10 October 2014

Six of the coolest celebrity gearheads

It’s no surprise that celebrities gravitate to cool cars. For the vast majority of them though, cars are just fashion accessories. Comparatively few celebs over the years have actually been obsessive in their enthusiasm for cars and motorsports to the point of being considered accomplished drivers or lifelong gearheads. Here are six with real cred: 

  1. Jay Leno: Jay Leno is probably one of the best known celebrity gearheads. His “Jay Leno’s Garage” website is well-trafficked and his videos garner thousands of views on YouTube. Leno is no poser; he’s a consummate car guy and he has a very independent collecting philosophy — he’s out to impress no one. He buys what he likes and what he finds technically interesting, and he even has been known to turn a wrench or two.

    [See why Jay Leno was included in this list of the top five barn finds.]
  2. Steve McQueen: The King of Cool Steve McQueen owned some of the greatest collectible cars of all time, from a one-of-16-built Jaguar XK SS to a Ferrari 250 GT Lusso. Whenever any of his former cars hit the auction circuit, they sell for several multiples of what a non-McQueen car would have sold for. Hell, even the guy’s sunglasses once fetched $70,000 at auction. 

  3. James Garner: Most people remember the late James Garner as the laidback private eye Jim Rockford who drove an equally cool Pontiac Firebird and devised the trademark Jim Rockford “J turn.” The owner of numerous classic cars over the years, Garner starred in the 1965 John Frankenheimer racing epic “Grand Prix,” where the real drivers serving as technical advisers told him that he had serious talent. As a team owner in the 1960s, his cars had frequent successes included taking five of the first seven places in the brutal Baja 500 race.

  4. Jerry Seinfeld: As a New Yorker, it seems odd that Seinfeld would turn out to be one of Hollywood’s most accomplished gearheads. Conventional wisdom holds that New Yorkers don’t own cars, and to the extent that they interact with them, they’re yellow and have a light on the roof. But Seinfeld has over the years become one of the world’s premier Porsche collectors. The exact extent of his collection is not widely known, but it is said to include some of the earliest Porsches from the late 1940s as well as some of Porsche’s most famous racing cars. Not a subscriber to the trailer and velvet ropes philosophy of collecting, Seinfeld actually drives most of his cars on a regular basis.

  5. Patrick Dempsey: “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Patrick Dempsey is a fixture at many of the big collector car auctions, particularly Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale in January, and he maintains a serious collection of vintage cars. But Dempsey’s biggest footprint is in the motorsports world. He’s competed at serious venues like Le Mans and Daytona and in the Baja 1000. At this point, it’s difficult to say whether Dempsey is an actor who races cars or a racer who acts.

  6. Paul Newman: Paul Newman was no stranger to cool street cars. We loved him in the hockey epic “Slapshot” in a Gold 1970 Pontiac GTO and in the Porsche Speedster from “Harper.” Out of films and on the street, he tended to be more low-key though, famously taking to the streets of Westport, Conn., in an innocuous-looking Volvo wagon that hid a fire-breathing GM V-8. But it was on the race track that Newman earned his gearhead cred — successful showings at The 24 Hours of Le Mans, Daytona and numerous races in the SCCA Trans Am series were among his major accomplishments. Respect for him as a driver was universal and he was posthumously inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2009.

57 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Kimble Bartlow Mesa, AZ USA October 13, 2014 at 15:13
    Good catch, Gregg. I agree 100% about Nick Mason!
  • 2
    GreggT Madison, WI October 13, 2014 at 08:56
    Is Pink Floyd and Nick Mason "Famous".....he is to me anyway.....and he has a great collection that definitely are not garage queens. Nick is known to be always out in something and always happy to let his friends enjoy time behind the wheel.
  • 3
    Rem W CT October 15, 2014 at 13:15
    Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons are huge gear heads.
  • 4
    Jim Averill Springfield Oregon October 15, 2014 at 13:32
    "What" a GM motor in Paul Newman's Volvo Station wagon ? You guys had better check your sources.
  • 5
    johnnyB upstate ny October 15, 2014 at 13:35
    how about one of the best in baseball...reggie Jackson...a regular at many car functions
  • 6
    Dave Gardner Morton, IL October 15, 2014 at 14:08
    Great list, agree almost 100%. But let's not forget Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) who has a serious collection of really cool rides
  • 7
    Matt A Detroit, Mi October 15, 2014 at 15:05
    Why are 3 of the 6 dead? Sure these guys had cred, but they are no longer relevant collectors. I would have included Nick Mason (good call GreggT) as well as James Hetfield (of Metallica).
  • 8
    Scott Allred Chico, CA October 15, 2014 at 15:31
    Baseball great Reggie Jackson could be on this list. He is a well-known collector of GM cars.
  • 9
    Jann Kinzinger Michigan October 15, 2014 at 16:02
    If memory serves me, Leno has an Allard and McQueen owned one. Anyone know if others on the list were/are Allard owners?
  • 10
    Phillip Franklin United States October 15, 2014 at 16:05
    Don't forget Paul Newman's 1958 Cadillac Convertible in HUD. Also it had some great driving scenes. Paul Newman was should be at the top of this list just under Steve McQueen. These were real actors who drove cars not just celebrities who owned cars.
  • 11
    Dean O. MN. October 15, 2014 at 18:23
    What about Tim Allen?
  • 12
    Kevin K Northwood, OH October 15, 2014 at 18:44
    Usually don't respond to these articles, but need to correct the author about Newman's Volvo, it is powered by a supercharged Ford V8, not a Chevy! He had 2 built, 1 for himself and 1 for David Letterman. Paul's car was featured on Chasing Classic Cars, when Wayne Carini bought it off of it's then current owner!
  • 13
    Ian F Croydon, PA October 15, 2014 at 08:12
    An honorable mention should be made for the late Paul Walker. While I never saw any of the F&F movies, after his death it became known he had quite an interesting collection of cars - a video tour can be found on youtube.
  • 14
    T.J. Westport, CT October 15, 2014 at 08:14
    Just a point of order: Mr. Newman's Volvo had a Ford 5.0 V8. New Canaan resident, Mr. Letterman had one as well.
  • 15
    MarsW Johannesburg October 15, 2014 at 08:18
    Would Rowan Atkinson qualify? Crashed his McLaren F1 so not sure about the cred.
  • 16
    R. Carlson Aguanga, CA October 15, 2014 at 08:19
    Half the list is dead! I agree on the dearly departed's connections to the automobile but surely once you are gone...you are gone.
  • 17
    Overdrive Dearborn October 15, 2014 at 08:22
    Ralph Lauren !
  • 18
    Overdrive Dearborn October 15, 2014 at 08:23
    Ralph Lauren !
  • 19
    Scott K SoCal October 15, 2014 at 20:28
    In addition to being one of the nicest, most decent, down-to-earth guys, Mark Harmon is a true gearhead.
  • 20
    Kevin Donahue Toms River,N.J. October 15, 2014 at 08:32
    Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top?
  • 21
    adam new albany, indiana October 15, 2014 at 08:36
    Tim Allen and Dave Letterman should be on this list.
  • 22
    Chris W. Richmond, VA October 15, 2014 at 08:43
    One more addition - Brian Johnson from AC/DC. He has been racing in the vintage circuit for several years now and possibly elsewhere.
  • 23
    Bill C Austin, TX October 15, 2014 at 08:43
    Ralph Lauren
  • 24
    Dave Hamilton Oceanside CA October 15, 2014 at 20:49
    How about Tim Allen, Jeff Dunham, Sammy Hagar.
  • 25
    Chris W. Richmond, VA October 15, 2014 at 08:49
    One more addition - Brian Johnson from AC/DC. He has been racing in the vintage circuit for several years now and possibly elsewhere.
  • 26
    Randy charlotte October 15, 2014 at 08:52
    Lists like this are always fun and also fun to start meaningless debates. Food for thought. First, I agree with all the names, but some my be missing (has anyone ever heard of James Dean). Also I would change the order. I give "street cred" to accomplished race drivers and those who actually work on the cars. Therefore, I think Paul Newman and Dempsey rise to the top, then Leno comes in as he loves to work on the cars. Next is Garner for his race car team ownership. After that, although I think he is one of the coolest guys ever,Steve McQueen. Then comes the car collectors.
  • 27
    Luckless Pedestrian NE USA October 15, 2014 at 08:53
    +2 on Nick Mason....
  • 28
    Tony Chitown October 15, 2014 at 20:59
    Uh... how about Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and Tim "The Tool Man Allen. Both real big celeb car guys!
  • 29
    Lane Louisiana October 15, 2014 at 09:00
    I would have put Tim "the Tool Man" Allen in the list before Patrick Dempsey, simply because he promotes cars on his TV shows, stand-up and public appearances. Unless you follow the GT circuit you don't know Dempsey has anything to do with cars. The late Paul Walker also had a pretty decent collection but probably not enough to garner a spot on the list.
  • 30
    TJMacs Jersey Shore October 15, 2014 at 21:14
    I'm pretty sure the Newman Volvo wagon had a Ford V8 in it. Not that it matters.
  • 31
    Carl Beck Clearwater, FL October 15, 2014 at 09:26
    I wonder why - it's OK to mention Pontiac, Porsche, Volvo and GM in the Paul Newman write-up; but no mention of the Manufacturer and Sponsor of the cars that make him well known as a "Driver". DATSUN and Bob Sharp.
  • 32
    Shilo Florida October 15, 2014 at 09:26
    Leno tops them all. I love his videos on every kind of car imaginable. Leno's cars are not garage queens, he drives them all. Including 100 year old steam contraptions, and he shares his experiences with us. Love every minute of, keep em coming Jay!!
  • 33
    Captconrod Md October 15, 2014 at 09:27
    Keepin' it to guys still livin' how about Tim Allen? He's got some really cool custom rides
  • 34
    Ken Boyd Washington, NC October 15, 2014 at 09:32
    Seems like you would have a list of people who are still alive. Three of the people in Rob Sass list are deceased.
  • 35
    Tim Correia United States October 15, 2014 at 10:12
    Let's not forget one of the great guitarist Jeff Beck. He loves his hot rods.
  • 36
    Jim PA October 15, 2014 at 10:22
    Believe Newman's Volvo was small block Ford powered
  • 37
    Sue Esponte Saab Country, US October 15, 2014 at 10:22
    Good list, Rob! If we were expanding the list I think Dave Letterman is also worth a note in the books. His collection may not be of the same magnitude as some others but his name has long been associated with racing (often tied to his late friend, Paul Newman).
  • 38
    Chris Huntington Beach Ca October 15, 2014 at 10:24
    Dax Shepard writes, produces and stars in many movies, he builds and races multiple cars the media claims he is at a very high professional driving level. "Hit & Run" his recent car chase movie featuring him, his cars & his famous friend actors
  • 39
    sam Indiana October 15, 2014 at 10:24
    Add Neil Young and Nick Mason
  • 40
    sambharr Indiana October 15, 2014 at 10:35
    This Hagerty page does seem to acknowledge Neil Young though. (Long May You Run is about the Buick Straight Eight.)
  • 41
    Kevin Woodward, mi October 15, 2014 at 10:41
    And Tim Allen isn't on this list??
  • 42
    Larry Colorado October 15, 2014 at 11:03
    I saw Newman's Volvo on Chasing Classic Cars . I may have gotten it wrong but thought the V8 was a 5.0 ford . Doesn't really matter it was still a hauling car , a real sleeper .
  • 43
    Cyrus EM MD October 15, 2014 at 11:03
    Nick Mason for sure and Tim Allen. He may not have as big a collection but it does include different cars. Steinfeld has an amazing collection but it's very limited in scope.
  • 44
    Tim Blackburn Springfield. OH October 15, 2014 at 11:32
    Also Rowan (Mr. Bean) Atkinson. I recall reading road tests of some pretty rare sports cars loaned to the magazines by him.
  • 45
    toba washington, DC October 15, 2014 at 11:36
    It would be nice to have included more people who were actually still alive.
  • 46
    RevCAT Cleburne, TX October 15, 2014 at 11:44
    How about the late Paul Walker?
  • 47
    Car Collector Chronicles SE WI October 15, 2014 at 11:53
    My late brother had the honor of being a mechanic on the James Garner Racing team. He had nothing but good things to say about Jim.
  • 48
    Cal Yooper The UP & Silicon Valley October 15, 2014 at 12:04
    Paul Newman should rank first here. His record stands tall among real racers. The Haggerty writer who did this piece did a crap job because listing Newman's series wins alone would have taken more words than what is there. Newman was what McQueen did not have the maturity to be, a professional race car driver.
  • 49
    RevCAT Cleburne, TX October 15, 2014 at 12:28
    How about the late Paul Walker?
  • 50
    Floyd Knapp Eugene October 15, 2014 at 12:32
    Paul's Volvo has a Ford V-8.
  • 51
    Fred P. Albuquerque, NM October 15, 2014 at 12:40
    Tim Allen not only is a car guy but he shows his cars on his TV shows, Home Improvement and currently you will see one of his Ford Pickups in the background of Last Man Standing
  • 52
    JG jjj October 15, 2014 at 12:41
    I wouldn't classify Seinfeld or Dempsey as "gear heads". They don't fix any of their cars...they pay people for that.
  • 53
    Bob Sully SoCal October 16, 2014 at 16:00
    I've met Jay Leno several times on weekends while out on motorcycle rides in the canyons above Malibu. Jay always shows up in or on something interesting, whether it be the converted turbocharged Toronado or a car (or bike) with a turbine engine...and he enjoys hanging out and talking cars with us up on the overlook on Mulholland Drive. Non-pretentious, generally nice guy - and it's obvious that he does indeed turn a wrench - he knows his stuff.
  • 54
    N.T. Evans Muncie, IN October 17, 2014 at 03:30
    Newman's Volvo station wagon had a 302 SB Ford with a "puffer" (supercharger) as he put it. He had one made for Dave Letterman (also a car guy) and there is a great video of Letterman and Seinfeld driving this car on Seinfeld's web series "Comedians in Cars getting Coffee". Check it out. Very funny.
  • 55
    Gary Linsky United States October 17, 2014 at 12:19
    Re: Paul Newman I saw him and the Volvo wagon while staying at Canyon Ranch Spa. He unloaded his own luggage when he arrived, which included 2 cases of beer. My kind of celebrity and car buff; no huge ego or sense of entitlement.
  • 56
    Richard S. Kent, WA October 24, 2014 at 00:24
    He who dies with the most toys.....is still dead! If you're gonna say "Greatest of all time," say it! Otherwise, guys like Tim Allen, Billy Gibbons etc are more deserving. Did anyone see Neil Young on the Colbert Report a few days ago talking about the classic cars he's converted to altnernative fuels? Now THAT'S a gearhead! Letterman? Naw, he's just a dilettante. Leno is King Gearhead!
  • 57
    George Gates United States October 25, 2014 at 10:36
    What about Tim The Tool man Allen...55 Nomad 68 Camaro SS Impala...Juat a few.

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