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(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))

1987-Mercedes Benz-190E-2.3

Mercedes 190

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: [1]

"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."

Chevrolet-Biscayne-1958

Peel's first car in America - A 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne

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. 
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Peel's first car in Britain - Bedford Dormobile

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 that did sterling service taking him to gigs - "I was the king of the polytechnics" - and 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."

Peel's Chevrolet

Peel with his Prius car

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 in whilst in Amsterdam, Netherlands last 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."

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