Friday, 16 October 2020

The Cars of Eddie Van Halen

October saw the loss of an icon of rock music, and an inspiration to generations of guitar players. Eddie Van Halen passed away at age 65. Eddie Van Halen burst onto the music scene in 1978, with the eponymous album Van Halen. The group was formed in 1972, by Eddie and brother Alex, and continued with varying lineups – including with son, Wolgang – until the present day.


As someone who grew up listening to Van Halen, learning riffs and songs that I still play today (albeit at a fraction of the volume and with a fraction of the talent), I can vouch for the huge effect he had on music, then and now. I may have been a little late to the Van Halen party, but I can still remember the first time I heard the blistering guitar tones: a modded Strat, rewound PAF pickups blasting through a Marshal Plexiglass powered by a Variac (yeah – I’m a guitar nerd). 


Eddie's iconic home-made 'Frankenstrat.'

That sound was to become Van Halen’s trademark 'brown sound,' and partnered to his fluid two-handed playing style, became the defining tone for a generation of guitarists. The song was Mean Street, and the album was Van Halen’s fourth, Fair Warning; it was a hair-raising 'eureka' moment for millions of wannabe Guitar Gods the world over. At that moment, I knew that I was going to be Van Halen one day. Of course, without the skills or ability, that dream never materialised (although I do play an authentic Drop Dead Legs).


Whilst the guitarists among you will be familiar with Eddie’s techniques, tones, and guitars, you may not be so familiar with his love of cars. Along with his fellow bandmates, Eddie loved high-speed driving, almost as much as he loved high-gain playing. His extensive collection changed much over the years, working through a selection of Lamborghinis and Ferraris, to what was to become his last favourite (more on that later). Today, we pay tribute to one of the most influential guitarists of all time, in a manner befitting Veloce – with a look at some of his stunning car collection.

Eddie's 'Van Hauler' C1500 pickup. (Courtesy Hemmings.com)

Possibly one of Eddie’s most well known cars, is this custom Chevrolet C1500 pickup – or Van Hauler. Despite a fairly understated appearance, this beast was built by Hot Rods by Boyd and designed by none other than Chip Foose

Sporting subtle Frankenstrat inspired paint, with mods including a rear rollpan, and billet grille, it also sported a not-so-subtle 6.2-litre V8 LT1 engine swap, and independent rear suspension from a Corvette. The truck fell into disrepair, but was restored by Hot Rods by Boyd in 2009, and was auctioned in 2010. A second truck with a more extensive paint job was built for Sport Truck magazine, as a giveaway car.


Staying with trucks, Jim Bassett’s Bones Fab Hot Rod and Muscle Car shop built and maintained the gorgeous Dodge COE, above. Already modified when purchased, coming with a 6.9-litre diesel and four-speed manual transmission, it was further 'improved' with a 7.3-litre turbo diesel, ZF five-speed 'box, and overdrive. 


EVH’s collection features a number of cars by Bones Fab, and the next example is a fine 1970 Chevrolet Nova. As with most things EVH, the car is modded, featuring a 454 LSX motor, good for 650hp, completely revised rear suspension and brakes, and carbon fibre bonnet and boot. It also looks pretty fine in the Cali sunshine in Tang Yellow Orange paint.

1970 Chevrolet Nova …

… looks good from EVERY angle.

Chevrolet features predominantly in Eddie’s collection, with a 1957 Chevy Nomad, perhaps one of his more 'sedate' cars. It is, though, a beautiful example of period styling, stock air and power steering, and V8 power. Stock and steady it may be, but it still fetched a staggering $930,000 at Barret-Jackson’s 2009 Scottsdale auction. A Chevy with 'a little more gain' than the Nomad, was Eddie’s 1955 210, a 408cu-in small-block shoebox Chevy, which Eddie kept until 2016.  

Edie's Nomad. (Courtesy Barret-Jackson)

1955 210. (Courtesy Mecum Auctions)


When he wasn’t getting his adrenaline rush on stage, Eddie loved to race on track. He was known to push his cars as hard as his guitars and amps, and the latest car to become his favourite was an eminently pushable Porsche 911 GT3 RS. 


Sporting '5150' plates (the name of his recording studio, and 1986 album), when asked about the car by Car and Driver magazine, he said;

For one, it’s just so light. But really, it’s the handling. I don’t know how Porsche did it. We raced in the rain at Buttonwillow, which is my favorite track. We raced in the fucking rain and we never lost it, never spun out. BBI [Autosport] did my suspension. I set it up so you can feel it go and you can actually slide the damn car. It’s the first time ever I’ve been able to four-wheel-drift a Porsche. Every other Porsche I’ve ever had, I’ve spun them all. Well, every 911, anyway.

To borrow from Spinal Tap, Eddie liked to turned things up to 11, in stereo, so what better than a pair of Audi R8s to help the volume? The R8 proved to be a firm favourite with Eddie, owning V8 and V10 versions – both six-speed manuals, and both supercharged. Both pretty quick with EVH behind the wheel, too.

For me, though, the car in Eddie’s collection that shows his true petrolhead credentials, as well as a deep appreciation for the spirit of driving – and trailblazing – is his 1972 Lamborghini Miura S. The car – or rather the engine sound – even made an appearance on the track Panama, from Van Halen’s album 1984; the car was backed into the studio, hooked-up to the microphones, and given a good dose of Eddie’s right foot. Fast forward to 2:54 in the video to hear the unmistakeable tone of a Van Halen V12! 

The Lamborghini Miura S. Sounds good too.

Fittingly, the Miura was the first mid-engined production car, the first modern supercar. More than anything, it set the tone for everything that followed … just like the great man himself. 

Carl Lender / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)


Eddie Van Halen
1955-2020
A tribute by Kevin Atkins

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