De Tomaso Vallelunga
They’re not Ferraris, Astons or Lamborghinis, but what they are is fascinating – Gordon explains why a De Tomaso has joined his classic car collection
The recent ‘One Formula’ exhibition in our new automotive building at Dunsfold went well and was a chance for me to meet up with many old friends from my racing career. It also allowed me to present my classic car (and bike) collection as a warm-up to the main event. I really enjoyed seeing them all together, and two themes were apparent. The first was that all the cars are small and the second that all are light, most weighing under 700kg.
I choose my classics for several reasons but fundamentally they are all cars I have either previously owned or that were on my must-have list. The collection is not the usual Ferrari, Aston, Lamborghini bunch – it’s far more eclectic. Most are from niche marques and most have an interesting story behind the design.
The latest addition is one such car and it’s been on my wish-list for many years – the De Tomaso Vallelunga. Apart from being a very pretty and well-proportioned car, the stories of both the Vallelunga’s design and the De Tomaso marque in general are fascinating and have a certain parallel to my own automotive tale.
Alejandro de Tomaso was born in Argentina and raced there before leaving for Italy in 1955 to drive for Maserati and OSCA. He had some success as a driver but more importantly, racing gave him the idea to build his own cars and he formed De Tomaso Automobili in 1959. His company began trading by selling Formula Three and Formula Two cars and then Formula One, including the design and build of Grand Prix cars for Frank Williams.
In the early Sixties De Tomaso turned his attention to road cars and his first design was the Vallelunga. He went to Carrozzeria Fissore for the styling, and it built five aluminium-bodied prototypes.
The car was very advanced for its time and used a backbone chassis (a first for a rear-engine car – ahead of the Lotus Europa) and the production cars went on to use glassfibre composites for the body.
The Vallelunga used a tuned Ford Cortina GT engine and a modified Volkswagen transmission, so a beautiful Italian exotic sports car with a British saloon car engine! Alejandro De Tomaso used the experience he gained in designing the Vallelunga backbone chassis for his 1967-1971 Mangusta sports car.
Another fascinating part of the design story is the styling and the production build. After the initial five Fissore prototypes, de Tomaso had hoped to sell the Vallelunga concept to a major vehicle manufacturer for production, but when he had no success he approached Ghia, and this is where the story gets complicated.
Ghia carried out a subtle revision of the Fissore shape, preserving the lovely lines and proportions. That’s why the Vallelunga has the Ghia logo on its flanks. The production styling at Ghia was entrusted to Giorgetto Giugiaro, so the Vallelunga ended up as a Fissore/ghia/giugiaro design!
Only 53 cars were produced and about 30 survive, which is why it has taken me so long to find one. But what a find; a greatlooking Italian car that weighs 690kg, powered by one of my favourite fourcylinder engines and built by a man whose early career paralleled my own. Gordon Murray is one of the most innovative automotive designers of his generation. He designed Gp-winning F1 cars for Brabham and Mclaren and the Mclaren F1 road car.
The latest addition to Gordon’s featherfooted fleet – the mid-engined, rear-wheeldrive De Tomaso Vallelunga