De Tomaso Pantera
Not as famous as Ferrari or Lamborghini, De Tomaso is another legend of the Italian sports car scene from the â60s. Argentinean Alejandro De Tomaso founded the company, which started as a race car outfit. But soon it moved to the sports car market with a lineup of successful models. They featured a Ford small block engine, five-speed transaxle gearbox, and an aggressive design.
The first car was the De Tomaso Mangusta they introduced in 1967. But the Pantera they introduced in 1969 proved to be more successful and popular, even though it shared lots with the Mangusta. But the key to the Pantera’s success was that Alejandro De Tomaso made a deal with the Ford Motor Company.
That meant they could sell De Tomaso products officially in America through the Lincoln-Mercury dealership network. Ford provided the engines and De Tomaso did the rest. So, the Pantera was a home run for this small company. When they ended the production in 1989, De Tomaso had built over 7,000 Panteras. In fact, even Elvis Presley owned one.
Alfa Romeo TZ3
The TZ name has been present in Alfa Romeo history since the ’60s. That was when they produced sports and racing cars they named the TZ 1 and TZ 2. The T stands for Turbulare and the Z for Zagato, the designer house. To connect with their glorious racing past, Alfa Romeo presented a limited production model they called the TZ 3. They presented it in 2011 with a Zagato body.
However, the automobile public was surprised when they debuted the new model. That was because Alfa didn’t have the chassis or the engine for such a model. But when they revealed the specifications, the secret came to light. The Alfa Romeo TZ 3 was the track-ready version of the previous generation Dodge Viper ACR-X. Alfa dressed the Viper in a Zagato body but left all the important mechanical components and the massive 8.2-liter engine intact.
Even the interior was the same except the badges, which they switched from Dodge to Alfa Romeo. The TZ 3 provided a supercar beating performance with 600 HP, 3.4 second 0 to 60 mph times and a 200-mph top speed. Despite the fancy new Italian suit, V10 engine, driving dynamics and legendary name, Alfa only managed to sell nine copies. And surprisingly, they sold none of them in the USA even though the mechanics came from the Dodge Viper, an American-made car.
Chevrolet Corvette Rondine
In 1963, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray stunned the global automotive audience with its fantastic design, sharp edges, split window feature and brutal performance. It was the epitome of the American sports car at its finest. However, in Turin, Italy the talented designers at Pininfarina thought they could do it better. So, in cooperation with Chevrolet, they got the chance to prove themselves.
The result was the Corvette Rondine, a fully operational and usable concept car from 1963 that debuted at the Paris Motor Show. Since Chevrolet commissioned the car, it graced the General Motors stand with the 327/360 V8 engine, four-speed manual and disc brakes. Although there were pleas for production, this gorgeous car remained a unique example of one of the most beautiful American cars with an Italian design.
De Tomaso Longchamp
In the â70s, De Tomaso was a well-respected sports car brand that needed a luxury GT coupe to expand its portfolio. Soon, De Tomaso presented a sleek, fast coupe they called the Longchamp in 1972. They built it on a shortened Deauville sedan chassis. They sourced the engine for this model, as with all De Tomaso cars, from Ford in the form of the 351 V8 producing 330 HP.
That engine was more than enough to deliver exhilarating performance and true to the Gran Turismo nature of this car. However, they ceased production in 1989 after building more than 400. Interestingly, those U.S. engines in the â70s Italian cars had more power and torque since the European environmental standards were different than in America.
After the success of the Rivolta and becoming one of the most popular sports and luxury car brands in â60s Italia, Iso unveiled a more advanced, faster model. They named it the Grifo, and it was an elegant, dramatic coupe they introduced in 1964.
Immediately, it became one of the most advanced, fastest and desirable sports coupes on the market. This was a bold claim since the middle of the â60s in Italy meant there was serious competition from heavy hitters like Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini. But the Iso Grifo was more beautiful and faster than anything else.
The base engine was the 350 V8, but they tuned it to produce more than 350 HP. After a couple of years, Iso switched to the 427 V8 with 400 HP. They even produced a series of the Grifo with Ford V8 engines. Unfortunately, in the mid-70s, the company went out of business.
Nardi Silver Ray
One of the first Italian sports cars to feature an American V8 was the little-known Nardi Silver Ray they built in 1960. Giovanni Michelotti designed it and Nardi built it on a tubular frame with some suspension parts from Alfa Romeo. However, the most interesting thing was the engine.
The Nardi Silver Ray used a Plymouth Golden Commando 413 V8 that delivered 350 HP. For 1960, this was enormous power so the Silver Ray could top 140 mph, which was outstanding. Since it was immensely powerful and fast, Nardi and Michelotti equipped it with four-wheel disc brakes.
Iso Grifo 90
The legendary Iso Grifo from the â60s and early â70s left an everlasting mark on the industry. So in 1990, Pietro Rivolta, the son of the founder, presented the Grifo 90 concept. They built it on a Corvette C4 chassis with a special new body the renowned stylist, Marcello Gandini designed. Unfortunately, financial problems forced the cancelation of the project.
Soon, most people forgot about the Grifo 90. However, two decades later, a group of young Italian engineers decided to revive the project. But this time, they used the Corvette C5 as the base, dressing it up in the gorgeous yellow Grifo 90 body style. Better yet, you can spec your Grifo 90 with a 490 HP engine and Corvette Z06 chassis, which makes it an extremely quick and capable sports car.
Italians love the Corvette, so over the years, several Italian design houses have produced numerous versions of America’s favorite sports car. But one of the latest is the strange but fast Bertone Mantide. They introduced it in 2009, and the Mantide is a total redesign of the Corvette ZR1.
It retained all the mechanics, drivetrain and engine but had a new, lighter and more aerodynamically efficient body. This means the Mantide has a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 with 647 HP for slightly better performance. The planned production was 10 examples, but it is unclear exactly how many they produced.
The Momo Mirage was the brainchild of New York’s Peter Kalikow and his friend Albert Momo. Kalikow was a wealthy car enthusiast and Momo was a Jaguar dealer, so the two developed a close friendship around cars. In the late â70s, they had an idea to build their own car company. They would produce exclusive coupes with Italian styling and bodies but with Chevrolet`s V8 engines.
They contacted the famous Italian designer, PietroFrua who agreed to design and build the Momo Mirage. Unfortunately, the Momo car company started in the early â70s just before the economic recession, which greatly affected the car market. They never completed their plan for 25 Mirages per year. In fact, Frua only completed five cars, three of which are still in the possession of Peter Kalikow.
Fissore Magnum LaForza
The Fissore Magnum LaForza is an obscure Italian luxury SUV they sold in America from the late â80s until the early 2000s. Because they developed it using a military vehicle, it was an Italian competitor to the Range Rover. However, because of limited funds, they designed and built the car using an independent company that used components from other cars. Most noticeable were the rear lights and doors from the economy compact Fiat Uno.
However, the most powerful version they called the LaForza used a Ford 5.0-liter V8 with 200 HP for an interesting performance in its class. And because they equipped it with a capable AWD system, the LaForza was competent on off-road terrain. However, problems with production and the high price left this interesting Italian/American luxury SUV on the margins of the industry.
Cunningham Vignale C3
Briggs Cunningham was a world known entrepreneur, racer and constructor who introduced American cars to the European sports car scene in the 1950s. His dream was to build a racing car that would dominate both sides of the Atlantic by winning the Le Mans with an all-American machine, drivers and crew.
From 1952 to 1955, Cunningham entered the Le Mans race with several cars of his own design. However, in the same period, he produced a road-going sports car in the form of the beautiful Cunningham C-3. The C-3 was a two-door coupe or convertible he produced in his West Palm Beach facility. It used the Cunningham C-2 R racing chassis they converted for street use and the bodies came from Vignale in Italy.
Under the hood was a Chrysler 331 Hemi engine they tuned to produce 300 HP. The C-3 was a luxury sports car that could easily rival any Ferrari or Maserati. However, it was also expensive with the prices close to the Rolls Royce of the day. And that is why Briggs Cunningham produced only 20 coupes and five convertibles, all of which still exist today.
Chrysler TC Maserati
Everything started in the mid-80s when Chrysler was flushed with cash and high on ambition. After the failure of the Imperial coupe, Chrysler was on a lookout for another premium project and again attempted to break into the luxury market. In those days, one of their bestselling products was the cool-looking Chrysler Le Baron.
It was available as a coupe or a convertible, all with front-wheel drive. The Le Baron was selling nicely but Chrysler thought they could turn it into something to rival the Cadillac Allante or Mercedes SL, two of the hottest drop top cars of the day. Through the connection with Maserati, Chrysler decided to upgrade the Le Baron into a bespoke, luxury car. They wanted to give it more power and interior features, leather upholstery and updated equipment.
The assembly was not in Detroit but in Italy, emphasizing its premium roots and exclusivity. Under the hood, buyers could get the turbocharged four-cylinder engine or naturally-aspirated 3.0-liter V6. When the TC finally entered the market in 1989, buyers were shocked by the high price tag. But it was the result of making the car in Italy by hand and then transporting it to the states.
Also, the TC by Maserati wasn’t fast or nimble because they used modest underpinnings that resulted in relatively common driving dynamics. However, in two years, Maserati produced 7,300 TCs, which is a relatively low number. Today, this model is not a popular car since it isn`t exactly a Chrysler and it isn’t exactly a Maserati. Caught somewhere in the middle, the TC is an interesting part of history for both brands and an obscure collector car.
Cadillac envisioned the Allante as a competitor to the Mercedes SL convertible. It was a two-seater luxury convertible with Italian styling by Pininfarina, a Northstar V8 engine and front-wheel drive. That was quite an unusual combination, but the car looked and performed well.
Even the production process was specific since they did the fabrication in Italy in the Pininfarina factory and then shipped the cars to the U.S. by jet. But that made the cost of the final product much higher. The Allante stayed in production until 1993 and they built just over 21,000. Unfortunately, the car was too expensive to produce, so the factory allegedly lost money on every example they made.
The late â90s brought the Qvale as a new player on the international sports car scene. The project started as a De Tomaso concept, but they continued as a Qvale when De Tomaso went out of business. Under the sleek and modern design, there were quite a few Ford Mustang parts, including the 4.6-liter V8 engine and dashboard.
The most interesting feature of this car was the roof. Each Mangusta was also a coupe, Targa and convertible thanks to a retractable hardtop system that allowed for several positions. Unfortunately, the car wasn’t well received, so they discontinued it in 2002 after producing only 284 of them.
These are the cars like spaghetti westerns with Italian styling and American engines. Did any of them strike your fancy? If so, be sure to check the price tag first since most of these are extremely expensive. Sadly, some of these cars are no longer available, but they all made automotive history.