De Tomaso P72
Meet “Isabelle” and discover one of the greatest love stories in the automotive history.
The untold story of Isabelle Haskell marks the start of De Tomaso’s legacy. It is the story of a great romance between Alejandro de Tomaso and his soulmate and business partner, who defied expectations from friends, family, and foes, forging her path and pursuing her passion for racing. Being both a female racing driver and a powerful businesswoman, Isabelle was a pioneer for her era and now, after 60 years the rebirth of De Tomaso starts with a homage to Isabelle through the hypercar P72.
Isabelle Haskell is the second youngest of five children born to a sometime racer and US motor industry veteran, Amory Haskell, and his wife Annette. Throughout her life, Isabelle defied expectations from friends, family, and foes, forging her path and pursuing her passion for racing both in America and Europe. Many people depicted her as Amelia Earhart of the automotive world.
The Haskell family was wealthy and well-connected and Isabelle enjoyed a privileged upbringing with her siblings. Besides being a sometime racer and US motor industry veteran, her father’s real passion was horse racing. Her mother Annette, who was killed in a car accident in 1946, is often credited with bringing the passion for thoroughbreds into the Haskell home. Isabelle was even presented as a debutante at Tuxedo Park, New York, in October 1948.
By the early 1950s, Isabelle’s attention turned from horses to horsepower. At first, at the age of 21, she was happy with driving her British MG TD on the road. She got into cars and motorsport through her friend Daphne’s elder brother, Dean Bedford, on whom she had a major crush.
Her father who was an executive at General Motors did not approve racing, but Isabelle decided to begin racing with an imported Siata 300BC sports model in 1953 when encouraged by her employers in Florida. There was a worry in the family that the tragedy that took her mother’s life will repeat itself.
It was in this Siata 300BC car that she scored her first significant results in the US championships in 1953, being only 23 years old.
In 1955, Isabelle changed to another Italian car, a Maserati 150S, and drove at the prestigious Nassau Speed Week in the Bahamas alongside international stars such as Mike Hawthorn and Stirling Moss. Being competitive and proud, she rejected to enter the ladies’ races and decided to race in the main draw, finishing 21st in the Nassau Trophy.
Later on, she became the first woman to race at Sebring in that year’s 12 Hours, yet she was extremely frustrated by being forced to continuously race against other women.
With a heart filled with eagerness to prove to her father that she can be a great race driver, Isabelle was ready to take the next step in her racing career.
Given the fact that the motorsport authorities in Europe were still more positive about female participation than in the US, Isabelle acquired a British racing license and decided to try her luck in Europe. She had developed a preference for longer endurance races.
“No, I am certainly not a pioneer. I was someone who simply wanted to race,” – Isabelle said.
The first international success came in 1956 at the Buenos Aires 12 Hours race in Argentina, where she and Carlos Lostalo came seventh in the Maserati. But this event was very special for another reason as well.
Buenos Aires was the place where Isabelle first met her future husband, Alejandro de Tomaso. He was a racing driver and businessman from Buenos Aires, born in Argentina into a politically prominent family in 10 July 1928.
In his late twenties in 1955, after being implicated in a plot to overthrow the Argentinian president, Juan Perón, the young Alejandro fled to Italy and eventually settled in Modena.
Similar to Isabelle, Alejandro also shared the passion for racing, the couple even ran together at Sebring in Alejandro’s Maserati. During his racing career, Alejandro participated in two Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, debuting on 13 January 1957, but he scored no championship points.
Their relationship was a true love story, a great romance between Alejandro and his soulmate, and later business partner, but as in many relationships, the brightness came after a dark period.
In 1956, Isabelle entered the Rheims 12 Hours race with her teammate, the female French driver, Annie Bousquet. They were sharing a Porsche 550, however, Annie lost control over the car, crashed, and died shortly afterward at the local hospital.
The accident triggered the organisers of the Le Mans 24 Hours race, the Automotive Club de l’Ouest to ban all female drivers from competing. This decision was in place until 1971.
In 1957, Isabelle and Alejandro got married in a Palm Beach ceremony. The same year she decided to put her sadness behind and entered a new phase of her racing career. Isabelle and Alejandro became teammates, following a game of will-they-won’t-they with an interested US press. One of their greatest finishes was sixth place at Alejandro’s home event in Buenos Aires with their 750cc Osca and they also won the Index of Performance at Sebring in Florida.
Isabelle loved a good competition. She and Alejandro often argued who drove better and faster. She never considered gender as a factor, in her competitive mindset all she cared about was racing.
The year 1959 was a life-altering year for Isabelle when she applied to enter Le Mans with her husband, but her entry was refused. The French authorities were keen to avoid adverse publicity even three years after the devastating accident of Annie Bousquet.
For a short period, Isabelle continued to race in Europe, for example finishing second at the Spa Grand Prix driving the Osca S1500. However, by the end of the year, she decided to retire from racing.
In 1959, Isabelle and Alejandro founded the Italian sports car company, De Tomaso in Modena, originally to build prototypes and single-seater racing cars, including a Formula One car for Frank Williams’ team in 1970.
Being both a female racing driver and a powerful businesswoman, Isabelle was a pioneer in her era. Nothing proves this better than the fact that the company De Tomaso turned its focus on high-performance sports cars, most of which used aluminium backbone chassis, which were to become the company’s technical trademark.
Isabelle was involved with the design and was responsible for the idea and name behind De Tomaso’s two performance saloons of the 1970s, the Longchamp and the Deauville. Both are named after French race courses; by this time she was the owner of a string of French racehorses.
In parallel to car making, she also began breeding horses. In 1969, she bought the horse whose DNA, nearly five decades later, would produce Irish War Cry, a multiple Graded stakes-winning American Thoroughbred racehorse, noted for winning the Wood Memorial Stakes, Pimlico Special Handicap and finishing second in the 2017 Belmont Stakes. .
Going back in time, the De Tomaso automotive brand produced some of the world’s first mid-engine road cars, such as the widely recognized and most popular model Pantera, a choice of celebrities such as Elvis Presley. The name in Italian stands for “Panther”; this car was in production for over twenty years from 1971 to 1992.
De Tomaso cars also include the two-door, mid-engined Vallelunga and Mangusta; the Deauville, a four-door saloon resembling the Jaguar XJ6; and the Longchamp, a two-door coupé version of the Deauville which later formed the basis of the Maserati Kyalami. De Tomaso’s latest product was the Guarà, a two-door sports car with a carbon fibre bodyshell.
During the 1960s and 1970s, de Tomaso acquired several Italian industrial holdings. As well as the Ghia and Vignale coachbuilding studios, he earned control of the Benelli and Moto Guzzi motorcycle firms, the Innocenti car company (founded as an offshoot of the British Motor Corporation to build Minis in Italy), and, in 1975, the celebrated sports car maker Maserati, which he rescued from bankruptcy with the assistance of the Italian government. Over time, however, he sold many of his holdings; Ghia was sold to Ford (who would make much use of the name) in 1973; Innocenti and Maserati were sold to Fiat (which closed the former) in 1993.
In 1993, Alejandro died of heart failure and the day-to-day running of the De Tomaso company passed on to his son Santiago. He helped in the engineering of the sports version of the fourth generation Daihatsu Charade, introduced in 1994, which was known as the Daihatsu Charade De Tomaso.
The family sold the auto company in 2004 and the De Tomaso brand has been dormant. The spirit, however, has lived on, thanks to the passionate international owners’ clubs.
With the death of its founder Alejandro and the fact that Isabelle eventually returned to the States, the De Tomaso brand seemingly closed its doors forever.
Five years after re-acquiring the brand in 2014 by the same team who created the Apollo IE, the announcement shook up the world in 2019. The legendary brand, De Tomaso, officially returned for its 60th Anniversary, with their “Modern-Day Time Machine” the P72. The P72 is a tribute to the original P70.
The rebirth of the De Tomaso brand started with a true dedication to both Alejandro and his beloved wife.
When the new investors acquired the brand in 2014, a challenge arose since reviving a brand with a new product whilst being loyal to its heritage is not an easy task. It goes without saying that De Tomaso is a special brand, a misunderstood brand with an incredible story that was never told. Therefore, the new owners of De Tomaso had to ask themselves, how do they want to embark on this initiative.
“We took our time, we digested, we read, we studied. We learned more and more about Alejandro and the incredible achievements that he had attained. In reality, when most people hear the word De Tomaso, the only thing that comes to mind is the Pantera. This is a true icon and the most successful car of the brand. However, our approach is not solely product-driven, it is driven by history and the brand,” – Norman Choi, Chairman of De Tomaso.
The most obvious choice would have been to utilise the brand’s most famous model and to create a modern rendition of the iconic Pantera. Like many reborn brands do in the automotive industry today, simply making a grandiose entrance with claims of high production numbers. Yet, De Tomaso decided to take a different approach.
The new goal was the story to provide the brand the justice it deserves. That is, to finally tell Alejandro’s story and his journey.
Creating a modern-day homage to one of their favourite eras, the prototype days of the 60’s, De Tomaso announced the new P72, a car that evokes the spirit of Alejandro de Tomaso, the brand, and the eras that this car represents.
In order to pay proper homage to Isabelle, the company has not only named their new P72 homologation prototype after her but has also created a short film titled, Meet ‘Isabelle’. The P72 not only takes the spirit of Italy, Argentina, and America but honours Isabelle’s spirit as well and recognizes her role in their automotive history.
Thanks to its timeless shape and unspeakable elegance, the P72 is a true modern-day time machine with a glimpse into our future that will provide a grand touring experience, making you feel as if you are back in the 1960s. The P72 is a modern ode to the past.
“A similar way the Pantera created a new category when it debuted in 1970, the P72 will create a new benchmark of its own. We have created a modern-day time machine that pays homage to an integral part of history and a car with its own provenance,” – Ryan Berris, De Tomaso General Manager and CMO.
Immersing deeper in its shape, the P72’s evolutionary design focuses on timeless beauty and proportions of the 60’s Le Mans prototype vehicles into the modern era. It is obvious that the design was inspired from the early 60s of the racing prototype era vehicles, the sport 1000, sport 2000, and P70, some of the initial cars that were developed by De Tomaso.
With a continuous flow of all surfaces, beautifully bold lines, emphasised powerful wheel arches, low nose, and teardrop glasshouse architecture, the result is a car of perfect proportions.
The P72 design language is set to stand the test of time with flawless attention to detail, combined with the most advanced engineering execution.
“We intentionally incorporated a distinctive aerodynamically optimized body for performance and to modernize the aesthetics, while the classic wing mirrors and front emblem cap pays homage to the P70,” – Jowyn Wong, P72 designer and founder of Wyn Design explained.
The P72 is a collaboration between De Tomaso and Wyn Design. Yet, the concept reaches back again to the rich history of De Tomaso.
“Beneath the surface, the interior showcases an elaborated combination of design and exotic materials. Polished copper and diamond pattern detailing adorn the cabin, fashioning a true sense of drama and occasion. The classically designed switchgear and circular analogue display dials take inspiration from the timeless design themes of the 60s and 70s era,” – Jowyn Wong, P72 designer and founder of Wyn Design explained.
Since the new owners of De Tomaso decided to invest the necessary time and energy to studies, endless research both on and offline and speaking to those still around from the brand’s past, a fascinating and untold piece of De Tomaso and Automotive history surfaced. This was a collaboration between Alejandro de Tomaso and Carroll Shelby, an American automotive designer, racing driver, and entrepreneur, best known for his involvement with the AC Cobra and Mustang for Ford Motor Company.
It is during this time that they discovered “P. By P”, meaning “Prototipi” which in the history of De Tomaso references back to a special period and a special project. A project for which most have no idea ever existed. Also, at the time when the brand was acquired the new ownership was unaware that this prototype period was part of the De Tomaso heritage.
The understanding was that Shelby would provide the financing, Alejandro would engineer the car and Peter Brock would provide the design and the fabrication would be conducted by Fantuzzi.
The collaboration began in the hopes that De Tomaso would provide the chassis and convert Shelby’s 289 Ford/Cobra engine to 7 litres. The conversion of the engine to 7 litres was a key part of their partnership to compete with the big block Chevrolet engines. The Shelby-De Tomaso “Prototipi” was known as the ‘P70’ due to its planned 7 litre engine.
“In 1964 the unlikely pairing of Carroll Shelby and Alejandro de Tomaso, two of the strongest egos in international motorsport, conspired to build a car they felt could defeat the best in the world, they created the P70,” – remembers back Peter Brock, designer of Shelby Daytona Coupe, Corvette Stingray and the original P70.
Carroll Shelby and Alejandro de Tomaso were both strong personalities and the two naturally experienced some tension. This began to increase once Carroll Shelby sent his designer, Peter Brock, to Modena to oversee the project. Alejandro was insulted that someone questions his abilities, and this is when the relationship began to slowly dissipate.
Throughout the project, the combination of two titans and ulterior motives led to the dissolving of the relationship on the eve of the car’s completion. Shelby withdrew from the project as he was being courted to turn his focus to the Ford GT40 race program and was displeased with the fact that he still had not seen his promised 7 litre engine.
This parting of ways left the pressure on Alejandro’s shoulder who would then see the project through to completion with the assistance of coach-builder Ghia, a company he would later acquire. The vehicle was displayed at the Turin Motor Show in 1965, and renamed the ‘Ghia-De Tomaso Sport 5000’.
Re-discovering this project, De Tomaso approached Peter Brock to work together again to recreate a homage to the iconic P70 car, the one that Peter personally designed.
“When I was told this new De Tomaso is an “homage” to my P70 Sports racer I was honored. I had no idea my concept from the mid ‘60s would in any way be influential to a car being presented today. My first impressions of the new DeTomaso are all so positive I hardly know where to begin. The exterior form is so well done it invites you to keep walking around, admiring every subtle detail. In this day of modern super GT’s it’s difficult to stand out for more than a short time. With its design, engineering and technical specifications I think this De Tomaso P72 will set a new standard,” – says Peter Brock.
As Peter Brock said “The only thing that really determines success in the world of design is time. Every great car creates its own success by the acceptance of time.”
While the car is breathtakingly beautiful and it is priced much lower than most hypercars, there is a piece of bad news as well. The P72 will remain highly exclusive and only 72 cars will be produced.
The P72 marks the first chapter in De Tomaso’s future initiative. A pioneer brand that has a unique past, an exciting present, and a bright future in the automotive industry.
As for Isabelle, later in life, her interests leaned back towards horses, continuing the rich horse-racing family lineage and a passion cultivated so dearly by her father. She and her sister, Hope Haskell Jones established a successful breeding line of racehorses in Maryland, and she also breeds prizewinning Cocker Spaniel dogs.
It is an interesting twist in life, that the once “rebel girl” returned to the family heritage, following the legacy of Amory Haskell, a legendary figure in New Jersey horse racing who built Monmouth Park and was the president of its Jockey Club until he died in 1966.
The Haskell family also has their namesake race, the Haskell Invitational (named after her father), which boasts a million-dollar purse and is the premier horse race of New Jersey.
Isabelle Haskell proved her great courage and bravery not just in the world of automotive history as a trail-blazing race driver and visionary car designer, but she also put her mark as a horse racing heiress. She is a great role model proving that one can always define the odds if the passion and persistence are stronger enough than the voices of the “naysayers”.