Rock Stars Drive Cool Cars
From David Bowie’s “invisible Mini” to the Monkeemobile, classic rock creates art classics.
The 1960s gave us Hendrix, the Stones, the Beatles, The Who, and David Bowie. The same decade also gave us the Corvette Stingray, the Porsche 911, the Jaguar E-Type, the Ferrari GTO, the Mustang and a herd of other pony cars. Often, these two worlds intersected in bizarrely creative ways, resulting in one-of-a-kind classic art cars. On the occasion of David Bowie’s flight to the afterlife, we take a closer look. Not all of these rides are from the ’60s, but they were all either owned by or designed by classic rockers who first blew the doors off the music world in that wild decade. Cue the music….
John Lennon’s Psychedelic Rolls-Royce
History’s most famed Rolls! This car arrived in John Lennon’s garage on June 3, 1965—a black Phantom V fitted with a limousine body. The car was about 19 feet long, weighed roughly three tons, and cost Lennon $16,800 (a princely sum). At the time, A Hard Day’s Night was huge, and Help! was on the way. With all the excitement, Lennon got bored of the car, so he had artist Steve Weaver give it a psychedelic paint job. Rolls-Royce was miffed by the whole affair. The company, “which prefers less pretentious color schemes, was not amused,” a Los Angeles Times reporter said at the time. In later years, Lennon added a TV, fridge, telephone, and a double bed. Huh, imagine that.
Keith Moon’s Bucket T hot rod
“Moon the Loon” had a strange relationship with cars. The drug/booze addled, emotionally unstable drummer for The Who once drove a car into a Holiday Inn swimming pool (according to legend) and accidentally ran over and killed his chauffeur, sadly. Moon’s Bucket T hot rod remains an all-time great, however, because of its backstory. Bucket Ts were hot rods crafted from Ford Model Ts, and they were popular among 1950s greasers. The duo Jan & Dean wrote a song about them, called “Bucket T.” Early in their career, The Who recorded the song, with Moon singing rare lead vocals. The single hit #1 in Sweden, and at some point, he decided he needed a Bucket T to go with the success. So he got one. According to Bobby Whitlock (a musician who played with everyone from the Stones to Clapton), Moon’s Bucket T “was so powerful, it would stand on end.”
Janis Joplin’s Porsche 356
This little rocket sold last month for $1.76 million—the most ever paid for a 356 at auction. There’s some irony here. Joplin’s most famed car song is “Mercedes Benz”: “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.” And yet, the Texas-born blues-rock icon was known to drive her 1964 Porsche freakishly fast around California. Sadly, when she died of an overdose in an L.A. hotel room, on October 4, 1970, the Porsche was parked in the garage. The New York Times said of her in an obituary: “With the same abandon that she sang, she drove her Porsche through the hills of San Francisco, a fast looking car, decorated with psychedelic butterflies.”
John Bonham’s Andy’s Instant T
You’ve seen this machine in the Zeppelin movie The Song Remains the Same (1976). The details behind the car are murky, but the generally accepted story goes like this: John “Bonzo” Bonham was making bank with Led Zeppelin’s massive success, and the drummer was a car fiend, perhaps because engines were the only thing that could make more noise than he could. Among his collection was this “Andy’s Instant T” hot rod that he supposedly came across while on tour in America and had shipped back to England. The name came from the original builder, California hot rod artist Andy “the Rodfather” Brizio. Bonzo is long gone, but rumors continue that this car is still out there somewhere.
On September 8, 1965, two young Hollywood producers, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider (who a bit later would produce the hit movie Easy Rider), put an ad in The Hollywood Reporter seeking “4 insane boys” to make a rock n’ roll TV show. When The Monkees appeared a year later, it was near-instant stardom—part music video, part comedy, full on fan frenzy. For some, the best part about the series was the Monkeemobile, based on a 1966 Pontiac GTO and designed by two custom car legends, Dean Jeffries and George Barris. One reporter at the time called it “a luxurious discotheque on wheels.” Still today, the Monkeemobile is a pillar in the pantheon of TV cars—“the most famous Pontiac GTO in the world,” according to a recent Hot Rod magazine story. For many, The Monkees are forgettable. But their Monkeemobile? Not so much.
Johnny Cash’s One Piece at a Time Cadillac
In 1976, Johnny Cash released a rockabilly tune called “One Piece at a Time” about a guy who works on a Detroit assembly line building Caddies. Saddened by the fact that he’ll never be able to afford his own, he decides to steal one, one piece at a time. This takes him 24 years, and the car ends up what Cash calls “a psychobilly Cadillac,” with a 1953 transmission, a 1973 engine, and a single tail fin. The song was Cash’s last to hit #1 on the country singles chart. As a promo stunt, a Tennessee auto salvage business owner dug out all the real parts of Cadillacs that are mentioned in the song. What resulted: a real One Piece at a Time Caddie, presented to Cash himself, who enjoyed camping it up in front of a film camera with the thing. It was later crushed, as were we when The Man in Black died, back in 2003.
The Who’s Quadrophenia Scooter
Ten mirrors, double headlamps, leopard-print spare wheel cover, red-white-and-blue livery—it has to be the coolest thing on two wheels ever, that is not a motorcycle. The 1967 Lambretta Series 3 scooter ridden by Jimmy Cooper in The Who’s 1979 rock opera film Quadrophenia defined the 1960s “Mod” movement. The movie (like the album of the same name) chronicles the “Mods” versus “Rockers” gang wars in 1970s London, through the eyes of Jimmy, a Mod who’s suffering an identity crisis and finds self-worth in his most important possession: his Scooter. The actual film Lambretta sold at auction nearly a decade ago for over $50,000. No doubt it would sell for more than that now.
David Bowie’s Mirrored Mini
“I don’t know where I’m going from here,” the Thin White Duke once said, “but I promise it won’t be boring.” Never did those words ring more true than now, upon news of his death. Bowie left behind countless gems of creativity that’ll be loved for years by fans that haven’t even been born yet. He was no car guy, though he wrote a few car songs (notably the brilliant “Always Crashing the Same Car”). He did, however, create this genius Mini art car, covered top to bottom in mirrors. On his web site, it’s called “David Bowie’s fantastic invisible Mini.” The art piece was included in an exhibit held at London’s Design Museum in 1999, to commemorate Mini’s 40th anniversary. (Kate Moss and Paul Smith also designed Minis for the event.) Bowie’s Mini has since been on display at the BMW Museum in Munich. What’s cool about it, besides the obvious? You can look at the thing and see yourself—just as you could by listening to Bowie’s songs, as weird as they sometimes got. Godspeed, Major Tom.