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One of the perks of the mega-fame and fortune the Beatles enjoyed in the 1960s was buying cool automobiles. I think that a look at one of the cars owned by each Beatle in the mid-1960s reveals something about the personality of each.
On to the cars:
Ringo owned this 1964 Facel Vega Facel II, which autoblog.com describes as “a brutally powerful, but supremely comfortable four-place coupe that didn’t skimp on style. Power came from a thumping 6.3-liter Chrysler Typhoon V8 that turned out up to 390 horsepower and could scoot the Facel II to a reported top speed of 150 miles per hour.” Ringo’s car had a custom engine — bigger than the standard — and was also one of the few right-hand-drive versions made.
This 1966 Aston-Martin db6 was owned by Paul McCartney, and he has said he captured the beginning of “Hey Jude” on the car’s cassette deck (which was equipped with a microphone jack) while on the way back from visiting Cynthia and Julian Lennon in 1968. An article on Automovedia notes that “for all of its hefty price tag and exclusivity, the Aston was a discreet choice for a young rockstar able to enjoy his fame and wealth to the full. Even though the DB6 was new for 1965 it was an evolution of a Fifties design, looking dated with its rounded curves and live rear axle alongside cars like Lamborghini’s mid-engined Miura.”
George Harrison loved fast cars with advanced technology, but he also owned this 1966 Mini Cooper S, which is distinctive only by reason of its paint job. That year Brian Epstein gave each of the Beatles a Mini Cooper. George immediately had his black car repainted by The Fool, the group of Dutch artists that painted the mural on the outside of the Apple boutique and an unused gatefold painting for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Apparently the designs on the car reflected Harrison’s burgeoning interest in Hinduism, and they were based on those in the book Tantra Art: Its Philosophy And Physics. This car appeared in the Magical Mystery Tour film, and inspired a replica car that was auctioned for charity in 2009.
And this is the 1964 Rolls-Royce Phantom V owned by John Lennon, in its final manifestation. The car was originally black, and came with plenty of luxury features, including a television and a cocktail cabinet (John added a record player, a tape player, and a radio telephone). In 1967, Lennon had the car repainted. GQ reports that it was “coated first with a shade of not-so-mellow yellow” and that “artist Steve Weaver then hand-finished the Phantom with a combo of Romany swirls, floral motifs and a zodiac sign for good measure.” Fittingly, the job was completed the day before Sgt. Pepper’s was released.
I think it’s telling that:
- Ringo went for a powerful, comfortable, but ultimately fairly conventional-looking car
- Paul chose a more stylish auto, but one that had retro styling and that could plausibly be termed “discreet”
- George took the plain black car he received as a gift and had people whose work he enjoyed paint it with religious symbolism he found meaningful, definitely one of the best gift ideas I have seen in my life.
- John took a car that embodied the staid British upper class and transformed it into the ultimate rolling expression of the counterculture
I’d love to know what others think of these cars and what they say about each Beatle.
Those are beautiful cars. I love how Brian gifted each Beatles with a Mini Cooper.
But my favorite is Paul’s Aston-Martin. It’s symbolic of an important aspect of Paul’s character: Respect for old forms combined with a pioneering, progressive outlook.
I wonder how much driving the Beatles did, vs. hiring drivers. I remember anecdotes about John so lost in thought he didn’t say a word to his driver during an hour’s drive, and Paul sipping alcoholic beverages on his way home from a recording session.
With all the substance abuse that went on, I don’t remember any DUI Ringo stories (for example). I’m glad they all had competent, strong drivers to chauffeur them about.
@Hologram Sam, I thought they were beautiful cars too. I love Mini Coopers, one of the few cars that hasn’t strayed from its original styling. Brian had great taste! Didn’t Paul have some sort of rudimentary record player set up in his Aston Martin? I wonder how that went after driving over a few potholes! I loved that old British Army jeep too that he had at the Scottish farm. It’s interesting that you brought up their substance use. I recall reading that their cars had ashtrays that were overflowing with stale cigarette stubs. Something we don’t see at all in modern cars, but strange to think how normal it was back then. It makes me sad when I think of what happened to George.
I’m so old, I remember when doctors’ waiting rooms had ashtrays. I was five years old, my mom took me in for a checkup, and I was fascinated with the tall, decorative standing ashtrays full of cigarette butts. Smoking was everywhere… in restaurants, airplanes, offices.
It’s painful to see old footage of the Beatles chain smoking. Ringo seemed to have the biggest cigarette addiction, but he lives today and George is gone. Cancer is unpredictable. If John hadn’t quit, it’s possible we could have lost him sometime in the ’80s anyway.
Yes, @Sam, it’s not impossible that John’s painful skinniness was a harbinger of that. He may “not have believed in the Big C,” but the Big C might’ve believed in him. It is very tempting to think that John was whisked away from a long, happy, productive life, but the guy in 1980 had some worrisome signs for a man his age. I heard someone say last night, “The two groups that get the worst medical care are the very poor and the very rich.”
“But my favorite is Paul’s Aston-Martin. It’s symbolic of an important aspect of Paul’s character: Respect for old forms combined with a pioneering, progressive outlook.”
I agree Sam, and well said.
I think it’s interesting that Johns’ was the most prestigious vehicle. Rolls Royce has always been a vehicle driven by the rich and famous. He modified it, but it’s still a Rolls.
Ringo’s car was “brutally powerful, but supremely comfortable” … that reminds me of his style on the drums.
I confess though, I can’t really imagine any of the Beatles driving a car. Not even George, and I know he raced cars.
Probably because of all the Beatlemania newsreel footage of them clowning in the back of limos. I always imagine them being driven, not driving themselves.
I mean, can you picture John looking over his shoulder, and then easing into the outside lane of a highway, and then accelerating into the farthest lane to pass a tractor trailer? Or Paul sitting in rush hour traffic?
My mind’s eye can’t form those images.
To go off on a tangent, am I the only one who thinks John’s idea of a fleet of psychedelic Rolls touring cars/taxis was brilliant?? People tend to deride the Apple schemes that never were (usually correctly) but I think that would have been an absolute smash. I also like Paul’s all-white shop idea. Probably not nearly as lucrative, but the novelty and Beatle association might have been enough to keep it afloat. I want to go to that shop. It’d be fun to see what they stocked it with, season to season. White china today, white silverware and wineglasses tomorrow! The world’s finest all-white chocolatier. White crayolla markers that don’t reveal their color til you use them. The Christmas decorations alone would be worth a browse.
Kids would hate that! It’d be as popular as a children’s book written by Yoko…
Heh. Some would for sure, but I work with kids and I think many would find it hilarious. That said I was thinking of them being more for adults, not necessarily kids really… Should’ve said sharpies or highlighters instead of crayolla I guess
Annie M, I agree with you about some of the Apple ideas being really good. A fleet of psychedelic taxis for example. I can see them being popular for wedding or graduation parties. And I agree with LeighAnn that some Beatle ideas were ahead of their time.
I think the psychedelic Rolls Royce taxis may very well have flopped in the 60s era but would probably be a massive hit in today’s instagram FOMO era, for sure!
They have psychedelic ferry boat in Liverpool that was painted by Peter Blake who did the Sgt Pepper Album cover which I think is brilliant.
And the White Shop makes me think about how things like 3D cafes are becoming a craze now and popping up around the world. I could easily see that being a hit today.
But I think some of Beatles ideas were ahead of their time.
@Annie M – the all-white shop idea was actually realised by The White Company, which sells china, silverware and wine glasses (among other stuff) to the aspirational middle class, Mumsnet type of customer. It’s hugely successful.
I was tickled to read that Paul had suggested that because it’s obvious that The White Company ripped off his idea. Of course, he could be a silent partner in the business. That wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
Wow! What a fantastic reflection of their personalities in their choice of autos. One glance at the Facel Vega (an acclaimed design in its time) and one easily can imagine that being Ringo’s set of wheels.
Mercedes-Benz ran a commercial a few years ago in Germany in which they claimed that the second word a male baby learns after “Mami/Mutti” is “auto.” Whether research actually lends credence to this or not is probably unknown, but it does subtly hint at how intertwined the choice of an auto was, for many years, with one’s personality–especially for a male. I think it was spot on with the Beatles.
Excellent point about their chemical/alcohol intake never being the cause of a incident or mishap. Of all of them, I imagine Ringo driving himself more than the others, but various stories do report George pulling into the studio parking lot by himself . No, I can’t even imagine JL on the motorway trying to merge or behind the wheel when the weather was inclement and extra attention was required.
Is that the car in which Paul got a blow job from Francie Schwartz while driving at high speeds, or was that his green Mini?
James Bond drove an Aston-Martin DB5 in “Goldfinger.” Paul’s was a DB6, but still, he drove an Aston-Martin like 007.
Was that the inspiration for “Live and Let Die?”
I thought of another Paul vehicle. Helen Wheels! From Wikipedia:
In the book Paul McCartney In His Own Words published in 1976, McCartney said:
“Helen Wheels is our Land Rover. It’s a name we gave to our Land Rover, which is a trusted vehicle that gets us around Scotland. It takes us up to the Shetland Islands and down to London. The song starts off in Glasgow, and it goes past Carlisle, goes to Kendal, Liverpool, Birmingham and London. It’s the route coming down from our Scottish farm to London, so it’s really the story of the trip down. Little images along the way. Liverpool is on the West coast of England, so that is all that means.”
Thanks for the tip about The White Company! That’s kind of hilarious and even more so if Paul is involved. Once that man gets a bee in his bonnet…
However in browsing their website I am disappointed by 3 things: A) The name. “White Inc.” is right there, and whatever business juju they had to pull to turn the whole enterprise from a Co to an Inc would be well worth the pun. B) Lack of commitment. Those wood floors and earthy accent colors can fuck right off! I want price tags with a matte background and gloss printing. I want white-on-white 3D signage you can’t read from more than 6 feet away. Give me outrageous, gratuitous novelty or give me death! If I don’t leave the shop with snow blindness and a migraine, what’s the point? C) Where’s the FOOD? The sandwich counter serving chicken salad on wonderbread (crusts removed, natch) with a side of clam chowder and a vanilla milkshake for dessert?
Haha! Love it Annie.
From what I’ve gathered, George was not only the best driver but the most technically or mechanically minded as well. Apparently John and Paul didn’t have a clue in that department. I think John’s driving earned an erratic reputation because in George’s words, he was as ‘blind as a bat’. It’s understandable that his confidence may have been undermined. Then there was Paul who was notorious for speeding and disqualified from driving for six months. Despite its seriousness, it’s sort of amusing to read the report in the Liverpool Echo when Paul was a Liverpool lad like any other. “James Paul McCartney, 20, musician, disqualified…”. I think Love Me Do had been released by then. I wonder if the person who charged him ever dined out on that story!
Great article. Are you by any chance planning to develop the topic? There’s different info on Brian and Martin’s cars, like here: http://thefifth.tilda.ws/
I showed this article to car buffs who don’t give a hoot about the Beatles. Here is their perspective:
Ringo’s car is the rarest (even without the right hand drive and limited-edition engine) most comfortable, and has a beast of an engine. It’s #1 by a wide margin, and almost all of them said it’s the one they would choose if they could have one of them. Even a regular Facel Vega Facel II is close to a $500,000 car, but “no one sells them-they’re &^%$#@ great.” Based on car ownership, he is the best, coolest, and smartest Beatle. Also, “where is that car now? Is it for sale?”
The Aston Martin is valuable, even the non-Beatle DB-6s go for a lot these days. Hemmings has a 1966 DB-6 listed for about $900,000. Fast, but not showy. Generally considered a respectable choice.
The Rolls-Royce is a fine car, but most people who like that era would probably prefer the factory paint. If that paint job was on a non-celebrity car, they’d have it repainted. In good condition, it’s in the $100,000-$200,000 range. The best ones have custom coachwork, not just a special paint job.
They thought he Mini would be the most fun to drive, especially with a few engine/suspension/tire modifications, but hey were unimpressed by The Fool’s handiwork.
Other Beatle car opinions:
John Lennon’s last car was a 79 Mercedes-Benz 300TD, which is a reliable, well-built vehicle. Its sticker price was $30,000, and a clean, low-mileage one might get close to that. No one cares about his 1972 Chrysler station wagon, but “those are VERY rare. The engines seized at 75,000 miles but that was okay because most of them rusted out way before then anyway.”
George Harrison’s $1 million dollar? Pound? McLaren is “a handmade car that only a rich guy could keep on the road. It was 5 years old before they finished building it.” A few of the race fans wanted any car that he let Jackie Stewart or Niki Lauda drive.
These are OLD guys with lots of car wisdom, and plenty of valuable cars in the Pebble Beach league. They liked these cars better than Elvis’s, but most of the cars they really love were owned by celebrities before 1920 or so, plus a few later Hollywood cars. They were well aware of the market for celebrity cars, and they thought John’s Rolls was probably the most recognizable and would go for the most at auction. They also thought that anyone who wanted to drive the same car as a Beatle would find the Mini the easiest one to purchase.
@Peter, as a non-driving Car Guy, I deeply appreciated this comment. I wrote a followup to Nancy’s post, which is here.
Me, I want George’s 1973 Ferrari Dino 240G, as listed here.