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