DE TOMASO SPORT5000
De Tomaso Sport 5000 Race car Prototype
This beautiful SportsRacer was the brain child of Carol Shelby and Peter Brock and is well documented in the Shelby directory under the name of Original King Cobra. Original design (the P70) was featured on the cover and in an article of the March 1966 issue of Road && Track magazine. The article referred to the new design as the “Ghia De Tomaso “, a brand new racing car that was unveiled in the fall of 1965 at that year ‘s Turin Motor Show. The author of the article revealed an ambitious racing program in Europe as well as in the newly created Can-Am Challenge. At least ten cars were planned to be produced with the prospect of another forty were planned for later in order that it could meet the FIA ‘s homologation requirements for it to qualify in the the GT-class. Despite all the good intentions this was the last the world ever saw of the V8 engined DeTomaso racer and this, the lone prototype was quietly retired to a corner of the factory where it would remain until de Tomaso ‘s death a decade ago in 2004.
How this secretive vehicle came to be is no mystery. With massive involvement from Carroll Shelby and his lead designer, the equally legendary Peter Brock, the design was both impossibly beautiful as well as carefully engineered to give unparalleled performance. Exactly how, why and when the deal between former racing driver turned manufacturer Alejandro de Tomaso and Carroll Shelby came about are just some of the mysteries surrounding this machine. The main concept can be dated to a design release from de Tomaso ‘s Modena based headquarters on February 23, 1963 in which he outlines a 2.0-liter, V8, mid-engined, backbone chassis design that would eventually evolve into both this 5.0-liter as well as an even more ambitious 7.0-liter machine by early 1965.
This Sport 5000 came to be in late 1964 when DeTomaso had just launched the Vallelunga road car with its unusual backbone chassis. While the design of the Vallelunga was sound and the vehicle itself an absolute beauty, the use of a hopelessly underpowered and diminutive four cylinder Ford engine as a stressed member gave the car only excellent handling but no real overall performance as a sports car or the potential as a racer.
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get more power out of the Vallelunga was to fit a compact and powerful American V8 engine. This is where Shelby and Brock entered the story as he supplied a competition version of the small-block Ford V8 mated to one of Brock ‘s most timeless design concepts. Many have guessed that Shelby believed this new V8 engined DeTomaso could be a possible replacement for the aging Cooper based King Cobras. In any case, Shelby and Brock certainly took the project seriously putting forth amazing effort and energy into both the 7.0-lite P70 and our subject vehicle here, the Sport 5000.
To accept the more powerful engine, De Tomaso made a variety of modifications to the design of the backbone chassis. Unlike the more familiar backbone chassis used by Lotus, the Italian variant did not have an Y-fork to support the engine and suspension. Well ahead of his time, De Tomaso used the engine as a fully stressed member. It left observers in period wondering what would happen to the engine and its internals once force was applied to it. Their worries were justified with the four-cylinder Ford engine but the HiPo 289 was a far more rigid and overall not that much heavier engine block. The reinforced back-bone chassis was also up to the task and mounted to it was suspension that followed a more familiar pattern with the exception of the rear mounting points; brackets on the clutch housing instead of somewhere on the chassis. The rolling chassis was exceptionally light due to its minimalistic design, which would later (in better executed form) would become the norm particularly for single seater racers.
Shelby tasked his prized designer Peter Brock to pen a roadster body for the new DeTomaso racing car the likes of which are absolutely pure Brock genius! The finished designs were sent to Italy to be turned into aluminium by local metal workers. As similar design for the P70 was also used to body the last of the King Cobras, known as the Lang Cooper. In January of 1965 De Tomaso took the wraps off the P70, which used a mock-up chassis and a poor interpretation of Brock ‘s design. Disappointed by the Italians ‘ work, Shelby sent Brock over to personally supervise the construction of a new body. Brock worked alongside Medardo Fantuzzi in the Fantuzzi workshop. The result was the completion of two similar but equally different low bodies, dominated by a large, moveable rear wing with both featuring full doors to make them elligible for GT-racing. After each was mated to their rolling chassis, they were publicly identified for the first time as the Sport 5000 and the P70. Our subject vehicle here, the Sport 5000 ‘s name was derived after its 5-litre engine with light alloy cylinder heads, pistons and connecting rods which along with four Weber carburetors, special cam, cam timing and ignition timing allowed the small-block Ford to produce up 475bhp at 7300rpms!
Some time later in 1965 Shelby withdrew his backing of these projects due to mounting pressure from Ford corporate officials. It is generally accepted that all his efforts were needed to turn the Ford GT40 into a Le Mans winner, which he duly did. With Shelby out of the picture, De Tomaso had to look for another backer. In coach builder Ghia he found an unlikely sponsor, which led to the car to be renamed to “Ghia DeTomaso ” before the Turin debut. The car was officially completed on September 3rd, 1965 when a formal “Certificato d ‘Origine (Certificate of Origin) was issued for deTomaso ‘s newest creation. This itself is one of the more interesting ironies surrounding this vehicle. The car was actually built and bodied by Fantuzzi but upon completion was adorned with Ghia body badges and they are still present to this day! The Ghia DeTomaso was shown again in February of 1966; probably the last time the car was shown in public. At the time of the Road && Track article Brock had left Shelby and set up his own design firm.
De Tomaso subsequently modified the existing design and fielded this car as the DeTomaso Sport 5000 in the the Mugello 500 km race. On the starting grid, the deTomaso easily pulled away from a Ferrari 250LM as a result of it ‘s significantly lower weight (800kgs/1,760lbs) and massive down force as a result of the “Brock ” designed adjustable rear wing.) Unfortunately the car was forced to retire in the opening laps with an electrical ground that shorted out the battery. It was the last time the public saw this exciting sports racer. The last time the public heard of the Sport 5000 was in 1967, when it appeared on the entry list for the 12 Hours of Sebring and then later at the 1000km Monza race in Italy, but in both cases the car never showed up and it remained quietly in storage collecting dust over the next 40 years.
Some good came from the project though as the backbone chassis and much of the running gear was later used for the beautiful DeTomaso Mangusta road car. Interestingly Magnusta is the only natural enemy to Cobra. As noted above, the Sport 5000 remained in storage at the deTomaso workshops and only resurfaced publicly after Alejandro de Tomaso ‘s death in 2004. One year later in 2005 deTomaso ‘s estate sold the car to Belgian Collector, Paul Grant who ran the car in several historic races before it was sold to a USA based enthusiast.
De Tomaso Sport 5000 Today:
Incredibly, nearly 50 years after being given its first public debut, the Sport 5000 remains remarkably well preserved as well as fully sorted and completely functional. The cars paint and livery are untouched as completed by Fantuzzi under Peter Brock ‘s watchful eye. The original HiPo 475bhp, 289 cubic-inch engine remains fitted, although freshly rebuilt and fully serviced. It is mated to the original deTomaso designed, Collati inspired 5-speed transaxle. The car is an absolute blast to drive with GT40 performance but significantly better visibility.
The Sport 5000 is likely without exception one of the most beautiful Italian-American hybrid SportsCar / SportsRacers to ever be completed. The authenticity and originality are without equal and there is not a chance in the world you will ever encounter another at any show, rally, race or tour entered.
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