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Three Incredibly Rare Pearls Discovered in the Italian "Motor Valley" Retell De Tomaso Story


 

Get ready for an extraordinary tale - a little adventure in the Italian "Motor Valley", where you can still meet interesting people and might encounter cars which you thought had forever disappeared. I’m convinced this photoshoot and the "behind the scenes" access became only a reality due to my relentless curiosity and passion about Italian car brands.

During a visit with my friends Gabriele Candrini and Paul Kopp, owners of the "Maranello Purosangue" dealership situated close to the Ferrari factory at Abetone Inferiore 45 road, I discovered not one but three incredible rare pearls. Not that that it’s at all unusual for Gabriel to host unique and prestigious cars in his showroom. But nothing can be compare to the ultimate "triptych" here: the De Tomaso Nuova Mangusta, the De Tomaso Guarà "Mock up" and the De Tomaso Nuova Pantera 2000.

 

Right before my eyes where the "finale", as far as production is concerned, of the Italo-Argentine brand -- cars that are still at 100% linked to the creative and entrepreneurial verve of the founder, Alejandro De Tomaso. Gabriele's passion and hard work inspired him to buy two of the three cars from Matteo Panini (Maserati collector) who had saved and bought them at the auction bankruptcy after the Modena factory closed in 2014. It took months of restoration to return the Guarà Mock up and Nuova Pantera 2000 to their former glory after they had been left abandoned in the company sheds for years. But sometimes things do take a turn for the better and after 18 years of sorrowful silence, an opportunity for a "reunion" like no other presented itself in the form of this photo report, informally titled "De Tomaso is back".

No story ring was missing, the first and probably "one-off" Nuova Mangusta branded by De Tomaso (not Qvale) was already in the showroom, flaming red, the fine aroma of leather seats and the "raw" car construction, more a prototype rather than a homologated, small production supercar series. An abandoned brick factory on a beautiful, sunny day in early March were the ideal settings to allow the three "wonders" get a breath of fresh air after such a long time. Their gathering were a chronology of the De Tomaso production era in Modena from 1993 to 2001.

The first one into production was the Guarà. The name come from a breed of hunting dogs typical of Argentina. The project, secretly born in 1992 and already completed by January 1993 started with the idea to create a dedicated racetrack sportscar, built in the "Barchetta" style, and designed by Carlo Gaino, the same who had traced the lines of the early nineties Maserati Barchetta. Presented to that year's Geneva Motor Show, the Guarà immediately generated great interest and earned admiration. The mechanics were state of the art with four wheels push-road independent suspension, adjustable shock absorbers, stabilizer bars, fiberglass cockpit and a single-beam honey-comb central frame. The engines fitted in the center-rear position. From 1993 to 1998 the Guarà was equipped with a BMW V8 4.0 liter engine with a variable power, from 286 to 304hp, and moved by a Getrag six-speed manual gearbox. From 1998 to 2004 the engine became the most economical Ford V8, 4.600cc and a different 6-speed manual gearbox by ZF. To fit the Ford engine, the Guarà's weight increased more than 200 kg and the performance noticeably worsened so a supercharged variant was under consideration. It would have given it more power, something between 375 to 430 hp, but that evolution never saw the light. Fifty cars were built, 10 Barchetta and the remaining units were developed as coupé with roof, glass and a more luxurious interior. A very small Spyder series of 3 or 5 units, the exact number is not certain, were realized by external coach builder, starting with the coupé base. The yellow mock up in the pictures is the initial concept, lacking any mechanical components -- just it's pure rounded shape, cockpit, racing seats and the dashboard.

Moving along with the De Tomaso history, the second model was the Biguà, shown as a prototype at the 1996 Geneva Motor Show and remained in gestation for several years, a period during which Alejandro DeTomaso was working to secure funding for full production. This lead to an alliance with American entrepreneur Kejil Qvale, founder of Qvale Automotive Group Ltd, who for over forty years had been the US importer of the most prestigious GT sport cars produced in Europe. De Tomaso now had the financial backing to begin the production. Between the years from 1999 to 2001 about 270 units were realized with the name of Nuova (New) Mangusta. Only a few were marketed under the De Tomaso brand, before misunderstandings between Alejandro and the Qvale family caused the American company to take over the rights to build the cars under the Qvale brand, but retaining Nuova Mangusta as the model name. The car looks like the modern reinterpretation of the formula that other Italian automotive manufacturers in the past decades had successfully tested. Just remember the ISO Grifo and the Bizzarrini 5300 GT that mixed the typical Italian style with the reliable mechanics of the powerful Ford V8 engines.

Marcello Gandini's design blended perfectly with the 320 hp 4.6 liters engine fitted in the front, the traction was at the rear wheels moved by a BorgWarner T45 5-speed manual gearbox or a 4-speed automatic transmission. However according to Candrini's research and mine, the red Nuova Mangusta seen here is probably the prototype and not a perfectly finished production series unit. Analyzing the car we noticed various differences compared to the approved "standard" model. Mindful that the Biguà one-off might have been destroyed when a Ford test driver hit a curbstone in the Modena area, the red Nuova Mangusta clearly shows a different chassis number compared to all other Qvale produced, consisting of an impressive amount of zero series and a number 2 at the end of them. If we assume that  the only Biguà model was likely dismantled and had carried the same type of chassis number, but ending with 1, then this could very possibly be the first and real Nuova Mangusta built. Although these are important clues, but not hard evidence for our thesis. We further discovered a different engine plate, front and rear lights, wheels and dashboard clock that are De Tomaso branded and not Qvale, the external mirrors are fixed and non-retractabe, also the door handles and the tank cap are different. Inspecing the car carefully one notices a rough finish that could never go into production series. The doors don't close perfectly, the rear bench is absent and in its place is just a leaning coating that shows the electrical wiring and the lack of any kind of sound-absorbing material. The removable top roof, perfectly located in the rear luggage compartment, prerogative of the Qvale models, doesn't fit and can't be carried. Even allowing for handicraft construction, it’s still is obvious that one is in the presence of the prototype, with all its burrs and imperfections. It’s worth noting that the car road certificate refers to a Qvale Mangusta type 98M. Definitely a mysterious and charming detail. Its well-proportioned shape by Gandini, the typical cross-cutting in the rear wheel arches, so dear to Lamborghini Diablo fans, is yet another undisputed hint of the Italian master designer. The sporty black front grille and rear lights cover, the showy side air intakes and the external aerodynamic shape mirrors blend with an interior classic design made of exquisite two-tone leather, knob sport gearshift close to the driving position and a complete white indicators dashboard. It remains an incredibly and still modern product, although some years have passed.

The De Tomaso story never ends to amaze, like a movie full of twists, typical of the founder.

It's Sunday, September 5 - and we've traveled back to 1999. Modena, Virgilio road, home of the factory at the culmination of the 40th anniversary brand celebrations. The place is full of guests, journalists, clubs and fans from all over the world. This is the backdrop to reveal the ultimate and most ambitious car project, name code Nuova (New) Pantera 2000. The prototype with its modern and clean design is once again and excellent work by Marcello Gandini. He gave shape to the visual of a large touring coupe which, presumably with the marque’s ambition that the production would have with a powerful Ford V8 engine fitted in the center-rear position. Despite the name that immediately brings to mind the most successful De Tomaso model, with over 10,000 units produced since the early seventies, the Nuova Pantera 2000 advances the typical in-house style into a modern interpretation, masking the long wheelbase body in well-balanced proportions. If we look at this last project more closely we realize that De Tomaso probably had a real opportunity at his hands that would have changed the fate and future of the company, which unfortunately, as we know, never came to pass. Alejandro De Tomaso died in 2003 and the factory passed into the hands of the widow Isabelle Haskell and his son Santiago. One year later, in the summer of 2004, the company was put into clearance sale.

The brand story and its vicissitudes certainly are not complete but I opt to stop here and just remember Alejandro's three models gathered in one place, perhaps, for the last time. Being a car enthusiast, long before I became a photographer, I thought it was deserving to shine the light at this important facet of the Modena automotive brand, which is often forgotten and usually overshadowed by the sad finance and social aspects of recent years.

A very big special thanks to Gabriele Candrini and Paul Kopp for allowing me to tell this tale and for their tireless determination to save the Guarà mock up and the Nuova Pantera 2000 prototype. It allows us the chance to ponder the end of the line, the ultimate Pantera built, and envision what could have become. A tribute to the supercars made in Modena. Here is proof that every so often, history is not forgotten.

Welcome back Pantera!

Text and Photos: Matteo Grazia