Talent Borrows

Did the Deauville’s somewhat over-familiar appearance ensure it would be the second rarest De Tomaso of all? We investigate.

de Tomaso Deauville. (c) classic-driver

The early 1970s (prior to 1974 at least) proved to be something of an Indian summer for the European exotic car businesses. Demand for exclusive hand-built GTs was brisk, both in Europe and especially in North America, and for those ateliers who lacked the wherewithal (or the inclination) to engineer their own power units, there was a ready supply of powerful and proven engines to be obtained and repurposed from the major OEMs in Detroit.

For specialist carmakers such as Bristol and Jensen Cars in the UK, Iso in Italy and Monteverdi in Switzerland, this would prove to be a godsend, until the oil taps were turned off at least. Another fledgling exotic carmaker was that of De Tomaso, headed by Argentinian businessman and ace deal-maker Alejandro de Tomaso. Having taken over the struggling carrozzeria Ghia concern in 1967, he approached Ford with a proposal to co-create a mid-engined supercar to capitalise on the blue oval’s racing successes at la Sarthe.

Ford’s winning Le Mans weapon (the GT40), could not be made into a practical road vehicle (although a small number of roadgoing GT40s were in fact built), so with Henry II’s approval (and funding) the mid-engined Pantera was created; overseen by lead Ghia designer, Tom Tjaarda and powered by Ford’s Cleveland 5.8 litre V8. But de Tomaso had bigger plans, for a range of cars bearing his name, to rival the grand Italian marques head-on.

Around 1969, with the Pantera in development, he is believed to have learned of a rejected Ghia proposal, originally from Ford for a sporting, close coupled four-door, four seat saloon. Taking up the scheme, he tasked Tom Tjaarda to develop it as a potential rival to Maserati’s successful Quattroporte model. It is said that when Tjaarda was subsequently challenged on the similarity to the XJ6, he asserted that his design was completed prior to the Jaguar’s September 1968 announcement, but how similar were they in reality?

Image: motor-car.net

Tjaarda’s styling scheme certainly reflected that of Jaguar’s newcomer both in silhouette and overall dimensions – and in its delicate canopy treatment in particular. However, below the beltline, the lines were more angular, less voluptuous. The lower and longer frontal aspect reprised both de Tomaso’s earlier Mangusta sportscar and Ghia’s 1969 Marica, while the dipping rear, so redolent of the XJ, employed tail lamps from the Pantera (via Alfa Romeo). While for the most part a highly attractive, balanced shape, neither of its extremities appeared to be speaking to one another in entirely the same dialect.

Which is not to denigrate Tjaarda’s efforts, but the completed design, at least when directly compared with the XJ6, lacked that final polish, the mark of stylistic genius that characterised the very best of Sir William Lyons’ oeuvre. But in Tjaarda’s defence, his creation would go on to prove a notably superior Jaguar reimagining to anything his rival carrozzieri could offer when actually commissioned by BLMC for the XJ’s putative replacement a number of years hence.

Coincidence or a little gentle nudging from Alejandro? It is difficult now to be certain (and opinions on this matter differ), but the similarities are a little too marked for it to be purely a confluence of great minds. However, given Sir William’s historical creative magpie tendencies, one could perhaps gently suggest that Tjaarda was simply repaying a compliment.

Under the skin, the sense of déjà vu continued, with the Deauville employing an almost carbon copy of the XJ6’s suspension layout – not to mention the fitment of dual fuel tanks, complete with separate wing-mounted fillers. Inside too the resemblance was palpable. Dials on a plank, the apparently rather cramped cabin bisected by a large transmission console and T-bar selector for the Ford C6 3-speed automatic transmission (a ZF 5-speed manual was offered, but none were produced). Early cars also came fitted with die-cast magnesium roadwheels from legendary Italian wheelwrights, Campagnolo.

Deauville cutaway. (c) detomasodc.co.uk

Overall then, the treatment was more classic Italian exotic than trad Brit, and despite the lack of originality, the Deauville was broadly speaking enough of its own car to carry off any vague sense of familiarity. Certainly, that seemed to be the consensus at the time.

Fortuitously in 1969, production of the Maserati Quattroporte ceased, leaving a gap in the market which on paper the more conventionally attractive Deauville seemed primed to fill; a sticking point being that the de Tomaso name carried a good deal less cachet amongst the glitterati than that of the Trident of Modena. Coupled to this was a perceived lack of snob value associated with Ford’s blue collar V8.

Additionally, the 1972 advent of Jaguar’s XJ12 was another, perhaps more decisive reversal. Sales of the Deauville were certainly never especially buoyant (1972 being its best year), further blunted by the curious fact that it was never officially offered in the US – although some subsequently made their way there.

1970 De Tomaso Deauville interior: source

The model received a significant revision in 1978. Technically, the engine was repositioned a few centimetres rearwards to improve weight distribution, the power steering system was revised and externally, larger bumpers and the fitment of air extractors to the front wings completed the more obvious changes. The Deauville continued to be offered until 1985, by which time it was truly well past its best. It is believed that over a 15 year run, a mere 244 in total were built, including a rather ungainly one-off estate, reputedly built for Alejandro’s wife, Isobel.

However, its legacy was to prove a somewhat more lasting one, siring a number of other, arguably more memorable cars. In 1972, the 2+2 De Tomaso Longchamp was introduced, which was to all intents and purposes a short-chassis Deauville with more angular styling, again by Tom Tjaarda at Ghia.

Following de Tomaso’s takeover of the Maserati concern in 1975, the Kyalami model was contrived, employing the body structure and technical hardware from the Longchamp, while four years later, the Deauville’s underpinnings were once again utilised to help create the Quattroporte III, both of which came fitted with Maserati’s quad-cam 90° V8 engine.

Something of a laughing stock by the time of its demise, the Deauville never quite escaped the taint of being little more than a half-hearted XJ knock-off. Perhaps had de Tomaso instead instructed Tjaarda to employ a four-door variation along Marica themes, the car might have been viewed as more in its own right – one more akin to Iso’s Giugiaro-penned Fidia.

(c) blenheimgang

Why so few built? Was it a case of funding (de Tomaso was forever chasing the next deal), or the fact that once de Tomaso gained control of Maserati, his ambitions took second place to reviving the tarnished Tridente? Did the perceived and much-commented upon similarity to the Coventry cat work against it? Certainly, the creation of a car which despite its own merits remains intrinsically associated with its better known doppelganger seems even now, quixotic – whether by accident or by design.

Talent borrows, genius steals, the saying goes. Creative plagiarism or pure coincidence? Half a century later, does it really matter?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

18 thoughts on “Talent Borrows”

  1. thank you Eóin, it’s a wonderful talent you have for fleshing
    out the subtleties and crosspollinations of car design. and this
    was such a rich time for it all. I suspect that at any given moment
    artists and designers are breathing very much the same air, are
    responding to similar excitements and inspirations. while of course
    being saddled with all manner of corporate bloody-mindednesses.

  2. Good morning Eóin and thank you for an excellent retrospective on an obscure marque that was largely a mystery to me.

    When I saw the first photo illustrating your piece, I immediately thought of the XJ40 rather than its predecessor. I think the Deauville is a handsome car and can forgive it any compromises forced upon it by having to use off-the-shelf items like those tail lights. It was a considerably more modern looking design in 1971 than the Series 1 XJ. (The Series 2 model with its shallow grille and raised front bumper didn’t arrive until 1973.)

    The Longchamps was another pretty car, although the front end was compromised by the use of stock Ford Granada Mk1 headlamp/indicator units:

    Later models instead received twin circular or rectangular headlamps, but some were also defaced by horrible wheel arch extensions that, although body-coloured, appeared to be stuck on to the original wings.

  3. Hello Eoin,
    Thank you for shining a light on the De Tomaso Deauville. Since the XJ40 appeared, I have at times wondered if Jaguar’s styling department had not at least fleetingly taken a glance at the Deauville during development of the XJ40, the early base version with four round headlights especially. The XJ40’s squarer front and rear ends show some likeness to the Deauville in my opinion. Of course, De Tomaso started copying Jaguar first, that much is crystal clear.
    A few photos to illustrate:

    and

    1. Hi Bruno. Wow, that seagulls’s eye view of the Deauville is pure Jaguar, to the extent that I first thought that it was an XJ40. The front end’s forward sloping grille and headlamp cowlings are too similar to be coincidental. (I better not make any more comparisons between the two as I like working for DTW and don’t want to risk the wrath of our esteemed editor!)

    2. Looking at the rear three quarter view of the Deauville above illustrates where Tjaarda’s design falls down in my eyes. The shaping of the rear portion of the DLO seems inharmonious in relation to its surroundings, which makes the rear three-quarter ‘haunch’ appear somewhat ‘forced’. Additionally, the insufficient curvature of the rear screen creates a visual weakness around the C-pillar. Lyons and his artisans managed this whole area in a more balanced manner, while deploying if anything, an even thinner C-pillar.

      In my view, the Deauville would have worked better with a more linear beltline and a flatter, taller tail. Indeed, a long wheelbase four door version of the Longchamp might instead have been a better starting point – especially the earlier car, with its more delicate wheel arch lips (not shown above). Perhaps Daniel can apply his photoshop skills here?

      Regarding XJ40, it’s highly likely that Jaguar were aware of the Deauville – Sir William was still at the helm when it was introduced and I have no doubt that he would have taken a keen interest in it. What he thought of it however is not on record. Whether it had any palpable influence on Jaguar’s designers is a good question, but I would suggest, having studied this at length, that it’s unlikely, given the arc of XJ40 stylistic development. Jaguar stylists were working very much in a self-imposed vacuum throughout the ’70s, and that XJ40 in definitive terms came about more from a reaction to the Series III revisions (which was carried out in 1975/6) than anything external, although it is on record that they did look at certain other designs to see how various treatments were carried out. Perhaps when the four-headlamp arrangement was being finalised, someone remembered Tjaarda’s solution?

      What XJ40 does share with the Deauville is the sense that both nose and tail treatments could have benefited from further stylistic development.

    3. Hi Eóin. I think I see what you mean: the rear haunch doesn’t flow smoothly, but looks rather ‘peaky’ at the base of the C-pillar, then falls away too steeply. I’ll play with it tomorrow and see if it can be improved.

      Regarding the XJ40, a former acquaintance of mine worked as an intern in Jaguar’s design department while the car was in development. I recall asking him about what I thought were rather prosaic and undistinguished looking tail lights on the production car. He explained that the shape was intended to mirror that of the rectangular headlamps and that the bright trim on the edge of the boot lid was intended to resemble the top of the front grille, to achieve some symmetry between the front and rear of the car:

      I don’t know if it’s true or not. Perhaps you might be able to shed some light on it?

    4. Hi Eóin, I played with the Longchamp and came up with this four-door version:

      I toyed with a six-light DLO but it seems to work better this way. I also had to put some more curvature into the roof to ‘fatten it up’ a little. Certainly not a doppelganger for the XJ anyway. What do you think?

    5. Firstly Daniel, I would say that every day is a school day and I would never consider myself an authority on XJ40, (or anything else for that matter). So it’s entirely plausible that your former Jaguar colleague could be correct. It’s certainly plausible to see this in how the front and rear ends were elaborated, and it’s reasonable to assume that there was intent behind the manner in which the forms were treated.

      Personally, I would have preferred the grille to have been inset, rather than freestanding, a la Series one XJ, which would have been a cleaner arrangement, and I would have gone for a more vertical angle of attack, for aerodynamic purposes, but this was the ’80s. More was more.

      All I can say with any authority is that the XJ40’s eminence grice told me he was unhappy with the detailing and that he felt in retrospect that they could have done better. It’s somewhat ironic given the timescales that as he pointed out, ‘they ran out of time’, but that is what apparently did happen in the end. Once the car was approved, BL management wanted it yesterday.

      As regards the LWB Longchamp, I think there is a highly plausible car in that render. It requires (in my opinion) the earlier, less overt wheelarch blisters and some further attention to the proportions and volumes in the styling studio, but we are now looking at something more akin to the Monteverdi 375/4, rather than a more delicate Jaguaresque shape, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Not in my view anyway…

  4. Is there any truth to claims the underpinnings of the Biturbo and related models apart from the Maserati V6 were largely derived from the De Tomaso Deauville/Longchamp and Maserati Quattroporte III/Kyalami?

    One wonders how De Tomaso would have evolved had the company been unable to acquire Maserati, Innocenti and others? Also heard he attempt to buy Alfa Romeo and possibly a few other companies as well (though Alfa Romeo immediately springs to mind).

  5. Now, here’s something that came as a surprise to me when I was Googling pictures of the De Tomaso Deauville:

    And here’s the explanation from Wikipedia

    “At the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, a newly resurrected De Tomaso marque presented a new model, reviving the use of the name Deauville. The new Deauville is a five-door crossover vehicle with all-wheel drive….The SUV never reached production stage due to arrest of the company chairman on the charges of misappropriation of funds.”

    It was a neat enough design, but hardly one befitting the marque.

    1. Hi Peter, I think it’s a Tesla, period. Apart from the pointless ICE front grille, of course.

    2. I came across images of an SUV-Deauville prototype rotting away somewhere near Turin a while ago. The design was allegedly done at Pininfarina, though this was (understandably) never confirmed.

      Gian Mario Rossignolo was the man behind his particular De Tomaso revival, who took the spirit of Alejandro to heart to such an extent that he’s currently serving a prison sentence in some Piemontese jail.

  6. The article was a genuinely profound and fascinating analysis of an almost forgotten episode of the Art.

    One assumption seems to be wanting for elaboration, though. It is the one that interpretes Tjaarda’s design as less voluptuous in the lower body, in a tone risking to convey that fact as an elected artistic path.

    Would be fairer to assume, perhaps, that
    it was budget/ production facilities’ limitations that tied T.T.’s hands to perform a less complex flank curvature.

    Having said that, it might be good, as, had he had more freedom in the extent of bodily sculpting, chances are his design would end up with an even more debatable authenticity.

  7. I’m quite keen for a Deauville, if we could get a concours one for £4,000 that’s as cheap to run as a Fiat Panda… I prefer it to the XJ’s irrespective of who copied who but my favourite Jaguar was the XJ40 so that probably explains my keenness for the Deauville’s endearing mixture of corners and radiuses.
    I have the Deauville brochure in my stash of old car stuffage and it is a wierd brochure that confirms my rule that the posher the car the more disappointing the publicity stuff. It’s only an A4 foldout that looks like it was photographed in the yard outside the factory or maybe even someone elses factory. A couple of odd points, the door cards are still protected by delivery cellophane and it is printed on what feels like plastic not paper.

    1. Curiosity had me searching for your brochure online. I didn’t find it, but I did find another. The photography here is superb, no “weak” angles*, and even manages to make the tail lights look well integrated.

      http://www.timpelen.com/detomasobrochures/scans.asp?bro=1971c1

      The US Ford corporate “rim blow” steering wheel would have been a visual non-sequiter to discerning eyes, but the lack of face-level air vents on this class of car would probably have dismayed if not dissuaded just about anyone.

      * What on earth could be going on with the exhaust pipes on that silver car Daniel has [kindly/unkindly] posted… broom handle, anyone?

    2. gooddog, to me it looks like the ‘traditional’ slight misalignment of dual exhausts taken to the extreme; aka one has fallen down (nobody noticed? Or just said f-it we’ll do the photo shoot anyway?)

      I’m not sure if I was aware of the Deauville mimicking the Jaguar rear suspension and twin fuel tank arrangements; that takes it beyond mere coincidence for me. And it suffers by comparison, being not quite as nicely proportioned or detailed. This is probably to be expected from a smaller scale project, but also the difference to sales success if it can be overcome. The Lamborghini Espada the example I can think of that sold in quite healthy numbers.

      Daniel, great work with the 4-door Longchamp creation, I think it’s your best yet.

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