My First Car Part II
Seven celebrities – from Jay Leno to Hugh Hefner – fondly recall their earliest 4-wheel crush
Everyone remembers their first car with affection, and even the biggest heap of three-wheeled crap will be viewed through rose-tinted lenses by somebody. The following stories of automobile puppy love come from the fantastic book, My First Car, by Matt Stone. If you’ve ever wanted to know what car Steve McQueen or Guy Fieri first drove, read on…
Read the first part of ‘My First Car’ for Jay Leno, Guy Fieri, and more!
1929 Ford Model A
Paul Newman wasn’t born a car guy. “It all came to me very late in life,” he told Motor Trend magazine in a 1970 interview. “I guess I’ve been interested in sports cars and bikes for about 10 or 12 years, but it’s always been kind of Mickey Mouse with me.” … Newman’s first car was a 1929 Ford Model A. It was followed by a 1937 Packard, for which he paid $150 sometime in the late 1940s. He was married to his first wife, Jackie Witte, still living in Ohio, and renting a two-bedroom apartment for the princely sum of $10 per month. After moving to New York, he bought his first of many Volkswagens in 1953. It remained factory stock for the next eight years or so, but then he got the notion to hop it up a bit. He had by then relocated his primary residence to Connecticut, with second wife, Joanne Woodward, and their growing family. The VW was still serving faithfully, but Newman had grown tired of all the gear shifting required during his commute. It was then that his enthusiasm for high-performance cars began to manifest itself.
Actor, auto racing enthusiast, and racing team owner Paul Newman (left) stands talking to another man in an auto garage, Florida, 1967.
“I was complaining to my mechanic about driving the VW back and forth to the theater in New York and my home in Connecticut,” he told Motor Trend. “He said ‘Why don’t you dump a Porsche engine in it, and you’ll still retain your back seat but have all the power you need.’ So we dropped in a stock Porsche engine, installed sway bars, Konis [shock absorbers], and Dunlop Super Sports [tires]. The car handled so well that we put in a Porsche Super 90 engine, and then put Porsche brakes up front. Later we bored out the Super 90 to 1,800cc and put a hot cam in it. It was a neat little bomb.”
1974 Australian Ford Falcon XB Coupe
“I grew up in suburban Melbourne surrounded by big cars with big engines. And I always loved this XB coupe body style; there’s a bit of American Mustang and Torino in it, but it’s quite a bit more muscular, really, and better proportioned, I feel, especially in the Coke-bottle shape of the rear bodywork.
“A pair of XBs finished 1-2 at Bathurst [Australia’s biggest motor race] in 1977, which was a big deal, and I was hooked for good. Just had to have one. I was already well determined to have a Falcon coupe by the time Mel Gibson drove a black, heavily modified version [called the Interceptor] of a similar car in the original Mad Max, a film that melded the two things I love most: hot cars and cinema.
Bana today, and his much modified, race-restored Falcon, prior to meeting up with a tree on the Targa Tasmanian open road race.
“Mine was a somewhat sad piece when I found it, and I just bought it prior to turning 16. It was white, all there, but very rough around the edges. I paid the U.S. equivalent of about $800 for it, and my friends and I worked on it incessantly. I always wanted to be a racing driver, and then we decided to prepare the Falcon for a run in the Targa Tasmania open road rally in 1996. It’s a mad event, run on closed public roads, through the suburbs and the mountains. It was still powered by its original inline six-cylinder engine, and we prepped it the best we could finishing an amazing third place in its class.
“Several years later I decided to restore it, but what started out as a strip down for paint became something else entirely. The job ended up encompassing a complete nut and bolt rebuild, plus the conversion to a pretty serious road race car that we would run in the vintage division of the Targa Tasmania open road rally. The six came out, and in went a 600-horsepower Ford Racing Windsor V-8. We did a full roll cage and a pretty race-inspired suspension, although we kept the leaf springs in the back. And we painted the whole thing a brilliant shade of red.
“Things were going well in the 2007 Targa Tas. We were running a particularly difficult stage, when I lost the car and went nose-first into a tree, hard. Neither I nor my co-driver was hurt, but I was heartbroken at what I’d done to the car, and especially for all the hard work by so many people that went into the effort.”
1952 Ford convertible
“Like all kids in high school, I desperately wanted a car but I didn’t need one. I grew up in Mississippi. In a small town, you walk everywhere you want to go; you get there in jig time. You get used to that. Then as a teenager, I had a bicycle. Then I was gone—I was in the service. A lot of guys in the service had cars and, of course, I always befriended somebody who had a car.
Freeman, still showing his enthusiasm for automobiles, at the wheel of the Corvette Pace Car prior to the start of the 1994 Indianapolis 500.
“I had been working for about eight months at the Los Angeles City College for $60 a week. Gross. I saw this car in a lot for $500. It was a 1952 white Ford convertible. I managed to get a down payment and I bought it, and there I was in wheels. Life changed. It was like day and night. Without a car, I couldn’t get a date. Then when I got a car, I turned ’em down.
“I remember once I was going out with some friends. We were going to the Moulin Rouge on Sunset. I had too much to drink, it was my car, and I was driving. I thought, ‘I’m fine, I’m just terrific, I can do this.’ I was so sure of myself, so positive that I had everything under control. Well, I got into the parking lot at the Moulin Rouge and ran right into the side of a bus with my car. I didn’t damage the car. It was a 1952 car, and they made ’em out of good stuff then. But I didn’t drink and drive anymore after that.”
1941 Chevy coupe
“My first car was a 1941 Chevy coupe that I bought in 1950. It cost about $400. It reminds me of the car Columbo used to drive. There’s one experience I remember very well. I began Playboy in 1953. The first issue was undated, but it was actually a December issue that went on sale in November. I was still driving this car at the time, and the car finally quit in the middle of the street, the same day the magazine went on sale. I had a funny feeling when it happened. If the car could have talked, it would have said, ‘You have to take it alone from here, pal.’”
These days, Mr. Hefner likely spends more time escorting Playboy Playmates in stretch limos than he would piloting his ’41 Chevy, even if he still owned it.
My First Car, by Matt Stone, is available to buy now.