Watching John Lennon’s Wheels: Happy 71st Birthday, John.

I turned forty earlier this year, and it struck me as a long time Beatles and John Lennon fan that through chance, luck, or some sort of cosmic intervention, I’d lived to the same age as Lennon was when he died. It was a little strange, because being more or less my parents’ age, I’d always thought of Lennon as much older. I guess the fact that years of drug and alcohol abuse made him look even older than he was may have contributed to that perception. In any case, apart from the music and martyrdom, we don’t often hear about John’s cars.

By all accounts, Lennon was not a great driver. He was famously in a car accident in the late 1960s with his son Julian and Yoko Ono’s daughter Kyoko, after which Kyoko’s father took her and disappeared into the abyss – scarcely to be heard from again. He as much as admitted to being a bad driver, and spent much of his road time being chauffeured around. Still, he liked his nice cars, and like me seemed to have a penchant for the three-pointed star, along with a lot of other interesting stuff. He special-ordered his 230SL from Mercedes-Benz with an automatic transmission, due in large part to his mediocrity behind the wheel.

One of Lennon’s Rolls Royce Phantom Vs was delivered in the usual Black laquer typical to the majority of the high-end Rollers at the time. After a couple of years of ownership, he tired of the same old black, and had the car painted by Beatles friends The Fool in it’s famous psychedelic scheme. The car features prominently in The Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour and in several Beatles photo sessions around 1967. The car was sent to the U.S. by John and Yoko in the late sixties to be used by them when they visited as well as others including the Rolling Stones. When the Lennons were dealing with their immigration and tax issues in the mid-1970s, the car was donated to a division of the Smithsonian Museum. Then in the 1980s it was sold on from there.

The Mercedes-Benz 600 was known as the car of Presidents, Popes, and Kings for most of it’s almost twenty-year production cycle, and each one was specially ordered through consultation between a special team at Mercedes and the purchaser or his/her agents. Lennon bought his 600 – a long wheelbase Pullman model – in the late 1960s. The car was ordered with much of what you would expect from a pop star at the time, including a television, phone, and record player. It was recently auctioned for several hundreds of thousands of dollars MORE than the +/- $175K going rate for these beauties. Shame he never got a chance to go through a Middelhauve conversion with it.

Lennon’s last new car was this 1979 Mercedes-Benz 300TD Diesel wagon. It was the first Mercedes 123 wagon delivered to the U.S. – not surprisingly given Lennon’s apparent long affiliation with the car makers. It was originally delivered in Pea Soup green, but was repainted cream at some point. The chrome wheels were also an add-on. I first saw this car when it was listed on eBay probably about 10 years ago now. At the time I think it sold for something along the lines of $60K. It now resides in a museum the the U.S., and remains a car that I would love to own both for its significance to Mercedes history as well as Lennon’s.

This blue Ferrari 330GT quad-headlight was the first car Lennon bought after getting his driver’s license..

John and Yoko used this big Bertha Chrysler station wagon on their trip across the Unites States in the early 1970s..

This was another of John’s Rolls Royce Phantoms, which appeared in The Beatles last film, Let it Be. Lennon was also filmed in this car on his way to promote Yoko’s Grapefruit

Certainly, Lennon had more money in his lifetime than the vast majority of us will ever see. Still, he had interesting taste in cars, and these were just some of them. He reportedly also had a Lancia Fulvia, a Fiat 850 coupe, and many more. While me may not have been a great wheel man, he certainly appreciated his cars. Maybe he’s a bit like you and me…?

~ Reed

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