A De Tomaso Mangusta Perfectly Suits An Award Winning Photographer
Jonathan Root is an award-winning portrait photographer based in London. With a keen sense for design and playful composition in his photography, it only makes sense that he should be driving a bright apple-green 1970 De Tomaso Mangusta on the streets of London. We met up with Jonathan to get the story behind his rare prized possession. Click here to see Jonathan’s photography portfolio.
Q: How did you come to acquire this Mangusta?
A: You could say I was experiencing a mid-life crisis. I set out looking for an early Pantera. I knew about the Mangusta, but didn’t think I could afford one. This one came up, and the color instantly sold me. I immediately got on a flight with a mechanic and headed to the town of Spoleto in Perugia, Italy, to inspect the car.
Q: What’s the history of this particular car?
A: This was a one-owner car that belonged to an Alitalia pilot who died in a mountain cycle race. A lot of Mangustas belong to pilots, and maybe it’s because the Mangusta cockpit makes you feel like you’re flying a jet. I’m sure the gullwing doors contribute as well.
I bought the car from his widow and sons after spending a week with them in Perugia sorting out the bureaucracy. His widow gave me many of his suits and shoes—he was obsessed with speed and style. I’ve had them altered as he was taller than me, and I still wear them.
Q: How would you describe his style?
A: He was a typical Italian. Well…I don’t want to say “playboy”, but let’s just say he enjoyed life. He had at some point in his collection a Jaguar E Type, a Cisitalia, and a Maserati, but the Mangusta was the only one he kept.
Q: Did you drive the Mangusta back to London or have it shipped?
A: Oh we drove it! My mechanic and I drove it back from Perugia with its original 1970 Pirelli tires. The front tires were quite bald, making the drive through the Italian Alps a rather scary experience.
Fortunately my mechanic, Johnny Woods, is an experienced driver and a De Tomaso expert. He even has the De Tomaso badge tattooed on his arm.
Q: Do you drive the car often?
A: It’s a bit of a nightmare to drive in London. London is full of traffic, and since the Mangusta is so extremely low and left-hand-drive, it is very hard to see around you when driving the car. You almost need a co-driver.
That said, I do take it out in London occasionally for a bit of posing. Sometimes I take it out on The Kings Road, Chelsea—that’s where Twiggy used to drive her Miura. The reaction is just incredible. The police regularly stop me on the pretense of making too much noise, but they often just want to talk about the car.
Ultimately though, it’s really ideal for fast country roads, and that’s where I enjoy driving it most.
Last year I drove it to the Salon Privé Concours d’Elegance, and I may have been one of the only people to drive there.
Q: What’s your ideal drive in the Mangusta?
A: The Mangusta was a 50th birthday present to myself. I even mortgaged my house to buy it, and I’m glad I did. The drive back to London from Perugia going through all of Italy and France was an absolute dream. We even stopped in France to stay with other De Tomaso owners. It was the perfect birthday present.
Q: What unique elements do you like about the Mangusta?
A: The gull wings over the engine are strange, but I love them. It’s very difficult to work on the engine with the gull wings. You have to have two people remove them to get to the engine.
I love the shark-like design. The indicators on the sides even look like the eyes of the shark.
I’m lucky because mine has bucket seats, four headlights, and the later A/C.
The steering wheel is fantastic—it’s wooden and leather. It’s bespoke just for the Mangusta, so they’re very hard to find now. A broken one just sold on eBay for a few thousand dollars.
Q: You’ve photographed many famous people, especially architects and artists. Is there any correlation between your photography and your enthusiasm for cars?
A: My photography has definitely influenced my taste in cars. I’m big into art, architecture, and design, and I grew up in a family that’s very into art and antiques, so the design of a car matters a lot to me.
I’ve been into cars ever since I was a child. My first car was a bright orange 1275 MG Midget, and right after that I got a 1951 Jowett Jupiter which I still own. Up until recently, I had a very unique Alfa Romeo: a 1965 Giulia Sprint GT Harold Radford conversion. Harold Radford was a coachbuilder that modified cars for many famous people back in the ’60s. To most Alfisti, what he did to the Giulia Sprint GT is pure sacrilege, with its square lights. I sold the car to help finance the Mangusta restoration. I didn’t get much for it since most Alfisti didn’t like its design, but I’m glad I sold it to someone who is going to restore it as a Radford as opposed to chopping it up for racing. Other cars along the way included a Volkswagen Scirocco Mk1, Morgan +8 lightweight and 1975 Rover P6 3500S.
Q: Is the Mangusta easy to live with?
A: The pipes for the radiator run through the floor underneath the cabin and acts as a heater so it gets very hot inside. The Mangusta really needs A/C and mine needs sorting.
The Ford 289 V8 engine is easy to maintain and very powerful. We built the exhaust ourselves. I’ve kept the original, but we built one out of stainless steel and it simply sounds awesome. It sets off car alarms. You either love it or you hate it. Most seem to like it.
Q: If you could have any passenger to ride in the Mangusta with you, who would it be.
A: Giorgetto Giugiaro!
Q: Is the Mangusta a keeper?
A: Yes, at least until I can’t drive it anymore. It’s got a very heavy clutch, but being an avid cyclist helps!
Photography by Jonathan Root