Metallica frontman James Hetfield’s cars are excellent

By topgear, 10 February 2020

If you stop to think about it, nothing really goes together better than metal and motor cars. When even the drumbeat is described as driving, you know you’re on to a winner.

So it makes sense that the frontman of one of the world’s most famous metal bands would also turn out to be a car lover. A proper, dyed-in-the-jet-black-wool classic car lover, it seems.

Yep, put away your lust for squared-off Eighties retro for a minute and take in the maximalism, the presence, the sheer swooping goodness of James Hetfield’s custom car collection, on display now at the Petersen Museum in the US of A.

The Black Pearl

If you can believe it, this slice of ostensible ultra-Americana is actually based on a 1948 Jaguar. Not that there’s much of the old bean in there, to be fair; the swooping joy of that Art Deco meets American Graffiti bodywork is thanks to an entirely new aluminium body.

The Black Pearl’s power isn’t generated by anything remotely British, either – 302 cubic inches of Ford V8 sort that out, thank you ve-ry much.


If The Black Pearl toys with Art Deco elements, Aquarius goes full Gilded-Age Gatsby. The sheer size and scope of its billowing bodywork is a testament to the original age of excess (the one in the 1930s, kids, not the 1980s or, y’know, today).

A 6.2-litre LS3 V8 is, if anything, reserved in this sort of company. That probably says all you need to know.


OK, we know we’re not supposed to play favourites, but this looks like the kind of car that Chuck Yeager would have used to cruise out to Edwards Airforce Base, before strapping himself into a Bell X-1 and breaking the sound barrier.

Out of Hetfield’s collection, Blackjack follows the Hot Rod playbook the most closely. And that’s no accident – Hetfield and car builder Josh Mills actually looked at old issues of Hot Rod magazine and made sure that the 1932 Ford was modified only with parts that would have been available to the hot rodding scene at the time – old-school Stromberg carburettors, Edelbrock air intakes and 296ci Ford V8s.

Iron Fist

If we asked you to come up with an example of a bare-metal car, we’re pretty sure you’d go straight to the DeLorean. And we think that’s a bit of a shame, really – why do we have to rely on an underpowered farce from the 1980s for an example of the benefits of bare bodywork?

Thankfully, Iron Fist is here to remind us that sometimes the best paint is no paint. Sorry Pantone, but boring blue shouldn’t be the 2020’s colour of the year – not while clear-coated steel exists.

So, it works on a 1936 Ford Coupe… where else would you like to see it? And don’t say “Out the front of Harrods”, please.


OK, full disclosure: we’d have called this one Purple Haze. But come on – even without the paint job, this 1953 Buick Skylark is full of odes to music – the accelerator’s kitted out with a drum kit’s bass drum pedal, the gauges mimic the pearloid plastic of Fender guitar picks, and there’s an ESP guitar and Mesa amp painted in matching hues to the car.

Of course, we could torture the metaphor and say something about the musicality of the 350 Chev under the bonnet, but even we have limits.

Slow Burn

Remember the bad guy from the first Captain America movie – Red Skull? This feels like the kind of car he’d keep out the back, getting a few lackeys from Hydra to give it a polish every now and then.

This one’s another by Rick Dore, a favourite of Hetfield’s – Dore’s also responsible for The Black Pearl and Aquarius, as well as the next two cars on this list.

And can we just say it now – we’re BIG fans of outrigger-style back wheels.

Voodoo Priest

The V8 and America are so intertwined now that it’s started to resemble DNA, so it’s hard to picture that, during the original glory days of American car manufacturing, cars had more pistons than a Detroit basketball team.

Take the 1937 Lincoln Zephyr, and its 4.4-litre V12. Yep, a 1937 American car with a 4.4-litre V12. OK, so it only made 110bhp, but it was the 1930s, after all, and petrol tended to still have bits of sand in it back then.

It has the same engine to this day, a reflection of just how unique it was. Oh yeah, and the bodywork it’s wrapped in isn’t the hardest thing we’ve ever had to look at either.

Str8 Edge

OK, OK… set aside the name for a second and just look. At some point, this lascivious leviathan was a Ford F100, patched up with Bondo and used to drag around a golf cart.

And now? Well, if Prince (RIP) needed a pickup to pootle around Paisley Park, we’d pick this beast in a heartbeat.

Dead Kennedy

What was it we were saying about the last car’s name? OK, so if you don’t know why this name is a touch on the nose, the 1963 Lincoln Continental is, famously, the very last car that John F Kennedy ever rode in, before Lee Harvey Oswald / the Mafia / The CIA / a Flying Spaghetti Monster ended his life in Dallas, Texas.

It’s also very nearly the name of an excellent punk band. Go listen to Holiday in Cambodia and California Uber Alles if you’re in need of some musical education.

But it’s also the name of a very special automobile – even in this list – as a car that Hetfield built himself. No farming the build out, no buddying up with an esteemed builder – this one’s by the sweat of Hetfield’s own brow. And, not to suck up to Mr Hetfield (for backstage passes to a Metallica gig, for example), but we’re definitely fans of 430ci V8s burbling through side-exit pipes, suicide doors with shaved door handles, flat black paint and impossibly wide custom grilles.