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Rétrospective Rétromobile - ironically “Anticipated” — Part 2/4


© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

 

Part 2 — De Tomaso Icon Emerges from the Depths

It was while searching for a couple of Facel IIIs - that were destined to be auctioned - in an underground carpark in Paris, which I was reliably informed could be viewed by special appointment, that I came upon a subterranean classic car garage, containing all number of fast road and racing machines made by, among others, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Austin-Healey and Triumph’s TR brand, etc. There was also a seriously competitive Lola T280 sports racer, with a 3 litre Cosworth DFV in the back. Looking it up, later on, revealed this potentially to be one which competed at Kyalami, Spa, Monza and Le Mans in the mid-1970s. In addition, a couple of hybrid Italian-American products designed by Alessandro De Tomaso appeared, even more unexpectedly, out of the blue. One such was a competition spec. De Tomaso Mangusta - with Mangustas being ultra-rare, in any case, let alone a racing version - and nearby was a slightly younger, early 1970s, De Tomaso Pantera. Becoming more clear, as I approached, was that before me was a fine example in either Group 3, or early Group 4, homologation specification.


© 2020, Classique Car Conduits

These latter cars had been accepted and campaigned at Le Mans between the years 1972 and 1978. I am certainly no expert on De Tomasos, but I had carried out a research project for a road-car owner who was searching for an example, that could be modified into Group 3/Group 4 racing spec. and then be privately entered by him into classic ‘gentlemen driver’ racing series and enjoyed at circuits across Europe. I had quickly learned that there were originally only 14 of these original factory cars, being campaigned not only at Le Mans but (as with the Lola), in Spa, the Nürburgring, Monza and then many of the other domestic Italian tracks, as well. I had even found the copy blueprints taken from originals of the initial factory homologation papers. And I’d viewed photographic evidence of the prototype that was built to gain approval from the FIA and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), so that it could compete amongst Ferraris and Porsches of the day, in the GT category.

Back to the here and now, a French motor engineer, who was one of the partners in the garage business I’d stumbled upon, popped his head up from underneath a distant car when I initially muttered to myself, but obviously, out loud, ‘Woah, a Pantera!’

“Bonjour Monsieur!”

“Oh, Bonjour.” I replied in his direction, somewhat startled.

He came across, cleaning his lower arms on an oily towel, and although my French was non-existent, his English was certainly a lot better, so I was happy to shake his hand. We conversed for what must have been nearly half an hour as he was impressed and surprised that I actually knew something about De Tomaso Panteras, per se. Then especially when I’d convinced him I also knew a little bit about the beginnings towards homologation, from those original intentions of the embryonic motorsports section of the Italian company’s racing department.

“Et voici le prototype” he proudly announced, both hands outstretched this time.

“Pardon?” I replied, rather incredulously.

“Ceci est le prototype de voiture qu'ils ont utilisé pour l’homologation” he continued. I did get the gist of it, but he kindly translated, “Yes, this is the prototype car they used for homologation.”

I could hardly believe my ears, either in French or English. This was chassis number 2253. It had been converted in the late ‘70s to a more benign and luxurious road-going specification, plusher, detuned and suitable for recreational journeys, or normal highway use, after its export to America. It had been bought by a gentleman with a similar name, something like ‘Dave Tomasso’ for example, and, only when he decided to sell, was it inspected by professionals who knew about the originality of such cars, to a very high degree of expertise.

It was then discovered that, this indeed, had not started out as domestic use car, but was the real prototype itself. Painstakingly, over the next two or three years, it was put back to the original specification, just as it had been when competing in 1972. This most notably recorded at the Monza 1000kms where it was amongst five sister cars, one of which came 3rd and this example crossed the finish line in 5th place. But, to me, here was both a revelation and totally unexpected surprise. Who would have thought that a potential wild goose chase to find a couple of Facel Vegas not driven for about forty years to be auctioned by a Parisian company of which I’d never previously heard - ‘AuctionArt’ - that I would find a prototype homologation De Tomaso.

Yet here was the car, one of the most venerable fourteen and this the pioneer, the ‘high priest’ of them all. In fact, I was told by the very proud engineer, that De Tomaso were going to use it as part of their exhibition and display at the 2020 Le Mans Classic. That event will now occur when a great deal more certainly is assured throughout the world, but nonetheless it would always be a worthy participant in both Plateaux 6 - the group for Le Mans cars competing between 1972 and 1981 - as well as representing the manufacturer in a showpiece capacity, as the landmark of its sporting heritage.

Part 1 >> ‘Deux Marques Natives’
Part 3 >> Tatras and Tractors

© 2020 John Godley
Classique Car Conduits