Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars!
This week’s question: Who commissioned the world’s only Chevy 327-powered de Tomaso Mangusta?
If you think you know the answer, make the jump and see if you’re right.
Alejandro de Tomaso started out as a racing driver. In fact, he became pretty well known for his talent on the circuit in his birthplace of Buenos Aries. That talent however didn’t translate well to Italian, and when, at age 27 he emigrated to Italy to escape Juan Peron’s oppressive rule, he switched from driving race cars to offering to build them.
Those race cars soon were shortly thereafter joined by road cars, the first of which was the achingly beautiful Vallelunga. De Tomaso apparently followed W. H. Davenport Adams’ famous mantra, which avers good artists copy; great artists steal as much of the steel backbone chassis design of the Vallelunga was stolen, er, borrowed form that which underpinned the Lotus Elan. The Vallelunga also used the same Ford Kent engine as was leveraged by Lotus, as well as suspension bits that could trace their lineage straight back to the Triumph Herald, just like the Elan.
That backbone frame would also serve to underpin de Tomaso’s next stab at a road-going sports car, the Mangusta. The only thing there was that instead of a spritely four cylinder from England, the Mangusta would rock a Windsor V8 from Ford’s North American operations.
Originally spec’d was a 289 outfitted as had been those for the Shelby Cobra, but as that car was ending production the engines were not to be had. Instead, here in America the Mangusta was given the larger displacement 302, which was just coming on line at the time. The major issues with that engine were its relatively low (235-bhp gross) power, inability to rev much beyond 5,000 rpm, and the weight the cast iron heads and intake added above the suspension centerline. The combination of weight transference and a willowy chassis provided the car with wonky—some would say unsafe—handling characteristics at speed, and cornering in one was usually a hairy experience.
Adding to the car’s performance grief was the fact that it wasn’t much fun to drive slow either. The Mangusta’s cabin is woefully tight for anyone who doesn’t wear silks to work, and the ZF-sourced five speed transaxle’s jutting-belly bellhousing meant that even a slightly raised Bot’s Dot could ruin your day.
Still, the car was phenomenally beautiful and staggeringly aggressive, being one of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s best early works. That styling, and the promise of performance it implied, bewitched many a potential buyer, including one who couldn’t possibly be seen driving one with a Ford engine behind his head.
Another episode in this tale of Lust in Lombardy was when Bill Mitchell, VP of GM in charge of styling, fell in love with the car. He ordered one, albeit with a Chevy 327. He angrily rejected the car when he found his rotund form wouldn’t fit in the car, which is ideal for someone about 5’6” tops and of slim build (like, DeTomaso or Williams not too coincidentally). He banished the car from his presence, feeling DeTomaso had deliberately created a car too small for him. (Mitchell told this to me when I’d have lunch with him at the Tech Center in the 1970s. Dick Ruzzin, the GM designer who ended up with the car, still owns the Mangusta Vette today.)
De Tomaso built about 400 Mangustas between 1967 and 1971. Out of those only about 200 are still on the road or in collections, including Bill Mitchell’s abortive 327-powered car. The rest have all fallen from grace, succumbing to accidents, fire, or apathy.
The name, Mangusta, or Mongoose, was a nod to the success of Carroll Shelby’s Cobra. The mongoose being the only animal known for killing the deadly snakes. Considering its engineering shortcomings, the only way a de Tomaso Mangusta would off a Cobra would be by running it over while sliding out of control through a corner. It would still look hella good doing so.