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From Argentina to Italy to Grand Prix racing



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Piers Courage


Frank Williams Racing De Tomaso-Cosworth 505/38




1970 South African GP


One of the strangest episodes in the history of the Williams team is the season it fielded a Dallara-designed De Tomaso. After a promising debut year in a customer Brabham the switch to the heavy Italian design was a fluke, and it eventually turned into disaster.

On its first outing at Kyalami the car lined up a poor 20th and from then on it was an up-and-down season for Courage and the Williams De Tomaso. The combo scored a fine 3rd at the International Trophy but a practice accident at Jarama barred Piers from race action. In the meantime, he was busy for Alfa in sportscars, winning the Buenos Aires 1000 Kms with Andrea De Adamich.

By the time the F1 circus reached Zandvoort the Williams crew seemed to have the De Tomaso working better, Piers putting it 9th on the grid. In the race Courage put up a great fight with Clay Regazzoni in the Ferrari and strolled away from John Miles' Lotus, but on the 23rd lap it all went terribly wrong when the car hit the infamous Tunnel Oost bump and - with apparently something having broken - ploughed straight on into a sandy banking, having cut through the catch fencing as if it wasn't there. Creating a bowl of sand dust, the car continued its perilous journey for hundreds of yards beyond Tunnel Oost before coming to a standstill. According to the witnessing marshals a wheel and Courage's helmet were the two objects rolling out of the cloud of dust before the car caught fire with Piers trapped inside. The talented young Englishman stood no chance of surviving in the ensuing inferno.

After the horrendous events at Zandvoort, Brian Redman and Tim Schenken shared driving duties but in a team still in the doldrums over Courage's untimely death the best Redman and Schenken managed between the two of them was a 17th qualifying spot at St. Jovite by the young Aussie. Remarkably, in all its 11 World Championship appearances the De Tomaso 505 never finished a race. Its farewell showing at the Glen was the last time a car by the name of De Tomaso appeared in the World Championship.

The marque was founded by Argentinian-born Alejandro De Tomaso (known in Italy as Alessandro) who came to Italy to try his luck as a racing driver. This didn't quite work out as he planned - his only GP outings being his 1957 home event for the Scuderia Centro Sud squad and the 1959 US GP on board of a Cooper-OSCA fielded by its engine supplier.

By then he had started out as a road car manufacturer, immediately doing serious business by taking over the likes of Maserati, Ghia and Vignale. His little factory produced hits like the Vallelunga - De Tomaso's first production car, launched in 1963 - and of course the Pantera, introduced in 1970, which went on to record the highest production figures for an Italian muscle car. Its design caught the eye of Henry Ford II, who took over the entire operation shortly after. It was one Ford's worst decisions ever, though, since the Pantera had more production flaws than dogs have fleas, costing the Blue Oval tons of warranty claims…

The Pantera design is still going strong, however, now posting as the Nuova Pantera. De Tomaso branched out to F1 on two occasions. In 1962 he penned the awful De Tomaso F1, which remained a backmarker's car throughout its three years of competition. The car only saw a couple of works outings and was mainly entered by two private Scuderias, Settecolli and Serenissima, that replaced the original OSCA engine with Ferrari and Alfa power. The 505 launched De Tomaso's second foray into F1. Again it was no success and further F1 attempts by the famous name were off schedule after it was taken over by Ford.