Very few car enthusiasts are aware that De Tomaso produced a Formula One car.  I like to believe that in an alternate quantum reality, this car overcame its initial problems and found its footing — giving birth to a new and exciting marque in Grand Prix racing.  Sadly, our reality took a different turn, leaving us to wonder what might have been…

 

In 1969, Frank Williams was competing in Formula One with a privately-entered Brabham.  His driver was the immensely talented Piers Courage, who sported a silver helmet with angled, black slashes down the center.  This combination enjoyed a modest amount of success, taking second place at both Monaco and Watkins Glen that year.  But for 1970, the team embarked on an entirely different path; fielding new, Cosworth-powered cars built by Alejandro De Tomaso. The Italian-based, Argentine constructor did not dive into open-wheel racing on a whim.  A 1969 Formula Two program had been conducted as a prelude to the Formula One effort.  In addition, De Tomaso had competed at several Grands Prix in the early sixties.  And so, the die was cast. Gianpaolo Dallara would pen the car, and Courage would stay on to drive (“De Tomaso”).

 

The car became known as the De Tomaso Tipo 505.  Like many Formula One entries of the day, it was powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV V8 — an engine that would go on to be the most successful powerplant in Grand Prix history.  At the time of the factory roll-out, the 505 wore no livery at all.  But eventually, it adopted the same striking scheme as its Formula Two predecessor: All-red bodywork with a double-blue and white stripe down the middle (a reference to the De Tomaso logo). Like the De Tomaso production cars, the 505 was a clean, simple design — the trapezoidal section of the monocoque giving way to the wrap-around cockpit enclosure.  The Frank Williams logo sat just above the numbers on the side — the only real outward indication of the team fielding this creation.  Deep, gold wheels completed the package; one that looked ready to take on the likes of Ferrari and Lotus.

 

Unfortunately, looks turned out to be deceiving. The 505 was overweight, and Courage struggled to qualify well. The car also proved unreliable — failing to finish in South Africa, failing to start at Jarama, and not even classified at Monaco (“De Tomaso”).   Despite these dismal outings, the team placed third in the BRDC International Trophy — an event mixing Formula One regulars with Formula 5000 entries (“Piers Courage”).  After another retirement in Belgium, they arrived in Holland for the Dutch Grand Prix. The race was set amongst the sand dunes at Zandvoort — a tricky course that demanded speed, precision and good handling.  So it was encouraging that Piers was able to put the De Tomaso ninth on the grid.  And when the flag dropped, he was able to run with the likes of Lotus and Matra — proving that the qualifying performance was no fluke.  For a brief moment, we were given a tantalizing glimpse of what may lie in store for the 505.  Then came lap 23.  Courage was negotiating the “Tunnel Oost” when his front end suffered some sort of mechanical failure. The red car hurtled off the track, broke apart and burst into flames.  Magnesium had been used in the chassis and suspension to lighten the 505.  This proved a fatal choice.  The fire burned so intensely that nearby trees and bushes were set alight  (“Piers Courage”).  It soon became clear that Courage stood no chance of survival.

 

The team soldiered on for the remaining races of 1970, but failed to finish a single Grand Prix.  The following year, Frank Williams switched to the March chassis, and the De Tomaso Formula One effort came to an end.  The car that Courage perished in was obviously a write-off.  But a sister car, chassis 505-381, survives.  After sitting for 30 years, it was restored by Hall & Hall and subsequently driven at the Goodwood Festival of Speed (“1970 De Tomaso 505 F1 Cosworth”).  This rare car stands as a reminder of an unlikely partnership.  One that dared to take on the established Formula One teams — and if not for a tragic twist of fate, one which may have eventually succeeded…

 

“1970 De Tomaso 505 F1 Cosworth”  Ultimatecarpage.com.  16 Nov 2009.  Web.  6 Jan 2012.

“Piers Courage”  Wikipedia.  13 Dec 2011.  Web.  6 Jan 2012.

“De Tomaso”  Wikipedia.  24 Nov 2011.  Web.  6 Jan 2012.

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