When I was a kid, there was a show on TV called “Before They Were Stars.” The show looked at popular celebrities to see what they were like before they became famous. Some of them had humble careers working in menial jobs for low wages – and of course, they would always dig up an embarrassing high school yearbook photo.
In the same way, most car enthusiasts have heard of the DeTomaso Pantera, the Ford-powered, Italian-styled, mid-engine sports car from the 1970s. Before DeTomaso hit it big with the Pantera, they tested the waters with a car that is relatively unknown today: the Mangusta.
The Mangusta was the Pantera before it got its teeth fixed, its hair combed, and changed its name. Like an up-and-coming celebrity, the Mangusta was a little rough around the edges before it became a big shot.
As I’m sure you were wondering, mangusta is Italian for ‘mongoose.’ In the animal kingdom, a mongoose is an animal that can kill a cobra snake. The symbolism was heavy in DeTomaso’s choice of names – they were going up against Carroll Shelby and the Ford GT40.
Besides the unusual name, the Mangusta also had a quirky dual-gullwing door over the rear engine compartment. The interior was very basic, with power windows and air conditioning available as optional equipment. Finally, the car was very heavy in the rear and its poor weight distribution made the car unwieldy to drive at higher speeds.
Still, the Mangusta had all of the important qualities that would go on to make the Pantera a success: a mid-engine design, a powerful Ford V8 engine, and a sexy wedge-shaped body designed in Italy. It even had disc brakes and independent suspension at all 4 wheels, something that was ahead of most other cars of the day. Both the Mangusta and the Pantera only came with a ZF 5-speed gearbox.
DeTomaso produced just 401 Mangustas between 1967 and 1971. The Pantera was their most popular car, with about 7,200 built.