Last revised: 26-1-2009

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Car of the Month - December 2006

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DeTomaso Sport 5000 70P - spider body by Fantuzzi - manufactured in 1965

Not a very well-known car but still a myth to anyone who has ever owned the classic "King Cobra" slot racer kit by Tamiya from the late 1960s. It was this kit that linked this Italian group 9 racing prototype to Caroll Shelby, though actually he had little to do with it.
Carroll Shelby's team had created a racing car named King Cobra in the early 1960s as a replacement for the famous AC Shelby Cobra. This was however a British Cooper Monaco chassis matched to a 289 cid Ford V8. It appeared in 1963 and was raced by Dan Gurney among others and some of these small open 2-seaters were finished in blue racing colors. In 1964 a special version of this King Cobra was introduced as the Lang-Cooper, which had a redesigned body by Shelby-engineer Peter Brock offering better aerodynamics. It was this car which started the confusion.
Around the same time in Italy the small racing car company of Argentinean Alejandro de Tomaso was looking into entering sportscar racing. After constructing a few unsuccessful sportscars for hill climb-racing he had set his sights on the more important FIA Group 9 circuit racing class. A contact was made with Peter Brock, who supplied a design very similar to that of the Lang-Cooper. Somewhere along the line some suggestion had been raised that Caroll Shelby was interested in the project and intended to order a number of these cars, but this never happened and by 1965 Peter Brock had left the Shelby American outfit.
DeTomaso constructed a rigid backbone chassis with a tuned Ford 289 cid V8 engine placed in the middle, acting as a stressed member of the chassis. The striking Brock-designed aluminum body which was fitted on this chassis was made by Fantuzzi, a company famous for making bodies for the Maserati brothers, and featured a remarkable low-slung shape with large air-intakes behind the seats and an adjustable rear wing. In 1965 the resulting prototype racer was shown at the Turin Motor Show as the Ghia-DeTomaso Sport 5000. Apparently the Ghia name was added because this coach building company had supplied part of the funds for developing the car. The Sport 5000, internally known as model 70P, was named after its 5-litre engine with light alloy cylinder heads, pistons and connecting rods and claimed to produce up to 475 hp @ 7300 rpm.
This prototype attracted a lot of attention at the show and subsequently both DeTomaso and Peter Brock expected the car to do well. Brock established himself as the sole dealer for the US and set out to enter the car in the non-prototype GT class. To make this possible it was necessary to make it street legal and to produce 50 cars for homologation. Brock didn't consider this a problem and so the body was revised in 1966 to incorporate doors, lights, windscreen and other items needed to make it road worthy. The original sportscar body was retained however, without a chassis. Unfortunately nothing ever came of these production plans. The last of the Sport 5000 was heard in 1967, when one appeared on the entry list of the Monza 1000 km race in Italy, but this car never showed up.

This would have been a lackluster end for the Sport 5000 if it weren't for two separate events. First, in Italy, the chassis design (including the Ford V8) of the Sport 5000 was used for what can be considered as DeTomaso's first real production car: the Mangusta, which established DeTomaso as an high performance car builder at 402 units manufactured. It was first shown in 1966 and named after the only animal which eats Cobras...
Later, in Japan, Tamiya introduced a 1/24 kit of a racing car named King Cobra. It showed artwork of a blue colored Sport 5000 on the box and the model itself had a chromed license plate which read "Ghia DeTomaso Sport 5000". It seems like the Japanese firm had somewhere confused a blue Shelby King Cobra with the slightly similar DeTomaso Sport 5000, which had only appeared in red paintwork. Later some story was fabricated that the Sport 5000 had been shipped to Japan and had raced in local sportscar races in a blue color scheme sponsored by Tamiya, but there is no truth in this. Never the less a lot of these kits were sold, and as a result many people still think that the Sport 5000 was a King Cobra.
In reality, only one Sport 5000 chassis was ever made, which had been fitted with two different bodies. The original sportscar body from the 1965 Turin Motor Show is what you see above, which has been fitted on a different chassis. The GT-version still exists as well, fitted on the original chassis, and so there are two DeTomaso Sport 5000 cars in the world, adding to the confusion involving this wonderful car.
You can find more pictures and info about DeTomaso cars at the De Tomaso Registry site.

© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland

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