The founder of De Tomaso Automobili, Alejandro De Tomaso, died May 21 in Modena, Italy. He was 74.
De Tomaso's Italian sports car legacy goes back to 1945, when he raced a modified Bugatti Type 35 while still in his teens. For nearly a decade he participated in club race events until he was offered the chance to co-drive a Maserati in the 1000-km race of Buenos Aires in 1954. Shortly thereafter, he became a Maserati factory test driver.
In 1958, De Tomaso built the first race car to carry his name, though it never saw competition because of conflicts with Maserati. A year later, Maserati gave him permission to race his car at Sebring, and from there began his car building business.
In 1965, De Tomaso debuted his first car aimed at mass production, a two-seater dubbed Vallelunga. Unfortunately that project produced little more than 50 cars. However, another car designed by Giugiaro and built by Ghia, the De Tomaso Mangusta, was on the horizon. Soon after, a joint-venture between Ford and De Tomaso in 1970 produced the De Tomaso Pantera, which remained in production until 1990. Other Ford-powered De Tomaso vehicles followed Pantera, even as De Tomaso continued his racing involvement.
In 1993, De Tomaso suffered a stroke and at that time was expected to die. Nevertheless, he survived and recovered, but a De Tomaso press release describes his most recent health status as "a long period of illness." A memorial service is set for May 23 in Modena. Cause of death is unconfirmed.
De Tomaso is survived by his wife Isabelle De Tomaso, who remains involved in the company, and three sons.
John Stoll writes for AutoWeek, a sister publication of Automotive News.