My Car Quest

June 19, 2019

The Car That Shouldn’t Have Been: The De Tomaso Mangusta Spyder

by Wallace Wyss –

The Mangusta (Italian for Mongoose, the natural enemy of the Cobra) is a car that shouldn’t exist. First of all, it was thought of over at Iso by Guigiaro and friends when they did a car called the Fidia, a four door sedan, and decided, hey, let’s design a little sports car companion for the well heeled to park next to the Fidia.

So the body was built. And it’s as “pure” a design as you can get, hardly any compromises. Oh, there are bumpers in the rear, but hardly sufficient to the task. And no bumpers in the front. And oh, the headlights are in the wrong place for it to be legal.

De Tomaso Mangusta Spyder

But DeTomaso, having recently completed 42 mid-engined Valleungas, and worked on a mid-engine Ford V8 powered car for Shelby (the 70P) was on a roll and decided to use the leftover body (it was OK with Ghia; he, in fact owned Ghia) on an enlarged Vallelunga spine chassis. And to stuff in a Ford small block. That last part to irk Shelby because ol Shel’ had pulled out of the 70P project before the car was finished, so DeTomaso had to introduce it as a Ghia product.

According to two sources the car was the 7th Mangusta built, and is SN VIN #8MA512.

De Tomaso Mangusta Spyder

I think the Mangusta had minimal testing. Jonathan Williams, a race driver who had been a works driver for DeTomaso, was the test driver and I am sure he had his input. But he was a skilled race driver, so when it went into snap oversteer, he could cope with it, though it was a nasty surprise for some owner. According to an article in Jalopnik back in 2013 by Mate Patrany, the flaw was in chassis design:

“There are two rear bridges, the small forward one could have been an early production correction attempt but an inadequate fix. The bridges link the two sides of the upper rear sub-frame carrying the transmission, it was hard mounted to the transmission and soft mounted to the frame, each with one shock Bushing and bolt per side. There you will find the flexibility.

That meant they acted like hinges when side force was applied to the upper rear control arms, resulting in the understeer / oversteer condition.”

De Tomaso Mangusta Spyder

There is a fix, and Mangusta owners know about it but not many have done it, instead driving their cars seldom and short of the cornering limit. Now back to the spyder.

It was made to be a show car but unlike Detroit automakers who hate to sell prototypes (there’s always a lawyer waiting to sue you when some non conforming car gets loose and gets in an accident) the car was sold. It didn’t actually have a top But since the side window frames were fixed in place, a Greek shipowner who bought it just had a canvas top rigged to fit atop the windows, and attach to the windscreen and the rear deck.

It wasn’t the way Giugiaro would have done it, but hey, private owners have their wonts. (Worse was the scoop the Greek added to the hood, though the engine was behind the driver).

The car was eventually bought by two Los Angeles men, Steve Nanny and Steve Wilkinson, at the beginning of the great price rise in both exotic cars, and among them, Mangustas. But after spending beaucoup dollars on a restoration, they put it on the auction market a tad too soon and it sold for a mere $90,000. Today it would be, and I’m guessing here, basing it on rarity (one of 402 Mangustas made and one of one of spyders) a few million dollars.

One drawback is the Green’s Mickey Mouse top is gone and I don’t think Giugiaro would be interested in designing a top that works. So it’s a fair weather car.

But I really think it’s an all time great design. Interestingly, Karmann made a prototype decades later that copied the side window treatment. But that never got into production.

Oh by the way, as far as those non-conforming issues. I think that’s a little known secret that I have yet to dig into. The clue is a silver sticker under the bonnet of Mangustas that names a whole bunch of laws that it is exempt from.

De Tomaso Mangusta Spyder

Headlight height – Forget about it, yadda yadda. Due to some law that was passed that said if an automaker is making under 500 cars, they don’t have to conform to the laws of all the other cars imported to the U.S. The politician that sponsored that law was killed in a plane crash or I’d write him and ask him why he sponsored it. My guess? Horse racing buddies with you-know-who.

But, hey, I’m for fresh thinking in the auto industry and can see where it’s good for the American automakers to see a little fresh thinking on their home turf. I think the Mangusta helped make Giugiaro’s reputation. He didn’t stay at Ghia long (working for the mercurial DeTomaso must have aged him) and went on to start his own firm, Ital Design. But somehow, I think that DeTomaso connection was good for him in that he could think of something that was out there; born to be wild, y’might say, and DeTomaso, impatient to get his name known more and having his wife’s money (she is related to an East Coast fortune, and even today, even at over 80, is involved in racing, but horse racing not car racing), he could afford to take a flyer.

And so it is. Ignored by the purist of the cognoscenti because it had an off the shelf untuned Ford cast iron block cast iron head engine designed for the proletariat, this one off has risen to be one of the great prizes of the 20th Century.

SPOILER ALERT: There is in fact a second Mangusta spyder. Not made by Ghia. May be based on a real Mangusta chassis. But if you ever saw the two side by side, you’d know in a minute which one is the ringer….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 28 car histories. As a fine artist, he depicts exotic cars on canvas on commission. For a list of available prints,
 
 
 
write mendoart7@gmail.com

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Summary
The Car That Shouldn’t Have Been: The De Tomaso Mangusta Spyder
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The Car That Shouldn’t Have Been: The De Tomaso Mangusta Spyder
Description
But DeTomaso, having recently completed 42 mid-engined Valleungas, and worked on a mid-engine Ford V8 powered car for Shelby (the 70P) was on a roll and decided to use the leftover body (it was OK with Ghia; he, in fact owned Ghia) on an enlarged Vallelunga spine chassis.
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