“Comparatively few celebs over the years have actually been obsessive enough in their enthusiasm for cars and motorsports to be considered accomplished drivers or lifelong 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 enough in their enthusiasm for cars and motorsports to be considered accomplished drivers or lifelong gearheads. Here are six with real cred:
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.
The King of Cool, the late 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 the movie actor’s former cars hit the auction circuit, they sell for several multiples of what a non-McQueen car could expect to garner. Hell, even the guy’s sunglasses once fetched $70,000 at auction.
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.
As a New Yorker, it seems odd that comedian Jerry 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.
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.
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.
Rob Sass is the vice-president of content for Hagerty Insurance. Hagerty is the world’s leading specialist provider of classic car and boat insurance. Learn more at hagerty.ca