Dream Machine: James Hetfield’s Black Pearl Kustom

March 18th, 2015

This is an article from the all-new MARCH/APRIL 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on Bob Seger, Brad Gillis of Night Ranger, the 50th anniversary of Martin’s D-35 guitar, Jon Haber, Dean Gordon Guitars and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at our online store.

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DREAM MACHINE: James Hetfield and Rick Dore collaborated with Marcel and Luc De Lay to create the Black Pearl—a one-of-a-kind coach-built kustom.

By Chris Gill

When Metallica frontman James Hetfield teamed up with kustom car builder Rick Dore to transform a 1948 Jaguar Mark IV Saloon four-door into his latest visionary design, they thought that the project was going to go like the half dozen or so cars they had worked on together previously. However, it didn’t take too long before Hetfield and Dore realized that they would have to take an entirely different approach.

“We took off the body to build up the chassis with an Air Ride suspension, stretch it, and install new fuel and brake lines,” says Dore, who is also known these days as the co-host of the Discovery Channel show Lords of the Car Hoards. “When we started to work on the body, we noticed that the metal was very flimsy and thin, probably because metal in post World War II England wasn’t all that great. I realized that this would be a great opportunity for us to work with Marcel De Lay and his son Luc.”

Renowned as two of the top coachbuilders in the world (Marcel previously did work for legendary hot-rod designer Boyd Coddington), Marcel and Luc were the perfect choice for creating the car of Hetfield’s dreams. “They started putting the car together from just a drawing,” Hetfield recalls. “They bent quarter-inch steel bar to make a skeleton, came up with a rough design using tape and cardboard to fill it in, and crafted the entire body in metal entirely by hand. It blew my mind that craftsmanship like that still exists. It’s quite a gift.”

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The end result of the collaboration between Dore, Hetfield, and the De Lays was the stunning kustom that Hetfield named the Black Pearl. The name comes from the stunning black finish meticulously applied by Darryl Hollenbeck. While the car is described and registered as a ’48 Jag, only the frame and running gear came from the Mark IV. The motor is a 375-horsepower Ford 302-cubic-inch V-8. The dashboard gauges came from a 1934 Plymouth, but the graphics were completely redone by Classic Instruments. The steering wheel came from an early Forties Lincoln, but it was shrunk down to a 17-inch diameter from its original 19-inch dimensions. “We kept the original Lincoln center cap where the horn button is,” Dore says. “People who don’t know cars see that and go, ‘See, I told you it was a Lincoln!’ ”

The distinctive brass trim was Hetfield’s idea. “I’ve always wanted to do brass trim, but before this I always got talked out of it because of the maintenance involved,” he says. “It’s minimal trim—just the grille surround, beauty ring, and center cap on the wheels—so if it needs to get redone it won’t be hard to do that.”

Hetfield says that his main inspiration was to create a car with the sleek lines and art deco feel of cars from the Thirties. “Rick and I had just done an Auburn boattail that was really cool,” Hetfield explains. “Although the ’48 Jag was originally really boxy, I knew that we could turn it into something that was very elegant. It was originally a saloon, but we turned it into a two-seater, so it has a really long nose that makes it look very sleek. We wanted to pull off a Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance look but still have a cool kustom sled.”

Dore and Hetfield literally met that goal, as the Black Pearl was invited to the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and similar shows. “I describe this car as ‘elegance with an attitude,’” Dore says. “It was invited to The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, in Carmel, California, where it won one of the 13 awards. That crowd is very purist, so it was great to be accepted by them.”

Similarly, the Black Pearl has won awards at every show that Dore and Hetfield have taken it to, including the Grand National Roadster Show and Goodguys All American Get-Together. But as much as Dore and Hetfield appreciate the accolades, their primary motivation is to create the cars of their dreams and share them with the world. “For me it’s not about ego or winning awards,” Hetfield says. “Rick and I come from this greasy gearhead Beatniks car-club world, but now we’ve created a car that shows up in places like Pebble Beach and a nice coffee-table magazine like Guitar Aficionado. I think that it’s really cool that the Black Pearl has been shown at fancier car shows. It’s all part of the American dream.”

This is an article from the all-new MARCH/APRIL 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on Bob Seger, Brad Gillis of Night Ranger, the 50th anniversary of Martin’s D-35 guitar, Jon Haber, Dean Gordon Guitars and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at our online store.

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