In the mid-’60s, the new breed of ‘su­per­cars’ pi­o­neered the mid-en­gined lay­out, but can our con­firmed GT Man trade Fer­rari Day­tona for De To­maso or Lam­borgh­ini?


Old-school Fer­rari Day­tona squares up to Lam­borgh­ini and De To­maso mid­dies

Here we are again: Day­tona vs Miura. But we make no apolo­gies for re­vis­it­ing these ri­vals. In­di­vid­u­ally or in a nat­u­ral pair­ing they are as ex­cit­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing as ever, the two key prod­ucts from the be­gin­ning of the great age of the Ital­ian su­per­car. Fu­sions of science and beauty, they rep­re­sent thrillingly dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions to the search for the ul­ti­mate GT car, that happy ‘prob­lem’ of how best to trans­port two wealthy peo­ple as quickly and en­ter­tain­ingly as pos­si­ble.

It was the Miura’s pre­co­cious chal­lenge that made the Day­tona so ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated in ’68, and cast the Ital­ian art of ex­otic-car build­ing in per­haps its best-ever light. But if the Miura was pre­co­cious, where did that leave our third and most in­trigu­ing pro­tag­o­nist, the De To­maso Man­gusta? An up­start at the very least, pow­ered by a ‘hum­ble’ Ford V8 and cre­ated by a man of du­bi­ous char­ac­ter, it would be easy to dis­miss it as an el­e­gant hot rod that was never quite the sum of its parts. Yet the Man­gusta was fast, beau­ti­ful and rare, qual­i­ties that earn it the right to be com­pared with a Miura and a Day­tona, even if you think you know the out­come.

Change was in the air at the end of the ’60s, and it seemed that Lam­borgh­ini was steal­ing Fer­rari’s thun­der. Yet the new 365GTB/4 was not the ex­pected mid-en­gined won­der, but a clas­sic front-en­gined transaxle Fer­rari: 4.4 litres, 12 cylin­ders, four cams and the po­ten­tial for a mere 174mph. It was des­tined to be­come the most com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful of the firm’s V12 two-seaters with 1285 built, plus 123 Spi­ders.

In truth, the Day­tona was less Maranello’s an­swer to the Miura than merely the next log­i­cal step in the de­vel­op­ment of its fastest road car: big­ger en­gine, bet­ter brakes, wider track and a Pin­in­fa­rina-styled, Scagli­etti-built body that es­chewed its 275 pre­de­ces­sor’s fine-boned del­i­cacy for an el­e­gant, chisel-nosed bru­tal­ity.

The Miura, first seen as a chas­sis in 1965 and a pro­to­type at Geneva in ’66, had been on sale for a year by the time of the Day­tona’s launch but still felt like a glimpse of the fu­ture: im­pos­si­bly low-slung, its body uni­tary steel with un­stressed nose and tail sec­tions. In­spired by mid-en­gined sports-rac­ing pro­to­types, the ar­chi­tects of the Miura sought the agility of those cars but with civilised pack­ag­ing for two and space for a 43in, 4-litre V12. Only by mount­ing it trans­versely, Is­sigo­nis-style, against the bulk­head on top of a five-speed transaxle (with which it shared its oil sup­ply) were the re­quired inches lib­er­ated without hav­ing to re­sort to a longer wheel­base.

Just 401 Man­gus­tas were built from 1967-’71, mak­ing it the rarest here. Like al­most any­thing con­nected with Ale­jan­dro de To­maso, all kinds of myths sur­round the car, which stood just 43.3in high and seemed so full of con­tra­dic­tions and com­pro­mises that it was hard to rec­on­cile its fab­u­lous shape with its al­leged short­com­ings.

Styled by Gi­u­giaro dur­ing his short but cre­ative time at Ghia, it was re­vealed at Turin in ’66 and had its roots in both a pro­posal for a mi­dengined Iso and the Pete Brock-de­signed Ghia

De To­maso sports-racer built and shown in ’65, but never raced. No­body was sur­prised by any of this, be­cause noth­ing that sprang from the fer­tile mind of de To­maso dur­ing the ’60s came to much. Eas­ily dis­tracted, the Ar­gen­tinian for­mer rac­ing driver, team owner and con­struc­tor of many pro­totipi was a good starter but not much of a fin­isher, although his mid-en­gined, Corti­napow­ered Val­lelunga had shown prom­ise.

Lit­tle was ex­pected of the Man­gusta. The name was clever (Ital­ian for mon­goose, the co­bra’s only preda­tor), the idea of a Ford V8 seemed sound and us­ing an up­rated Val­lelunga back­bone chas­sis was not un­rea­son­able, yet few be­lieved the pro­to­type would be seen again. But de To­maso, by then mar­ried to a well-con­nected Amer­i­can, had US money be­hind him; thus, mo­men­tum be­hind the project was main­tained.

A hand­ful were built in ’67 and full pro­duc­tion started in ’68. Cus­tomer ver­sions dif­fered from the show car in de­tail, but still had the trade­mark ‘gull­wing’ en­gine lids and Amer­i­can V8 power – the Ford 302 Wind­sor, pro­cured via its ‘in­dus­trial power’ arm. They also had the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first pro­duc­tion cars with wider tyres at the back than the front; this made a non­sense of the spare wheel, but when you had to re­move the en­gine cover to get at it any­way, who cared?

The plan was to sell the cars through Kjell Qvale’s US deal­er­ships for $11,500 – a use­ful

$10k less than a Miura. De To­maso had even man­aged to or­gan­ise im­mu­nity from the up­com­ing Fed­eral safety regs and by ’68 he was do­ing rea­son­able busi­ness, at the rate of four cars a day. The steel body was mated to the arc-welded steel back­bone at Ghia, then sent to Mo­dena for fin­ish­ing. In truth, it’s doubt­ful that any left the fac­tory truly ‘fin­ished’: the car was mauled in the US spe­cial­ist press for its build qual­ity (rust, coolant leaks, dis­ap­pear­ing brakes) and de­tail de­sign is­sues, from the heavy clutch to the fact that the power win­dows did not lower fully.

Such fail­ings were far from un­heard of in the world of Latin ex­ot­ica, where there had long been a ten­dency to de­sign a pretty shape first and worry later about where peo­ple would sit. What seemed less for­giv­able were re­ports that the Man­gusta’s han­dling was sus­pect. Tyre choice, a flex­i­ble chas­sis and un­favourable 38:62 weight dis­tri­bu­tion were cited as the rea­sons for a ten­dency to­wards un­pre­dictable snap over­steer; spe­cial­ists have since found that the ex­pla­na­tion is more likely to be that the rear wheels toe out un­de­sir­ably in ‘bump’ for the lack of a rose-joint on the top link of the rear up­rights.

Limited to around 5000rpm by their hy­draulic tap­pets, smog-equipped Us-mar­ket cars posted top speeds as low as 128mph, against 150mph-plus in Europe. This is one of the fi­nal 50 Amer­i­can cars from ’71, when De To­maso’s crash-test dis­pen­sa­tion ran out – hence the head­lights that flip out via a man­ual link­age. Like the Miura it lurks at waist height, on beau­ti­ful mag­ne­sium wheels that are unique to the car and cost £15k a set (if you can find them). But even these don’t have the al­lure of the Lam­borgh­ini cen­tre-locks, with their Ben Hur spin­ners.

The Day­tona sits high on dough­nut-like Miche­lin XWXS, with only messy ex­haust boxes to mar its pro­file. Its strong, sen­sual and beau­ti­fully blended curves do not of­fer the theatre of the Man­gusta or Miura, but it has a de­cent boot, a mag­nif­i­cent bon­net full of en­gine (com­plete with dual dis­trib­u­tors driven off the camshafts), and a sense of author­ity that makes it big enough to fill a rear-view mir­ror, but com­pact enough to mean driv­ing it is a very per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

In­side it’s all about busi­ness, with big, clear Veglia in­stru­ments and that thick-rimmed, man­sized Momo wheel. The equally meaty gear­lever al­lows you to swap ra­tios with swift, sat­is­fy­ing pre­ci­sion once the oil is warm. It is eas­ier to get into and out of than the mid-en­gined cars, and is roomier, bet­ter fin­ished and more com­fort­able.

The Fer­rari is hefty to drive but not a lorry. The man­ual steer­ing (this one has the dreaded elec­tric PAS) is ini­tially heavy, for a poor lock, but ac­cu­rate and thor­oughly in tune with its aura of sub­stance and sta­bil­ity. The brakes are strong and easy to mod­u­late, the ride good with an im­pres­sive fa­cil­ity to flat­ten as you gather speed; in fact, all three im­press in that re­spect.

With its 50:50 bal­ance, the Day­tona is a car that wants to look af­ter you, its clearly tele­graphed lim­its am­ple but not so high that am­bi­tious driv­ers will never ap­proach them on the road. That sub­stan­tial feel in­cludes the ac­cel­er­a­tion, which is still epic in the first three gears

and keeps push­ing hard at speeds that would get you locked up. Per­haps more im­por­tantly, it still feels very us­able, so you can gather speed in a use­fully brawny yet re­lax­ing way.

The Miura and the Man­gusta are a dif­fer­ent game. Built for snake-hipped play­boys, they ask you to leave your dig­nity at the door as you lower your­self into their snug cock­pits. Over-the shoul­der vi­sion is poor, but the Lambo at least of­fers a close-up view of its We­bers, while the De To­maso shows just glimpses of what is go­ing on be­hind the alu­minium heat shields. These seem to cover the en­gine as if ashamed of it: the 302 is not a thing of beauty, and is mostly hid­den by the pro­saic air cleaner for the four-bar­rel carb. What­ever ben­e­fits the V8 might have in terms of main­te­nance sched­ules are some­what negated by the lack of ac­ces­si­bil­ity, although you can get to the front pul­leys via a panel be­tween the seats and you don’t have to en­dure the five-hour plugchange rit­ual suf­fered by Miura own­ers.

This Man­gusta has been re­built to a level that must set a new bench­mark for a model that tends to be sneered at – prob­a­bly for the lack of sorted ones on which to pass judge­ment. The limited clear­ance un­der the sump makes any owner un­der­stand­ably wary of where they use the car, but in other re­spects it isn’t as im­prac­ti­cal as you might think, with a car­peted lug­gage bay in the nose and an­other be­side the en­gine. It has the air

of a big ‘Whiz­zwheels’ toy; de­tails such as Fiat 850 tail-lights fail to break the spell, and I con­sider it the near equal of the Miura aes­thet­i­cally.

It com­pares well un­der way, too, once you put aside the dis­ap­point­ment of the plank-like dash and mi­nor dis­com­fort of the off­set wheel-tope­dals ar­range­ment. Not that the Lam­borgh­ini is all that won­der­ful: you would have to have short arms and short legs to achieve a nat­u­ral driv­ing po­si­tion, with the wheel be­tween your kneecaps and the sense that you can drag your knuck­les across the in­side of the vast wind­screen.

A good per­cent­age of the ex­cite­ment in both comes from the sense that you are sit­ting so very low, skim­ming across the sur­face of the road, with fur­ther drama pro­vided by the shat­ter­ing noise that ac­com­pa­nies sus­tained thrust in ev­ery gear. There is real urge from idle to 5000rpm in the Man­gusta, with pull that feels at least on a par with the Miura and Day­tona, ac­com­pa­nied by an un­even boom from the ex­hausts that doesn’t do jus­tice to the en­gine’s es­sen­tial smooth­ness.

In the Lambo, the tachome­ter surges to­wards 7000rpm, the hum of its 800rpm tick­over ris­ing to a crescendo of valve, camshaft and tim­ingchain noise that dom­i­nates your world. Se­ri­ous ef­fort is asked of you by the ped­als, and you tend to slip the clutch when pulling away in the long first – a small price to pay for the race-car­respon­sive pick-up. On the other hand, the brakes are cu­ri­ously soggy and you feel the need to glance down at the gear­lever to ma­nip­u­late it through the chrome-fin­gered gate: the Man­gusta’s ZF shift is su­perbly slick in com­par­i­son.

The ra­tios in both are per­fectly judged to keep the ac­cel­er­a­tion flow­ing. The Man­gusta is not both­ered which gear it’s in, and will run down to al­most noth­ing in top then give smooth pull on a wide throt­tle. The Lambo is not so tol­er­ant and, although flex­i­ble, de­mands care to get the gears home at the right mo­ment be­cause the revs shut down so quickly. Get it right and the way the Miura winds it­self out will never fail to amuse.

From in­side, its Bar­barella-style dash­board, with bold speedo and rev-counter na­celles, seems to float be­tween the curves of the bright yel­low bon­net beyond as you the reel in the road. You feel as if your legs are stuck out among the sus­pen­sion com­po­nents in a gi­ant go-kart, the out­stand­ing fea­ture of which – en­gine aside – is its light, sen­si­tive steer­ing. It man­ages to let you know ex­actly what the road sur­face is do­ing without load­ing up or trans­mit­ting shocks to your fin­ger­tips, so the im­pres­sion is sim­ply of a very fast and flat car with end­less grip.

On our brief drive this Man­gusta felt so good, so ca­pa­ble that I ques­tioned how stan­dard it re­ally is. Yes, its steer­ing is low-geared and less re­spon­sive than the Miura’s – this, com­bined with the tail-heavy weight bias, could be the key to its over­steer­ing rep­u­ta­tion, but I never got any­where near its limit. It doesn’t have the to­tal ‘feel’ of the Miura, but is oth­er­wise a de­light­fully fast and roll-free car that sim­ply goes where it is bid­den, hap­pi­est un­der throt­tle but ap­par­ently not un­set­tled by hav­ing the taps shut off, ei­ther.

The De To­maso would be a lib­er­at­ing choice for those who strug­gle to rec­on­cile the costs of a

hard­core ex­otic, and I liked it without reser­va­tion. As for the Miura, any­one who loves cars se­cretly wants one. It is a beau­ti­ful ob­ject, a thing made en­tirely for plea­sure. Sanc­tioned re­luc­tantly by Fer­ruc­cio (who was de­lighted to find he could sell Mi­uras for half as much again as the 400GT), its ex­quis­ite beauty and ground­break­ing en­gi­neer­ing put his firm on the map, without ever go­ing near a cir­cuit. There was a fan­tasy el­e­ment to this dream car that con­nected with peo­ple from all walks of life, and it still has the power to make grown men go weak at the knees. I to­tally get that – and, yes, of course I want one.

Yet it is the Fer­rari that has the most at­trac­tion for me. It was not a dream car wrought in metal but a de­vel­oped prod­uct from a dy­nasty of fron­tengined GTS. For each arm­chair critic who be­moaned the ‘old-fash­ioned’ con­fig­u­ra­tion there were 100 buy­ers for a car that was likely to be the last of its kind, a car they could ac­tu­ally use or even race – in some cases long af­ter pro­duc­tion had ended. Where the Miura and Man­gusta as­pired to sports-rac­ing lay­outs, the Day­tona – which was never built to go rac­ing – was the only one with a de­cent com­pe­ti­tion his­tory. That says a lot about the car, all of it good.

Thanks to Rard­ley Mo­tors (rard­ley­mo­; Em­blem Sportscars (em­blem­; Winch­ester Auto Barn and Driv­ers’ Club

Clock­wise from above: Miura has no bad an­gle; orig­i­nal flaws were ironed out for SV; V12 is mounted high over the trans­mis­sion; re­clined driv­ing po­si­tion

Clas­sic GT style, with long bon­net cov­er­ing the big quad-cam V12. Mighty Day­tona is the quick­est car here as well as be­ing prac­ti­cal and com­fort­able

Del­i­cate styling of the pert tail is at odds with the car’s mus­cu­lar look. Be­low, left­right: clas­sic per­fo­rated leather seats and three­spoke wheel; six We­bers top 352bhp pow­er­plant

Clock­wise from above: rich Oxblood leather lifts cabin; taut rear is the Man­gusta’s best view; ‘gull­wing’ en­gine cov­ers; re­stricted ac­cess to 302cu in Wind­sor V8

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