Cars

Celebrity Drive: Ted Nugent, and Why He Loves His Hellcat

“I’m an American iron guy. I’ve got Chevys, Mopars, and Ford. I love them all,” he says. “But I also give a nod to the incredible German engineering and all those exotic cars. I’m a big fan of those, but, again, we have 18 vehicles, and only one is foreign.”

If he had a daily driver, it might be the Polaris he takes to hunt for ducks and other unsuspecting herbivores, he says. But for the pavement, his Hellcat qualifies as a truly special car.

“This Hellcat would eat the entire ’64 to ’72 muscle car squadron. What a rocket ship, and of course with the hardware I have in the trunk, it’s not just a rocket ship, it’s a fighter jet,” he says, with a burst of laughter. “It’s so much fun to drive. It’s the first time I’ve admitted it because I’m on with MotorTrend, but the Hellcat is equal to my Gibson Byrdland [electric guitar]. That is an astonishing statement, but it’s true.”

Nugent rates his Hellcat a 20 on a scale of 1 to 10, noting the Challenger SRT Hellcat has “too much power,” but he admits he uses it to pass a slow-moving car traveling in the left lane on the highway. “I can get around him so quickly, they didn’t even know I was there!”

Nugent has the energy and upbeat demeanor of someone much younger—his zeal can make any curmudgeon perk up and inquire what makes him so happy.

“It’s so simple, it’s stupid. Number one—70 years clean and sober. Number one A—I have a diet of pure wild game that I stealthily track and kill, handle, process, gut, skin, age, butcher, and cook with reverence beyond any human being since our aboriginal founding brethren,” he says. “That’s the secret. You should be here. You’d fall in love with me. You should have seen me. … I just plucked a bunch of mallards and wood ducks this morning, which is a sacred event.”

Sometimes the simple things in life can be thrilling. “I’ve been 70 years clean and sober except for all the fumes from racing fuel and leafing through the pages of MotorTrend magazine,” he says. “As I approached my 70th birthday, I get to talk to MotorTrend! This is awesome, because I’m a horsepower addict. And genuinely am at the alter of all things horsepower and MotorTrend. Cool.”

Nugent got the Hellcat for its power, after having two Corvette ZR-1s from the ’90s. “When I realized the Mopar blood brothers had put out 700 factory horses, I went. ‘Damn it!’ Because I’ve got so many stupid cars. I mean, it’s stupid to have this many, but they’re all wonderful—trucks and cars and ZR-1s and Bimmers, Suburbans.”

He talks about being mentored by some great names in automobiles when he raced off-road. “You’re not just talking to any old goofball guitar player, although I am the best of the goofball guitar players, but I was actually trained, hands-on lovingly, lick for lick, detail for detail, in the ultimate driving experience, which is off-road racing,” he says. “Literally mentored and guided by Parnelli Jones and Mickey Thompson and Bill Stroppe, Rick Mears, Ironman Stewart. I won some; I finished a bunch and crashed a bunch. I’ve been under the tutorship of the gods of driving, and I played bass with Chuck Berry, so where else do I go?”

Nugent starts to count how many cars he has. “I have Ford Broncos that Bill Stroppe, the world’s greatest off-road vehicle builders have built for me, so I know what handling is, and I know what suspension travel and torque and control and g-forces are,” he says. “And damn, this Hellcat is like a Gibson Byrdland through a stack of a Fender amplifiers. It’s perfect.”

He’s got five pickups, three Broncos, an Escalade, a Suburban, and 1995 Corvette ZR-1 that only has 300 miles. His wife’s BMW is the only non-American car he has.

“They’re all workhorses—they’re all utilitarian and pragmatic as all hell when you love to drive and you use them in their engineered applications, so off-road stuff and swamp running,” Nugent says. “They talk about the road less traveled. That’s not good enough. I go where no road exists and it’s untraveled in my Broncos. But they’re all wonderful.”

When one mentions that having five pickups and three Broncos seems redundant, Nugent agrees. “If I’m anything, it’s redundant!” he says.

“My band told me when we were finishing the record and the tour, ‘If the 25-year-old Ted Nugent showed up, you’d kick his ass.’ At 70, you’re damn right I’m redundant, because all the best gratifying, stimulating things in life is what you repeat as often as possible!” he says. “Have you heard the opening lick to ‘Stranglehold’? Who would not want to be redundant and play that a million times? I have a number of homes and hunting camps, and so up north I’ve got a pickup truck and a Bronco, and here in the southern Michigan swamps, I have a couple pickups.”

When he’s home in Texas, he’s got his Cadillac Escalade and Dodge Ram and a 1974 Bronco. “Just an awesome f–king vehicle,” he says of the Bronco. “And then I will ship my Hellcat. Here’s one thing I never thought I would do—no matter where I go, I ship the Hellcat, because I can’t live without it. The Hellcat is my baby when there’s pavement; the ZR-1 I don’t drive anymore because it’s only got 400 horsepower. My lawn mower has that much. I don’t, now that I got the Hellcat.”

1990 Ford Bronco

Rating: 10



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“I got this original ’82 morphed into a 1990 Ford Bronco that is full Baja gonzo,” he says. “It’s a Zebra Bronco with a Roush Yates V-8 with 860 horsepower. It’s got Currie axles, so I can climb up your face if I wanted to. That’s just a hellacious swap runner. There’s nothing you can’t do in that Bronco.”

It’s got 1990 body parts, making it more of a 1990 Bronco. “Ford morphed it into a ’90 because they put it on display in a bunch of shows. But the technology, the suspension, Roush Yates V-8, come on! It’s a dream truck.”

The Bronco is there for anything Nugent wants to do. “That truck is the vehicular Great White Buffalo. It doesn’t back away from the storm—it looks for the storm and heads straight into it,” Nugent says.

1966 Ford Bronco

Rating: 10

Nugent loves his original 1966 Bronco. “It’s a half cab, and it’s a frame-off rebuild by Build A Bronco here in Michigan, a beautiful 302 V-8 in it, and I pose with that with all kinds of tasty, delicious, barbeque, sacrificial critters in the back,” he says. “There’s a cult out here of Bronco lovers. The ’66 through ’77 Bronco cult is hardcore.”

The Bronco is a perfect 10 to Nugent because it’s the first year Ford made them. “It’s collectible as hell, it’s all state-of-the-art driveline and suspension, and it just goes and goes and goes, and all my Bronco-loving cult gang, they just genuflect at the altar of original Broncos.”

2000 Ford F-250 Super Duty

Rating: 10

“I’ve got this workhorse 2000 F-250 Super Duty with a V-10 that goes anywhere. It’s got a 6-inch lift and 37-inch BFGoodrich Mud Terrain tires, and it’s a workhorse,” he says. “It carries firewood and critters. So it’s a ranching, farming, hands-on, conservation resource steward environmental workhorse.”

Nugent loves the truck, whose engine he says has been tuned to produce about 450 horsepower. “It’s got a winch in the front, a winch in the back so I can haul stuff into the backend when I have big animals. It’s a workhorse and an absolute 10.”

2004 Dodge Ram

Rating: 10

“The Ram I got from Dodge because they used 11 seconds of my song ‘Stranglehold.’ It’s the sexiest song in the history of noise. The Dodge Ram also has a lift, and it’s got the 37s, it’s got the posi and limited slip, auxiliary KC Daylighters. It’s another workhorse.”

The off-road-ready Ram is his all-purpose ranching truck. “I’ve pulled so many vehicles out of ditches and saved them in floods, and people don’t know how to drive when there’s a raging rapids in front of them,” he says. “So I saved their lives by winching them the hell out of there. It’s a workhorse, but because it’s got a Hemi, it’s also fun to drive.”

Nugent says all of his trucks are tweaked for performance, power, handling, and fun. “Driving is fun. It’s a big deal. I look forward to driving,” he says. “You want to go on a ride with Ted Nugent in any one of my vehicles during rush hour and watch me teach people lessons. It’s so beautiful.”

2018 Cadillac Escalade

Rating: 10

This is the ride Nugent drives when he’s with his kids and grandkids. “That runs great. If you want a family vehicle that still handles and has some oomph,” he says.

He also uses the Escalade for his charity work with military and children’s charities. “We’re always picking people up from the airport and taking them hunting and to the shooting range, campfires, on boat trips,” he says. “The most powerful relationship I have with my trucks is that when we do charity work for severely wounded heroes of the military and terminally ill and special-needs children, their favorite thing is to go off-roading with me in one of my trucks,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t threaten their lives, but we go to the edge. We go places that it doesn’t look like we should, and they really get a lot of laughter and a lot of fun out of that.”

Nugent also occasionally drives his wife’s 2012 BMW 640i he got for her birthday, which they keep at their condo in Naples. “I don’t go to Naples much, but when I do, I drive the damn car,” he says. “It’s another vehicle that represents our demand for fun, handling, performance, driving. But once we get a vehicle that we love, we don’t get rid of them; we like to become one with them.”

Car he learned to drive in

Nugent was born and raised in Detroit, the Motor City, and as he calls it “the wrench capital of the world.” By the time he turned 16, his mom had a four-door 1963 Chevy Biscayne he learned to drive in.

“It had a 283, which was pretty oomphy, and back then the muscle car era was coming on when I learned to drive,” he says. “But we also had a 1949 Oldsmobile, and it was just awesome. We called it the ‘Gray Goose,’ and my dad would let me drive that around our neighborhood in the outskirts of Detroit.”

Growing up near the headquarters of the Detroit Three automakers, Nugent learned the basics like gas, brake, clutch, steering, turn signals, and leaning forward to see over the steering wheel. “So I’ve always been fascinated by mobility and cars and horsepower,” he says.

When he got his license in 1964, Nugent drove the Biscayne around. “I would take off the air cleaner and put pieces of two-by-four in the A-frame of the suspension so it would have a rake. Then I’d paint the wheelwells canary yellow and put a flashlight under there,” he says.



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Back then Nugent would often race other cars on the street. “I would beat Ford Fairlanes with 352s, and I would beat the occasional 325 LeMans,” he says. “Everybody lived for that stuff. That’s why the music has velocity, because it was all based on the mobility factor, whether it was the Beach Boys celebrating 409 or Jan and Dean.”

Both his mom and dad taught him in the Biscayne. “My dad was a U.S. Army cavalry drill sergeant, and the discipline factor was off the f–kin’ chart,” he says, laughing. “He would kick your ass when you got out of line, which I hated at the time.”

Nugent says he appreciates that discipline now and that his own kids and grandkids probably say the same thing about him. “He taught me to be courteous and conscientious and to stay out of people’s way and to give room to people to make their good, bad, or otherwise decisions, so it was a real well-honed polite, disciplined introduction to the road. I think my fellow MotorTrend readers will appreciate that because to this day, even though I’ve got the horsepower and everything I own is based on handling and performance, I am the most courteous, conscientious, polite driver to ever hit the pavement, until you hog the left lane. And if I’m in a rental car, I will take you out,” he says.

First car bought

Nugent was starting to figure out his talent on the guitar as a kid. “I started playing my guitar in 1952 and 1953, and I started a band in Detroit with a drummer in 1955 and playing Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley stuff. I’m on fire, we’re playing really good for just kids, and my dad was transferred to Chicago. I had the number one band in Detroit, the Lourds. We won the Michigan battle of the bands, we opened up for the Supremes and the Beau Brummels at Cobo Hall.”

A little later, Nugent started the Amboy Dukes in Detroit, and they took off. “I was consumed with the music even though I knew the muscle car thing was happening. I was aware of its effervescence and allure. And I’m watching the muscle car thing going, and I’m going, ‘Goddamn, would I like a Mercury Comet Caliente with four on the floor, a 411 posi, and a f–king Hurst shifter and 500 [horsepower]!” But all I got was a van,” he says.

He started making some records, and the first check in his life was for $10,000 for his record Journey to the Center of the Mind with the Amboy Dukes. He put the check to good use at a Mercedes-Benz dealership.

“I drove by in the band’s station wagon, a Ford Country Squire station wagon, and I just saw this gorgeous-looking brown car, and I went in and talked to the guy. I looked like a hippie freak. I wasn’t—I was actually a narcotics agent,” Nugent says with laugh. “But I looked at it, and I didn’t know what it was; I was not aware of its reputation. But I paid 10 grand with the factory air, and I drove it out, and that was the first vehicle I ever bought for myself—a 1970 Mercedes 280SL convertible with the hard top, and it was a f–king riot ride. It was so performance.”

He kept it for 33 years and sold it for more than what he bought it for. “[When I bought it,] I didn’t know what it was, but the guy said, ‘This is a 280SL, and it’s the last year they made them, and it’s $11,500.’ … I wasn’t really familiar with the phenomenal Cobra yet, but it looked kind of like it. I said, ‘You put Mercedes air conditioning in this 280SL, and I’ll give you 10 grand cash right now.’ It’s one of the most collectible cars, one of the finest-engineered driving automobiles ever. I had no idea.”

He bought the Mercedes when he was just about to record his first solo album, Ted Nugent.

“During the Michigan winters, I put Michelin studded snow tires on all four corners and used it almost like an off-road vehicle,” he says.

Nugent ended up letting the Mercedes go because the car took a lot of maintenance and he couldn’t find anyone in Jackson, Michigan, who knew how to take good care of a Mercedes.

“I didn’t know at the time—there was no Barrett-Jackson or Mecum, and I had no idea how much they had gotten and what it would have been worth if I had restored it,” he says. “I could have gotten a quarter of a million dollars for it.”

Favorite road trip

“I’ll take [my wife] to the airport in the Hellcat, and we go down the highway here on Michigan-94, and I know it like the back of my hand because we started driving in the 1950s when it was just a two-lane road,” he says.

Nugent especially loves driving I-94 during the fall to admire the autumn colors. “In that Hellcat, even though I really pay attention to the road, I am also stimulated by the fall air and the fall colors, and just driving with my stunning, dangerous wife, even though I’m taking her to the airport.”

Nugent likes the word “stunning.”http://www.motortrend.com/”I’m looking out a window now; it’s stunning. I have a lake that’s just glimmering in this beautiful clear; it’s only 38 degrees out there,” he says. “My Labradors are out there sniffing where the deer were this morning. I’m out in the middle of the state out in the swamps of central Michigan.”

The Motor City Madman says it really doesn’t matter where he drives, he enjoys it all in his home state. “I went to a swamp this morning coming home from my tree stand. It’s how I get high—I get high on nature, I get high on my radar, listening to the sandhill cranes and the geese and ducks coming over, watching all these deer this morning that were out of range from my bow and arrow. … It’s a very stimulating life, and my horsepower cravings and my love of driving is an integral part of God, family, country, hunting, nature, music, horsepower,” Nugent says.

New Album: The Music Made Me Do It

In November, Nugent released his first studio album in four years, The Music Made Me Do It. There’s an accompanying bonus DVD, Live at Freedom Hill, of a full-length concert at Freedom Hill Amphitheater in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

“It’s a stone-cold motherf–ker. It’ll make unicorns breed through the night. It’s the best rock and roll,” Nugent says. “There’s a song on it, “BigFunDirtyGrooveNoize,” your vehicle will immediately gain 25 percent horsepower.”

Spirit of the Wild on Outdoor Channel

Nugent is proud of the longevity of his cable show, named after one of his albums. “We feature a lot of the vehicles. All those vehicles end up on Spirit of the Wild at some point,” he says. “We film every hunt, everything we do, and plant trees with the children.”

For more information, visit tednugent.com.

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