09 de Tomaso Mangusta bWhich car is Carroll Shelby most famous for? You may say the Ford GT40, but if you go back a bit you’ll more likely nominate the Cobra. And this makes the de Tomaso Mangusta interesting. Mangusta is the Italian word for Mongoose. The Mongoose is a small and exceptionally fast animal that kills cobras.

Alejandro de Tomaso was born and raised in Argentina and was a well-known race car driver there until he fled the country in his late twenties, when he was implicated in a plot to overthrow President Juan Peron. He made his home in Modena and drove for Maserati in formula one. And he set up his company, de Tomaso Automobili, there.

09 de Tomaso Mangusta cAt the end of 1964 he got together with Carroll Shelby when Shelby’s Cobra became ineligible for the American CanAm series. Shelby needed a new car and de Tomaso, who was developing a seven-litre race engine, saw the opportunity. The American agreed to finance a race car development program, but disagreements led to conflicts and de Tomaso failed to deliver the five cars agreed to in time for the 1965 CanAm season. Shelby backed out of the deal and started work on the GT40 for Ford.

So de Tomaso went down his own path and showed a prototype for the Mangusta at the 1965 Turin show. After a great deal of chassis work the Mangusta hit the market in 1967. It did not have the seven-litre; initial cars were powered by a Ford 289 (4.7-litre) V8, later ones had the 302 (4.9-litre) V8.

The Mangusta was an undeniably gorgeous car with an openly aggressive, intimidating appearance that stopped show traffic stone cold dead. Ah, but there was the driving. The most memorable thing about the road test in Car and Driver magazine was the comment about the rear window being so heavily raked, with such a narrow field of view. This was a problem, the reviewer pointed out, because with the way the suspension and weight balance were set up, drivers would spend much of their time looking out of it to see where they were going. The road test also carried a picture of a sticker in the car declaring that it did not conform to US safety regulations, it didn’t even have seat belts, and the picture caption read ‘Safety by Gillette.’

09 de Tomaso Pantera 1972It got around the safety laws by being such a small-production model. There were 401 Mangustas made, 150 for Europe and the rest went to the USA. It was replaced in 1971 by the Pantera, which was far better sorted but far less good looking. Pantera is Italian for Panther. Panthers are not noted natural predators of cobras. The white Pantera pictured was auctioned locally by Shannons for $125,000 earlier this month.

De Tomaso took over Maserati in 1975 and rescued it from bankruptcy, but suffered a stroke in 1993 and ceded the day-to-day running of his company to his son. He died in 2003.

Posted March 2020.


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