Form the cradle that rocked the racing world, another mongoose.

by Jill Amadio

Ready for a mouth-watering surprise of an Italian sports car called Mangusta? This brand new two-seater comes from Europe's cradle of prestigious race cars - Modena in northern Italy, opera singer Luciano Pavarotti's hometown as well as that of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Maseratis.

If you’re wondering about the mission of the new Mangusta, remember its name means "mongoose," that strange little creature that kills snakes five times its size.

Reaching these shores and debuting January 8 at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the Mangusta will set you back $80,000, not bad for a unique roadster that only five hundred people, hopefully purists at heart, will have the privilege of owning, at least until production increases.

With its genesis in De Tomaso's exotic Pantera of the 1970s and the BMW-powered Guara racer of the past decade, this Mangusta rocket boasts a longitudinally mounted 4.6-liter V-8. It sits larger than Acura's $85,000 V-6-engined NSX, and has more horsepower than Mercedes-Benz' opulent $86,000 CL500 coupe.

The Mangusta saunters handily along with 320 horsepower at 6000 rpm tucked under its sleek hood. Torque is an impressive 314 lb-ft at 4800 rpm, and the needle hits the hot button at 6800 rpm. The engine has double overhead cams, chain-drive exhaust cams and secondary chain from exhaust to intake cams. The valve train has roller finger followers with hydraulic lash adjustment, and four valves per cylinder. The ignition system is coil on plug, and the fuel system provides multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection.

The transmission is a no-nonsense five-speed manual on a center console. The suspension, typically European, front and rear has fully independent upper and lower wishbones, coil springs, and anti-roll bars. The brakes are ventilated discs with Brembo four-piston calipers front and back.

This sophisticated Italian beauty is all curves and ovals. Its corners are soft, but deft sculpting from front bumper to back reveals De Tomaso's racer focus. It’s a serious-looking quasi-convertible, but its versatile removable hard-panel top turns the Mangusta into a targa or, slid into the rear well, a cabriolet.

A sweeping missile-style design gives side view mirrors a space-age look, and the distinctive front grille's mesh-type lining matches those on the dual side-intake ports. Circular headlights meld neatly with the body. Six-spoke big, fat cat-aluminum wheels with 17-inch tires carry anyone anywhere on the globe although the maker fails to mention fuel mileage. (Do you really care?)

The Mangusta's small size doesn't mean a lack of luxuries. Leather trim, power driver's seat, heated power side mirrors, power windows and steering, an anti-theft alarm, a centralized locking system, air conditioning, and fog lamps are included in the price tag. Down the road, in a year or so, the Mangusta will be gadgeted up with some of Ford Visteon's hi-tech gizmos such as NavMate, a navigation system, and a glass-mounted keyless entry system built into the door window.

Italian speed, by way of Argentina

If you're wondering where the Mangusta sprang from, and who De Tomaso is, here's a little history. Alejandro De Tomaso was born in Argentina to a wealthy Italian family. They ran a cattle ranch on land originally granted by the King of Spain to one of Alejandro's ancestors.

Al, like every Argentinean worth his salt, many of whom now race in America's CART series, caught the racing bug. He drove borrowed Italian cars in local races, but quit when he ran afoul of dictator Juan Peron and fled to Italy. There, in 1955, he met and married American racer Isabelle Haskell. The couple founded an automotive company, De Tomaso Automobili and built their first racecar, a Cooper-design 1.5-liter Formula 2 with a Maserati engine. De Tomaso campaigned the car at Sebring in 1959. In 1962, he'd worked his way up to Formula 1, using an Alfa engine, and gained a reputation for far-out experiments.

Like Ferrari, he wanted to build and sell production cars. His first effort was a 1963 Vallelunga, a small fastback coupe with exotic styling though its engine was a tame four-cylinder Ford Cortina. The combination became a De Tomaso hallmark: extravagantly stunning exterior design powered by an ordinary off-the-shelf production engine. But when De Tomaso upgraded to building a bigger car in the mid-1960s he used Ford V-8s and introduced his first Mangusta. Styling, somewhat similar to Lamborghini's Miura, was by Giorgiaro of Ghia Carrozzeria and at the time set the sports car world on it tail.

In 1969 Henry Ford II decided he wanted to add an Italian exotic car company to his stable and went looking for the best. Enzo Ferrari, however, wanted no part of being owned by an American company so Ford approached De Tomaso. Ford's executives weren't sold on the Mangusta, but did like De Tomaso's Pantera prototype. Henry bought a good chunk of the Italian firm, along with the Ghia and Vignale coachbuilders that De Tomaso had acquired earlier.

Plagued with teething problems, the Pantera nevertheless sold here for four years and is still considered the most bullet-proof of any exotic Italian car on the road today, as well as being far less expensive to own and run than purebred Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis.

After producing another exotic, the 1993 Guara, which sold only as a racecar here but as a production car in Europe, De Tomaso resurrected the Mangusta name in 1998 and stamped it on to the front-engined, high-performance roadster that debuts at the L.A. Auto Show.

The appearance of De Tomaso's new limited edition roadster in the U.S. is somewhat of a surprise not only to the car-buying public but also to Alejandro himself. He managed to design and produce it in less than a year at the new Qvale Modena factory after his concept model received critical acclaim in March 1999.

If you can't afford to buy one you can at least see the Mangusta perform: Huffaker/Qvale Motorsports has entered a Mangusta in the 2000 Trans-Am Series.

2000 De Tomaso Mangusta

BasePrice: $80,000

Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 320 hp

Transmission: five-speed manual

Wheelbase: 105.1 in

Length: 165.1 in

Width: 74.8 in

Height: 51.8 in

Weight: 3196 lb

Fuel economy: n/a

Major standard equipment:
Leather trim
Power driver's seat
Heated power side mirrors
Power windows
Anti-theft alarm
Air conditioning
Fog lamps

© The Car Connection

 

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