De Tomaso Deauville: a match for Jaguar

Published on Thursday, November 28, 2019.
Updated on Friday, December 13, 2019.

De Tomaso is not a well-known manufacturer beyond a circle of insiders, and the Deauville sedan even less so.  It was however the symbol of Alejandro de Tomaso’s renewed ambition at the beginning of the 70s. With the support of his powerful shareholder, the American giant Ford, the small Italian car maker, which until then had only produced the Mangusta in very small numbers, decided to go on the offensive.  In 1970 it introduced two models: the Pantera, a sports car, and the Deauville, a roomy sedan, both equipped with a large V8 from Dearborn. The Deauville aimed to fit the Italian market left empty by the defunct Maserati Quattroporte and to compete head to head with the newly introduced Jaguar XJ in Europe and the USA.

At the end of the 60s, the stars aligned for Alejandro de Tomaso.  After defeating Ferrari at Le Mans, Ford hoped to put the nail in Ferrari’s coffin by acquiring 80% of De Tomaso in 1969.  The objective was clear: compete with Ferrari in the high performance road car segment. Henry Ford II was still feeling the sting of the humiliation that Ferrari made him suffer when he refused to accept Ford’s takeover bid in 1963.  So Lee Iacocca went to work to befriend the ambitious Argentinian.

The Deauville in front of the Jaguar XJ

With this new technical support and fresh money in the coffers, Alejandro launched two ambitious projects: the Pantera and the Deauville.  Smart as a whip, de Tomaso had noticed the unrivalled success of the Jaguar XJ. The Maserati Quattroporte was just bowing out, after the abandonment by Citroën, leaving the field wide open for another large, powerful and luxurious Italian sedan.

De Tomaso entrusted the stylist Tom Tjaarda, at Ghia at the time (a subsidiary of De Tomaso since 1967), with the task of designing the new rival to the Jaguar XJ with a clear goal in mind: get as close as possible to the recipe of the English feline.  The designer found inspiration in the Jag, all the while maintaining a more massive and muscular styling. While the XJ still only offered 6 cylinders (the V12 wouldn’t arrive until 1972), the Deauville offered the power and smoothness of an American V8, with its 5.7 litre displacement and its 330 hp.

A big sedan with an American V8

Four wheel independent suspension, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, a front stabiliser bar, disc brakes all around: the Deauville offered sufficient comfort to drive at 230 km / h on any Italian or European highway and it surprised the journalists who come out to discover and admire it.  Presented at the Turin Motor Show, its success was immediate and unanimous with its luxurious and warm interior, largely inspired by the Coventry sedan. It seemed destined to have a bright future, especially through Ford’s distribution network, as with the Pantera. De Tomaso seemed to be looking at a very bright future.

But the best laid plans do not always come to fruition.  Despite the Deauville’s seductive design, its was priced 50% more expensive than the Jaguar XJ6.  Furthermore, by 1972 the Jaguar went up in range by proposing a powerful V12 under the hood. Launched commercially in 1971, its sales were catastrophically dismal.  Meanwhile Ford, tired of the disappointing performance of its Italian subsidiary and probably trembling due to the affects of the first oil embargo in 1973, sold its De Tomaso shares back to its Argentinian founder in 1974 for a pittance, retaining all the same the two design subsidiaries, Vignale and Ghia.  Ironically, Ford would eventually end up buying Jaguar in 1989…

Make the Deauville profitable

To amortise the capital cost and to diversify its product range, De Tomaso derived from the Deauville a 2-door coupe, also decked out with a French name synonymous with luxury, the Longchamp.  In 1974, Maserati reentered the market by launching the Quattroporte II. The face off between the two didn’t last for long as De Tomaso, taking advantage of the collapse of Citroën, bought control of Maserati with the help of the Italian state in 1976.  Even as a failure, the Deauville remained in production offering up its chassis to a new Maserati: the Quattroporte III. The Longchamp gave birth to the Maserati Kyalami. De Tomaso became the king of chassis design recycling.

With the launch by BMW of its 7 series (E23) in 1977, the hopes of conquering the European market were definitely buried but De Tomaso did not give up so easily the production of a large sedan … It continued its long career all the way until 1988, attracting here and there celebrities like the Belgian King Baudoin, for an armoured version.  Despite a production run spanning all of 17 years in total, only 244 units came out of the De Tomaso factory, including a unique Deauville Estate made in 1985 for Alejandro de Tomaso’s wife Isabella.

Today, despite their rarity, Deauville are relatively affordable and allow access to luxury and exclusivity without the usual worries that tend to come with Italian cars from that era: their Ford motors and drive trains are simple and easy to maintain thus affording swagger to those who want to to roll in style without breaking the bank.  With its stunning look, so typical of the 1970s (especially the first series), the Deauville is the ideal sedan for those who wish a little eccentricity.


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