Detroit Made: Bob Seger’s Love of the Automobile Has Remained a Lifelong Affair

February 17th, 2015

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This is an excerpt from the all-new MARCH/APRIL 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story (including Bob Seger’s five favorite Motor City restaurant picks), plus features on Dean Gordon Guitars, Brad Gillis of Night Ranger, the 50th anniversary of Martin’s D-35 guitar, Jon Haber, James Hetfield’s incredible Black Pearl Kustom car and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at our online store.

Detroit Made: One of Motor City’s most beloved homegrown heroes, Bob Seger’s love of the automobile has remained a lifelong affair.

By Gary Graff | Photo by Dale May

That Bob Seger likes cars comes as no surprise. After all, he is a “Travelin’ Man,” as he declares in his 1975 hit, one of many Seger tunes that references automobiles and the various experiences enjoyed in them—from driving to making love.

But it’s clear that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s passion runs deeper than just having some hot rods to show off. Standing in a spacious barn, located on the wooded compound in Detroit’s northern suburbs where he does most of his songwriting, Seger lifts the hood of his rare green 1971 Ford Mustang Mach I to reveal its 429 cubic-inch V8 big-block racing engine. “That’s a bad boy right there,” he exclaims, standing in the post-Christmas chill, a Detroit Red Wings jacket over his T-shirt. “She’ll do all the work.”

Despite his enthusiasm for cars, Seger, now 69, admits he isn’t much for collecting any more. “I love trucks and I love jeeps and I love cars,” he says. (You can add motorcycles and guitars to the list, too.) “But every car I own, I love to drive. If I don’t love driving them, I don’t keep them. It’s a pragmatic approach.”

That’s confirmed by Kip Sheward, the Detroit racer turned high-end car dealer, who helps Seger, and many other celebrities, with acquisitions and car care. Occasionally, Sheward will join the rocker at the nearby Waterford Hills Road Racing track to let his cars run full throttle. “What separates Bob from what I call ‘cool’ collectors is that he buys what he likes, not what’s trendy,” Sheward says. “Bob’s not a trendy guy. He just loves the romance of driving a car. He’s a stick-shift guy. He just likes to get in there, let it out, and enjoy the ride.”

Seger was born and bred in Michigan, and a love of the road is in his DNA. That passion has crept into his music, in songs like “Makin’ Thunderbirds,” “Roll Me Away,” and “Turn the Page,” and in his cover of John Hiatt’s “Detroit Made” and the title track of Seger’s latest album, Ride Out. And let’s not forget the reference to the backseat of a ’60 Chevy in his 1976 smash “Night Moves,” or the fact that his song “Like a Rock” was used in Chevy truck commercials for more than 10 years.

Seger grew up down the road from Detroit, in Ann Arbor, and like many people raised in the area, he has a history with the automobile industry. His father, Stewart, was a medical technician for Ford—which Seger, like most true Motor City denizens, refers to as “Ford’s”—before he left the family when Bob was 10. In his late teens, Seger spent a month working for Ford, putting rubber around windshields, but he quit after cuts to his hands jeopardized his guitar playing. Afterward, he worked at General Motors’ hydraulic plant but left after about three months when he began to make more money playing music than he did working on the line.

But cars and car culture were deeply ingrained in Seger, and cool vehicles were always around. “My dad had a red ’55 shoebox Chevy, a V-8, that I thought was the coolest thing in the world when I was 10 years old,” he recalls. Later on, his friends were driving cool late-Fifties and early Sixties Ford Thunderbirds, bubbletop Chevrolet Impalas, and other now-classic cars. “I didn’t have any money, but I would always ride around in my friends’ cars,” he says with a hearty laugh, cradling a pack of Marlboros, a lighter, and a silver metal ashtray in his left hand.

A T-Bird was Seger’s third car, but it was, he notes, “the first car that lasted more than a month,” following a 1954 Ford “Flathead” hard-top that died after three weeks and a Chevy that lasted another three weeks before breaking down on Seger’s way to pick up a date. “I also had a ’55 Ford [Fairlane] with a V-8,” he recalls. “That was as good as I ever got.”

More reliable cars would follow, although they weren’t always the sexiest rides. Seger spent a fair amount of time in Ford Ranch Wagon station wagons that he used to haul his band’s gear while touring nonstop around the country. “I drove so much when I was younger, we used to call ourselves truck drivers who moonlighted as musicians ’cause we drove more than we played,” he says. “A hundred-thousand miles a year sometimes.”

His first “holy grail” car was a practical choice. Warned off Jaguars by his brother and his manager—“I always had to work so I had to have something that was dependable,” he notes—Seger went with a 1976 BMW. “I was starting to make some money,” he remembers, “so I said, ‘Okay, I’m getting a real car, a real cool car, for a change, instead of a Ford station wagon.’ I felt like such a grown-up!”

Cars have come and gone through Seger’s possession ever since. An avid reader of car magazines who also converses with fellow aficionados—including Jay Leno—Seger had a Shelby Cobra for about three years and a Porsche Boxster that he loved, as well as a 2002 Honda S2000 he remembers fondly for having “absolutely the best six-speed transmission ever made,” from the company’s racing line. “Y’know, the Cobra was fun, but it just didn’t fit me good,” Seger explains. “There are just some cars you really like and some you don’t. Like anything, you’ll have something five, six years, and then you say, ‘Okay, I need a change.’ ”

The 1971 Mustang has managed to survive, however. “I know it’s not a quintessential classic car, but I love driving it,” Seger says. “I love hearing that big-block. I love that thin steering wheel, like the old Fifties cars had. I never was big on a lot of the styles from the Sixties. I never was a big Ferrari guy, or a Porsche guy either.”

This is an excerpt from the all-new MARCH/APRIL 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story (including Bob Seger’s five favorite Motor City restaurant picks), plus features on Dean Gordon Guitars, Brad Gillis of Night Ranger, the 50th anniversary of Martin’s D-35 guitar, Jon Haber, James Hetfield’s incredible Black Pearl Kustom car and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at our online store.

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Comments

  1. Posted by clearwhistle on February 20th, 2015, 12:29 [Reply]

    I’m flying down to Las Vegas with my wife to see Bob Seger in concert tomorrow! I’m looking forward to see Detroit’s “best kept secret” for the first time.

  2. Posted by James C. Craig on March 5th, 2015, 16:02 [Reply]

    Man, Chevy truck ads took a serious dive after Seger’s classic (and so very appropriate) theme . . .
    Mellancamp got a not so great turn, then the
    whole thing went south with Kid Rock fer
    chrissakes . . .

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