In the band’s entire 38-year discography, Metallica has mentioned in its lyrics the Great Old One Cthulhu more times than it has name-dropped any automobile brand; its 1997 single “Fuel” seems to be the band’s only acknowledgement of the existence of internal combustion engines.* Yet lead guitarist James Hetfield may be one of music’s most committed gearheads, as illustrated by the 10-car collection he recently donated to the Petersen Automotive Museum.
“It’s always an escape,” Hetfield said in a promotional video for the band’s 2012 Orion music festival, which featured a custom car show. “It’s a way for me to get really microscopic. When you’re down there welding, you’re in a zone… and it’s the same with music… This is a form of expression; this is a form of freedom. You can get away with driving something like (his customized 1934 Packard, Aquarius) and still have your personality show through.”
Indeed, while many rock stars spend record contract proceeds on expensive cars and then sit on them for PR photo ops to prove that they’ve made it big, Hetfield – a longstanding member of the Beatniks Car Club known to wield a welding torch when necessary – has worked with at least a couple California-based hot rod shops to build some traditional and traditionally inspired customs then gone on to show them alongside some of the biggest names in hot rodding.
Many of those cars will now make their way to the Petersen’s Bruce Meyer Family Gallery, where the Petersen will display them among other Metallica memorabilia. Among the cars in the collection donated to the museum:
Voodoo Priest, a 1937 Lincoln Zephyr;
Slow Burn, a 1936 Auburn roadster;
Aquarius, a 1934 Packard;
Iron Fist, a 1936 Ford;
Str8edge, a 1956 Ford F-100;
Black Pearl, a 1948 Jaguar Mk 4 with body by Marcel De Ley;
Skyscraper, a 1953 Buick Skylark;
Crimson Ghost, a 1937 Ford;
and a 1961 Lincoln Continental
Of those, all but the Iron Fist, Str8edge, and 1961 Continental were built by fellow Beatniks member Rick Dore. Blue Collar Customs built the former two. Notably absent from the list are Hetfield’s Black Jack, a 1932 Ford; Grinch, a 1952 Oldsmobile; and his custom motorcycle collection.
“Cars are like people,” Hetfield said in the above-referenced video. “They love to be touched, love to be driven, love to be admired.”
This is not the first time Hetfield has collaborated with the museum either. In 2014, alongside Nick Mason and Brian Johnson, he helped curate an exhibit on the world’s greatest sport coupes for the Petersen. For his recent donation, the Petersen board of trustees has named Hetfield a Founding Member.
At the same time the Petersen announced the donation, it also announced an upcoming hypercars exhibit to begin in June 2020 and two new board members: businessman William E. Connor and Porsche supervisory board Chairman Wolfgang Porsche. In addition to Hetfield, the museum’s board also named the Otis Booth Foundation, Tom Malloy, and Phillip Sarofim Founding Members of the museum.
The Hetfield collection will go on display starting in February 2020. For more information, visit Petersen.org.
* Maybe. St. Anger might be entirely about cars, but I’ve never been able to listen to that album all the way through.