The De Tomaso marque was founded by Alejandro de Tomaso in the 1960’s. De Tomaso was a native Argentinean who had moved to Italy where he had the opportunity to work for the Maserati brothers at their OSCA factory.
De Tomaso watched, and became increasingly impressed by the sports racing Cooper of the late 1950s. Convinced of the virtues of the mid-engined configuration, he left Maserati and set up his own workshop to build race cars.
After building a series of Junior Formula single-seater racing cars, he produced his first road car, the “Vallelunga”. Naturally the car featured a mid-mounted engine design, in this instance the 4 cylinder engine being derived from the Ford Cortina GT, along with a backbone chassis frame and all-independent suspension.
With the 1960’s came the wonderful AC Cobra, and again De Tomaso would find inspiration. The “Mangusta” would be named after the Italian name for “Mongoose” - the only other animal fast enough to catch and eat cobras!
Like the previous Vallelunga, the Mangusta had a backbone frame and double wishbone independent front suspension, but this time the car was powered by the wonderful 5 litre 302 V8 Ford Windsor engine.
Styled by Giugiaro during his time at Ghia, the Mangusta was first seen at Turin in 1966, many commentators of the day being in awe of the cars blistering performance figures.
The US derived engine was good for 305bhp and drove through a 5 speed ZF transaxle, offering an impressive top speed of 150mph (241.4 kmh) – the 0-60mph (96.5 kmh) dash could be done in 6.5 seconds and 0-100mph (160.9 kmh) in just 14.5 seconds!
One of its more unusual features was in the way you accessed the engine bay, the use of a gull-wing inspired roof panel located behind the seats and swinging upward. Some 400 Mangusta’s were produced between 1967 and 1972.
In 1967 de Tomaso acquired Ghia, and would later sell it on to Ford in Detroit. Ford in turn acquired a share in the fledgling de Tomaso business. One of the major benefits to De Tomaso was Ford’s agreement to assume marketing responsibility for de Tomaso cars in the US.
The first result of this liaison was the development of the “Pantera” (Italian for Panther). First seen at the 1970 New York motor show, the car retained much of the Mangusta’s layout, except that it had a combined steel body/chassis construction.
The motoring press quickly described it as world class, deriving its composition from a global parts bin. The US V8 engine was mated to a German transmission, it used British brakes
and steering, had French tyres
and naturally an Italian body and assembly.
The engine was Ford’s latest 351cu.in 5.7 litre “Cleveland” which, in HO (High Output) form, made the Pantera good for a 0-60mph dash in 7 seconds flat and the 0-100mph in 15 seconds.
As was typical of most performance vehicles of the era, European versions offered better performance and fuel economy being unhindered by convoluted emission control hardware.
The Pantera shared the Mangusta’s coil sprung independent suspension, used Girling vented disc brakes
on all 4 wheels and the cast magnesium wheels were shod with Michelin XVR radial tyres.
In 1973 a “GTS” version was introduced in Europe, a highly tuned Cleveland engine now affording 350bhp and making the car good for a (claimed) top speed of 175mph.
But by 1974 the luster of the marque was beginning to tarnish. Ferocious rust
plagued the cars, and this combined with reliability problems and suspect handling.
Add the mid-1970’s fuel crisis and it was obvious the days of the de Tomaso were quickly drawing to a close. Ford gave up it’s de Tomaso links (although it would retain Ghia), and the Pantera and a few other models would continue in extremely limited production into the mid 1980’s.
Also see: Lost Marques - De Tomaso (USA Edition)