomaso to produce a Chrysler-Maserati convertible, but the car sold poorly.

Mr. DeTomaso sold his controlling interest in Maserati to Fiat in 1993 and returned to his original company, but a stroke soon after required Isabelle Haskell DeTomaso and a son from his first marriage, Santiago, to take control. They continue to run the company.

He is also survived by his sons Alessandro and Pablo, from his first marriage, to Lola DeTomaso.

Perhaps Mr. DeTomaso's greatest legacy in the United States is the fleet of approximately 3,500 Panteras remaining on American roads. They are still a relative bargain for collectors. A 30-year-old Pantera that has not succumbed to what was then the DeTomaso factory's lax approach to rustproofing costs about $35,000 in good condition
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Old 05-24-2003, 07:28 AM
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i always thought those were great cars. i fact there was a place just out side of town here that was importing the bodies in tha late eighties and still broducing them. i spoke to them a few times about working for them but they didnt want to pay any decent $$. pretty cool cars though, they had a few GTS's and also a Longchamp and Mangusta. ( two other cars made by DeTomaso) the Pantera is one of those cars i will own some day.

RIP Alejandro . . you gave us some great cars.
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Old 05-24-2003, 08:51 AM
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Oh,the memories thisbrought back. Last legal Pantera imported was #7380,I bought # 7278 new, sold it later, then bought #7354 and sold it later also.What an idiot I was. If I had at least one back I would just sit in my garage and gaze at its beauty.He created a timeless masterpiece
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Old 05-24-2003, 01:45 PM
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The drawings he threw in the trash can would be a Home run even today. Sad loss of a great designer.
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Old 05-24-2003, 01:54 PM
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Does anyone have a pic of one of these?
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Old 05-24-2003, 03:05 PM
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magicfloat- were your cars Ford imports or the later ones from the independant builders. i saw some cars built in the eighties that were bad a$$(course they all were bad a$$ ) GTS's i think. just curious actually as i dont know much about them. got any pics ?
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Old 05-24-2003, 03:41 PM
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Both of mine were 1974 models bought new from Lincoln/Mercury dealers in 1975,full Ford warrannty.When I sold the last one I threw away all the photos,1990 or so,put it out of my system,I thought,until today. What a stupid thing to do.my new ones were $12000,sold one for $24000,one for $25000 and $40000 would not buy a perfect one now.Back then I thought I needed the money,now I could not afford to replace one,even if I could find a good one.Most are 30+ years old with rust,the restored ones are big bucks,mine were like new and stock.Like they say,hindsight is 20/20.I'm a little depressed right now.The first date with my wife in 1983 was in the orange one,#7354. If I could locate that car I would mortgage everything to buy it back. Memories are priceless.Sorry for the rant,just got a little teary eyed over the memories. Robert
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Old 05-24-2003, 09:14 PM
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I've always loved the lines of the Pantera- it will always be on the 'short list'!
The prices are up there, but you get a lot of car for the money.


1972
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Old 05-24-2003, 09:17 PM
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1974- If money isn't an object, and you want a museum piece, this would fit the bill. 98 original miles, no mods whatsoever.
Owner wants $150K!
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