Mangusta Con Multo Gusto

As with many fast mid-engined cars few have actually driven, the Mangusta has a reputation for biting the hand that drives it

Alejandro DeTomaso began racing in his native Argentina in 1951 before moving to Italy, where he drove for Maserati and OSCA.

DeTomaso's racing experience inspired him to form his own company—DeTomaso Automobili—in Modena, Italy, in 1959, with the fledgling firm building cars for Formula Junior, Formula 3, Formula 2 and Formula 1.

DeTomaso's first road car, the Vallelunga, appeared in 1965. A pretty mid-engined coupe powered by a 1.5-liter Ford 4-cylinder engine, it was built in small numbers and was not a commercial success, but did contribute its short wheelbase and backbone chassis (extensively re-engineered) to the Mangusta.

It was the latter's arrival in 1967 that established DeTomaso as a serious automobile manufacturer. One of the very first supercars, the Mangusta (mongoose—one of the few animals feared by the cobra…) was powered by a mid-mounted 289-ci Ford V8 (302 ci for the U.S.) driving via a ZF 5-speed transaxle.

Ghia's Giorgetto Giugiaro contributed the striking coachwork with gullwing engine covers, which was originally intended for Giotto Bizzarrini. With around 300 hp on tap, the aerodynamic Mangusta was good for a top speed in the region of 155 mph.

All-round disc brakes helped restrain this outstanding performance. DeTomaso enjoyed close links with the Ford Motor Company at this time, and the American firm helped put the Mangusta into larger-scale production than would otherwise have been possible. Approximately 400 examples were made between 1967 and 1972.

Delivered new to DeTomaso's Belgian importer and well-known endurance racer Claude Dubois in 1969, this Mangusta remained in Europe and was first registered in the U.K. on October 1, 1994. It has been maintained by Italian car specialists Bill McGrath Ltd. since coming into Alexander Fyshe's care in May 1995.

Since then the Mangusta has been used mainly for long-distance trips on the Continent, particularly to Scandinavia, France, Germany, and Italy, where it successfully completed the 2003 Modena Cento Ore event. The car has also been shown at the Hurlingham Club and Parc de Bagatelle Concours d'Elegance and took first in class at the 1998 Cartier Style et Luxe Concours at Goodwood. This very collectible DeTomaso is finished in black with matching interior. The odometer reading of 58,000 km is believed to be genuine.

This car sold for $99,241 at the Bonhams Goodwood Festival of Speed sale held July 11, 2008.

Alejandro DeTomaso is best known for the Pantera, one of the most successful Italo-American GTs, and for creating endless variations of the Biturbo, a car which both saved and almost again destroyed Maserati.

Opinions of him are polarizing, but there is no doubt he was both a very creative car guy and an extraordinarily ambitious businessman. His first product for the road, the ultra-rare Vallelunga, was light, fast, and well-balanced, as might be expected of a road car created by a racer. It is acknowledged to be the second "production" mid-engined car and featured simple, clean styling, with a large rear window covering the open engine compartment. That, and thin roof pillars, gave it exceptional visibility for a mid-engined car. The layout also delivered noise, vibration, and harshness into the interior in a fairly spectacular fashion.

Light years ahead

DeTomaso realized that his concept needed a bit more refinement to play in the big leagues, and the result was the Mangusta. It was light years ahead of the Vallelunga, with a well-equipped leather-lined interior and actual soundproofing. The Ford 289 V8 provided far more punch than the 1.5-liter four, and it was clothed in a sleek, almost menacing body designed by the young Giugiaro.

Sitting still it has a dramatic, muscular, powerful stance. The distinctive center-hinged rear deck also had the benefit of adding structural strength, although it did come at the expense of visibility.

As is the case with many fast mid-engined cars few have actually driven, such as the Lancia Stratos, the Mangusta has a fearsome reputation for biting the hand that drives it.

All powerful cars with the engine behind your ears have to be treated with care, and the ultimate in performance can only really be extracted by an experienced driver.

The reported 32/68% weight distribution means, as one owner told me, "If you make a commitment, you'd better stick with it." That being said, the Mangusta is no more difficult in that regard than any other such car, and the things that concerned buyers of the car when new, such as the low ground clearance, haphazard ergonomics, and limited rear visibility, are much less of an issue for the owner of a collector vehicle.

Be sure to see if you fit in it first

Many current owners have fitted skid plates to protect the transmission bell housing, as was done on a few cars when new. The positioning of the front wheelwells and design of the greenhouse can make the driving position a bit challenging for some; as is the case with an Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale, if you want a Mangusta, first be sure to see if you fit.

This Mangusta appears to be quite the best of both worlds, with a high-level cosmetic restoration in a very attractive black over black, and it apparently runs as well as it looks, with a successful Modena Cento Ore event as well as much long-distance touring in its recent past.

As popular opinion comes to embrace cars with a mixed parentage such as these DeTomasos, they have become more appreciated and more valuable. Although the same number of Iso Grifos were made as Mangustas, it's fair to say their survival rate has not been nearly as great. With the striking rise in the prices of the Grifo, the rarer Mangusta should be worth far more than it has been.

A well-known U.S. dealer recently sold what was described as a good-running but cosmetically challenged Mangusta. It showed 14k miles on the clock and sold in the $50,000 range. Given the reported condition of this Bonhams example, it would seem to be priced exactly where one would expect it to be.

If you consider the Mangusta to be sort of a Cobra in a designer frock, they have great appeal. Mangustas have ample performance on tap, a now-classic mid-1960s design by one of the masters, and they are rarely seen. I would not expect them to continue to sell at the considerable discount to an Iso Grifo as is the case currently. In a short time, this sale may be considered quite a bargain.

The SCM Analysis

Years Produced 1969-70

Number Produced 401

Original List Price $11,500

SCM Valuation $55,000-$100,000

Tune-up Cost $425

Distributor Caps $30

Chassis # Location Stamping on frame member at right rear engine compartment; data tag on front compartment bulkhead

Engine # Location Intake side of block

Club Info Mangusta International

Website click to visit

Alternatives 1967 Iso Grifo GL, 1969 Corvette 427, 1970 Monteverdi Hai 450SS

Investment Grade B

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