Before They Were Stars, They Drove These Cars

Some training wheels are better than others, but even celebrities start somewhere.

bySean Evans|
People photo


We’ve come to know these celebrities for screaming around screens at full tilt, pushing all manner of wheeled glory to the limit for our amusement. It’s no surprise the (mostly) A-listers on this list have commanded a multitude of rare and/or high-end vehicles as their bank accounts grew flush. But which cars started them on the road to automotive acclaim? Herewith, your burning questions answered.

Vin Diesel: 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

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Diesel hit up a repo auction in New York City where he fell in love with a 1978 Monte Carlo. The auctioneers wouldn’t allow the vehicle to be started, though Diesel did get a chance to nose around under the hood, deemed it in good order and entered a few bids. He won the car for $175, and later recalled thinking he’d hit the jackpot, given the low price. Driving the Chevy from the auction up the West Side Highway, Diesel recalls not being able to see traffic behind him due to billowing blue smoke. While this dud was neither fast nor furious, Diesel later made up for it by snapping up an unnamed number of the cars from his franchise.

Jeremy Clarkson: Mark II Ford Cortina 1600E

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Jezza came from money—he reportedly passed his driving test in his grandfather’s old Rolls-Royce—but his first car cost a mere £900. It also helped cement the former Top Gear star’s love of fast Fords. The Cortina was a slam dunk in Britain due to its value and reliability, selling more than a million units. Their follow up, the Mark II, was essentially more of the same, only slightly better, and that was enough for Clarkson. His chariot was purchased from a local grocer and featured a lowered suspension, bucket seats, four headlights on the grill and a tweaked 1.6-liter, though the resulting 88 horsepower would not be enough for the Clarkson we know.

Dax Shepard: 1984 Ford Mustang GT

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Shepard, who grew up in Detroit, opted for one hell of a starter: the GT. The Mustang’s turbocharged, intercooled inline four had a displacement of 2.3 liters and produced 175 ponies and 210 lb-ft of torque. However, Shepard’s love affair with Ford was fleeting. He’s long proclaimed to be a GM man, and at 18 he put his money where his mouth is by having the crossed-flags emblem from the Corvette tattooed on his back.

Paul Newman: 1929 Ford Model A

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With a top speed of about 65 mph, the Model A isn’t very fast by modern standards, though at the time it was nothing to thumb your nose at. The 3.3-liter inline four issued 40 hp, controlled by a 3-speed sliding gear manual tranny. Given the classic design, it’s easy to picture this as Newman’s introduction into the automotive world. His second car? A 1937 Packard, picked up for $150 in the late Forties.  

Adam Carolla: 1978 Mazda B-Series Pickup

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Much like the man himself, Carolla’s first set of wheels had plenty of character. The manual Mazda was a long-bed, helpful as he was working as a carpenter and needed to haul tools, supplies and lumber. The rest of the import was less helpful. The bench seat was missing, replaced by run-of-mill dinette chairs bolted to the frame, and it rarely got moving without a bump start or a push. Carolla has since described it as a piece of crap, though he does fondly recall the stick shifter being appointed with a nifty eight-ball.

Tom Cruise: Dodge Colt

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Sure, it says Dodge on the hood, but this is really a re-badged Mitsubishi Galant. When it launched in 1970, it had a modest four-cylinder, 1,597 cc engine that mustered 100 hp, though as emissions regulations grew more stringent, it dropped to 83 hp. That was probably more than enough to get Cruise around his hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., but Days of Thunder this was not.

Ludacris: 1986 Plymouth Reliant

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Luda’s Reliant was more of a hoopty than not, but it was better than “riding the cheese,” the actor has remarked. That colorful euphemism represented the school bus, which Luda despised, so when he had the chance to buy his teacher’s old Plymouth, he leapt at it. While the boxy car was nothing to turn heads, the paint job may have because it was so flawed. After a bad wax, the wax wormed its way permanently into the paint, making it blotchy and unsightly. Luda didn’t care much. He was too enamored with the 15” subwoofers he installed in the trunk since, as he claims, in the South, sound is everything.

Eric Bana: 1974 Ford Falcon XB Coupe

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When a teenaged Bana watched the Bathurst races, he was immediately taken with the Falcon coupe and knew he had to own one. It took him a bit to save up just over $1,000 to buy a ‘74 GT hardtop variant of his dream car and a few years longer to fix it up. His beaut, nicknamed “The Beast,” went from his daily driver to his race bomb, after he entered it into Targa in 2007. Beast—along with Bana—nearly died after rocketing off the route directly into a tree. The crash is captured on film as part of Bana’s documentary to the car, Love the Beast. He’s since rebuilt his prized baby.

Daniel Craig: Nissan Cherry

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James Bond’s first ride was not quick and doubtfully capable of catching the eye of lovely ladies. A minuscule, front-wheel driver from Japan, the four-cylinder had a 1.2 liter and cost Craig £300, which he later has stated was probably too much for what it was. It also took Craig a few tries to procure his driver’s license. He’s admitted he was too drunk to go the first time. No matter how many shaken martinis mixed the night before, Bond would’ve made the appointment and gotten it handled.

Steve McQueen: 1958 Porsche Speedster

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The first car the King of Cool bought new was the sexy, iconic 356. It was also the first car he campaigned, winning an SCCA race in Santa Barbara in ‘59. Of course Bullitt would snag the top podium spot his inaugural race. While he eventually sold it, McQueen missed it so much, he re-bought it and ensured it never left the family.