There are so many people like us. Irrationally passionate about the automobile or motorcycle. Whether your preference is for collecting, racing, showing, or just simply an avid admirer, Motor culture is in our blood.
This weeks list spotlights our kind. But it is not just a list of the people with the biggest or coolest collections, or the fastest drivers, or the prettiest cars. It focuses on the people that have significant gravity on the way others view our passion.
They don't just squirrel away large collections, never to be seen or enjoyed by others. They share their love with others, and influence them into our obsession. They mold and inform the way we see things within our culture.
As always, there are probably people we considered but had to cut from the list.
Here we go.
Few have inspired inspiration and passion in more people than Carroll Shelby. About 10 years ago, I had the honor of meeting Carroll Shelby briefly. He was a remarkably approachable and normal guy. Despite his 'normal guy' demeanor, his fingerprints are all over some of the most influential cars of all time. He gave us Shelby Mustangs, the Daytona Coupe, and of course the Cobra. He was heavily involved in the Ford GT40. He sent Ferrari home with their tail between their legs after the ass-beating he administered. Not bad for a simple chicken farmer.
Bob Lutz has spent time at each of the Big Three American car companies. He started with GM in Europe, moved to Ford where he led the creation of the Ford Sierra, then moved to Chrysler, where he was head of global product development. He was responsible for green-lighting the Dodge Viper.
Ultimately, he moved back to General Motors, where he arguably revived GM as an enthusiast-friendly company. He removed the garish body cladding from Pontiacs. He had the Holden Monaro imported as the Pontiac GTO. He pushed for concept cars like the Cadillac Sixteen concept. He accelerated development of the Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice, as well as the Cadillac CTS and CTS Coupe. He resurrected the Camaro from the dead.
What he did was make the car companies he worked for responsive to enthusiasts. He restored balance in the organizational structure of the companies to ensure the accountants weren't killing good products. He made American cars more about passion and emotion and less about accounting.
Chris Harris did something that had not been done well before. He gave us a car show we wanted. In the way we want it. And regarding things we wanted to hear about. He is a car guy, just like us, driving cars we want to drive, the way we want them driven. And he takes us along for the ride. No crappy amateur rock music tracks in the background. No fake garage studio shots. It's just a car guy doing what any one of us would kill to do, and he brings along a camera.
There is a relatability and authenticity to Chris and his style that has filled a void. He has made internet video a legitimate channel for a desirable car show.
His style of comedy may or may not be your style, but we all know what a hard-core car and bike guy Leno is. He's not on this list because he has a collection of nearly 300 vehicles (169 cars and 117 motorcycles at last count), but because he goes out of his way to share his passion with others. For a guy that is incredibly busy, he still finds time to host his own website with videos of cars from his collection, and he has a regular column in Popular Mechanics where he covers automotive topics such as restoration and insights into some of his more unique models.
He also drives everything he owns. He knows how to turn a wrench. He knows what he owns. He lets others come along for the ride. He enthusiastically gives to others. And for that, we are grateful.
Most of us know what an avid collector Seinfeld is. He owns some of the most collectible Porsches of all time. It is believed he has nearly 50 highly collectible models of them, including the first and last air-cooled 911s ever made, a Porsche 959, and a Carrera GT.
The thin-air collection alone does not put him on this list, but that he created the web-based series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee does. It's hard to not recognize the guy for giving some of the most interesting and desirable cars a starring role in every episode of the new series. And it seems to be working.
To most of us guys, he may not exactly be the modern-day Steve McQueen, but for many women, he is their kind of guy. And that's one of the reasons he's on the list. He is making women, who might not otherwise watch motorsports, tune in. That's kid of a big deal. He makes it easier for guys with partners to watch motorsports, if only so their wives / girlfriends can catch a glimpse of McDreamy. Plus, you have to respect a guy for essentially acknowledging that he only acts so that he can afford to race. Well done, Mr. Dempsey.
Ralph Lauren is a man who made his fortune on design and style. His outrageous car collection only amplifies he is a man of impeccable taste. Lauren makes the list because, like others on this list, he makes sure his collection is very accessible to others. He facilitated the publication of a book with drop-dead gorgeous pictures of his collection. His cars are perpetually on loan to museums and traveling art collections.
Many years ago, the Cleveland Museum of Art hosted a touring exhibit of artwork from the Bugatti family. The Bugatti Atlantic on display - one of 2 in the world - was there on loan from Ralph Lauren. In a sense, he is becoming a curator of some of the finest, most exotic automobiles ever created. And he is making sure we all get to enjoy them.
It is hard to imagine anyone that is a true motorhead not being aware of Jalopnik. The name, a mash up from jalopy and beatnick, is a web site / blog covering cars, car culture, and the automotive industry. Mike Spinelli is credited with founding the site that has been owned and run by Gawker Media since 2004.
With its irreverent approach and millennial-friendly humor, it broadens the audience of people that will look at cars as a possible lifestyle that might not have otherwise. Frankly it appeals to a generation that otherwise might not have cared about the car at all.
While it doesn't attempt to outright replace the more traditional media we older enthusiasts grew up with, like the monthly print magazine, it has certainly had serious gravity on where we get fed our automotive content too.
Ken Block founded DC shoes. He aspires to be a world-class rally driver, but he has not turned into the competitive motorsports success he might have wanted. His foray into WRC didn't work out very well, although he has done moderately well in SCCA Pro Rally and in the X Games events.
But what he has done - in an unprecedented way - is make some of the most popular and viewed videos on the Internet with the Gymkhana series. For scale, Gymkhana 5 had 5.1 million views in the first 24 hours of launch. His collection of videos are well in excess of 250 million total views. He brings yet another audience that may not have otherwise been Gearheads into the fold.
John Lasseter started his career as an animator with Disney. He was fired for promoting computer animation, so he went to Lucasfilm, where he got the opportunity to work heavily in CGI. In 1986, the computer graphics group of Lucasfilm was sold to Steve Jobs. Jobs ultimately transformed it into Pixar, where Lasseter is the Chief Creative Officer.
The reason Lasseter is on this list is because in 2000, he took his wife and sons on a cross-country road trip, largely across Route 66. That trip inspired him to create the Cars movies and franchise. The original movie grossed over $462 million worldwide. More importantly, it created a generation of toddlers and pre-teens obsessed with cars and racing. One might say Lasseter is partially responsible for keeping our passion alive and well by fueling the next generation.
Who is Dietrich Materschitz? He is the Austrian businessman who co-founded Red Bull.
He is an automotive and aviation fanatic of the highest order. In 2004, he bought the remains of the Jaguar Formula One team and subsequently turned it into the Red Bull Racing team. He then bought the former Minardi team and turned it into Scuderia Toro Rosso. He owned a NASCAR team for a while. He bought the ex-Formula One circuit A1-Ring so it didn't disappear.
He built Hangar Seven in Austria, which houses 25 historical aircraft, helicopters, and Formula One race cars, and opened it to visitors. In short, he utilizes his creation of Red Bull to keep some of our favorite forms of motorsports alive through heavy financial support. You have to respect that.
His nickname is nothing less than "the King of Cool". He was known to be difficult to work with by directors and producers, but there was such a demand to see him, he got whatever role he wanted.
His passion for racing and things that go fast was legendary. He was originally offered the starring role in Grand Prix, but he turned it down to work on his own project. At the same time Grand Prix was being shot, he was working on the project, which was named Day of the Champion. That project was ultimately called off.
Of course we all know he went on to star in LeMans. It didn't do very well in the theaters, but is it a cult classic to this day. McQueen was such an avid motorcycle and car racing enthusiast that any time he had the opportunity to drive in his movies, he did. He was such a skilled motorcycle rider, that at one point in filming The Great Escape, they had such difficulty finding a rider that could match his skills that they put him in a German uniform and filmed him, later editing him in, chasing himself.
He wanted to become a professional race car driver. In his first outing in the British Touring Car Championship in 1961 he finished third. In 1970 at the 12 Hours of Sebring, McQueen and Peter Revson won the 3.0 liter class in their Porsche 908, missing the overall win by only 23 seconds to Mario Andretti in a 5 liter Ferrari 512S.
At the time of his death he had a collection of over 100 cars and motorcycles.
He has done nothing less than set the tone for a generation of enthusiasts.
Let us know what you think. Tell us who inspired you.