Rare Vehicle Sighting: 2000-2002 Qvale Mangusta
By Chris Haak
Once in a while, we spot unusual vehicles during our daily travels that only an auto enthusiast might appreciate. To the untrained eye, they may not appear to be anything special, rare, or interesting. Heck, even my reasonably-trained eye failed me in identifying this car.
Earlier this week, one of our readers spotted the vehicle shown here at a parking lot in Delaware. He sent it to me and asked me what it was. Embarrassingly, I didn’t know the answer without looking at the detail shot that he took of the car’s back end. At that point it all started to come together in my mind.
You’re looking at a Qvale Mangusta. (No, it’s not a 1999 Ford Thunderbird, and it’s also not a Chinese knockoff of a Mercedes-Benz SL roadster. Both ideas were among my initial thoughts for the car’s identity). The name is pronouned ‘kah-va-lee.’
The Mangusta has a somewhat interesting history, and is also an interesting hodge-podge of Italian and American componentry. The car was designed by Marcello Gandini, the renowned Italian designer who was responsible for highlights such as the Lamborghini Countach, Diablo, and Muira, as well as the stillborn Cizeta-Moroder V16T.
The Mangusta began its life as the De Tomaso Biguà, and was shown in public for the first time at the 1996 Geneva Motor Show. It was to have been the car that turned around De Tomaso’s fortunes, but ultimately, De Tomaso had to seek further assistance.
Alejandro De Tomaso formed a business partnership with American Bruce Qvale to bring the Biguà, which was then renamed the Mangusta, to market. Qvale was a well-established US importer of imported luxury vehicles on the west coast. The Mangusta name was intended as a tribute to the gull-winged 1967-1971 De Tomaso Mangusta. When new, it cost a fairly-reasonable $69,500. In a moment, you’ll see how an Italian-built sports car was leaving the dealership for a relatively-paltry sum.
Shortly before the De Tomaso Mangusta was set to be delivered to its first customers, De Tomaso and Qvale parted ways. The story goes that the first few cars were badged as De Tomasos, but upon the vehicles’ first trips back to the dealership for servicing, the De Tomaso badges were removed and replaced by Qvale badges.
The Mangusta was built in Modena, home to another manufacturer of exotic cars you may have heard of: Ferrari. But in spite of its Italian assembly and heritage, its drivetrain was pure red-blooded American. It shared an engine and transmission with the Ford Mustang Cobra of the day, which meant a 320-horsepower, 314 lb-ft 4.6 liter 32-valve V8 and a BorgWarner T45 five-speed manual. Aside from swiping the Mustang’s drivetrain, Qvale also borrowed liberally from its donor’s interior electronics. You don’t have to squint very hard to see the Mustang-sourced gauge cluster, center stack, power window switches, and steering wheel. Of course, the dash is wrapped in leather to somewhat-obscure its pedestrian roots, but they still manage to easily shine through.
Fortunately, the Mangusta did not share its chassis or underpinnings with the aging Fox platform-based Mustang. Instead, it had a rigid box-steel frame and a composite body. The car’s long wheelbase allowed most of the engine’s mass to be placed behind the front axle, thus helping weight distribution with its FM (front-midships) engine placement.
After between 270 and 272 examples were produced – most of which were sold in the US – production ended. In 2003, the rights to the car were sold again, this time to MG Rover Group, where the Mangusta’s structure, suspension, engine and gearbox underpinned the MG XPower SV. That car was built mostly in Italy, in the same factory, but with pre-delivery customization and final assembly occurring in the UK.
Many find the Mangusta’s appearance to be unusual, perhaps undesirable. Count me among them. But others surely do like what they see, as the car did manage to find some buyers during its abbreviated life. Many folks find Chris Bangle’s Fiat Coupé to be his masterpiece, and I find that car odd looking. And yet, Qvale still keeps the lights on at its Mangusta website (http://www.qvaleauto.com/), eight years after production ended. The official website contains photos of the production process and an owner forum that still has activity, with talk of ten-year reunions and the like.
I don’t see much appeal in a car like the Qvale Mangusta, but there is something to be said for owning an Italian “exotic” that can be serviced at the local Ford dealer. And our automotive landscape is a little richer thanks to the existence of cars like this one.