Alejandro De Tomaso, who created the company responsible for Italian sports car classics such as the Mangusta and Pantera, died Wednesday, May 21, in Modeno, Italy. He was 74.
De Tomaso was a race car driver turned businessman who founded De Tomaso Automobil S.p.A.
De Tomaso was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
He participated in club race events for nearly a decade in the 1950s. According to AutoWeek, a sister publication to Automotive News, his big break in racing came when he was offered to co-drive a Maserati in the 1,000-kilometer race of Buenos Aires in 1954. He went on to become a Maserati factory test driver.
His ties with Maserati were important for two reasons. First, Maserati gave De Tomaso permission to race a car that he built at Sebring in 1959. That led to the beginning of his car-building business. Second, De Tomaso eventually would buy Maserati.
In 1965, De Tomaso Automobil created its first car aimed at mass production: a two-seater called the Vallelunga. The project,according to AutoWeek, produced only about 50 cars.
But the next year, in collaboration with designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, De Tomaso unveiled the 306-hp Mangusta, popular with car buffs in the United States as well as Europe.
The success prompted Ford Motor Co. to buy a majority stake in the company.
In 1970, a joint venture between Ford and De Tomaso Automobil produced the De Tomaso Pantera, which was produced until 1990. Worldwide, 7,260 Panteras were sold, according to European press reports. In the United States, the cars were marketed through Mercury dealerships.
According to author Wallace Wyss, De Tomaso was a man of many talents.
"When DeTomaso looked into a mirror, he saw not just a race car driver or builder; but an engineering genius; a connoisseur of the arts; an antique collector; an expert on architecture; a linguist; a yachtsman; and an international businessman, of whom it was said: 'He's the man with the golden touch.' " Wyss wrote in his 1991 book, De Tomaso: The Man and the Machines.
De Tomaso's cars made an appearance on Formula One in 1970 with a team whose members included Frank Williams, owner of the current BMW F1 Williams Team.
But their driver, Piers Courage, was killed in a racing accident and De Tomaso abandoned Formula One.
De Tomaso bought Maserati from the Italian government in 1975.
In 1993, he suffered a massive stroke, from which he never fully recovered.
De Tomaso is survived by his wife, Isabelle De Tomaso, who remains involved in the company, and three sons.