By the late Sixties, Italian carmakers had established themselves as the go-to purveyors of the fast and exotic breed of machines – the supercars. After Lamborghini invented this class with the Miura, Ferrari soon followed with its Dino sub-brand. While these cars were focused towards the niche mass market, the De Tomaso Vallelunga Berlinetta seen here was a somewhat even more channelled-down take on the same idea.
Alejandro de Tomaso was an Argentinian race car driver who drove for Maserati and OSCA during the 1950s. This passion led him to form De Tomaso Automobili in Modena, Italy in 1959. The firm spent the early part of its existence building racecars for Formula Junior, Formula 3, Formula 2 and Formula 1 teams. There were a few F1 appearances between ‘61 and ’63 but these outings were not very successful.
De Tomaso then turned their attention towards building a road-going prototype, the first of which was the Vallelunga of 1963/64. Off the prototypes created, there were one alloy-bodied spider and two hardtop coupes. The cars were styled and constructed by Carrozzeria Fissore, the same coach builders responsible for the OSCA 1600 GT Berlinetta. De Tomaso’s racing pedigree was clear with the way the cars were made, consisting of independent suspensions all-around, rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes. The chassis was steel with a stressed subframe at the rear. The most striking feature, however, was the mid-mounted 1.5-litre Kent 4-cylinder engine sourced from Ford. This engine acted as a stressed chassis member, a technique first popularized by Colin Chapman in his Lotus racing cars. The engine was good for 104hp which meant that the 726kg car was a quick machine.
The initial idea behind the Vallelunga prototype had been to attract a major carmaker to take up the project. Eventually, this did not happen and De Tomaso took it upon themselves to build the cars. Carrozzeria Ghia was assigned production duties and a run of 50 cars was completed by 1965/66. The Giorgetto Giugiaro styling of the glass fibre bodywork was typically Italian and bore a passing resemblance to Ferraris of the era. There were some styling differences between the prototypes and the production models, most notable of which was the glass engine bay covers of the final cars.
While the De Tomaso Vallelunga did have some flaws, this car is noteworthy nevertheless. The primary reason behind this is that a heavily reworked version of the Vallenluga’s chassis was used in its successor, the De Tomaso Mangusta. The Mangusta went on to become an Italian supercar legend that cemented De Tomaso’s position as a maker of competent fast cars. The Vallelunga is also a great study in how racing teams from the heydeys of motorsport successfully transitioned into making road cars with varying degrees of success. This particular 1967 example of the De Tomaso Vallelunga Berlinetta will be up for sale at this year’s Bonhams Padua Sale.