Argentina’s done the world a lot of good, I’m sure, and sometimes they even venture into greatness. Argentina’s given us Fangio and Maradona, but it’s their cows that deserve a mention.
Argentina is home to the most privileged and laziest cows on earth. Across the open, fertile plains of the Pampas, an area larger than France, carefree Argentine cows roam the flatlands throughout their days, no hills or rugged terrain to toughen the meat, no stress to cramp the muscles. So they mope around all day waiting to be eaten, and if you’ve ever had a proper asado cook-up you’ll know their soft, lazy meat melts in your mouth. Argentine beef is second to none — the locals weren’t born yesterday, they keep it mostly to themselves with the cattle industry amounting to five per cent of the country’s total annual exports. The average Argentine eats 60 kilos of beef a year. That’s a steak dinner every other night.
Quite an industry, then, and that’s how we get to the De Tomaso family name that was so prominent among cattle ranchers in the early 1900s — Antonio first came to Argentina on a boat from Naples and married well as they say, into the Ceballos family, a local cattle dynasty. With a helping hand from this powerhouse of Argentinian agriculture he rose to politics with his hispanicised surname rather than the Italian Di Tomasso. In 1928 Antonio had a son, and when he turned 15 little Alessandro had to grow up fast after his father died suddenly at 44.
Shunning the family’s inclination towards the beef business, Alessandro chose to go racing instead. Smart lad, and he could certainly afford it, his Italian blood swaying him first towards Maserati and little OSCA F2 cars, before he made a Formula 1 debut in the 1957 Buenos Aires Grand Prix at a circuit built by President Juan Perón as a permanent racing facility.
Alessandro, or Alejandro on the local entry list, got himself a Ferrari for his premiere in the top tier of racing, but still it wasn’t enough. Fleeing from some political mischief in Argentina, in 1959 the De Tomaso name crossed the Atlantic again back to Italy, to the cradle of speed in Modena, where Alessandro started his own car company.
Sacrilegiously, the neighbours must have thought, his cars would rumble around town to the racket of Detroit steel. De Tomaso the car company went through a lot in its 45 years going through ownerships almost as frequently as its wares went through rear Pirellis. Nowadays the name is Chinese-owned but in its heyday during a Ford period De Tomaso’s wild Tom Tjaarda-designed Pantera used to be sold in Ford dealerships with Yank V8s in the back. The showrooms would have had a lot of confused old people who came in to look at a Mercury Montego wagon.
Anyway, this whole Italo-American blend of mid-engined supercars was further muddled in a trinity since the cars were symbolised by a badge bearing the colours of the Argentine flag. Modenese sniggers never bothered Alessandro, a worldly man who, unlike any of the other Italian car dons who couldn’t be bothered, was fluent in several languages including English.
To finish off his cars’ logo, Alessandro got romantic and looked to his wife’s family history for inspiration — the Ceballos go back to South America’s colonisation period in the 16th century and descend from Spanish royalty. When the family settled into land ownership and agriculture they had a specific symbol used to brand their cattle. Out of sheer coincidence this branding symbol happens to look like a stylised T which was handy for De Tomaso branding where the emphasised 'T' formed a top frame for the whole word.
So there you go, an exiled Argentinian making American powered cars designed by a Dutchman in Italy with a Spanish logo.