1965 De Tomaso P70/5000 Sport

The newly revived De Tomaso brand cites this car as its inspiration: the 5000 sport, or P70, or 70P… Story by Richard Heseltine.

The latest De Tomaso marque revival has been met with much hoopla, but also some mudslinging from forum dwellers. Many of the insults hurled in the direction of the new De Tomaso P72 surround its alleged inspiration. Its makers insist it borrows design cues from the ill-starred P70 seen here, others that it bears a resemblance to the Pininfarina Ferrari P4/5 (itself a modernist take on the P4 sports-prototypes of old).

1965 De Tomaso P70/5000 Sport

The thing is, the P70 isn’t exactly immune from controversy itself. It doesn’t help that the two men central to the narrative weren’t above ‘embellishing’ the truth as they saw fit. Carroll Shelby, the PT Barnum of car manufacturers, and the ever-contrary Alessandro De Tomaso collaborated on the project, and it didn’t end well. That said, the real brains behind the car was Peter Brock, a talented designer and race team patron who resumé includes the Shelby Daytona Coupe. What became the P70 was conceived as a weapon to compete in the 1965 USRRC series (renamed Can-Am a year later). Shelby American needed a new car in order to remain a frontrunner, and teamed up with De Tomaso, who had already pitched a new backbone chassis and lightweight V8 engine. Plans called for five cars to be made, with Brock responsible for shaping the car. Helpfully, he already had a quarter-scale model on the stocks.

Things got off to a bad start when De Tomaso ignored Brock’s brief and did his own thing. Shelby was unhappy and dispatched Brock to Italy to take charge of the project. He had neglected to tell his designer that De Tomaso had rejected his design. Predictably, he wasn’t met with much in the way of warmth on arrival. Nevertheless, Brock pressed on, forging a close relationship with the artisans at Carrozzeria Fantuzzi to realise his vision. Work on De Tomaso’s 7.0-litre engine had fallen behind schedule, although it had reached the dyno-testing stage. Then Shelby abruptly called time on the project. At this juncture, one car was nearing competition and awaiting paint, while a second chassis had also been fabricated.

De Tomaso had by now acquired Ghia, and the completed prototype was displayed on the coachbuilder’s stand at the 1965 Turin Motor Show. It was now rechristened ‘Ghia De Tomaso Sport 5000’, even though the historic carrozzeria had zero input in the design or construction of the car. This example still exists and is referred to in most marque histories as the P70 (or sometimes 70P). Just to add to confusion, the second chassis was later built up into a complete car and has historically been known only as the Sport 5000.

Long-time De Tomaso ally Roberto Bussilino drove it with Ford small-block power in the 1966 Mugello Grand Prix. He was the first retirement, the car failing to complete a lap. And that was the end of that. De Tomaso later built V8s for Colin Chapman for a proposed Can-Am project (three engines were made, but they lacked horsepower). He also commissioned Giampaolo Dallara to design a De Tomaso Can-Am car to be powered by an own-brand V12, but it remained only a model. As for the vexed question of whether or not the P70/70P/Sport 5000/whatever inspired the P72, that rather depends on your aesthetic sensibilities.

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