THE SUPERCAR IS BORN
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 (rardleymotors.com); Emblem Sportscars (emblemsportscars.com); 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