(This page concerns Peel's obsession with automobiles. For the American rock band, see Cars (2)).
"I love cars, and if I was like really wealthy, I'd have a very fast and dangerous car in which I'd kill myself almost instantly, probably, but fortunately I'm never likely to reach the stage where I can actually afford to do that. But I love the look of cars, and old cars in particular, but I have no idea at all what makes them work. I'm not interested: that's somebody else's responsibility, you see." (03 December 1994 (BFBS))
John Peel was regarded by many as a national treasure. His enthusiasm for music and love of Liverpool FC were well known, but how many people were aware of his sentimental attachment to cars? When Richard Simpson of the Daily Telegraph met Peel before he left for Peru in 2004, he was still recovering from the loss of his favourite wheels. On September 22 2004, after more than half a million miles in one another's company, his beloved - albeit defunct - Mercedes 190 had been removed from his Suffolk home. And, to avoid any unseemly display of emotion, he made sure he was in London when the deed was done.
Peel's Car Memories
Even letting a very tired old car go was out of character for Peel, who admitted that "everything I've ever owned, I've kept in boxes". This squirrelling instinct extended to cars too, because even in the absence of the Mercedes 190, some fascinating classics remained tucked away at Peel Acres. Peel grew up in a petrolhead's paradise: 
"My dad had some rather exotic cars: a Citroën Traction Avant, a Morgan three-wheeler and a Minerva. A couple of my father's sisters were really into vintage cars - when they were just old cars - and one of them took me to the hillclimb at Shelsley Walsh in a Bugatti that had belonged to Malcolm Campbell. And at one time, two of the three Talbot 105s that were built for a race at Brooklands were in my family."
When the recently-demobbed Peel rode the wave of Beatlemania to various DJing jobs across America in the early 1960s, he soon acquired a slice of automotive Americana.
"The first car I bought for myself was a 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne, and then I had a 1961 model. But I drove that from Friendly Chevy in Dallas straight into the side of a truck."
In fact, Peel was surprisingly accident-free, given some of the muscular American machinery he owned:
"I had a 1963 Chevy Impala, and then the 409 cubic-inch Super Sports model. That was insanely powerful - most of them just blew up."Later he had an ultra-desirable 1963 Corvette, and he kept another 1963 Impala. Back in Britain, having joined BBC Radio One at its inception, he found that his driving slowed somewhat:
"I bought a Bedford Dormobile. It was a summer of '67 kind of car, and we took it across Europe."
Then came a chilly Land Rover-based camper, which, according to a 1971 column in Disc & Music Echo, he named Friday It did sterling service, taking him to the gigs he talked about in his Disc columns, which often contain digressions on driving. At this time, said Peel,'"I was the king of the polytechnics" - and the Land Rover also served as a mobile dormitory after his Radio 1 shows. By then John and Sheila Peel were starting a family, and Sheila owned a Renault 5. " It was a wonderful car, and if they still made them Sheila would have another one tomorrow," he said, before adding that he had a "sickening" story to tell me about an accident that befell her and the Renault. I had visions of tangled wreckage, but in truth the bump was minor and Sheila's only concern was how John would react. "So while she was at a piano lesson I completely filled the car with flowers."
Automotive romanticism was clearly a speciality, for when Sheila was taken seriously ill after the birth of their first child he decided to make a grand gesture:
"I thought, what can I do? The only thing she'd said she wanted was a Morgan, so I went to a dealership in north London. They showed me some four-cylinder cars, and then I saw this V8 in the corner. 'You wouldn't want that,' they said, because it had the minimum amount of bodywork required to aim the engine, but I bought it and gave it to her in a dramatic and well-staged presentation in a lay-by outside Bury St Edmunds."Recently before he died, Peel drove a "tyre scalding" 3·2-litre Alfa Romeo 147, which he described as "an old man's last raging against the dying of the light", and something quite different - a petrol-electric Toyota Prius. Despite his penchant for automotive heavy metal, he saw the advantages of the hybrid Toyota:
"We've come to quite like it, even though there's too much technology in it - as there is in our Chrysler PT Cruiser. We took the Prius on our annual trip to Barcelona, and it's amazing how much money you save: we got there on about £10 worth of petrol."
Of course the Prius also had to perform a duty shared by all his cars, namely to act as a mobile auditioning room for the endless stream of demo CDs he received from young bands. Over the years he developed an ingenious filing system for them:
"The ones I'm going to play go in the door pocket, the ones I'll keep but probably won't play go on the floor on the passenger side, and those I'm definitely not going to play go on to the floor behind me."
Peel's TV Car Highlights
"I've always imagined I'd die by driving into the back of a truck while trying to read the name on a cassette, and people would say, 'he would have wanted to go that way.' Well, I want them to know that I wouldn't."
Peel often used the above quote on TV programmes such as the Sounds Of The Suburbs and Room 101, but he also narrated TV programmes on cars, such as Classic British Cars, where Peel would narrate the story of vintage cars, which he himself owned.
Mentions In Shows
- 03 December 1985: Peel mentions his car was broken into whilst in Amsterdam, Netherlands the previous week.
- 05 May 1986: Peel admits that he had to borrow a car to drive into London to present the programme because he didn't trust his own vehicle not to break down on the way.
- 13 February 1988 (Radio Bremen): Peel mentions his car being broken down so many times.
- 06 June 1988: Peel mentions his high point of the weekend was driving an Edsel car on Friday afternoon at a deserted ex-airfield and says he would love to own one, but admittedly says it's probably unlikely.
- 05 December 2002: "I still want a pickup but... ach, not allowed."
- 07 May 2003: Peel asks for the listeners' help finding someone who can repair his 1963 Chevrolet Impala SS, so it can be used as a wedding car.
- 30 September 2004: "Always wanted a Maserati actually, less of a footballer's car I think than a Ferrari."
Songs played by Peel about cars or driving. Please add more information if known.
Artist | Song | First Known Play
- Appliance: Pleasure Driving 09 July 1997
- Pete Atkin: Driving Through Mythical America 25 January 1972
- Bomb Bassets: Million Dollars And A Cadillac 08 September 1995
- Beach Boys: 409 24 April 1973
- Beachbuggy: Firebird Special 11 September 1997
- Jane Bond & The Undercovermen: Hot Rod Lincoln 29 September 1983
- Johnny Bond: Hot Rod Lincoln 05 August 1999 (Radio Eins)
- Billy Bragg: A13 - Trunk Road To The Sea (Route 66) (session) 03 August 1983
- Brainbombs: Driving Through Leeds 18 June 2002
- Chuck Berry: My Mustang Ford 21 July 1972
- Chuck Berry: No Particular Place To Go 21 July 1972
- Big Stick: Drag Racing 12 February 1986
- Big Stick: On The Road Again 08 August 1992
- Jackie Brenston: Rocket 88 05 December 2002
- Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers: Truck Driving Girl (session) 19 April 1973
- Ted Chippington: Driving Down The Road 06 October 1986
- Dave Clarke: Cars 05 June 1997 (BFBS)
- Dave Clarke: No One's Driving 30 September 1995
- Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen: Truck Driving' Man 15 September 1972
- Combustible Edison: Cadillac 18 March 1994
- Clash: Brand New Cadillac 10 December 1979
- Cristina: Baby You Can Drive My Car ('Drive My Car') 26 June 1980
- Darby Sisters: Go Back Go Back To Your Pontiac 16 October 1992
- Deep Purple: Highway Star 19 October 2004
- Deuce Coupes: Gear Masher 23 February 1991
- Deuce Coupes: Candyapple Blue 02 March 1991
- Ramblin' Jimmie Dolan: Hot Rod Race 24 August 1987
- Duane Eddy: Forty Miles Of Bad Road 10 November 1991
- Ducks Deluxe: Bring Back That Packard Car (session) 26 June 1973
- Dr Feelgood: Route 66 (session) 10 February 1975
- Fall: Cab Driver 20 November 1993
- Fastbacks: Hot Rods To Heaven 15 August 1992
- feedtime: Plymouth Car Is A Limousine 16 October 1992
- Oscar Ford: Race Between A Ford And A Chevrolet 05 December 1992
- Johnny Fortune: Dragster 24 February 1986
- John Foxx: Burning Car 10 July 1980
- Gas Huffer: Road Runnah 15 August 1992
- Paul Gayten: Driving Home 20 May 1980
- Grateful Dead: Truckin' 30 November 1982
- PJ Harvey: Driving 05 November 1993
- Jimi Hendrix: Driving South (session) 15 October 1967
- Howling Wolf: Driving This Highway 14 May 1990
- Huevos Rancheros: Burrito Grande Prix 31 August 1992 (BFBS)
- It's Immaterial: Driving Away From Home (Jim's Tune) 18 March 1986
- Keys: Driving School 18 September 2003
- Kickstands: Scrambler 02 January 1993
- Kursaal Flyers: Route 66 (session) 13 February 1975
- Je Suis France: We're Not Driving That Truck 07 August 2002
- Kernkraftwerk: Autobahn 11 August 1991
- Les Hommes Sauvages: Autobahn 06 May 2004
- Liverpool Scene: Truck Driving Man (session) 06 June 1972
- M-80's: '57 Nomad 15 August 1992
- Mama Guitar: Cadillac 06 July 2000
- Sammy Masters: Pink Cadillac 11 October 1983
- Marble Orchard: Nova ‘69 07 August 1992
- Steve Miller Band: Mercury Blues 19 May 1976
- Mingo 2000: Cadillac 15 September 1995
- Ministry: Jesus Built My Hotrod 25 January 1992
- Moby Grape: Trucking Man 26 January 1969
- Mono Men: Warm Piston 15 August 1992
- Muffs: Brand New Chevy 11 September 1992
- Neanderthals: Girl And A Hot Rod 20 July 1996 (BFBS)
- Gary Numan: Cars (session) 25 June 1979
- Wilson Pickett: Mustang Sally 19 March 1980
- Plainsong: Truck Drivin' Man (session) 06 June 1972
- Iggy Pop: The Passenger 08 June 1982
- Pop-O-Pies: Truckin' 30 November 1982
- Protoculture: Driving A Stolen Car On A Borrowed Road 14 August 1997 (BFBS)
- Pylon: Driving School 10 February 1981
- Red Beards From Texas: Automobile (session) 23 July 1985
- Jonathan Richman: Roadrunner 08 December 1975
- Tom Robinson: 2-4-6-8 Motorway 07 October 1977
- Rolling Stones: Route 66 03 August 1978
- Ronny & The Daytonas: G.T.O. 21 August 1971
- Screaming Blue Messiahs: Twin Cadillac Valentine 22 October 1985
- Senor Coconut: Autobahn 27 July 2000
- Squarepusher: My Red Hot Car 26 December 2001
- Steeleye Span: Truck Driving Man (session) 24 October 1972
- Swervedriver: Son Of Mustang Ford 09 July 1990
- Teengenerate: My G.T.O. 13 October 1995
- This Poison: Driving Skills (session) 30 November 1987
- T-Bones: Rail-Vette 11 December 1992
- T Cells: Maserati 30 September 2004
- T-Rex: Jeepster 19 December 1983
- Tyrannosaurus Rex: Hot Rod Mama (session) 05 November 1967
- Gene Vincent: Race With The Devil 12 August 1979
- Charles Walker: Driving Home Part 1 11 January 1997 (BBC World Service)
- Sonny Wallace: Black Cadilac 07 May 1984
- Weather Prophets: Chinese Cadillac 17 May 1988
- Wedding Present: Drive (session) 16 December 1995
- Wedding Present: Sports Car 20 January 1996 (BBC World Service)