Musician John Oates has spent his entire life obsessing about cars, and the most recent manifestation of his love for all things automotive is the “Cars of the Rock Stars” class that he’s curating for this year’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. The class, which celebrates the relationship between the automobile and the guitar, will be on display March 7 through 10 and will feature vehicles and guitars from John’s personal collection, as well as a small number of historically significant vehicles previously or currently owned by musicians. It will allow fans the chance to see instruments Oates played onstage as part of the bestselling rock duo of all time, Hall & Oates, as well as opportunities to meet him in person. Among the cars on display are a 1959 Chevrolet Stingray Racer driven by Elvis Presley in the 1967 film Clambake, Janis Joplin’s personal 1964 Porsche 356, and Oates’s own 1960 Porsche 356 Emory Special Cabriolet and 1959 MGA Twin-Cam Roadster. We recently sat with John to discuss his cars past and present and how he treated himself for his 70th birthday. We thought it made the most sense to let him do the talking, so take it away, John:
I had a nice collection back in the 1980s, but from what happened with my money-management issues and my divorce, I had to start over; I wanted to clean my plate after living on a dirt road in Colorado, where all I really drove was a pickup truck and tractor for 20 years. In Colorado, I started with a Dodge Dakota and then got a series of Tacomas and Tundras and the John Deere tractor. Don’t get me wrong, I was living the dream there and it was great, but when I moved to Nashville, I knew I could have something special in my garage.
In Nashville, cars have gotten back into my life and, when I started thinking of my 70th birthday and the fact it was also Porsche’s 70th birthday, I knew it would be a fit. I had a lot of cars through the years; I had a 1968 Jaguar E-Type and an Austin Healey 3000. I had a classic 1956 Chevy Bel Air convertible in turquoise and white, of course, and I had a lot of Porsches—my English friend and racing mentor Richard Lloyd introduced me to the Porsche folks while I was on tour in Europe in 1983, and I had a 1984 911 Carrera. I made arrangements to visit the factory, did a tour, and then sat in a small office and custom spec’d the car. We used pearl white for both the bodywork and wheels which had hand-painted Porsche crest centers. The interior was done in custom Mercedes dove gray leather. It was mechanically stock and delivered to an upstate New York dealer not far from where I was living at the time.
I also had a 1977 Porsche 930; I saw the red 930 Turbo Carrera in the showroom of Beverly Hills Porsche on Wilshire when I was in L.A. recording. It had gold BBS wheels and it was one of the first of that model to be delivered to the U.S. I took it to Andial in Santa Ana to have an adjustable wastegate installed by Alwin Springer and drove it cross-country when i was finished recording.
I also had a 1956 Speedster back in the 1980s. It was a 1600 Normal in silver with a red interior, which I bought in 1984 while living in Connecticut. I sold it in 1989. The Speedster was the one I regret selling the most not because of their increased value today but more because of the joy that I recall when driving it around the New England roads.
That Special 70th Present
When I started looking around for something special for my 70th birthday, I came across Rod Emory and, just by looking at his cars, you can see his passion and his skills and I knew I was going to give myself one his Outlaws as a 70th birthday present to myself.
When I first met Rod Emory, I told him about my regrets and we discussed building a car that would capture the “feel” of that speedster but reimagined with the Emory outlaw mechanical and aesthetic touches. We weren’t trying to recreate the past in a physical form but rather recapture the spirit that I loved so much and that is so unique to the 356. We started from scratch with a donor car that was a true barn find that we found in Texas. It’s a 1960 model and it had a crumpled front end and was a total basket case. The fact that the donor had a removable hardtop was an unexpected bonus, because Rod’s vision was to chop the top, and give the car a unique profile blending the best of the cabriolet and the coupe.
My outlaw is like a 356 greatest hits, and when Rod and I were talking about the project, I said, “Let’s take the best qualities from the beginning of Porsche, the pre-A days, all the way up to the model’s end run.” The original car was a B cabrio but I thought the the A nose was much more elegant, so it’s an A nose on a B cab. I was really inspired by my Speedster and I wanted to have something similar, so we chopped the top and raked the window. I really wanted to take the great features of those classic early Porsche cars and combine them. I thought, since almost everything I love is bespoke—and I’ve had custom guitars and custom suits—why not a car? When I began to committing to the project, he said it’s going to take a long time—a year and half, maybe two years—but you’ll get something special for you. It’s the mindset where I want something very specific and I’ve reached a point and have the wherewithal to hone in on the qualities I want, and that you can’t find off the rack. I think I’ve earned doing so, and the Outlaw as a 70th birthday present.
The Outlaw fits my personality. I’m a big fan of history and I love anything that has a historical context. Rod is the real thing. He comes from a family of hot rodders that have been customizing cars since right after World War II. His life was predestined in a way—to chop and channel in that California hot-rod tradition—and he just happened to applied this tradition to the 356; it’s his palette and Rod is a true artist. He blends his Southern California hot rod aesthetic with his deep love and reverence for the traditional German iconic design—never losing the purity of the original but creating something that, had the 356 model line endured, it might have evolved into.
The sound of the door closing, the driving position, the view behind the wheel is pure vintage, but the moment you twist the key the snarl of the 2.4 liter twin-cam 200-hp engine lets you know there is a new level of performance about to be experienced. Once on the move you notice solid pedal feel of the four-wheel ventilated disc brakes, the sharp 911-like turn in, along with the precise handling from the KW adjustable shocks and revised rear suspension. It is a well-engineered integration of the past and the present. My Audi RS3, well, that’s my daily driver and I love to drive and I love performance but really, I have two cars that I am going to keep and drive forever. I have a 1959 MGA Twin-Cam—there are only about 800 running today—and my 356. A cool car is like stepping back in time.
(We also asked about his favorite Hall & Oates song.)
My favorite Hall & Oates song? It’s “She’s Gone,” it’s a perfect storm of creativity and quality. We were recording in the Atlantic Studio with some of the greatest musicians; to me, that song is timeless.