Collectible Classic: 1967-71 De Tomaso Mangusta

A. J. Mueller

The Ford V-8's 310 lb-ft of torque, however, effortlessly moves this flyweight two-seater (which tips the scales at 3000 pounds, give or take). Tucker happily demonstrates on the quiet country roads around his Michigan home, running the Mangusta up to an indicated 100 mph or better several times, as our photographer and his assistant struggle to catch up.

Then it's my turn. The driver's seat offers little adjustment, so either you fit or you don't. Luckily, I do. The turning circle is wide, and there's essentially no visibility out the back. I roll onto the throttle and the car powers ahead, quickly blurring the trees, barns, and mailboxes. The clutch is stiff, but the shifter moves easily through its chromed gate - but the fact is, you hardly need to use it, given the V-8's torque and the close spacing of the gearbox's five ratios.

Tucker warns me that the car's handling is tricky: it pushes at first, then the back can snap out suddenly and is somewhat hard to catch because of the slow-geared steering. I don't have a chance to confirm his assessment, since the roads are mostly arrow-straight. But I certainly can hear the suspension working - the control-arm layout uses no rubber parts - and the ride is fairly decent. The spotty autumn sunshine begins to bake us under the huge, nearly horizontal windshield, so Tucker switches on the air-conditioning (which was standard equipment). This really is a comfortable highway cruiser, and Tucker has driven it to racetracks as far as Watkins Glen in New York and Road America in Wisconsin.

"People go crazy when they see it," he says, which is understandable, given the car's style and its rarity. Only 401 were built, and it's estimated that about half survive. U.S. importation ended in 1971, when De Tomaso's federal-standards exemption expired. De Tomaso followed with the Pantera, which was sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers, but that car doesn't have quite the design purity of the Mangusta. It's true that De Tomaso was a small operation and the cars were not the most thoroughly engineered. But the Ford V-8 is certainly robust, and Tucker claims that his Mangusta has been reliable. Really, though, if you want reliable, get a Toyota Camry. The Mangusta is something else entirely. It's a macho vision of the future from an era when designers were still unconstrained, and it's every bit as striking today as when it was introduced.

THE SPECS
Engine: 5.0L OHV V-8, 230 hp, 310 lb-ft
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Drive: Rear-wheel
Suspension, FRONT: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, REAR: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes: Discs
Weight: 3000 lb (est.)

THE INFO
Years produced
1967-1971
Number produced
401
Value today
$65,000-$95,000
Why buy?
Knockout looks from the pen of the master, Giorgetto Giugiaro, at the height of his design powers.

For someone who wants a late-'60s Italian GT, the Mangusta is an out-of-the-mainstream choice. It's a mid-engine exotic without the sky-high tune-up bills or the need of an old-world mechanic to keep it running, thanks to its dead-simple American V-8. That said, however, much of this car is mechanically fragile, chiefly the transaxle. Prices had been a veritable bargain compared with the Mangusta's contemporaries but recently have become less so.

SPECIAL NOTE
If you own a Mangusta, the folks at Mangusta International would like you to register your car with them HERE.

They're always searching for remaining Mangustas, and they estimate that there are only about 200 of the cars left in existence worldwide.

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