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The Qvale Mangusta Is The Italian Exotic Car You've Never Heard Of

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2017

I recently had the chance to drive a Qvale Mangusta, which is a low-production Italian exotic car that features Italian styling, and Italian craftsmanship, and -- rather strangely -- the engine from a Ford Mustang SVT Cobra. Here's something even stranger: I actually liked it.

Now, before I get into this whole thing with the Qvale Mangusta, which sounds like the scientific name of a rather ornery desert creature, I should mention how I had the chance to drive such an unusual vehicle. This came about from Rayco Eurospec, a local car dealership near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which has an excellent inventory of bizarre and exciting automobiles. Last week, I drove their Plymouth Prowler, and you probably thought that was the weirdest thing I could've come up with. Well, it wasn't. This is proof.

So now let's talk Mangusta. The Mangusta was made from 2000 to 2002, and only 284 total examples were built for the entire world. It's a 4-seat, rear-wheel-drive convertible with the 320-horsepower naturally-aspirated 4.6-liter V8 from the 1996-2001 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra. It also used the transmission from the Mustang SVT Cobra: The one I drove had a 5-speed manual, though 55 Mangusta models were built with a 4-speed automatic.

None of that is very weird. What's weird is the Mangusta's story.

Originally conceived by Alejandro de Tomaso, of De Tomaso Pantera fame, the Mangusta was supposed to be a modern revival of the De Tomaso name -- and that's why it, like the Pantera, has a Ford engine and Italian everything else. But de Tomaso couldn't make the car on his own -- so he turned to Bruce Qvale (that's "Keh-voll-ay"), a prominent American car dealer, for funding. Notably, the two turned to Marcello Gandini -- designer of the Lamborghini Miura and Countach -- to style the Mangusta.

Anyway, just as the car was set to launch in the United States as the De Tomaso Mangusta -- named for a different older De Tomaso model -- Alejandro de Tomaso pulled out of the project. Bruce Qvale put his own name on the car and sold it anyway, and the result is what you see here.

Of course, as you might expect from a 1-of-284 car, the weirdness doesn't stop with the naming. One especially unusual piece of this car is the roof: The middle section is removable by hand, like a normal targa roof in a lot of normal targa-topped cars. But the rear section folds down electronically with the push of a button on the center control stack. Other weirdness: The Mangusta features Ford Mustang switchgear, a Ford Mustang steering wheel, Ford Mustang climate-control vents and -- oddly -- some really nice-looking Italian interior design details mixed in between.

And then there's my favorite Mangusta oddity. The Mangusta used the Ford Mustang door handles, likely because they were easy to source along with all the other Mustang parts. But the Mustang door lock apparently doesn't line up with the Mangusta door lock -- so the Mustang's door locks have been covered by "Qvale" logos. Instead, a door lock is rather unceremoniously placed in the middle of the driver's side door -- and there's no door lock on the passenger side. There's just a "Qvale" logo where the lock should be.

So the Mangusta is a little weird, and therefore I was expecting it to drive a little weirdly. But when I climbed behind the wheel, I got a bit of a surprise.

Not, I should say, with its speed or handling. The Mangusta is in its teenage years and offers only 320 hp through an old-school 5-speed manual; it was never going to feel like a particularly fast car, especially by modern standards. Likewise, the Mangusta was engineered using a strange combination of Italian and American bits, so it was never going to feel as spry and adept as vehicles that spent dramatically more time in development. And, indeed, both of those things proved true.

What's impressive about the Mangusta, though, is its capabilities as a touring car. Forget about the rear seats, which are the single smallest of any vehicle I've ever seen in my entire life. Instead, consider the Mangusta to be a 2-seat grand tourer, and, well ... it actually shines. Between the high-end Italian leather and a few other upscale interior touches, the cabin feels like a nice place to spend time -- even with a few Mustang pieces scattered around. More importantly, the car is comfortable, surprisingly smooth, and relatively fun to drive around and shift -- even if it isn't the fastest thing on the road. The heat blows hot, the top lets you choose between coupe, convertible and in-between, and both the steering and the power are linear and direct.

In other words: The Qvale Mangusta isn't a car that will open your eyes widely with intense excitement due to its amazing performance. But it is a car that'll make you smile.

This was completely unexpected. I truly thought the Mangusta would be the a weird late-'90s concoction of cobbled-together parts from various cars, quickly designed equipment, and the dubious craftsmanship you normally find in an ultra-low-volume car. But it isn't -- which, I suppose, shouldn't be that surprising, since these sold for nearly $80,000 way back in 2000.

Today, the Mangusta is a lot cheaper than that -- assuming you can find one -- as the one I drove is offered for sale for $34,900 with just under 20,000 miles on the odometer. That means it costs about the same as a Porsche 911 of the same vintage. And while it's not as exciting or as sporty as a Porsche 911, it's more relaxing, more laid-back -- and certainly more unusual. The only drawback: Get ready to explain what a "Qvale Mangusta" is virtually every time you pull up to a gas pump.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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The Qvale Mangusta Is The Italian Exotic Car You've Never Heard Of - Autotrader