Time Passages — R.I.P. DeTomaso Modena

The deTomaso factory property in 1990; vital and vibrant, here glowing red with several of the company’s sports racing models, plus a street Vallelunga at right. A little Italian slice of automotive heaven.

The car I’m most identified with is my chrome yellow gold ’72 DeTomaso Pantera. I loved that car, and miss it a lot. Selling it was likely a mistake, but made sense at the time, although I can’t afford to repurchase it or a similar one now. But I’m pleased these cars have advanced in terms of enthusiast and market respect, value and desirability.

Hundreds of deTomasos gather at the factory for international meeting in 1990

We were crazy excited to see a redesigned and much developed Pantera in 1990; they were built for a few more years beyond that, but never sold in the US. Note immaculate building and signage. This place was a jewel as car factories go.

Among my greater joys that stemmed from owning this car was meeting and become friends with the DeTomaso family, and to visit DeTomaso’s compact yet tidy home base with offices, a design studio, a museum area, car assembly line, parts, and the usual car factory stuff, in Modena Italy, my first visit there for a huge international multi carclub event/convention in 1990, and many more times just to see the family, what was new, play with some old cars, and just kick around. It was an industrially handsome property, sitting not a mile west of the Emilia Romagna region’s A1 Autostrada. I could find this property in the dark without headlights or map.

Isabelle deTomaso, left, and the late Allessandro deTomaso middle, at their factory in 1990.

As the car business ebbed and flowed over the years, and subsequent to Allessandro DeTomaso’s passing, activity at the company diminished to a crawl. Car production and income also dried up, and the company fell into receivership. One sad byproduct of the liquidation process was that this very family company had to give up the factory and property, as it represented much of the DeTomaso Modena SpA’s remaining assets needed to complete the liquidation. The cars and the people left, and Viale Virgilio 9 was shuttered. The plan was that the Italian courts would at some point resell the property to another and presumably viable business.

Believe it or not, the buildings in this 2017 photo are the same ones as seen in the backgrounds of the photos above. What a waste!

Now nearly a decade later, I was recently in Italy and decided to drive by for a little trip down exotic car memory lane. What I found sickened me.

The sad fact is that the Italian government just locked up the doors and walked away with minimal efforts to secure the property, or market it to new occupants. The DeTomasos built this property in the early 1970s and its functional life is ostensibly over.

For whatever reason, no new buyer or tenant has taken the property over, which surprised me, in as much as it’s located in a freeway visible, vibrant area combined of a large big box store (Italy’s equivalent of Costco) plus some other shopping, and a multistory office building belonging to the area’s largest grocery company. There’s no signage to indicate that the former DeTomaso property is for sale, lease or otherwise available – perhaps just the inefficiency of the court system to aggressively liquidate the real estate.

The old gas pump out behind the parts building used to fill up who knows how many test cars, new cars and prototypes.

Instead of signage, the once immaculate buildings are now covered in graffiti. Nearly every window is broken out, and the former tree orchard, lawns, and other landscaping (which Isabelle DeTomaso herself used to mow and trim) are massively overgrown. All of the DeTomaso signage was removed some years back, so if you didn’t know, you’d never guess this used to be an exotic car assembly facility. I didn’t cry, but freely admit that my chest tightened considerably.

Viale Virgilio 9 (at Modena Ovest 1250) was deTomaso’s official address.

Abandoned car factories aren’t new; Middle America is thick with them. Having now worked in the automotive space for three decades, I know that things, people, and locations evolve, brands come and go.
But this region of Italy was a breeding ground for small independent race and street car builders (Maserati and Lamborghini aren’t more than ten miles away) and of course over time, with the increased cost it takes to develop and build cars to meet today’s safety, technology, and emissions specs it’s difficult for smaller brands to get a toehold, much less thrive.
Yet to drive by Viale Virgilio 9 (at Emilia Ovest 1250) in Modena brings back great memories, even if the present hurts more than a bit.

I drove through these identifying blue gates dozens of time, to visit with the deTomaso family and friends, see what was new, visit the old cars, pick up parts, and just knock around. Take something interesting for a drive.
None of which will ever happen again here.