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  DeTomaso Mangusta

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Country of origin:Italy
Produced from:1967 - 1971
Numbers built:401
Designed by:Giorgietto Giugiaro for Ghia
Predecessor:DeTomaso Vallelunga
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:April 21, 2008
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Click here to download printer friendly versionAs a racing driver Alejandro De Tomaso could not make his mark, however his subsequent exploits as a sports car manufacturer will forever be remembered. The first cars to bear the DeTomaso badge were single seaters were used in anything from Formula Junior to Formula 1 in the late 1950s and early 1960s. De Tomaso himself was responsible for the design and he was greatly inspired by the dominant Cooper of the day. To keep up with the ever developing competition, he even developed his own flat-eight F1 engine, but De Tomaso eventually realised that he was fighting a losing battle against the likes of Lotus and Ferrari. The Argentinian born Italian instead decided to develop a road going sports car, named Vallelunga after the racing track just north of Rome.

For the chassis of the mid-engined Vallelunga, De Tomaso was again inspired by a British design; the Lotus backbone. The DeTomaso backbone was distinctly different as it ended at the engine, while Lotus used a Y-fork extension to mount the engine. So well ahead of its day, De Tomaso used the engine as a stressed member. Having learned his lessen with the very expensive F1 engine project, De Tomaso opted to fit the Vallelunga with a readily available Ford four-cylinder engine. The advanced chassis was rounded off with fully independent suspension and disc brakes. Launched at the Turin Auto Show in 1964, the Vallelunga was equipped with an elegant fiberglass coupe body. The light weight two-seater was built by Ghia.

On paper the Vallelunga was a highly advanced machine, but in the real world it was let down by some serious flaws. Firstly the backbone chassis without the Y-fork extension was not very rigid, leading to less than predictable handling characteristics. The tiny Ford engine produced only 105 bhp, which did not provide the 725 kg with very impressive performance figures. In a quest for a more powerful engine, De Tomaso came into contact with Carroll Shelby, who had successfully adopted the Ford small-block V8 engine for competition use. Shelby not only provided De Tomaso with a proper engine, he also sent over his talented designer Peter Brock. In Italy, he developed a spyder body that would be fitted to a competition version of the backbone chassis powered by the Ford V8.

There are conflicting stories on the exact details of the deal between De Tomaso and Shelby. It seems likely that Shelby was most interested in finding a chassis to replace the aging Cooper chassis that formed the basis for his King Cobras. What is certain is that a bare V8 engined backbone chassis was shown at the 1965 Turin show. It followed the original design layed out for the Vallelunga, although the aluminium backbone was slightly wider and deeper to add some much needed strength. Joining it on the DeTomaso stand was a chassis clothed in the Brock designed Spyder body. Clearly a racing car, it was referred to as the P70 or the Sport 5000. At some point Shelby withdrew his support and instead focused on developing the Ford GT40. In modified form the P70 was possibly raced once in 1966.

Infuriated by Shelby's decision, De Tomaso named the Vallelunga replacement Mangusta, Latin for Mongoose; a cat like carnivore capable of eating King Cobras. The Mangusta's chassis was virtually identical to the one shown at the Turin Auto Show. Ghia's chief designer Giorgietto Giugiaro penned a very aggressive, yet elegant coupe body. To add further strength to the chassis, most of the body was constructed from steel with the exception of non load bearing panels like the doors and engine covers, which were executed in aluminium. Access to the engine compartment was slightly unusual; through two gull-wing engine covers. The prototype Mangusta was shown at the 1967 Turin Show. In slightly modified form the Vallelunga replacement rolled off the production line not much later.

Giugiaro's fabulous styling could not hide the Mangusta's shortcomings. Yes the 300+ bhp V8 had moved the Mangusta in supercar territory, but it also put more emphasis on the inharent weakness of the backbone chassis. The 32/68 weight distribution did not help the handling much either. An even bigger problem was that space in the cockpit came at a premium, making it too cramped for Northern Europeans and most importantly for most Americans. Nevertheless, the sharply priced Mangusta was in demand and eventually more than 400 examples were produced. The ever stricter American safety and emissions regulations forced DeTomaso to built a slightly revised version for that market, powered by a 230 bhp V8.

Today often forgotten or bashed for its poor handling characteristics, the Mangusta was a vital piece in DeTomaso's history. It established the Italian company as a supercar manufacturer and was the start of a close relationship with Ford, which enabled DeTomaso to develop the Pantera. Having learned his lessons, De Tomaso lured away Gian Paolo Dallara from Lamborghini to design the Pantera's steel monocoque chassis. It is estimated that about half of the original produced Mangustas still exist today. One of these is pictured above at the 2006 Le Mans Classic.

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  Article Image gallery (21) Specifications User Comments (3)