Cars That Time Forgot

Cars That Time Forgot: De Tomaso Longchamp

by Richard Dredge
5 December 2022 3 min read
Cars That Time Forgot: De Tomaso Longchamp
Photos: RM Sotheby's

Having recently covered the De Tomaso Deauville, in which we dangled the same company’s Longchamp under your nose, we thought we had better tell you the story of this vanishingly rare coupé, because it stands to reason that you’re now desperate to know more.

Had it not been for the Deauville, the 1972 Longchamp would never have been created, because they shared the same platform and running gear. That meant there was a Ford Windsor 351cu in (5763cc) V8 up front which drove the rear wheels via a three-speed Ford automatic transmission. But whereas that V8 was tuned to produce 275bhp in the Deauville, this was upped to 330bhp in the more sporting Longchamp.

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De Tomaso unveiled the four-door, four-seat Deauville at the 1970 Turin Salon; the encore came two years later at the same show. The Longchamp name was shared with the famous Parisian horse racing course. As with the saloon, the new 2+2 coupé was designed by Tom Tjaarda wile working with Ghia, the Italian design consultancy. His start point was a defunct concept that he had designed for Ghia back in 1969: the Marica, which was based on a Lancia Flaminia.

De Tomaso Longchamp

Tjaarda’s brief had been to come up with something that would take on the Aston Martin DBS V8, Jensen Interceptor, Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2, Lamborghini Jarama and Iso Lele. However, by the time the Longchamp was unveiled, the Mercedes 450SLC had become a reality, and this looked more like the De Tomaso than any of those more exclusive alternatives. And exclusive they all were, because within a year of the coupé’s arrival the luxury car market would be thrown into disarray as the oil crisis hit. Petrol prices quadrupled and the idea of running a 12mpg car wasn’t so appealing.

Underpinning the Longchamp was a ladder chassis developed by ex-Lamborghini supremo Gian Paolo Dallara. As with the Deauville there was independent suspension front and rear, a Salisbury axle, inboard rear brakes (discs all round), and the rack-and-pinion steering was power assisted.

Doug Blain was one of the few, if not only, British journalists to drive the Longchamps in period, for CAR magazine. He wrote: ‘The Longchamp may not feel like a sports car, but it certainly goes like one with roughly 310bhp to propel a ton and a half. It accelerates strongly to well over 100mph and was by no means flat out at an indicated 125mph, which was the highest figure I saw. In fact, though, there were only about 500rpm in hand, which indicates that the true maximum is probably well short of the claimed 150.’

Blain continued: ‘It’s a professional piece of work alright, soaking up even bad bumps without undue noise or disturbance, while getting on with its primary job of covering the ground quickly. It feels less like a Merc than a GT car in the Modenese tradition. This is to say that it is cruder, but also more sporting, in the accepted sense.’

The conclusion came: ‘Judged by the kind of yardstick real-life owners are likely to apply, the Longchamp is a hard car to fault. It is undoubtedly safe to drive fast, and considering some of the limited resources of the manufacturer, it is surprisingly well sorted in areas such as ride and noise suppression. Even more important, it is essentially strong and well balanced and honestly made, and because of its relative simplicity it is the kind of car you can expect to go on running with minimal attention even in the virtual absence of any kind of service facilities outside the main import centres, which of course means London.’

Longchamp sales continued throughout the seventies at a trickle, before a facelifted car was unveiled. Most of those Series 1 editions were fitted with a three-speed Ford automatic transmission, but 17 left the factory with a ZF five-speed manual gearbox.

The Longchamp Series 2 was launched at the 1980 Turin Motor show. Now called the Longchamp GTS-E, there were now Campagnolo wheels the same as on the Pantera GT5, flared wheelarches and the suspension was slightly revised. The quad headlights were now Audi Quattro items in place of the previous dual Ford Consul/Granada items. A convertible concept was also shown, produced by Milanese coachbuilder Carrozzerria Pavesi, and this would eventually go into limited production.

Longchamp production limped on until 1989, by which point just one or two were being made each year. In 1986, none were made at all, so production was incredibly sporadic. By the time the last Longchamp was made in 1989, its list price had risen to £41,500, although the convertible was a hefty £75,000. At that time an Aston Martin V8 cost £92,000, a Bentley Continental R was £106,000, a Ferrari 412 was £82,000 and a Mercedes 560 SEC was £63,000, so the De Tomaso wasn’t insanely priced – just a left-field choice.

De Tomaso claims that 410 Longchamps were made in all; 394 coupés and 16 convertibles, but how reliable such numbers are is open to conjecture, because as with the Deauville, there are gaps in the chassis number sequences.

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