Vintage R&T Road Test: DeTomaso Mangusta – Even Stunning Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

I absolutely drooled over the Mangusta when I first saw it in magazines in 1967. Which means I spilled a lot of bodily fluids that year, as I had a similar reaction to the  the Lamborghini Miura. I ran repeated mental debates: which was more stunningly beautiful: Marcello Gandini’s Miura or  Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Mangusta?

The Mangusta won out more often, but I knew back then its beauty was only skin deep. R&T lays out the reasons why, and not just because it had no seat belts, thanks to a loophole in the US safety regs at the time. .

Yes, the idea of a sports car based on a mid-engine sports prototype racing car with a superbly styled Italian body, superb handling, a comfortable interior, refined and easy running, and yet incorporate easy servicing and parts was a dream at the time. Only two cars could be considered in the running: the Miura and Mangusta. Given that the Mangusta cost just about half of what a Miura did, and had a very easy to service Ford V8, it held out the promise of fulfilling that dream.

Its 43″ tall body was the ultimate eye magnet, and R&T staffers fought to get some seat time. Out on the road, everyone stared, even J. Law. Of course, getting into it was another thing, given its lowness and doors that didn’t open more than halfway and had no stops to keep them open. A preview of thing (not) to come.

The dashboard showed no concession to any thought of crash safety, with a a barely padded top that hid a near-razor sharp edge (“Safety by Gillette”). And as mentioned, neither lap or shoulder belts were fitted. Really? Did manufacturers in 1967 only do that because they had to? In DeTomaso’s case, yes. The Mangusta was exempted thanks to the “Bayh Law”, which allowed manufacturers of less than 400 cars to sell them in the US without any need to conform. That apparently included lighting, as the tested Mangusta had European lights, and its speedometer was metric.

The passenger compartment was cramped, the steering wheel and pedals well offset to the right to clear the huge front wheel well. The seats had no rake adjustment, seat back locks/latches, or head restraints. The very slow electric windows opened only halfway. But there was one saving grace: air conditioning! Without it, it might have been almost unbearable in the Southern California sun.

But the bodywork by Ghia was “masterfully finished and detailed”. Workmanship was top notch, inside and out.

And unlike some hoary mid-engine cars, the Ford V8 was surprisingly quiet. Given that the 302 was a perfectly stock and in mild 230 hp tune with a hydraulic cam, that’s not too surprising. Unlike the safety regs, emission regs did have to be met, which explains why US bound Mangustas (the majority of its production) came with the mild 302 instead of the 306 hp hi-po 289 (same as the Shelby GT350) that the European version got.


That also meant that the five gears in the ZF transmission were more than necessary, given the V8’s wide power band. The shift linkage had issues, so less shifting would have been a boon. The 302 wouldn’t rev past 5100 rpm, so it was a lazy American. But in the reasonably light Mangusta (3050 lbs), acceleration was still brisk although hardly stellar. 0-60 came in 7.0 seconds, the 1/4 mile in 15.1 @94 mph. The V12 Miura was doing 101 mph in the traps, so the difference in performance was considerable. In terms of top speeds, it was no comparison: 118 mph vs. 163 mph (timed).


The Mangusta’s steering was “neither light nor especially quick”, but it was precise. And it pulled a respectable 0.8 G on the skid pad. But on the road, it was sensitive to side wind and quite prone to oversteer, despite the fatter rear tires. And it didn’t like choppy road surfaces either.  The brakes were only so-so.

The verdict? The practicality of the Ford V8 was a plus. But in just about every other way, it was inferior to the Miura. “How much driving enjoyment can you get from a sports car that has tricky handling, mediocre brakes, and a terrible shift linkage?”

R&T agreed with me that “it is the most beautiful car in series production…to be seen tooling down the freeway or boulevard is some kind of automotive ultimate”.  There it is, and of course that’s precisely how the overwhelming majority of exotic mid-engine sports cars have spent their lives, right to today.


Related CC reading:
Vintage R&T Road Test: 1968 Lamborghini Miura – “Vroooooooooom!”