Monday, October 17, 2016

Danville Street Sighting - 2001 Qvale Mangusta

I've had a subscription to Motor Trend magazine for over fifteen years. One of the first issues I remember receiving, November 2000, featured a nine-way comparison of sports cars. It was the first time I ever saw mention of an unusual Italian car called the Qvale Mangusta. In my Need For Speed-fueled childhood the Porsche 911 Turbo, Corvette Z06, Dodge Viper, Ferrari 360, BMW Z8, Mustang Cobra R, Shelby Series 1, Pontiac Trans Am and the like, made total sense to me. But the test also featured a red car with very odd styling and a bubbly retractable hardtop. It had a 4.6 liter Ford V8 producing 320 horsepower, a five-speed manual and a small back seat.

The story behind the Qvale Mangusta is complicated. It was originally supposed to be a De Tomaso in the 1990s. Alejandro De Tomaso commissioned former Maserati man Giordano Casarini to create an Italian version of the British TVR Griffith. The car was supposed to have an American Ford 4.6 modular V8 or Australian Holden Special Vehicles V8 as a backup option. Ford agreed to provide powertrains and Lamborghini stylist Marcello Gandini penned the body. Gandini designed a multi-piece convertible roof called the Rototop to make it a convertible coupe. The center section was a removable targa panel and the rest of the roof pivoted down underneath a cover. The chassis was developed by ex-Formula 1 engineers and featured extraordinary rigidity for an open car. The result was the 1996 De Tomaso BiguĂ  concept. The problem was that Alejandro De Tomaso was in poor health and the company had no money to develop the car past the concept stage.

The saving grace for the car came from Kjell Qvale, owner of British Motor Car Distributors in San Francisco. He was a major importer of European cars for decades. The Qvale family financed De Tomaso's operations and Kjell's son Bruce developed the production facility in Modena, Italy where the car would be built. It was to be called the De Tomaso Mangusta after the Mangusta sports car sold in the 1970s. De Tomaso and Qvale had a falling-out, though, and the Qvale group took over operations. The production car would be called the Qvale Mangusta.

The story wasn't yet over, and it gets weirder. After Qvale had its run building 284 Mangustas, MG Rover Group parent company, Phoenix Consortium, purchased the Mangusta platform. The chassis was developed into the MG XPower SV sports car, and continued the use of a Ford 4.6 V8 in most cars. The MG was an even rarer beast than the Mangusta with only 82 built between 2003 and 2005. MG Rover went bankrupt soon after, and the XPower was briefly revived in 2008 by William Riley's MG Sports and Racing Europe. Some seven XPower WR cars were sold before new MG Rover owner Nanjing Automotive sued over Riley's use of the MG trademark. The strange story of the Qvale Mangusta finally came to a close.

I have seen maybe a half dozen Mangustas, two of which are local to my area. This car was a common sight for a while along one of my delivery routes and I was fortunate enough to photograph it one day after work. It's a well-kept car that still has its dealer license plate frame and original Antera alloy wheels. I assume that it has the standard five-speed, as an automatic transmission was a rare option found on only 55 cars. The Qvale Mangusta is a truly unusual footnote among modern sports cars and one that I always wanted to feature here.

Photographed June 2016

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