Veteran motoring correspondent Archie Vicar offers his driving impressions of the 1971 De Tomaso Deauville.
This may be a transcription of an article that first appeared in the Hartlepool Afternoon Post. Original photos by Dean Suarez but owing to the poor quality of the source, stock images have been used.
Consider luxury cars from Mercedes, Rolls Royce and Aston Martin and one must undeniably concede they suggest a degree of similarity which borders on the insipid. Manufacturers are being forced by the nanny state and ever-more-cautious customers to present cars which differ from each other in only the smallest ways. So, in these increasingly competitive times, originality is even more important (and rarer!) than ever before. Luckily, the De Tomaso Deauville has it in large quantities and the car is on sale now to the lucky few.
I had the good fortune to see the Deauville at the Turin Motor Show last year. Various problems prevented me from conducting a long test (blame the narrow roads of Turin and a legal dispute, now resolved). So, great excitement accompanied the occasion in which events permitted me to avail of a press car to carry out a more substantial trial last month.
Readers doubtless will be familiar with the Deauville’s technical specification. Hence I will only remind you that it is a substantial, large and imposing motor car designed by the creative men at the coachbuilders, Ghia. It is 109 inches long and 54 inches high and weighs in at 4277 lbs – very efficient indeed. The one concession to modern trends is that De Tomaso have opted for a unibody construction though one is seldom aware of this demerit when driving. This construction principle also allows a Maserati variant to be derived from the body. In due course, a new big Citroen if rumours are true, also follows (to be powered by a rotary engine and with all-wheel steering along with electrically controlled mirrors).
De Tomaso have installed a Ford engine, the very redoubtable Cleveland V8 which means it suffers none of the reliability problems typical of other Italian cars such as Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati, Lamborghini or Ferrari. De Tomaso have decided to adopt an ingenious and novel independent rear suspension and the discs on all four wheels are all fully ventilated. The top speed is claimed to be 143 miles per hour and I estimated nought to sixty of just over 7 seconds. The well-proven ZF 5-speed manual can be had but this test featured the excellent Ford 3-speed automatic. So, overall the car is blend of uniquely Italian design and robust American mechanicals.
So, who is the car aimed at? It is strictly for owner-drivers unlike Bentley and Rolls Royce but differs from ostensible sports cars such as Ferrari and Maserati by being comfortable and well-suspended. The regally appointed interior is draped with the finest Italian leather and the seats are supportive but comfortable. Unlike Bristol’s overpriced cars, it has four doors and an equally commodious boot. So, it is a machine targeted squarely at the press-on driver who wants power, practicality and comfort but who doesn’t mind a bit of flamboyance.
I took the test car on an extended tour from Hartlepool to Deauville to see if it lived up to its billing as a trans-continental express. The first thing one notices is the near-silent running of the Ford V8. It’s a relatively new unit, launched just two years ago but it builds on the good aspects of the 385 and “Boss” 302. The polyangle combustion chambers and canted valves make for efficient air-fuel swirling and maximize combustion. The Deauville has a four-barrel carburetor which provides ample fueling for the vehicle’s prodigious thirst. Moving off, the gears slur unobtrusively enough and the assisted steering is light and communicative. Only sharp jolts over transverse ridges
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cause any disturbance in the opulent cabin. The Cleveland to Folkestone run took a little over 6 hours with two fuel stops. Motorway miles were easily dispatched and I emerged from the car for cigarettes, tea and petrol feeling as if I had only been driving a half hour or so. One must keep a close eye on the speedometer (hard to read in daylight) as the car is deceptively quick. In such a striking car, one is sure to attract the attention of Plod. I reached the port with my driver’s licence intact and in France set out for Deauville which took only six and a half hours. Refuelling and a fine evening meal in Amiens, at the Hotel Marotte took up some of that time.
Since the Deauville is aimed at the business man and company director it made sense to try to match the quality of the food to the quality of the car. I enjoyed a very fine north sea Crab with a delicious veloute of lobster, followed by Dutch oysters served cold with ox-cheek consommé and caviar, Atlantic langoustine fried in duck fat, veal tartare and a duck liver “ameuse geule”. As had been rendered a little full, I declined the Dover sole but replaced it with the less filling Anjou pigeon, Holsteiner fillet (braised) and served with marrow, and finally grilled venison in a Pomerol sauce.
The Marotte cellars provided a few choice bottles and I had plenty of time to read the technical specifications of the Deauville in the light of the day’s tour. I chose to avoid the autoroute and over small lanes had given the car a chance to display its handling characteristics. The disc brakes work very well if let rest between operation and they work quite progressively with only small hints of locking up if one presses too firmly. On tighter corners, especially in the wet, one notices a certain degree of rear-end breakaway which leads to marked oversteer.
Skilled drivers will have no difficulty catching and correcting this but inexperienced drivers might want to take their time learning the car’s manners as the amount of over-steer and the consequent need for opposite lock is unusual but gives the car a tremendous agility if one knows how to exploit this. In comparison, Mercedes and Rolls-Royce will offer nothing but plough-on understeer and Ferraris will simply spin into the countryside. All very well if one is well-heeled but it could be inconvenient at particular times.
After a generous glass of Genepy I returned to the car and set off again, with about forty-five minutes to reach Deauville. Once again I selected the local roads so as to challenge the Deauville, making further observations about the way the chassis took some time to settle after hard crests and how smooth modulations of the throttle were needed to avoid confusing hysteresis in the suspension. If there is fault with the Deauville it is that ashtray is not very well placed and the cigar lighter is hard to get at without taking one’s eyes off the road and this needs to be revised in future.
As luck would have it I had a chance to return to England by first class rail and meditate on the liberating privilege of a powerful and comfortable luxury car. Fitted luggage will be available for the Deauville in 1972. If first class rail and taxis take some of the work out of driving, they can’t make up for the sense of occasion provided by a first class car.