Peter Anderson | Jul 11, 2012

Italian luxury and supercar maker De Tomaso has run out of money again - but this time will probably be the last.

Founded in Modena in 1959 by Argentine Alejandro de Tomaso, the company began by building prototypes and race cars, one of which later - in 1970 - included Sir Frank Williams' first attempt at Formula 1.

De Tomaso is most famous however for the impressive Pantera. Designed by Ghia's Tom Tjaarda, the handsome Ford V8-powered supercar did well in the US, being sold in a number of Ford and Lincoln dealerships.

One of the almost 7000 Panteras sold there was registered to one E. Presley, a bright yellow example now on display at Graceland. Complete with bullet holes.

The Pantera replaced the Mangusta, a 1966 creation that was the first De Tomaso to use Ford engines. It also had an aluminium body, a rarity at the time.

The Mangusta's design was one of several by Ghia, a company controlled by De Tomaso until 1970 before being sold on to Ford.

After a few years however, quality problems began to dog its products and the brand went into terminal decline in North America - its key market.

Among its line of sportscars, De Tomaso also produced luxury cars. The 1971 Deauville, another Tjaarda design, was intended to take on Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz.

The car did not do well, as the quality of the V8 sedan was found wanting by its customers.

The Deauville was spun off into the more successful Longchamp coupe. The Longchamp was shorter and re-clothed with another, substantially different, Tjaarda-designed two door body.

de Tomaso himself was an ambitious man. In 1976, he somehow persuaded the Italian government to finance the purchase of Maserati. Citroen had announced it couldn't support the marque any longer and the company's ownership returned to Italy.

The first De Tomaso Maserati, the Kyalami, was a redesigned De Tomaso Longchamp coupe that lasted until 1983 before being replaced by the Biturbo. As with De Tomaso-badged cars, quality was a problem.

A year before the Maserati purchase, the Innocenti brand became part of the de Tomaso empire.

The Innocenti Mini de Tomaso was a go faster Mini, initially with a 1275 under the bonnet before a 1.0 litre turbo-charged triple replaced it in 1982, along with new Bertone sheetmetal.

After the batterings of financial problems, bust-ups with partners (Qvale, UAZ, MG Rover) and a rapidly shrinking portfolio - Maserati, Innocenti, Moto Guzzi were all gone by the mid-nineties - the company went into liquidation in 2004.

Being Italian, they kept producing cars anyway, while run by court-appointed liquidators.

In 2009, Gian Mario Rossignolo bought the brand after the courts ran out of patience and a business plan as ambitious as any dreamt up by its now-dead founder was put forward - 8000 cars per year.

It never happened, and De Tomaso is going to that great hall in the automotive sky of things we loved, but wouldn't dare own.

It's unlikely the beleagured Italian government will bail out the company again, so this is probably the end of De Tomaso as we know it.

The end for a brand that tried so hard, for so long.

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