Live fast and die young. Rock stars have long lived by the motto that celebrated a reckless lifestyle where excess was never too much and no expense was ever spared. The bigger the star, the faster, more expensive the car, many with impressive collections featuring the biggest, baddest and most indulgent vehicles available. Here’s just a few of our favorites.
Janis Joplin: 1964 Porsche 356 C 1600 SC Cabriolet
Joplin was a whiskey-swigging singer-songwriter known for her distinctive, raspy voice. In 1968, a rising star, she bought a used Porsche Cabriolet for $3,500. As the story goes, she handed over the car and $500 cash to a roadie, and asked him to have it decorated. The roadie had it painted candy apple red, then festooned with portraits from Joplin’s band, her astrological sign (Capricorn) and a variety of other motifs. Joplin titled the car “The History of the Universe” and drove it daily for many years. After Joplin died, her manager passed the car on to her brother and sister who both drove it at various times. It’s since been on display in museums, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s also been seen at the Pebble Beach Councours d’Elegance. In 2015 it went up for auction, estimated to sell for $600,000 but brought in a staggering $1.76 million. A member of the 27 Club (see Jim Morrison below), Janis died of a heroin overdose in 1970. She’ll long be remembered for singing, “My friends all drive Porsches,” a sentiment in which she clearly could relate.
John Bonham, Led Zeppelin: 1915 Ford Model T
It looked like a hacked-up old car. But to Led Zeppelin’s thunderous drummer, it was one of his passions. The vintage car was rebuilt and customized in San Francisco by Andy Brizio (hence the “Andy” decals) and shipped to Bonham in the UK. The car is famous for the drag racing scene in Led Zeppelin’s 1976 film The Song Remains the Same. With a 6 liter V8, the car was just one of many owned by the powerful drummer. His collection also included a ’67 Corvette, ’54 Ford Coupe, a Rolls-Royce sedan, and a Union Jack-themed chopper, also featured in the film. The Model T was rebuilt in 2006 with a 5.7 Chevy Small Block and Supercharger. After being stored in a garage for 11 years, the owner, too nervous to ever attempt to drive it, took it out of storage and listed it on eBay several times in 2017. It doesn’t appear to have sold. The location of this piece of rock history remains unknown today. Bonham died at the age of 32 after an extreme alcohol binge. When he died the band permanently disbanded. He was irreplaceable.
John Lennon: 1964 Rolls-Royce Phantom V
Only 517 were manufactured. Queen Elizabeth owned two of them. The car featured black leather upholstery, a cocktail cabinet with fine wood trim, writing table, reading lamps, a seven-piece his-and-hers black-hide luggage set, a portable TV, and a refrigerator hidden in the trunk. It was one of the first cars in England to have tinted windows. At the time, Lennon couldn’t drive – he didn’t even have his license. After being featured in his movie How I Won the War, the car was in need of a paint job. Lennon commissioned an artist to paint colorful swirls, floral side panels and a Libra on the roof. It was Lennon’s statement against the stuffy English establishment. People were outrage and offended. Lennon told the story of being attacked by a woman with an umbrella who shrieked and swung at him, “You swine! How dare you do that to a Rolls-Royce!” The car was shipped to the U.S. in 1970 and loaned to other artists like The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and The Moody Blues. In 1977 Lennon donated the V to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum at the Smithsonian Institute to cover some back taxes. Lennon was assassinated in 1980. The Cooper-Hewitt sold the Rolls in 1985 for $2,299,000 to a Canadian businessman and since 1993 it’s been on display in the Royal British Columbia Museum in Canada. His message of love and harmony lives on.
Keith Richards, Rolling Stones: 1966 Bentley S3 Continental Flying Spur
He named the Bentley “Blue Lena” after American jazz singer Lena Horne. In 1967, on a drug-filled road trip, Richards and his bandmates Mick Jagger and Brian Jones took Blue Lena to Morocco to buy more drugs. Only Richards and his girlfriend made it all the way to Marrakesh, but thanks to the car’s custom-made compartment for stashing illegal substances, the pair returned safely, drugs and all. In his autobiography, Richards admits the car was “the scene of many an acid filled journey.” Richards sold the car in 1978. By then, it was in such a state of disrepair, discussion focused on whether to scrap it or restore it. Thanks to the vehicle’s iconic status and historic value, the owner undertook a five year restoration to return Lena to mint condition. Fully renovated, it was sold at auction for $1,176,924 in 2015. The location of the hidden drug compartment still remains a secret.
Eric Clapton: Ferrari SP12 EC
As if to prove the exclusivity and level of customization, the car itself bears the owner’s initials. Clapton, a guitar god with 11 Grammys, is also a Ferrari fan. In 2012 he collaborated with the Italian automaker to create a one-off tribute to the Berlinetta Boxer, minus the Boxer’s V12. The car, influenced by the 458 Italia, cost $4.7 million to build and is said to be worth a lot more today. In a statement Ferrari said, “Meticulous attention in terms of style and technology was paid to the proportions and architecture of the SP12 EC – which is part of Ferrari’s One-Off Programme – making this exceptional car even more significant. Just like music is created, applying the right notes in the right places to build a musical score, so was the creative process behind the SP12 EC.” Clapton is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (once as a solo artist, once with Cream and once with the Yardbirds).
Bruce Springsteen: 1960 Chevrolet Corvette
To celebrate the success of his album Born to Run in 1975, American rock icon Bruce Springsteen purchased a 1960 Ragtop Corvette. The top-of-the line car features a 240 horsepower engine and Powerglide transmission, plus aluminum heads and fuel injection. “The Boss” has a collection of classics, all known for power and performance. The Vette was recently showcased in a traveling tour honoring Springsteen’s life and music.
David Bowie: 1999 Mini Cooper
David Bowie was obsessed with space. Like Space Oddity, Life on Mars? and Starman, many of his songs took on a futuristic, space-age spin. To celebrate Mini Cooper’s 40th anniversary, they asked three British icons to conceive a Mini design all their own. Bowie’s version was a top to bottom mirror-plated car. Even the windows were mirrored. Only the rear lights and tires remained untouched. Bowie said the car “could not be distinguished from its surroundings.” It’s a literal reflection of his eccentric, genre-defying style. The car seems custom-made for Ziggy Stardust. Bowie died in 2016, but left this world with a lifetime of innovative, memorable music that’s touched a generation or two.
Elvis Presley: 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 60
His first Caddy, a pink 1954 Fleetwood Series 60 was demolished in a roadside fire after a brake lining failed. Undeterred, he purchased a second Fleetwood, the 1955 model. This one was originally painted blue with a black roof, but to honor the first song he recorded that made the national charts, “Baby, Let’s Play House,” Elvis had the car repainted pink like the car in the song. He gifted the car to his mom. But Mama Presley didn’t have a license. So Elvis drove it. Members of the band drove it. They took it on tour. And his guitarist drove it into a pickup truck. Luckily it wasn’t totaled. Elvis bought a total of five Fleetwoods. The most famous being the pink one, now on display at Graceland. “You may have a pink Cadillac, but don’t you be nobody’s fool.”
ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons: 1948 Cadillac Sedanette
Bearded Billy Gibbons, lead singer and guitarist of ZZ Top fame, owns one of the most distinctive and uniquely modified Caddies around. With its lead sled body and premier hot rod engine, the Sedanette is a true rarity. Dubbed the CadZZilla, it’s a mix of early post WWII Cadillac design with some artistic, rock ‘n’ roll customization. It features a custom roofline so unique the windshield had to be specially made to fit, and massive suicide doors that open at the push of a button. This piece of artwork features a massive 500ci Cadillac V8 and custom Holley fuel injection system and headers. With a deep purple paint scheme and one-of-a-kind interior, the CadZZilla is truly fit for a rock star.
Jim Morrison, Doors: 1967 Shelby GT500
Mr. Mojo Risin, the iconic poet, vocalist and rock legend didn’t just “break on through to the other side,” he left us in classic rock star style – a drug overdose at the popular age of 27 (see Janis Joplin) in 1971. While not generally known for his love of cars, he drove a mist blue Shelby Mustang for a while. He called it his Blue Lady. It featured large, circular shaped driving lamps in the middle of the grille, and a parchment interior (other models of that year sported all-black interiors). It was rumored to be a gift from his record company, which sounds right – many find it hard to believe the counterculture rebel would drive a vehicle that embodied consumerism and excess. Legend says he was driving recklessly one night and hit a pole on Sunset Blvd. He got out to inspect the damage, but soon lost interest and wandered up the road to a bar. When he returned hours later, the car was gone. Another story claims he parked it at LAX while the band was on tour and simply forgot to claim it. Neither story has been proven. To this day, historians and journalists are still trying to solve the mystery of Morrison’s missing Mustang.
Your favorite rock star’s car may be out there somewhere, roaming the highways, racing the byways, or crashing into something or another. Which one is your favorite?