Ferrari has built some of Italy’s most impressive machines. But a prancing horse badge isn’t required for an Italian car to be simply incredible. Most of the cars that follow aren’t inexpensive, but compared to Ferraris they are absolute steals.
DeTomaso Mangusta: Mercedes-Benz doesn’t have a lock on the gullwing market. No, DeTomaso used a gullwing configuration for their Mangusta. But not for the doors, rather the rear of the car has two dorsally mounted flip-up hatches that cover the engine, spare tire, and luggage compartments. Rumor has it that Alejandro De Tomaso named the car Mangusta (mongoose, in Italian; a cobra’s natural enemy) because it was to become the Cobra’s replacement until Carroll Shelby became involved with Ford’s GT40 program. It was in good fun though, because it’s further rumored that Shelby supplied the Euro-market Mangustas with high-performance 289 cubic inch V-8s.
Fiat X1/9: With a layout like the Lamborghini Miura (transverse mid-engine and rear-wheel drive) and designed by the same man (Marcello Gandini), the Fiat X1/9 doesn’t have the Lamborghini’s tire-melting power, but the Fiat’s weighs around 2,000 lbs and its handling is sublime. Best of all, most X1/9s can be had for less than 1 percent the cost of a Miura.
Iso Grifo A3C/Bizzarrini 5300GT: Giotto Bizzarrini was Ferrari’s chief engineer for five years and led development of, among other cars, the 250GTO. After Enzo Ferrari fired him in 1961, he went to work on his own projects, developing the Iso Grifo A3C over the next couple years along with partner and engineer Renzo Rivolta. The project was doomed from the start as Bizzarrini was obsessed with endurance racing and Rivolta saw the practicality of selling cars to the public. In all, about 25 Grifos were built but after the two parted, the A3C became the Bizzarrini 5300GT (of which about 130 were produced).
Why was it special? It weighed about 2,700 lbs, was powered by a 360-400hp Corvette engine and included a limited-slip differential, De Dion axle and near-perfect weight distribution.
Lamborghini Countach: Whether you first saw it in concept form on the 1971 Geneva Auto Show stand, on the big screen in 1981’s “Cannonball Run,” or on a used car lot near Miami International Airport in 1991, there is no forgetting or mistaking the timeless Lamborghini Countach. Rather than being toned down for production, the Countach concept (another Gandini design) actually became more aggressive in production trim. It gained intakes on the rear quarter panels, and door/fender NACA ducts as well, to help cool the four-liter V-12. Additionally, a rubber bumper blunted the concept’s tapered nose. Love or hate it, this car is the very definition of awesome as it’s more U-F-O than C-A-R.
Maserati Khamsin: More obscure than the Countach, the Khamsin is another one of Gandini’s hits. Although the Lamborghini Urraco shares many details (except the Khamsin’s super-cool asymmetrical hood), their proportions are quite different and frankly, more successful on the Khamsin. And while the Khamsin does have rear seats, I wouldn’t suggest sitting in them for the car’s intended grand tour even if it can cruise at 170 mph.