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The Toyota FT-1 sure does look like the Bertone Mantide

Thu, 16 Jan 2014

We really liked the Toyota FT-1, which caught us off guard in the best possible way when it emerged at the Detroit auto show. In fact, we liked Toyota's “spiritual pace car” enough to call it the most fun new thing on the floor -- and we're hoping the automaker's execs take notice.

Reader Dennis Liu certainly noticed the car, which seemed rather familiar to him: He feels that, coincidentally or not, it looks a lot like the Bertone Mantide. Liu helpfully supplied the above image to illustrate his point. Indeed, the resemblance is striking -- at least from the angles shown here.

Honestly, we'd completely forgotten about the angular Mantide. Based on the C6 Corvette ZR1, the Mantide was designed by Jason Castriota and was supposed to be produced in limited numbers for $2 million or so a pop. It's fully roadable -- as we learned back in 2009 -- thanks in part to its Chevy underpinnings. We're not sure how many actually made it into enthusiasts' hands, but that number must be at least two.

But how much does it resemble the FT-1 (or vice-versa, as the Mantide came first)?

A cursory glance reveals a lot of overlap, especially from the front and rear three-quarter angles. Both cars are sculpted, with lots of scoops and vents from nose to tail (though the Mantide tends to have crisper angles than the flowing FT-1 does). The see-through section on the hood is there, too; we're not sure what hypothetical powerplant moves the FT-1, but the glass cover on the Mantide gives us a peek at the supercharged 6.9-liter V8 lurking beneath.

The red paint and black multispoke sport wheels wrapped with low-profile tires seen on both cars serve to drive any further similarities home.

Beyond all that, though, the biggest reason these cars look so similar at first glance is proportion. Both cars (and the ZR1 upon which the Mantide is based) have classic sports car profiles -- long hoods with short decks (or, more accurately, fastbacks). But squint hard enough and you could mistake the Alfa Romeo 8C, Lexus LFA and even the old Viper for any of these cars.

The funny thing about design, as we noted when the Toyota concept was introduced, it's that you can easily pick out elements of other previous cars here and there on most any vehicle. You might see, for example, a Zagato double-bubble roof, a McLaren P1 retractable rear wing, and the nose of an F1 car/Ferrari Enzo love child in the FT-1.

But when you slice and dice a car design this way, the result is, inevitably, a chop shop's worth of disjointed components that can kinda-sorta be traced back to previous vehicles. It takes a designer, or a design team, to string them together into a unique whole that makes sense. We think the FT-1 is more than a cobbled-together pastiche. It makes a lot of sense, both visually and philosophically.

The wild Mantide makes its own sort of sense, but we think calling it the direct inspiration for the FT-1 is something of an oversimplification. It'd be ridiculous to think that the folks at Toyota's Calty Design Research facility operate in a vacuum. When a famed design house like Bertone puts its name on something, especially something as striking as the Mantide, the world takes notice.

There are enough differences here to keep us from calling the Toyota team a bunch of copycats. Besides, there's more than enough room in the automotive world for more than one futuristic, high-performance, rear-wheel drive enthusiast machines

And, or course, there's something huge that the Mantide has over the FT-1: There's more than one of 'em driving around out there. Hopefully, Toyota gets its act together and puts the FT-1 into production, either as the new Supra or something else entirely. Fingers crossed that it'll cost less than $2,000,000 when (if) that happens.

By Graham Kozak