In Italy the supercar manufacturers still managed to build their exotica against ever increasing odds. The three main manufacturers in this field at the time were Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini who were joined by a newcomer named de Tomaso.
In reality, Alessandro de Tomaso was no newcomer to the automotive industry as he had a history of driving racing cars in both America and Europe for many years. He was of Argentinian roots and, lucky him, he married a wealthy heiress named Isobel Haskell. How did that work out? They moved to Italy to build road and racing cars. (Suddenly the checkbook had cash in it!) Hence, for many years, de Tomaso had no parameters to hold him back. He “dabbled with weird designs,” seemingly more interested in an abstruse technical challenge rather than actually getting a finished car on the road. Hmmmm. I bet we could have predicted this.
For example, he built a racing car with a cast magnesium bathtub shaped chassis which never raced and several other designs which were never finished. I wonder how Isobel liked his tomfoolery. If fact, he built a backbone chassis coupe called the Vallelunga, powered by a Ford Cortina engine, but, surprise, only a few were built.
1969 De Tomaso Mangusta
Somewhere along the line, he began to become thoughtful and mindful of what he promised he was going to do with all of his wife’s money. His first real design to attract real attention to go into serious production was the Mangusta (mongoose) which was a rear-engine coupe powered by a Shelby tuned 4.7-litre Ford VS engine, tuned to give 305 bhp (SAE) at 6000 rpm. This car also had a backbone chassis built up from sheet steel and the all independent suspension was by wishbone and coil spring.
1968 De Tomaso Mangusta
A rather nice coupe body was designed for the car by the Ghia works and de Tomaso claimed a top speed of 155 mph for the Mangusta. Research illuminated the fact that what this car was built for “real men,” men who smoked Camel non-filtered cigarettes; tough guys. You see de Tomaso understood that the car needed a brave man to drive such a car at those speeds on anything but a wide, straight road. It was because over 60 per cent of the car's weight was behind the driver. One of the car’s test drivers first drove the car near the de Tomaso factory in Modena and it was, at first, quite a pleasant surprise to him because of the “lightness of the steering.” That’s an interesting way to describe it.
In fact, It was only when he reached some interesting winding roads in a hilly district that he discovered why the steering was so light … uh, it was because the tail swung outwards viciously as soon as any power, uh acceleration, was applied. By doing this, the driver was required to be ready for continuous twirling of the steering wheel to keep the car on the right side of the road. In other words, uh…Whoa!!!! He actually said this was quite a lot of fun to begin with but it became tiring after a while…you think? And buyers obviously felt much as he did; thus, sales were never very brisk. Fortunately for de Tomaso, (and his rich wife), Ford of America took an interest in the car at this stage of its development. Ford, in the 1970s, was still pursuing their high performance image.
So, Ford offered to market the car in the USA, put some money into the de Tomaso company, as well as purchase the Ghia company from him, too. (Tell me Isobel was doing cartwheels all the way back to the bank!)
The truth is, Ford felt that the car needed many improvements; so many that, in the end, the car was so changed that it was given a new name – Pantera (panther). Hmmm. Now that name rings a bell, huh? Although the bodywork was the same general shape, the cars design had been cleaned up considerably and looked much sharper, while the standard of engineering on the chassis was much improved coincidently. The backbone chassis was superseded by an integral chassis/body unit and the engine was replaced by a 5763cc (351 cu in) Ford V8 mated to the same five speed gearbox. This engine gave 330 bhp (DIN) at 5400 rpm and endowed the car with a genuine 160 mph top speed. The Pantera handled much better than the Mangusta and it began to sell well all around the world.
DeTomaso Pantera at Classic Car Show
DeTomaso Pantera 1973
1974 De Tomaso Pantera, A Classic Marriage of American Muscle ( Ford 351 C V- With the Italian coachwork of Ghia.
Unfortunately, and here we go again, American safety regulations made it economically unreasonable for Ford to keep changing the car for different worldwide markets. The U.S. regulations were so demanding back in the 1970s for the American market that Ford’s exports of the car had to stop. However, at this time, de Tomaso was now so well established that he went on to build other versions of the car, such as the GTS, which had a 350 bhp engine and a claimed top speed of 174 mph. He also moved into the four door saloon market with the Deauville and a 2 + 2 coupe, the Longchamp. De Tomaso was then established as an accomplished manufacturer of cars by the mid-1970s. Because of this, he soon began to acquire other companies, like taking over Maserati and the Innocenti factory, which made Minis under license. He also acquired two Italian motorcycle firms and put them all back on their feet.
In 1971 Maserati announced an unusual road car for them, as prior to this new model, the Bora, they had stuck to front mounted engines. In the Bora they fitted their big 4719cc (288 cu in) V8 behind the driver, mated to a five speed trans-axle unit. The chassis was an integral unit with the all-independent suspension by wishbones and coil springs. The bodywork of this two seat coupe was rather bulbous and brutal; the roof line merged into an almost horizontal tail section and Maserati had to let glass panels go into the tail 'side sections so that the driver could see to reverse the car.
The effect of driving the car was somewhat claustrophobic as the glass area was not very generous, but it could be argued that you do not buy a £9000 supercar to spend much time backing up with it. Certainly, when going forwards it was an impressive beast as it would cover, from a standing start, 1-mile in 14.5 seconds. Even though it would not quite reach the 174 mph plateau that Maserati claimed from the 310 bhp engine, it was fast enough for most drivers, although it consumed fuel at a prodigious rate.
Maserati Bora 1971-78
1971 Maserati Bora
With the Citroen takeover of Maserati, the French company introduced a smaller engine version, using a new Citroen-Maserati V 6 engine of 2.9-litres (109 cu in) which gave 190 bhp in normal form and 220 bhp in the SS model. The Bora's engine grew to 4.9-litres (309 cu in) and although power only increased to 320 bhp it was produced lower down the rev range, thus making the car more reliable and more tractable in traffic.
Maserati's great rivals in Modena, Ferrari, had, by and large, stuck to the front engine formula for their road cars, the small engine Dino range being brought out to counter the ever growing market for Porsches. However, in 1973 they introduced a new mid-engined car, the Berlinetta Boxer, which they claimed was the fastest production car in the world with a top speed of 188 mph. The car featured a tubular steel chassis with many welded steel panels, and suspension was -independent all round with double wishbones and coil springs. Power came from a new horizontally opposed 12 cylinder engine of 4390cc (268 cu in), producing 380 bhpat 7500 rpm. The engine was mated to a five speed trans-axle unit, braking was by servo assisted discs and steering was, slightly surprisingly, by worm and roller.
The car was clothed in a body fairly similar to that of the Maserati Bora, but subtly more aerodynamic and better looking, as well as givingbetter visibility, because of the low height of the engine. Those few magazine testers brave enough to try to discover if the Boxer would do 188 mph found that it stopped well short of that velocity - mercifully perhaps. In fact it was no faster than the previous front engined Daytona model and Ferrari in some embarrassment increased the engine size to 4924cc (302 cu in) and raised the power output to 360 bhp at 7100 rpm. This model, the BB 512 was also claimed to do 188 mph but it would not do it either! Since where it is legal to attempt this sort of speed it is fairly academic anyway, but Ferrari were rather embarrassed over their failure to match their claims. They explained it by saying that they reached this speed with their pre-production prototypes but the cars were inadvertently fitted with an engine producing more power than the production engines. Whatever the wrongs and rights of the BB it is a magnificent car in which to ride, although, like the Bora, the GT40 and Miura it is rather impractical.
Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer (1973-1984)
Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer (1973-1984)
Not to be outdone by lesser makes, Rolls Royce rose Phoenix-like from the ashes of the 1971 receivership and introduced the new Corniche first, fitted with the choice of two door coupe or convertible bodies by Mulliner-Park Ward and then in 1974 astonished the world, and possibly themselves, by announcing the Camargue, a vaguely sporting car, from a company who had previously eschewed any attempt at a sporting vehicle. The car used the mechanical components from the Corniche in slightly modified form and clothed them with a body designed by the house of Pininfarina in Italy.
This two-door coupe has more than a passing resemblance to that company's body design for the Fiat 130 coupe, but the Camargue is so well balanced and grand that it hardly matters. The familiar 'radiator contracted yet more to fit the lower contours of the Carmargue and it was flanked by the quadruple headlamps which had upset Rolls-Royce enthusiasts so many years before.
The Rolls Royce Camargue
The familiar all-aluminum V8 engine of 6750cc (412 cu in) is again mated to the three speed automatic gearbox, and as with all Rolls Royces no power output figures are given, but it must be 'sufficient' because the car will reach a top speed of 118 mph and accelerate quite smartly as well. When it was announced in 1974 it was the most expensive car in the world at £29,250, but inflation helped to increase it to £72,000 in five years, although this has done little to decrease the two year waiting list.
It is difficult to describe the sensations felt when driving a Camargue, for in truth it is a little disappointing in some respects. Naturally, the car is luxurious and the driver is greeted by the sumptuous smell of leather, while the walnut capped dashboard is as agreeable as ever. The car is quiet, too, but not perhaps as silent as one would expect, a fact commented on by American magazines who tested it against such cars as the
Lincoln Continental and Cadillac and found that they were quieter. Perhaps the real difference is that in ten years’ time the Camargue will still be fairly quiet, while the 'Yank tanks' will be piled in some corner of a scrapyard.
The steering of the Camargue is terribly light, although it is geared only three and a quarter turns lock to lock, but the steering wheel seems eerily remote from the front wheels and the driver has little idea what is happening when he turns the wheel. The suspension, too, is very soft, which gives a lovely ride on smooth roads, but when the going gets bumpy the suspension travel is used up very quickly and it can bottom harshly.
As it weighs nearly three tons ready for the road the Camargue can hardly expect to have sporting handling, and its progress is best described as stately. It is inevitable that the Camargue will be more at home rolling quietly down Park Lane or Fifth Avenue than hustling round country lanes, but one may wonder what sort of sports car the Rolls-Royce engineers could design if they had the chance.
There's so much more to talk about but space doesn't permit. Please read on in our Import section of the Forum. Thanks. JP