This supercar maker is ditching Italy for Detroit. Here's why
An obscure Italian supercar brand from the 1960s is trying to rebuilditself… in America.
De Tomaso, the company that built the oddly chiseled Pantera supercar famously owned by Dimebag Darrell Abbott, the lead guitarist of the ’80s thrash metal band with the same name (pantera is the Spanish and Italian word for panther), has announced it will move its headquarters, research and development, and fabrication to the US, starting in2021.
Chief Executive Officer Ryan Berris saysa current partnership with Ford has early powertrain development being done in Detroit. The company is “in negotiations" regarding a 50,000-square-foot building in the area, Berris says. Other locations are also being considered.
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The move is a unique tactic for a privately fundedbrand that hasn’t sold cars officiallyin the Statessince the late 1970s. But it’s not out of nowhere: The US has longbeen a destination for small automakers that buildspecial performance cars, including Hennessey andShelby American.On Oct. 10, Washington-based SSCset the world record for speed in a production car.In August, theWall Street Journal published a column by retired racerand California builder Steve Saleen, who claimed the Chinese government had stolen intellectual property associated withsupercarshe built under hisSaleen brand name.
Although it lacks current production cars, De Tomaso debuted the $1 million P72 supercar at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last year. The companyseems blithely unwilling to play speculative one-upmanship:“I mean, 700 horsepower, 750—whatever you want to quote,I’m fine with," Berris says, in response to a question about the car. He saysthe actual horsepower number is “for us, irrelevant. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about having something that is different."
The P72 is a tribute to the De Tomaso P70(aka Sport 5000) that unsuccessfully attempted to race theSebring 12 Hoursandthe24 Hours of Le Mansin 1966. Ifit reaches production by theoptimistic 2022 timeline De Tomaso has set, itwill be the first model the manufacturer will have builtin the US Ford will provide the engine, a supercharged five-liter V8 built by theteam that built the engine for the modern Ford GT. A six-speed manual transmission will come standard.
The model joins otherlesser-known ultra-low-volume newcomers to the supercar market as the Maserati MC20, Lotus Evija, Pininfarina Battista, aforementionedSSC Tuatara, and the Gordon Murray Automotive T.50, all of which have been announced or have reached production within the last year.
“The middle market is disappearing," Berris says about joining the fray. “We’ve reached the tipping point."
Founded in 1959byArgentine racing driverAlejandro de Tomaso,De Tomaso Automobili built such models as the Pantera and the gull-wingMangusta. It sits firmly in the universe of historic Italian design, but never became quite the pillar of beauty andperformance as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, or Alfa Romeo. Its reputation wasplagued by overheating andquality and build problems, with most of its powertrains sourced fromFord.
In 1971, Ford acquired an 84% stake inthe company, withde Tomaso himself holding the rest. He suffered a stroke in 1993, after which his heirsliquidated the company. In 2014, Hong Kong-based Ideal Team Venturespaid $1.8 million for the rights to the brand,which had experienced several botched revivals in the meantime.
Berrissays the spotty history of De Tomasois worth salvaging. “We are not positioning the brand based on performance. The performance will be sufficient, nothing more than what you need," hesays,preferring to call the car:“a true art piece.
“What is in our heart is carrying forward the spiritwith which we fell in love with cars," he says.
A company press release said the reason for De Tomaso’s transition from its previous headquarters in supercar-central Modena, Italy, tocross the Atlantic Ocean was to “inspire innovationand build passion in America’s auto industry."
Acloser read indicates De Tomaso is looking to partner with American companies in addition to Ford,as it did decades ago. Along with Ford components, De Tomaso looked to infamous entrepreneurCarrol Shelbyto helpsourceengines and car designersin the 1960s.
Vehicles in additionto the P72 are already indevelopment, according to Berris, who saysyet-unannounced models will be produced concurrently and in higher volumes than the 72 units planned—and already sold—forthe P72. None contain electric-battery technology, but he says that eventually, the De Tomaso lineup will includean electric vehicle.
“We have no rush to go into EV," Berris says. “We want to do operations which we are comfortable with."
He expects to hire as many as 300 to 500 staffers on a “US hiring spree"when the company reachesfull bore, “over the next three to five years." No hiringshave been made.