The Stile Bertone Mantide. An extreme, arresting and most certainly controversial car; quite an statement considering the long and prestigious history of amazing one-off machines to have rolled out of the factory doors at Bertone’s Turin-based facility – one of the world’s most respected coach builders and automotive design houses.
A quick Google search will reveal a treasure trove of information about this fascinating fighter jet like, street-driven machine. Unfortunately, just because the information is out there, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s correct, or even close to correct for that matter.
With that in mind, while in New York recently, we managed to coax the Mantide (which is Italian for Mantis and pronounced ‘Man-tee-day’, by the way) out and on to the streets of West Chelsea. It was both an opportunity to capture this ultra-rare piece of rolling art in its native habitat and to catch up with its famous designer, Jason Castriota, who was Bertone’s Director of Design at the time, and see how he feels about his contentious creation now that it has reached school age.
But first, lets clear up by far the most common misconception about this car. Though the web is absolutely full of reports of multiple Mantides around the globe, there is only, and will only, ever be one. The confusion all stems from both original reports that a total of 10 examples would be produced, and the paint used on the car.
The Mantide, which was built to order for English car collector and occasional Ferrari racer Dan Watkins, was initially painted red – something that Jason himself never wanted, but the director at Bertone insisted upon. A year or so after the car was unveiled, Jason convinced Dan to respray the car in the pearl white hue envisioned when the Mantide was being designed. This led to people thinking that there was both a second and a third car after the newly-white machine was spotted a couple of times in Dubai.
But why a third? Well, if you get a pearlescent paint in the right light and take a bunch of underexposed photos of it on the right angles, you’ll be amazed at how much it looks like nice, clean silver paintwork.
And what of that original promise of 10 cars? Jason explained that after a few months of ownership, Dan decided he wanted his Mantide to be a single child – a unique, one off machine that no one else could have – and decided that no more should be made. As he had commissioned the car in the first place, he was well within his rights to do so.
The other most common result to pop up when Googling the Bertone Mantide is its impending assault on the Nürburgring production car record. Considering all these news stories were dated somewhere between 2009 and 2010, one must assume that it never happened. Jason tells us that they originally had plans to partner with John Hennessey, who was developing a ZR1 ‘Vette to make a Ring run; however the timing wasn’t right and in the end it never materialised. This may change in the near future though, with renewed plans to ship the car to Europe for a run down the autobahn and some serious time spent on the 20-kilometre northern loop at the ‘Ring.
Underneath all the online flame wars, the armchair design experts having their say and the rumours, there was still an extremely well-designed, functional and exceptionally fast machine, just waiting to be unleashed upon the world. After all, the Mantide has the heart and bones of a world-beater…But What Is It Exactly?
Though no doubt many readers who were around in 2009 will be well versed in the Mantide, some might be surprised to learn that its underpinnings are 2009 C6 Corvette ZR1, Chevrolet’s brutal 6.2-litre supercharged V8-powered competition destroyer, perhaps most famous for its ability to lap the Nordschleife faster than any other true stock production road car at the time (7 minutes 26.4 seconds). In fact, it still sits comfortably within in the top 10 list now.
With its lightweight aluminium chassis, brutal power and amazing ability to stick to the road like white on rice, the ZR1 was a perfect base for what would become the considerably lighter, more powerful and more aerodynamically efficient Mantide.
Interestingly, though most assume Bertone’s tradition of modifying Chevrolet sports cars is the reason behind the use of the C6, originally the Mantide was to be based off an Alfa Romeo. Jason’s affinity for aerodynamics had him designing a new, modern Alfa Romeo ‘BAT car‘ using the already-gorgeous 8C Competizione as a base, and it was only the unavailability of a suitable donor Alfa at the time that transitioned the project over to its C6 Corvette base.
The use of the ZR1 has meant that the Mantide is far faster than it ever would have been had it been created using an Alfa. While the ZR1 is already fairly lightweight for its size – 1544kg (3405 pounds) – Bertone managed to bring the weight down a further 110kg (250 pounds) thanks to the use of lightweight materials throughout the car.
Every single body panel, for example, is produced by top European composites firm Belco Aria using the highest grade carbon fibre.
The interior has also been seriously lightened through use of a featherweight dash and race seats, again created using carbon fibre.
The addition of a (mostly) hidden rollcage does, however, balance these savings out a little.
The traditional gauge cluster has been replaced by a simple LCD screen, surrounded by acres of Alcantara.
And a peak through the transparent hood makes it painfully obvious what motivates the Mantide: 6.2 litres of raw, supercharged Chevy V8 grunt.
Chevrolet’s all-alloy dry-sumped LS9 is an amazing piece of machinery, and uses an Eaton roots-type supercharger to cram boosted air through two separate water-to-air intercoolers and up into each bank of cylinders, resulting in 638hp (476kW) and 604lb/ft (819Nm).
After dropping all that weight, there wasn’t much need to squeeze much more power out of the factory LS9, though with that said, this particular engine does make around 40hp more than a stock ZR1 thanks to a Capristo exhaust system, bringing it up to around 680hp at the flywheel.
All that power and those lightweight panels makes for a very quick machine, but it’s the intricate, mind-bending bodywork that is the most interesting aspect of the Mantide, whether you love it or you hate it.Controversial Design Discussed
Firstly, let us just state the obvious: this car and its styling have always been controversial, and most likely always will be. It seems to be one of those truly divisive cars that is either adored or loathed, without much ground to stand on in between. Jason has always recognised this, and wasn’t surprised when the clay model first debuted at the Shanghai International Motor Show to mixed opinion.
“I think the design brought forth a strong reaction for a few reasons,” he says. “First, expectations were that I would do something more in line with what I had been doing and that the car would have more sensuality and classic beauty. Early in the project this was the case, but [it] took a turn and at that point, we decided to use the project as an experiment and explore more geometric themes. At the time, this was not en vogue – Mantide was one of the earlier design studies to capture this geometric brutality.”
Jason placed a heavy emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency when designing the Mantide, and every inch of the carbon fibre body work has been carefully sculpted with the help of a wind tunnel. “This car was always about function driving new forms,” he explains. “Thus the blunt nose that melds into the fuselage embraced by the wing sections all work together to cloth the car in a purely functional but striking way.”
The unique ‘flying buttresses’, which replace a rear trunk-mounted wing, are another perfect example of function driving form. These help create vortices that accelerate airflow to the rear gurney flap, increasing downforce considerably, without increasing drag.
This functional approach to design results in an incredible coefficient drag of 0.29 (the ZR1 is 0.38), yet still produces the same sort of downforce as hypercars with active aerodynamics and inferior drag figures. The aero balance is also a neutral 50/50 axle to axle, which ensures excellent stability and predictability at high speeds – handy considering the Mantide is capable of 220mph (354km/h) and beyond…
The wheels – another heavy point of discussion among enthusiasts – are the exact same size as the original ZR1 rollers – 19×10-inch and 20×12-inch, and are a completely one-off design tipping the hat towards the geometric Bertone show cars of the ’70s and ’80s. The outer hoops are carbon fibre, while the centre is magnesium. The rear haunches have an almost Aventador feel to them, and just look at the shape of those arches!
Five years on from the Mantide’s debut and things have changed on the show circuit. You’ll now see many more similar geometric design exercises floating around. The question is; was the Mantide too far ahead of it’s time? Has the rest of the world now caught up or has famililarity made our hearts grow fonder? Some of the staff here at Speedhunters, this writer included, admit to not being much of a fan of the car when it was first unveiled, but over the last few years we have slowly but surely turned a full 180 degrees in opinion. We’ve now grown to appreciate everything about this unique, in-your-face design aesthetic, especially the gorgeous side profile, wide-open cockpit and unique hexagonal details.
As you could imagine, regardless of your opinion on the car, there is no denying that the Mantide attracts an insane amount of attention. Owner Dan drives it often – even going for cross-country jaunts from New York all the way to Pebble Beach in California. He also has a McLaren F1 and Ferrari Enzo, but says that nothing attracts attention like the Mantide with its muscular, almost F22 Raptor fighter jet look and feel.
But how does Jason feel about the Mantide? Go have a look at the sort of stuff you were posting on Facebook four or five years ago and try not to cringe; people change and mature, but does that apply to one of the most respected car designers in the business?
“As with most any car you work on, you see things you would have done differently,” Jason says. “The team and I are still really proud of it. Most importantly the owner loves it and uses it. [Dan] most flatteringly refers to it as ‘functional art’. We took chances that you can not normally take. [I think] today I would revisit the front end graphics slightly, and simplify the rear a bit, but I still love the profile.”
Pushing the boundaries of design is always going to provoke a reaction, and the Mantide is a prime example of that. We’re in love with this machine, and can’t help but wonder what the future holds for the beautifully sharp and angular supercar. Being the only example ever produced, and having both the Bertone and Castriota names behind it means the Mantide will surely become a legendary unicorn car in the distant future. A holy grail eventually destined for a private museum and perhaps the occasional news story when it is spotted in the wild or breaks a record at auction.
Until that time, Dan is not afraid to get as much use out of his Mantide as he can, which we can’t help but admire and completely understand. This Bertone is essentially a usable, practical concept car. It’s light, extremely fast and exceptionally provocative – exactly how we like our cars – and we personally think it will only get better with age. What do you think of the Mantide, its interesting form-following-function design and its ability to draw a bigger crowd than a monkey riding a tiny motorcycle? We’d love to hear your constructive thoughts in the comment section below!
Photos by Larry Chen
Story Produced by Elizabeth White