• James Alan Hetfield is the founder and lead vocalist of Metallica and has been a living legend for over 40 years
• He has had the honor of obtaining some of the world's finest vehicles, including 10 that stand out
• He donated his collection to the Petersen Museum in 2019 to benefit society and nurture creativity
• His passion for cars was inspired by his father, who was an avid car enthusiast
• His collection is on display at the Petersen Museum and includes cars such as The Black Pearl, The Aquarius, The Slow Burn, The Str8 Edge, The Iron Fist, The Crimson Ghost, The VooDoo Priest, The Blackjack, The Skyscraper, and The Dead Kennedy
As of 2022, James Alan Hetfield has enjoyed the status of a living legend for over 40 years, being the founder, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of one of the most popular bands in recent music history – Metallica. At the age of 59, he isn’t as energetic as he used to be, but there are passions much more befitting of an eccentric millionaire, such as collecting some of the world’s finest vehicles.
Being as unique a personality and adored by the crowds as he is, Hetfield has had the honor of obtaining a few of the most iconic cars ever built, a lot of them in his honor and with a special dedication. While James has a large number of more commonly built cars as well, there are exactly 10 that really stand out, which are recognized by most car connoisseurs around the globe basically as his signature vehicles.
Unlike most celebrities with this much success, James is also quite generous, having donated a lot of his wealth back to the people. Such is the case with his cars as well, now permanently on display at the prestigious Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, California USA. Hetfield gave up his otherworldly collection in 2019, which marked one of the most selfless celebrity gestures of all time.
In an interview with pursuitist.com, James revealed a lot of the thinking behind the decision. Regarding the very reason for doing so, he said ‘It’s the pinnacle. It’s the best place to have your vehicles. Rick Dore is pretty darn proud to see his creations shown in that place, as am I. This stuff would not have happened if not for the brilliant eye and mind of Rick Dore.’
In this statement, the rock-star refers to the fact that he himself designed and built many parts for his breathtaking cars, and Rick Dore was a great help here, as the owner of Rick Dore Kustoms in California, who has created some of the most memorable vehicles on the planet, a number of which ended up in Hetfield’s garage.
That’s not all, however, and so the frontman continued, stating ‘And there’s another builder who’s part of this, Scott Mumford. His eye and hard work was essential. And the cars weren’t doing me much good, just sitting in my garage. The thing that touches me the most is that they’re staying together. They belong together.’
Wanting to keep the cars all in one place was a major drive behind James’ decision – he sees them all as the many parts of an intellectual and artistic whole, kind of like the history of his band. To that effect, he said ‘I didn’t want to auction them off and watch them go all over. It’s a collection. It’s a lot like the Metallica albums that we’ve put out. The music marks my life and that’s what these cars have done for the past 14 years.’
Furthermore, he elaborated that it’s quite exciting how the cars will always remain together no matter which tour they’re taken on, thus also spreading the word of Rick Dore’s incredible talent and artistry. As can be concluded from the music legend’s words, he plans to leave a legacy for the new generations in the form of artistic perfection, yet another noble gesture aimed at benefitting society and nurturing creativity.
James’ passion for cars didn’t just come out of nowhere – his father was a big-time car enthusiast, and worked on them whenever time would allow. On the topic of his dad’s garage, Hetfield said ‘It was a fun place to explore. It was a fun part of the house that the rest of the family didn’t know much about.’ As indicated, the future star was the only one truly interested in everything his father was doing, eventually developing his own passion from that.
He continued with ‘Me and my dad would be tinkering in there with something. He had grown up without a father, raised by his grandfather, and I think he was neglected a lot, so he wanted to learn about stuff — what it is to be a man – and the only way he knew to do it was to do it himself.’
The garage wasn’t only used for cars, however, as his father was an avid hunter too, and a general handyman thirsty for knowledge, especially if it related to mechanics. In James’ own words, ‘He didn’t have a lot of mentors so was in there tying his own flies, working on cars, and there were often deer carcasses hanging. A lot of things to discover while he was learning to be a man. It was a man cave.’
When asked whether he helped his dad out, Metallica’s founder said ‘Yeah, I was always wondering what was going on in there. It was before You Tube so he was in there learning from hands-on experience – and would fail over and over until he got it right.’
— Hetfield (@papahetfield81) September 14, 2021
The question of when he learned to drive then popped up, to which Hetfield jokingly responded with ‘Hmm, it was about five years ago. I’m still working on it.’ He revealed the truth after a brief chuckle, stating ‘No, when I was growing up I couldn’t wait to drive. I had a high school buddy who got a car before everyone else. It was a Duster and we were all jealous. I just hung out with the guys who had cars to get around and hear the sounds. It was cooler than my skateboard.’
That said, the very first car that James got to drive around was a 1967 Barracuda Fastback, borrowed from his brother. He managed to get into an accident regardless of the vehicle’s admirable performance, saying ‘It didn’t suck! But I crashed it into a tree within the first couple of weeks. I fixed it – well, a friend of mine did. There’s something called Bondo. Much cheaper than taking it to a shop. It had air shocks in the back and I would jack that thing up, but I didn’t customize it because it was my brother’s car.’
The ability to work on vehicles got stuck in Hetfield’s mind nonetheless, and soon bloomed into an irresistible passion. He then stated ‘From there on, in the days of the Chevy Luv Truck I got one of those and you could customize those quite easily, so I did. From that point on I tinkered with anything I got my hands on.’ Ultimately, that’s the how and why behind a vast portion of the rock legend’s one-of-a-kind collection.
The more-than-proud Petersen Automotive Museum has these cars on full display at all times, and has even released a video detailing most of them, garnering more than 360,000 views from all over the world.
The Black Pearl
Although the name of this car may sound like something stolen directly out of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, it’s actually an entirely original way for Hetfield and Dore to express their creativity to the fullest extent.
This vehicle is a massive collaboration between the two and many other artists, starting with a 1948 Jaguar Mark IV chassis that underwent severe modification, eventually realizing a design so sleek and elegant that the vehicle looks more like a piece of candy than a pile of metal, with an extravagant reflective finish that lets the car be used as a mirror too.
Built with the initial design idea borrowed from a 1938 Delahaye 165 Cabriolet, The Aquarius is another custom masterpiece that graced James’ garage. It was created on a 1934 Packard chassis and coated in a silvery powder, with a windshield reminiscent of the DuVall style.
On top of that, it was overlaid with hand-created aluminum panels hailing from the Marcel’s Custom Metals shop, with a 376 cubic-inch LS3 crate V8 engine capable of powering the car to a decent extent. It lacks some of the most basic features though, such as an audio system. This is both a sacrifice to achieve visual perfection and a statement that it’s about the art and not functionality – these machines are meant to be admired, not driven to work.
The Slow Burn
As stated by teamspeed.com, ‘One of history’s most beautiful cars gets a heavy dose of James Hetfield’s personal style and masterfully mixes new and old.’ The car was originally inspired by the body of a 1936 Auburn 852 Boattail Speedster, which had to be fully created from scratch, as the original versions of that machine are way too rare and expensive, with owners who are probably too fond of them.
It was then given a sloped convertible top instead of the regular roof that would normally be on the model. The car is almost fully black with light brown accents on its massive fenders, which greatly compliment the overall appearance.
The Str8 Edge
As a significant standout from the vintage models Hetfield generally prefers, the 1956 Ford F-100 truck called Str8 Edge draws in everyone’s glance with its shimmering purple color and one-of-a-kind hot rod truck appearance.
The idea for this vehicle came to the rock-star when he purchased a slightly customized version, intending to drive it on an everyday basis. His passion then kicked in, however, and he stripped the car down to its essentials, fully remodeling it with the help of Scott Mugford from Blue Collar Customs.
The Iron Fist
James initially purchased a 1936 Ford and made a few modifications on his own, stating ‘I proceeded to cut into it myself and keep it a rat for a while. That was really the extent of my skills anyway.’
He drove the car around for a few years, attending various shows all across the US. When he realized that the vehicle needed a significant makeover to remain a competitor to the other machines he had in store, the car was passed onto Blue Collar Customs, as the aforementioned one.
The Crimson Ghost
Not all Hetfield pieces are severely modified, such as the 1937 Ford Coupe that only received a few visible customizations. Its name comes from the shiny, polished-to-perfection dark red coat, as well as the overall ominous look of the machine.
This one was also the brainchild of the rock-star and Rick Dore, in whose memory it remains one of the sweetest rides ever produced. The roof that was hard-topped ended up being chopped off and slated in a much finer line, while the running boards and fenders had a noticeable re-shaping.
The VooDoo Priest
The exquisitely shaped and almost entirely restructured 1937 Lincoln Zephyr represents one of the most beautiful cars ever owned by the Metallica frontman. The one original car that received these upgrades had first to be procured from an army veteran residing in Sacramento. The vehicle had simply been left there, gathering dust until James managed to acquire it.
It was then sent to Rick Dore for a much-needed makeover. The chassis and exhaust were signed off to Antioch Muffler Inc., while the rest of the work lay in Rick Dore Kustoms’ hands. They gave it a brand new V-12 engine, with a multitude of other modern-day upgrades.
As though his collection needed any more ultra-vintage designs, The Blackjack does for James what few other cars can, combining both ancient style and modern-day efficiency. It’s worthy of mention that the singer has a Ford tattoo on his right arm – a gesture denoting his love and passion for Ford’s machines.
This 1932 Ford Roadster was modified only with the parts that would’ve been available in the year of its release, resulting in a much older-looking build. His inspiration for this car was the idea of a boy in the 1940’s doing what he can to upgrade his dad’s car, much like James himself wanted to do in his childhood.
Hetfield’s version of the 1952 Buick Skylark is definitely one of the most unique cars ever made, with so many musical elements contained within that it almost looks made up. The car’s accelerator is based on a kick-drum bass pedal, while its gauges are heavily reminiscent of Fender guitar picks.
Of course, it’s yet another beautiful result of James’ collaboration with Rick Dore. The car has a sleek bright purple color with a seamlessly shaped body, whose lower half slightly protrudes upwards near the back wheels.
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The Dead Kennedy
Finally, the 10th and equally as important piece of the eternal collection is James’ almost-completely-personally-re-built 1961 Lincoln Continental, which is the same car former US president John F. Kennedy was being driven in at the moment of his assassination.
The color scheme matches the historical vehicle as well, with suicide doors to boot as a cherry on top. The muscle car is powered by a 430 cubic inch V8 engine that gives it significant advantages on the open road.
So if these descriptions stir your imagination, go take a look at the vehicles on display in the Petersen Museum when you’re next in Los Angeles!