“I know that I’m supposed to be a rock’n’roll star, but this is going to sound about as rock’n’roll as haemorrhoids: I hate driving fast. It scares me!”
Joe Elliott is not just any old rock’n’roll star. He is one of the biggest this country has produced in the past 40 years — lead singer with Def Leppard, a rock group from Sheffield that conquered the world. The band’s 1987 album Hysteria accounts for 25m of their total 100m album sales and included the rock anthems Animal and Pour Some Sugar on Me.
“I like to drive but, for me, a car is just about getting from A to B. If it looks good, great, but I’m more interested in comfy seats, a top-class stereo and decent fuel economy. The main family car at the moment is a Beemer X5 and, on a long run, I can get maybe 27, 28 miles to the gallon.”
Elliott, 59, lives with his family — wife Kristine and eight-year-old son Finlay — on the outskirts of Dublin, but his no-nonsense attitude to motoring comes from his late father, a Sheffield factory mechanic. “We didn’t even have a car till I was about 9 or 10. Dad worked close to home, so he walked. He only got his Vauxhall Viva after the factory moved and it wasn’t on the bus route.
“I loved going out with him because I always felt so safe. Dad took his time: no rush, no revving the engine at traffic lights. I’m still the same today. My wife will often say to me, ‘The speed limit is 70, y’know.’ Yeah, but 60 feels better. It’s a sort of Zen thing. Take your time, enjoy the journey. You’ll still get there and, more importantly, you’ll get there in one piece.”
My wife will often say to me, ‘The speed limit is 70, y’know.’ Yeah, but 60 feels better.
Fast cars have played a somewhat tragic role in Def Leppard’s history. On New Year’s Eve in 1984, drummer Rick Allen crashed his Chevrolet Corvette on the A57 in South Yorkshire. He lost his left arm as a result of the accident but was able to carry on with the band by adding a set of custom-made electronic pedals to his drum kit.
“Y’know what young lads are like. We think we’re invincible. Rick’s accident made us all realise the dangers of driving. You have to treat the road with respect.”
Elliott’s first car was a second-hand blue Morris Marina that he bought for £595. “That thing was a real workhorse. Even after the band took off I kept it because . . . well, I didn’t really need a fancy car ’cos we were always touring. It stayed with me till about 1984. It’d been parked up for about two years, so my dad decided to sell it. He was so pleased when he got 200 quid. I said, ‘Dad, we’ve just sold a million albums — you keep the money.’ He said, ‘It was your car, lad, so it’s your money.’ ”
There have been one or two classy motors in Elliott’s garage over the years, however. He owned a Morgan in the late 1980s and also has a Panther Kallista (a retro sports car made by the short-lived Surrey-based manufacturer) in storage. “I only take it out on very special occasions. It’s too beautiful. Leave it alone for two minutes and there’ll be someone taking a selfie on the bonnet.”
Then there is his beloved 1985 Porsche 944, which he has had for 33 years. It is the only car Elliott has ever bought new.
“I bought the Porsche that they stopped making! But that’s why I love it: you don’t see many of ’em around. Bit of Bowie on the stereo and a nice drive down the Limerick bypass. You can’t beat it. Some of those Irish roads are like freshly mowed lawns . . . not a pothole in sight.”
Def Leppard tour the UK in December (defleppard.com)
Joe Elliott: my life in cars
- 1978 Morris Marina
- 1982 Ford Escort XR3i
- 1985 Porsche 944 (main picture)
- 1989 Morgan Plus 4
- 1998 Panther Kallista
- 2005 Jeep Cherokee
- 2014 BMW X5
- My dream car “It’d be nice to get another Escort XR3i in the garage”