Loud, Fast & Out of Control
In this excerpt from Rockin’ Garages, Sammy Hagar, Jimmie Vaughan, and Doobie Brothers guitarist Patrick Simmons invite readers to view their very private — and ever expanding — car and motorcycle collections.
By Tom Cotter | Photography by Michael Alan Ross
In the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, rock and rollers shared a common gene with gearheads, an “ailment” that usually became most evident in high school. During that phase of young life, jocks dated cheerleaders and brains got the scholarships. But the greasers and rockers—two frequently overlapping subsets of teen culture—made more noise and had more fun.
“Both rock music and cars were considered low culture,” explains Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum, a guitarist and professor of music history and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts. “Both attracted greasers. Musicians of an era and hot-rodders both wore black leather jackets. And the mainstream believed they enjoyed screwing up proper cars and proper music.”
Jol Dantzig agrees. “Custom cars and custom guitars are a blending of similar design disciplines,” says the former owner of Hamer Guitars, and he should know: Dantzig owns a couple of high-horsepower Carrera RS Porsches which he races at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park.
Certainly, there is no shortage of rock guitarists who love automobiles and motorcycles as much as they love their vintage axes, but not all of them have collections as glorious as those of Sammy Hagar, Jimmie Vaughan and the Doobie Brothers’ Patrick Simmons. These three guitarists are among the musicians and auto enthusiasts profiled in the book Rockin’ Garages: Collecting, Racing & Riding with Rock's Great Gearheads, by Tom Cotter and Ken Gross, with photography by Michael Alan Ross. Over the following pages, Hagar, Vaughan and Simmons talk about their car collections and show us some of the fine vehicles and cycles inhabiting their garages. One thing is clear: these guys love making noise, whether it’s of the musical or internal-combustion variety.
“I was born in ’51,” Jimmie Vaughan says. “I don’t remember not liking cars. It’s always been about cars with me. I started playing guitar ’cause I thought maybe I could get me a car.”
With his slicked-back hair, dark shades, and black jeans, the Texas bluesman looks as though he’s just stepped out of the early Sixties. He speaks authoritatively about his two loves, cars and guitars, with unreserved passion. One of Austin’s most celebrated residents, Vaughan is a familiar figure on its stages and streets. His garage, however, remains well hidden, filled with the authentic hot rods and customs that serve as a testament to his passion for automobiles.
“As a little kid,” he recalls, “I used to drive around with my Uncle Joe in his ’53 Ford, and he’d say, ‘That’s a ’47 Packard; that’s a ’51 Ford.’ I built model cars, and my mother kept pictures of cars that I drew.” Vaughan was especially interested in customs and the people who drove them. “They seemed like guys who could stay up all night,” he says.
Not surprisingly, he’s given a lot of thought to selecting the cars he owns and has carefully overseen their modifications. “My first car was a yellow-and-white ’56 Buick Century Riviera four-door hardtop—a four-holer,” he says. “It had accessory hubcaps and glass-packs. I did that stuff to it the first day. I got a DUI in the Buick, and I had to sell it to pay the lawyer. That makes for a good story: live and learn, huh?”
His first true custom job was his 1951 Chevy Fleetline, which he’s owned for 30 years. “I agonized over whether to do a mild custom with that car or get a ’40 Ford,” Vaughan says. “I picked the Chevy because I was into customs. I’d read about [auto customizer] George Barris. That’s really all I thought about. When I started building model cars, I tried to customize all of them. They were lowered, nosed, and decked.”
The Fleetline has all the era-correct custom touches, including Buick side trim, a 1950 Pontiac bumper, and a Corvette grille. “It was done two or three times until it was right,” Vaughan explains. “I usually do everything two or three times before I get it right. Seems like I’m getting better, but a lot of stuff I’ve learned the hard way.”
For all the work done on the vehicle, Vaughan has never chopped it. “I talked about chopping that car, but with these fastbacks, you don’t really get anything [more],” he says. “I just did stuff that made sense. The back is all rounded; the two-piece hood is molded and peaked. That’s all very hard to do right. There are 31 Corvette grille teeth. This was before you could buy ’em. I had to get ’em in junkyards and trim ’em to fit.”
Vaughan also owns a 1954 Ford hardtop Victoria that is arguably one of the best ever of its genre. “It looks Ford, but it’s still custom,” he says. “I bought it in Paso Robles [California] as a 54,000-mile car in primer. They’d done it in a couple of weeks in a muffler shop. It was cool, just slammed, and it was a ’54 Ford. That’s what I wanted. But I had to do the grille over.”
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