Baby You Can Drive My Car: Paul, John and Oh-So-Mod Motoring

Paul McCartney Mini

The McCartney Mini. Pic not taken at the Ed Sullivan Theater.

As any loyal ‘Buzzard’ (or Buzzette) will already know, the automobile had entered American pop culture long before the Beatles arrived in New York. Its invasion of American society began as soon as ‘society’ started buying automobiles, and coalesced – in all likelihood – in the democratic ideals fostered by the Model T. And the automobile’s role in society was well documented during the Depression, either escaping from the Dust Bowl or driving onto Hollywood’s red carpet. Dust and Duesenberg may not (at first blush) seem compatible, but in the newsreels of the ‘30s they were inescapable.

John Lennon's Rolls Royce

John Lennon wth his Rolls Royce Phantom V. Not shown: Henry Royce rolling over in his grave…

The British automobile had not fared as well, until – of course – the Beatles started driving. It was in the mid-sixties, with fan magazines documenting their every move, that I first took note of McCartney’s Mini. The Mini, of course, dates back to 1959, but you could count on one hand the number of retail sales west of New York City; I lived just west of the Missouri River. So, my seeing a Mini ‘in the metal’ by that time is unlikely. But I was completely captivated by Paul’s Mini and – by extension – the realization that the Brits (inventor of the rigid class structure) had devised a car capable of bridging most socioeconomic divisions – long before the term  ‘socioeconomic’ had been popularized.

Paul’s Mini had been modified – today we’d call it ‘pimped’ – by Radford, a popular thing for people with money to do in the Swingin’ Sixties. The mods were subtle, especially when compared to Lennon’s contemporary ride, a Rolls-Royce Phantom V. Delivered in white, Lennon commissioned bespoke paint; this was long before we could wrap or – for that matter – rap. The result seemed to presage the Beatles’ own Magical Mystery Tour with a paint scheme inspired by a gypsy’s wagon. Yoko – who came later – would have undoubtedly preferred the all-white finish of the standard Phantom.

All of this, of course, preceded McQueen’s Mustang, The Dukes’ Dodge and Brezhnev’s car collection. By the end of the decade fan magazines had moved on – although I remember Mark Lindsay (lead singer for Paul Revere and the Raiders) driving a 275 GTB. Dammit.

Much later, John would be seen walking in New York.