BECAUSE the mongoose had a heart condition and could not run as hard as the cobra would slither.
The Cobra and Mangusta were the embodiment of Italian dissatisfaction with Americans and Argentinian self confidence.
Alejandro De Tomaso grew up in a cattle farm in Argentina, which is not really a strange thing because a large open country with huge swathes farm or plantation do tend to produce car nuts. I only say this because, just like Alejandro, Horatio also grew up in Colombia and his family name marks the rear end of every Zonda.
Maybe it was the smell of cow dung that drove these men “car mad” or maybe it was the large open spaces and access to farm tractors that did them in.
Whatever it is, De Tomaso is an interesting car company that built the gorgeous-looking Italian supercar that had stout American hearts, essentially promising the world that their cars combine Italian drama with American common sense with a large dose of V8 power.
The De Tomaso story started with the Vallelunga, which was an anomaly because after its design was completed De Tomaso was supposed to come find a buyer, but none was forthcoming.
It is a real pity because it is a pretty sportscar.
That said I don’t think the car’s designers would win any prizes for this Italian beauty.
Built as a cheap sportscar for poor people, the Vallelunga’s prettiest part, in my mind at least, is its name.
The Vallelunga is an iconic race track north of Rome and even hosted The Rome leg of Formula One so at least that makes up for the four-cylinder Ford Cortina engine wheezing crank out 104 horsepower and that was enough to make the 762kg move like an agile ferret.
It stood on a steel backbone chassis designed by De Tomaso. In 1964, such a chassis was state of the art and equivalent to using carbon fibre these days. Designed properly, a rigid backbone chassis can be the basis of a car that handles really well, but the keyword here is rigid and it had just about enough fortitude to keep the 104 horses I check.
Sadly the chassis, which was code named P70, was weakened by the presence of bad welding along the seams, which made the handing temperamental, at best.
This made it difficult to find more than 50 buyers for the car. The company sold not much more than one a month for four years before moving on to a new model, the Mangusta.
Rumours have it that the name Mangusta, which means Mongoose in Italian, was chosen to annoy Carroll Shelby’s Cobra, after they had a dispute with the American icon, over non-delivery of racing cars.
The Mangusta looked gorgeous but it stood on a modified version of the Vallelunga, which just about held together long enough for the cars to be sold, so there was concern whether the new car would behave better.
Luckily for De Tomaso, the well-proven and reliable Ford V8 that they bought from Detroit gave the car unheard of levels of reliability and practicality.
The American engines did cause some concern early on, whether they would bend the backbone chassis out of shape. It did not.
In the end De Tomaso found over 40 buyers for the Mangusta, making it the company’s first foray into the word of production series sports cars Americans, especially, love the idea of reliable sports cars.
From the Mangusta came the Pantera, and that was a proper Italian sports car, and by that we mean that it looks gorgeous but was not completely reliable.
They sold the Pantera’s lack of reliability as “character”; and this was enough to make the Pantera a genuine Itaian sports car.
The Pantera lived for 21 years and 7,200 cars were built during that period, making it the most popular model from the brand.
So from the mistake of the Vallelunga came the commercial success of the Mangusta and that gave the confidence to go on to make the Pantera. At least De Tomaso learnt for its mistakes.