De Tomaso Turns To The Digital World And ‘Time Machines,’ But Without Forgetting Its Past
Nostalgia is cheap, and reviving a historic sports and supercar company isn’t as easy as asking everyone to “Remember when?” The talented folks won’t be knocking on your office doors as the purchase orders are pouring in unless there is a genuine vision beyond lazily aping what used to be. It takes a kind of investment beyond a big stack of capital aimed at cashing in on the past successes of other people and betting on the tenuous power of rose-tinted glasses.
But eschewing the past altogether begs the question of why not just start something new in the first place? To bring a beloved name back to the fore is a balancing act that requires taking inspiration from the past to inform a future that continues the trajectory instead of just retracing it. Easier said than done, especially so for a company like De Tomaso, which hasn’t produced a car bearing its name since the early 2000s, and is infinitely and rightfully more famous for what it made in the 1960s and ’70s.
De Tomaso’s current Chairman, Norman Choi, and its CEO/CMO, Ryan Berris, started on the right foot with the announcement of the P72 supercar in 2019—which is getting ready for its 72-unit production run and deliveries in 2023—in the sense that it was a design inspired by De Tomaso’s early years, but not a lazy copy of anything that already exists. It’s easy to find homages to the era in the flowing bodywork penned by designer Jowyn Wong, but the car is not all that anachronistic looking amongst its contemporaries either. That same mixture of history and modernity is also translated below the surface, with the P72’s hypercar chassis—the platform is shared with the Apollo Intensa Emozione, also designed by Wong—housing a tried-and-true Ford V8, an all but De Tomaso tradition at this point.
Another of the company’s foundations is its ability to collaborate with high-profile designers, including but not limited to masters like Tom Tjaarda, Marcello Gandini, Giorgetto Giugiaro, and Peter Brock. Rather than copy-pasting the work of these luminaries, Choi and Berris have taken the harder but more authentic route of using the same philosophies that brought these designers to De Tomaso in the first place. As Berris puts it, “As our revival is rooted in history, our projects and initiatives are meant to pay tribute to our past, without being pastiche. Therefore, when thinking about how we could push the limits of design for the next era, it was clear the digital world was a new frontier we wanted to embark upon.”
The same open-mindedness that put De Tomaso’s greatest hits on the leading edge of design has pushed the revived company to look toward what’s next in that space. The digital space has long offered automotive designers and hopefuls the chance to realize what’s in their head without needing access to the massive resources required to build a real-world prototype or even a clay model, but the convergence between the virtual and the tangible has been noticeably accelerating of late thanks to the democratization of technologies like 3D pricing and virtual reality.
Enter Ash Thorp, De Tomaso’s recently appointed Designer and Digital Artist. His 15 years and counting in the design industry include an impressive concept art portfolio spanning Ghost in the Shell to the upcoming Batman film (to which Thorp contributed nothing less than the character’s new Batmobile), but besides his affinity for sci-fi and tech-laden cyberpunk-scapes, Thorp is a car enthusiast. He creates original automotive designs as well as his wildly modified takes on everything from McLaren F1s to Dodge Vipers to Mitsubishi Lancers. When he turned his attention to a Pantera earlier this year, he quickly got Choi’s and Berris’ attention. On the hunt for a designer that was comfortable in the digital space, they approached Thorp soon after seeing his take on the Pantera—the wide body, turbo fan-adorned “Tera”—and brought him aboard De Tomaso.
“To me De Tomaso represents all the things I admire about the soul of automotive creation. The drive to make something pure, the discipline to see it through, and the willpower to go up against the giants of the industry. It’s all extremely appealing, as I feel I have run a similar parallel journey during my entire career. There is some deep-seated alignment there,” Thorp says about embarking with De Tomaso. He will be leading design projects in both the digital and physical realms, including the forthcoming De Tomaso “Time Machines,” which are under wraps for the time being, but could potentially take the form of fresh takes on classic De Tomaso designs and stories. His first project with the company is The Paradigm Thread, the first part of a short film series that explores how today’s De Tomaso applies the tenets of the past as they chart out what’s to come.
De Tomaso’s history as an automaker has been characterized by collaboration and innovation from the outset. Many companies—car manufacturers and otherwise—purport to being guided by the same virtues in glossy magazine ads, but these typically vague proclamations actually have solid foundations in this case. The company was always and still is a low-volume David to the mass-produced Goliaths of the sports car world, but its cars and ideas have long helped to define the bleeding edge of engineering and design since the beginning; within three years of founding the company bearing his family name in 1959, Alejandro de Tomaso led a team that was responsible for one of the world’s first mid-engine production sports cars, the Vallelunga. The more well-known Mangusta and Pantera models that followed in its wake were innovations in their right, notable for combining Italian design excellence with the burgeoning high-output V8s produced in America’s motor city.
De Tomaso is continuing down that path in a literal sense by powering the P72 with a Ford motor, and its embrace of the digital art world—and Ash Thorp in particular—is also in keeping with the company’s tradition of teaming with and nurturing the most innovative designers in the automotive space. To view the full film and get more insight on De Tomaso’s vision from Norman Choi, Ryan Berris, and Ash Thorp, you can watch The Paradigm Thread, Parte 1 right here.