60’s Beauty Queens – Facel Vega II, 5000 GT Allemano, 250 GTE, 400 GT and Mangusta

The 60’s, what an age…the music, the social changes…a time when love was the ultimate ideal and peace a global goal (except in Indochina, Africa, Middle East and you know, that almost full blown nuclear war thing…).

To really get you in the spirit of it I’d ask you to play “Gimme Shelter” and consider the deep social revolution that shook the world’s minds, the many people who sadly were forced to give up their life for ultimately ridiculous reasons. But we’re not here to talk about the consequences of the events which took place in the 1960’s, that’s a task left for better, more intelligent men than I am; for now I’ll stick with what we’re here for, cars. The 60’s was one hell of a decade for design, an unmatched and impossible to imitate flow of beauty and grace shaped into timeless designs that just happen to sit on four wheels. For both US and European car manufacturers, these 10 years were absolutely epic; the masterpieces that found their way out of designer’s minds still blow mine today! For this little article I could have picked dozens of different mouth-watering pieces of eye candy because there really is that much to choose from…the groundbreaking Miura, the Ferrari eater GT40, the drop dead gorgeous E-Type…However, today I’m shooting for a few more subtle and slightly lesser known 60’s beauty queens. So without further ado, shall we meet the 5 lovely ladies? Flirting is allowed and encouraged!

1962 Facel Vega II

For some reason and for the longest time, I didn’t very much like the first Facel Vega. Something about it just didn’t feel right, always thought it was a bit bloated. Thankfully, I’ve had a complete change of heart and grown to appreciate the car tremendously. However, I still most definitely think that Facel’s second attempt was far, far more successful. You see, back in the 60’s Facel was in trouble; they had only (re)started production in 1954 and  the bills were already piling up. Something extraordinary was needed and what the company came up with perfectly fits the adjective. The FV II came along and it was mind-blowingly pretty, luxurious to an unbelievable degree, sleek, fast…perfect. Although the chassis was pretty much the same as the one in the FV I (HK500) the style upgrades placed this lovely lady light years away from the previous model. The Vegas were one of those curious marriages of European style and tough American muscle which became popular from the late 50’s to the early 70’s; these always produced amazing results to the eye, although I hear that the mechanics can be a nightmare…

The FV II was powered by a Chrysler 383 V8 (coupled with a manual transmission) packing a whopping (for 1962) 390 bhp! This nifty little number got the massive FV II from 0 to 60 in under 8.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 150 mph, very respectful for its time! Was this gorgeous car a huge success? No, quite the contrary, it helped Facel to sink like a rock, but it wasn’t its fault. Before the II, the company had come up with something called the “Facellina”, a little thing similar to the Mercedes SL which meant to give Alfa Romeo a tough time, but it didn’t work at all. The French engines were crap and would break down every other day; the company had to replace them all, causing huge financial strain and dragging Facel further down the hole.

The FV II was also pretty expensive to build and eventually by 1964, Facel Vega was dead and only 182 gorgeous IIs were made. Still, in just a couple of years and costing $12.000 (when the widely popular E-Type had a price tag of just under $2.200), this car found one hell of a client base. Pablo Picasso, Christian Dior, Ava Gardner, Princess Grace of Monaco, Ringo Starr, Frank Sinatra, Stirling Moss, etc…It’s certainly not hard to see why these extraordinary people wanted one. The Facel Vega II was truly a bright start which sadly shinned ever briefly. The price for a little bit of heaven today? Between 200 and 330.000 USD.

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1962 Maserati 5000 GT Allemano

Meet the Maserati who cost twice as much as the beautiful 3500…it’s a rare one too, and I do mean rare. Only 22 Allemanos were ever made, making this little gem a very expensive one. The 5000 GT total production was limited to 32 cars, 22 had the body made by Allemano, and the others were commissioned to Frua, Monterosa, Ghia, Michelotti and Pininfarina; I don’t much care for these, it’s the Allemano ones that catch my eye. Why? Because of the presence and personality of the thing. The huge grill resembles teeth, the bonnet/front panels line reminds me of a frown…this car just looks downright pissed off at the world and everyone in it, I love it! Still, despite all this anger, the 5000 GT Allemano looks absolutely astonishing; without a doubt one of the most special Maseratis ever (and there have been some very good ones, so tough competition there).

This wasn’t a just for anyone kind of ride, but a custom-built luxury grand tourer only available to the absurdly wealthy. Maserati yanked the 450S racer’s V8 to power these beauties, so they didn’t just have the looks, they could deliver some serious speed as well. Maserati is still coming up with great cars today, just a little while back I got to spend some time with a Gran Turismo and even in its most basic form that thing is impressive, the quality DNA was not lost despite what some critics claim. I wasn’t expecting to find one but as I was writing this little article I noticed an Allemano for sale by the good people of Fantasy Junction (Emerville, California) so if you can spare the $785.000, don’t be shy, go for it. I would.

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1963 Ferrari 250 GTE 2+2 (Series III)

Ferrari…when I was a kid I was crazy about it. Now, “meh”. There are several reasons for my indifference towards the once great Italian builder, too many to go into here and now, but probably the biggest one has to deal with the design evolution itself. I just don’t think any of the modern Ferraris are properly pretty, I really don’t. To me Ferrari was on top of their game until the early 00’s; even back in the 80’s there was the 288 and the F40; the 90’s saw the birth of the 355; in the first years of the new millennium the 550 and 575 still put a huge smile on my face (despite being some of the lesser loved Ferraris) but from then on, not exactly great stuff. We had the Enzo which was striking but ugly as sin; the 599 which was ok while on full on GTO mode but before that pretty simple; the 458 which was hailed as a thing of beauty but to me it just looks  bland; and the FF, an interesting concept, somewhat relevant to Ferrari but not gasp inducing by any measure. And things aren’t looking up…the new 488 is just a worse looking 458 and the F12 has a whole female reproductive system at the back for some reason. But these are just my personal thoughts, yours may be radically different. The point I’m trying to make is that Ferrari’s golden age (60’s) produced timeless beauty, stuff that everyone can appreciate; now its all debatable.

As an ambassador for that magical place in time in which everything was ridiculously glamorous and achingly beautiful, I had to pick the 1963 250 GTE. If this isn’t sheer unadulterated class, I don’t know what is. Built back when Ferrari was still making drivers cars and not computer ran machines for the talent impaired, the 250 family is the greatest blood line Ferrari has ever produced. Names like Lusso, California (SWB and LWB), Le Mans, Tour de France and GTO defined the era, not just for Ferrari but for the whole automotive industry and although this GTE might not be as popular as his brothers, to me it’s the most interesting one.

A landmark for Maranello, the 250 GTE was the first production Ferrari to have a 2+2 sitting arrangement and it was a huge sale success. True, the back seats were only appropriate for kids because adults would have to compress into a “rar” version of themselves to fit, but it still  was a big change and the money coming into to Mr. Ferrari’s pocket was a very welcome means of backing up the company’s racing ambitions. Fitted with a glorious V12 and producing around 240 bhp (hey, it was the 60’s…the GTO only had 300), the GTE 2+2 will get you and your kids (if you dare) to 140 mph in complete style. For this model Pininfarina came up with what has to be one of the greatest looking bodies ever made, perfection from headlights to taillights. Oddly enough, these were never really favored by collectors and as such became incredibly cheap back in the 70’s, surviving until now – in a lot of cases – with very iffy service/repair histories, which makes getting one a bit of a gamble.

A 250 GTE will set you back between 90 and 200 grand (USD) and for that money you’ll get your fair share of headaches (because a vintage car is bad enough to run and maintain, but a vintage Ferrari is about 10 times worse), However, in those times when it works perfectly…what a joy! (it must be, sadly I can only speculate) “A not only grand, but glorious, touring car” according to “Road and Track” Magazine 1963.

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1966 Lamborghini 400 GT

Ferruccio Lamborghini…what a guy! As you know Enzo Ferrari was a master at being an absolute ass and when Mr. Lamborghini had troubles with his Ferraris (plural), he decided to confront Enzo who readily told him to get stuffed. So Ferruccio did what any sensible tractor maker would do, he decided to make a sports car and beat Ferrari at its own game. This was the beginning of the extraordinary Lamborghini saga, starting with the 350 GT in 1966 which was upgraded a few years later to this: the 400 GT.

Looking at it, you can perfectly understand why Lamborghinis never stopped being completely bonkers from the 60’s until now. The long bonnet, the dramatic shape of the headlights, the uniquely styled rear…the whole thing is breathtaking. Although the 400 looks almost exactly the same as the 350 (except for the headlights and badges, naturally), the body was redesign to allow for a 2+2 configuration inside; actually very few 400 GT’s aren’t 2+2. The V12 gained an additional 40 bhp pushing the power output to 320 and making this grand tourer one serious threat to Ferrari supremacy. The 400 GT is one of those great landmarks in automotive history and it established Lamborghini as a force to be reckoned with.

The legacy of this stunning looking thing can still be felt in the Italian manufacturer of insane 4 wheel dreams today. There’s one thing which gas always been amazing about Lamborghini: it’s an honest company who does its best to deliver the most exciting and over the top experience a driver can have.  Before allowing a car to be tested for a magazine or TV show, Ferrari tunes it to the specific track, sends along engineers to modify every kind of spec…in other words, fakes the hell out of it. Lamborghini just shows up and performs, the values a test gets are also what you’d get as a customer. Plus there’s always that feeling…Lamborghinis all have a sense of theatrical, of grand circumstance; you cannot just pass by one of those things and not stop or at least take a long second look, even not being a car guy/girl. It is the original creator of what are now called supercars and no one makes them better.

Because Audi has had such a deep impact in Lamborghini production techniques, the quality as increased immensely over the last few years. In terms of handling the main mission of a Lamborghini is no longer to crash as soon and fast as possible, but to actually give a 5 star performance. Even classic Lamborghini models like this 400 have a bit of a bad rep for nothing. There’s a very special way of dealing with them which requires just a little patience and commitment and everything will be just fine. Warm it up before going for a drive, perform the proper maintenance, stick a few aftermarket parts in there to improve cooling and that’s it, you have a car for life.

One of these will cost (depending on its condition) anything from 170 to 300grand, a small fortune by regular standards, but for someone with pockets deep enough to afford it, what a buy…According to Jay Leno (huge Lamborghini aficionado), only a few years ago these used to cost a fraction of their price today, but as the model became more appreciated, prices started to rise so to quote the man himself “if you see something you like, buy it now! Because it ain’t gonna get any cheaper.” Amen to that.

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1967 DeTomaso Mangusta

DeTomaso is one of those manufacturers that just had to go down in automotive history as something truly special (despite recent terrible moves of which I shall not speak). The company is named after its creator, the racer Alejandro de Tomaso who one day decided it would be awesome to start building cars. And so he did! And I’m (we’re) sure glad he had the idea. DeTomaso’s most famous car has to be the Pantera (1971-1993); Elvis Presley had one, and when it didn’t start one day, he shot it…(it started after that by the way). However, today we’re focusing on Pantera’s predecessor, the very cool, very sexy Mangusta.

This car is a design legend, there’s nothing to which it can be compared; the Mangusta didn’t look like anything which came before and nothing will ever look even remotely like it ever again. Styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Mangusta is another “European soul, American heart” combo. Italian style at its best on the outside, pure American muscle on the inside. Equipped with the same tuned 289 Ford V8 found in the Shelby GT350 and ZF 5 speed transaxle that was part of the GT40 race cars, you know the Mangusta meant business. However, this beast was not easy to handle; the chassis wasn’t exactly suited to handle the V8 and the fragile “spine” (where the huge engine covers hinges are attached) didn’t help either. This, combined with the massive weight difference (the car was obviously tremendously heavy at the back and extremely light at the front) made driving the Mangusta at high speeds one hell of an adventure, especially when you remember that this was a car capable of going all the way up to 155 mph.

The Mangusta is essentially a style exercise, eye candy, it wasn’t meant to be practical, it was meant to be a statement and it’s certainly not the cramped cockpit, or low ground clearance or even the lack of any kind of luggage space that’s gonna take that away from it. I personally love the Mangusta (as if that wasn’t clear by now); to me,its 60’s style at its peak. Mad, beautiful and surprisingly, not insanely expensive. 401 were made between ’67 and ’71 (with both 289 and 302 Ford V8s) and  today, one will set you back between 85 and 150.000 USD, not bad for one of the most gorgeous cars ever made.

(I couldn’t resist posting a picture of the open engine covers, please ignore “ridiculously photogenic car show guy” at the right and “Hawaii Shirt Man” at the left)

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Image credit

250 GTE

400GT

5000 GT Allemano (+)

Vega II (+)

Mangusta (+)

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