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

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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

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