Model history: A racer himself, Alejandro De Tomaso turned to building single seater racing cars late in 1959. The 'DeTomasos' competed in most classes including Formula 1. They were not particularly successful and De Tomaso switched to building road cars. Once his second road car, the Mangusta, proved to be a success, he commissioned the construction of a brand new single seater. Instead of designing the car himself, De Tomaso called in the help of Gianpaolo Dallara, who had previously worked for Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini where he helped develop the Miura.
Dallara's first DeTomaso was a Formula 2 car built for the 1969 season. It combined a boxy aluminium monocoque with the latest Cosworth FVA engine. It was raced early in the season with little success by Jonathan Williams and Jacky Ickx. For the Rome Grand Prix at Vallelunga the car was handed to Frank Williams. He entered the car for the young and talented gentleman driver Piers Courage. The Englishman qualified the DeTomaso on the front row and finished the first heat in third. These encouraging results conviced De Tomaso that it was time to step up to Formula 1 in 1970.
In addition to designing the Pantera road car, Dallara also received the task of penning the company's new Formula 1 racer. Like most of the contemporary machines, the 'DeTomaso 505' was built around the readily available and competitive Cosworth DFV engines. The aluminium monocoque tub and all-round independent suspension also did not break new ground. Although compared to the competition the first 505 was a little bulky and considerably overweight. Williams saw his dream of running his own Formula 1 team become reality as he was asked to run the car for Piers Courage.
Subtle changes to the chassis regulations had left a large portion of the 1969 field obsolete, so the DeTomaso was just one of many new machines entered in the season opening South African Grand Prix. Sadly it was the slowest of the new cars with Courage only managing to outpace three older chassis in qualifying. He retired halfway through the race after an accident. It did not get much better in the next race at Jarama where Courage wrecked the car in practice. Subsequenlty two new chassis were built, which were considerably lighter than the original due to the extensive use of magnesium.
It was a clear improvement and Courage managed to qualify further up the grid for the Monaco Grand Prix. After mixing it up with the seasoned names, the DeTomaso lost much time in the pits with steering problems. Courage did go out again, but did not turn in enough laps to be classified. Next up was the Spa race, where Courage qualified well and again saw his race ruined by reliability problems. Tragedy struck at the Dutch Grand Prix where Courage had a fatal accident after placing the car 9th on the grid. The promising driver died in a horrendous fire fueled by the magnesium in the tub after a tire failure.
Frank Williams perservered and continued the season with the only surviving chassis. Brian Redman was attracted to replace Courage. He struggled with the DeTomaso in the practice sessions of the British and German Grands Prix and did not start in either of the two races. Tim Schenken raced the 505 in the final four races of the season. He retired three times and in the only race he finished, Schenken was not classified. After a promising start of the season, DeTomaso retired from Formula 1. Williams has persevered and today is one of the most successful team principals in the sport.
Chassis 505-381 was the first of three chassis built by Dallara for DeTomaso. Piers Courage used the car in South Africa where he struggled at the back of the pack until a crash ended his race prematurely. At the subsequent Spanish Grand Prix, Courage was a little quicker but he destroyed his car during qualifying. The damaged tub was sent back to DeTomaso where it remained for three decades. It was eventually retrieved by Rick and Rob Hall of the Hall & Hall restoration and preparation company in 2006.
Using spares acquired with the car, chassis 505-381 was gradually restored into a complete car by Hall & Hall. When they started the tyre marks of Courage's crash were still visible on the tub. In 2008 the work was finally completed and Rob Hall 'debuted' the DeTomaso 505 during that year's Goodwood Festival of Speed. A year later chassis 505-381 returned to the Festival of Speed to celebrate 40 years of Frank Williams in Formula 1.
As a De Tomaso fan, I'm glad to see some of his cars finally getting attention on this site. The 505 has long been one of my favorite GP cars, and Courage one of my favorite drivers. It's great to see a good article about this great car.
Now, when are you going to do a piece on the Vallelunga?