Chevrolet’s Corvette is littered with immortal monikers denoting special models and engines. Think ZL1, ZR1, L88, LT1, Z06 and more, and you get the idea. A new one looks to be on the horizon—this one carrying a name (Zora) rather than numbers and letters.
That Chevrolet is finally going mid-engine with the Zora had me reflecting on radical Corvettes over the decades, and the wildest one I’ve driven. If you haven’t heard of the Mantide noted in this post’s title, you are not alone. Pronounced “Man-tee-day,” it was built in Italy at Carrozzeria Bertone in 2009, shown several times with a tease that it might go into ultra-limited production, but ended up being a one-off.
The Mantide’s backstory is quite intriguing, for it was a classic transatlantic marriage. From the 1950s through the 1980s Carrozzeria Bertone was one of the auto industry’s design leaders, with Alfa’s Giulietta Sprint, Lamborghini’s Miura and Countach, Lancia’s Stratos and a great number of other cars emanating from its styling studios, and production lines. One of the keys to Bertone’s success was its roll
call of legendary design chiefs—Franco Scaglione, Giorgetto Giugiaro and Marcello Gandini, to name just three.
Another key was longtime company president Nuccio Bertone. He had a fantastic eye for fashion, style, and talent, and knew how to nurture and guide that talent to stardom. He passed away in 1997 but had withdrawn from running the company years earlier, and the famed Carrozzeria never regained its stride. It was not for the lack of trying though, and one who hoped to revive the legendary nameplate was Jason Castriota.
A Key Player
A native of White Plains, New York, Castriota grew up immersed in cars, thanks to his successful father’s love of Ferraris. Jason ended up attending the Pasadena Art School in California, and there his talent came blossoming to the fore as he regularly won design contests. What his aggravated fellow students didn’t know was his professors normally gave him two assignments to theirone, just to keep him engaged and challenged.
Which helps explain why he dropped out of Art School when offered an internship at Bertone’s crosstown (and then still very successful) rival, Pininfarina. He became an employee when the internship was over, then its star designer and eventually head of design. His Pininfarina creations include Ferrari’s 599, Maserati’s Granturismo, and the one-off Maserati Birdcage 75 and Ferrari P4/5.
A True Break
A headstrong New Yorker who loves a challenge, Castriota went to Bertone in September 2008. He wanted to try and bring back the famed coachbuilding name as well as prove he could do design language that was a true break from Pininfarina’s classic refined beauty—and that makes it interesting that he chose a Corvette to start both missions, rather than something Italian.
As a student of automotive history, “Stile Bertone had a great history of working with the Corvette, or let’s say top-flight GM mechanicals,” Castriota told me. “The Testudo (a stunning one-off done in 1963) was on a Corvair. That was followed by the Iso Grifo (a Ferrari competitor in the 1960s that used a Corvette motor). And there were a couple of spectacular prototypes like the Ramarro (a one-off Corvette in 1984) that was an award winner, and the Nivola (a one-off mid-engine Vette) from the early ‘90s.
“So there was a good history between Bertone and an American chassis and drivetrain with Italian coachwork. We wanted to tap into that.”
When the Mantide was conceived, Chevrolet had recently debuted it’s then-fastest ever Corvette, the supercharged ZR1. “It is spectacular, really a world-beater,” Castriota told me back in April 2009 when discussing the Mantide. “The ZR1 is a car that beat everybody at the Nurburgring. You can’t fault that.”
The Bertone crew thus left the underpinnings largely untouched and focused on reducing weight, and airflow management. Castriota has long been a firm believer in both, and the Mantide is the Batmobile and Star Wars rolled into one, a carbon fiber missile with such avant-garde lines that it in many ways it is a love it or hate it proposition. That doesn’t bother Castriota one bit, for he says he did it “to provoke a reaction.”
And provoke it does, particularly when mashing the right pedal. After ducking under the butterfly doors and slipping into the Spearco driver’s seat, I fire it up and we pull out onto a two-lane road that snakes its way through the picturesque valley where the Bertone works were located. It’s immediately apparent the Mantide wants to run hard but traffic holds us back so I soak up the surroundings and continue to check out the controls. The interior has a theme of a structure surrounding you, and there is a sweeping view out the front windscreen. The car’s high beltline is anything but claustrophobic, thanks to the glass roof and a smart use of red materials to break up what could be a sea of black.
Traffic finally vanishes and I get on it in second gear coming out of a roundabout. The accelerator is barely halfway down and already the rear tires are struggling to maintain grip. A quick shift into third and traffic is all but disappearing in the rearview mirror.
The accompanying soundtrack is just as mind-bending as the thrust. Back in the 1950 and ‘60s auto mags used to describe a Ferrari’s sound as “ripping canvas”; with the Mantide it’s as if you took that torn canvas and crossed it with a Maserati V8. I’ve never heard a Vette sound like this, and all I want to do is drop the hammer, again and again, to hear that banshee wail over and over.
Soon we’re approaching slower cars at an alarming pace so it is hard on the binders; Jason says the drilled ventilated ceramic discs are identical to those found on Ferrari’s ultra-trick, Enzo-based $2-million-plus FXX. The pedal bite is almost instantaneous as actual travel measured in millimeters, giving marvelous feel as to what the binders are doing.
After comfortably pottering for a few minutes behind other cars, the road opens up as far as I can see. Castriota claims the Mantide is 200 pounds lighter than a stock ZR1 and it would be easy to lay down several hundred meters of black strips, but I want to feel the actual acceleration and not tires melting. In second gear I get on it, and no sooner is the pedal half to two-thirds the way down than the tires are again struggling for grip.
Built for Drama
This adds to the drama of it all, the rear end twitching as that ripping canvas bellow overwhelms the cockpit. Running up over 6000 rpm I shift into third and finally, the throttle hits the floor. The car leaps forward, the nose staying level. I look at Jason and say, “Keep the tires connected with this and a 599 would be toast.” He simply grins as he already knows that.
We surge past 100 mph on the two-lane road and settle in at a good triple-digit pace, and there is nary a breeze coming into the car even though both windows are completely down. “No surprise there,” Castriota responds. “The aerodynamics are that efficient.”
While the Mantide is a ballistic missile of the first order, it never beats you up. GM’s Magnetic Selective Ride Control suspension’s magneto-rheological shocks are like those found on the 599, the steering is supple and precise at all speeds, and the ride is firm but never jarring.
This is truly an all-around sports/GT of the first order, and after my drive I find myself gazing at the Mantide, completely stupefied. Whether you are looking inside or out, it seems incomprehensible that a Corvette lurks under there; it’s that different.
“And that,” Castriota summarizes, “is the car’s magic.”