Friday, January 20, 2012

Jerry Garcia's Automobiles 1960-1970

A white 1961 Corvair, similar to the type of car that Jerry Garcia and Sandy Rothman drove across the country in 1964
Automobiles have been an integral part of rock and roll since its inception. Many postwar blues songs celebrated the freedom and power of the automobile. Songs like K.C. Douglas' "Mercury Blues," attesting to how much women appreciated a '49 Mercury, easily made the transition to rock and modern country, and indeed the song is heard on Mercury commercials to this very day. In his first hit single, "Maybelline," back in '55, Chuck Berry sang
As I was motivatin' over the hill
I saw Maybelline in a Coupe de Ville
A Cadillac a-rollin' on the open road
Nothin' will outrun my V8 Ford
Berry inaugurated a rock tradition of not only singing about cars, but singing in detail about the make, the model and the special features. This tradition was picked up and expanded by American rock bands from the Beach Boys to Bruce Springsteen and beyond. Cars, Girls and Rock and Roll were the American teenager's dream in the 50s and 60s.

Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead were a contrarian force in American music and culture in numerous ways. One rarely noticed perspective on Garcia and the Dead was an all but complete absence of the automobile as an icon, whether in the music of the Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia's personal or professional image. Jerry Garcia was much more likely to sing about a railroad line than a specific car, and Robert Hunter's lyrics always evoked a somewhat timeless America without too many time-bound references. As a result, to my knowledge, no one has ever done an automotive analysis of Jerry Garcia, not least because it is an absurdly trivial perspective on a great artist.

However, this blog is focused on Hooterolls. Like almost all Americans, a look at Jerry Garcia and his cars, or cars that were associated with him, tells us something about his professional life. This post will look at the cars that Jerry Garcia owned, drove or was regularly driven in during the formative years of 1960-70. Since any car owned or used by Garcia has usually been only mentioned in passing, the photographs I have included are often just guesses on my part. Anyone with additional information about this hitherto rarely discussed aspect of Garcia's career, whether make, model, color or engine size, is encouraged to Comment or email me.

A 1950 Cadillac Series 61, possibly similar to the car Jerry Garcia bought in 1960, and lived in when it broke down in East Palo Alto. This model was not a large Cadillac
1950 Cadillac
According to McNally, in 1960 Garcia used one of his last paychecks from the Army to purchase a 1950 Cadillac. This must have been Garcia's first car, although I don't know where he learned to drive--perhaps in the Army. (Update: according to Commenter LIA, Garcia had learned to drive prior to the Army, and in fact he "stole" his mother's car, which triggered a juvenile delinquency charge that led to his enlisting. In the Army itself, Garcia ended up in the motor pool, and apparently drove missile trucks around the base). In any case, Garcia drove the car to East Palo Alto to begin his new post-Army life, and the car promptly died. Garcia then apparently lived in the car. Although I don't know what model Cadillac he had bought, no Cadillac was small.

A 1940 Chrysler New Yorker. Robert Hunter owned a 1940 Chrysler (model unknown) when he met Jerry Garcia in Palo Alto in the early 60s.
Robert Hunter's 1940 Chrysler
Garcia quickly became friends with Robert Hunter, whom he met at St. Michael's Alley in Palo Alto. Hunter was getting out of the Army, too, and he had returned to Palo Alto, where he gone to school from the 8th to the 11th grade (Wilbur JHS and Cubberley HS). Hunter had a working car, so that insured that the new friends would spend a lot of time together, since Garcia's car was broken. David Nelson had an old '48 Plymouth (h/t LIA), so Nelson and Hunter's closeness to Garcia may have been essential in cementing their future lifelong cooperation.

A 1940 Chrysler seems old and exotic to us today. However, in 1961, a 1940 Chrysler would have only been 22 years old. There are plenty of 1990 Plymouth Reliants on the road today, so a 1940 Chrysler would not have attracted particular attention. Since no American passenger cars were manufactured between 1942 and 1946, due to World War 2, there were somewhat more cars around from the pre-war era, since a whole generation of vehicles had never been built.

A 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk, similar to what Jerry Garcia was riding in when he was in a terrible accident that killed his friend Paul Speegle
Lee Adams' Studebaker Hawk
The Studebaker Hawk is a largely forgotten car today. However, it was designed as a competitor to the Corvette, and the Hawk was a cool looking and powerful vehicle for the time. It was in a speeding Studebaker Hawk on the Foothill Expressway in Palo Alto, driven by his friend Lee Adams on February 20, 1961, where Garcia found himself in a terrible accident that took the life of his friend, painter Paul Speegle. The accident had a profound affect on Garcia's life in many ways. I think one of the minor ways in which it affected Garcia's life was to inoculate him from thinking that a fast, masculine car was a desirable object.

Jerry Garcia's 1961 Corvair surely did not look this good. By the standards of early 60s American cars, the Corvair was a small sedan
1961 Chevrolet Corvair
Other than the Cadillac, the one specific vehicle associated with Jerry Garcia prior to the Grateful Dead was the 1961 Chevrolet Corvair in which Garcia and Sandy Rothman drove across the country in 1964. The Corvair was Chevrolet's "compact" sedan, a relatively small four-door for the era. The Corvair did not have a good reputation for quality, which may have accounted for the fact that the perpetually poor Garcia could have ended up with a car that was only a few years old.

In 1965, Ralph Nader wrote an alarmist book (Unsafe At Any Speed) about the safety record of the Corvair, criticizing General Motors for building an unsafe car and ignoring crash test data. Notwithstanding that Nader's book may have overstated the danger, the Corvair has become a black sheep amongst otherwise classic 60s cars (Time magazine included the 1961 Corvair in its list of "The 50 Worst Cars Of All Time"). Nonetheless, none of this was known in 1964. However, the Corvair was a relatively small, underpowered family sedan, not an attractive hot rod.

A 1958 Dodge Sierra Station Wagon, probably similar to Bill Kreutzmann's gray wagon that was the Warlocks first band vehicle (along with Garcia's Corvair)
Bill Kreutzmann's 1958 Dodge Station Wagon
When the Warlocks started, Bill Kreutzmann owned a Dodge station wagon. I assume it was a relatively large one, since it became the unofficial 'band vehicle' of the Warlocks. Kreutzmann was married and had a child, so a station wagon would have been par for the course. Garcia was married and had a child, too, but I'm not certain he still even had the Corvair (Update: apparently he did).

A 1967 Ford Mustang was as cool as an American car could be, and great looking, too
Bill Kreutzmann's 1967 Ford Mustang
The Grateful Dead received a $20,000 advance from Warner Brothers for signing a record contract. Apparently the station wagon had been run into the ground, and no doubt replaced by a panel truck, so Kreutzmann insisted that he should get a brand new Ford Mustang out of the advance money. In 1967,  the Ford Mustang was the coolest of cool cars. Frankly, it still is today, whether it had a 200, a 289 or a mighty 390.

Garcia and the band consented to Kreutzmann's demand for the Mustang. In a typical rock band, it was the lead guitarist or the lead singer who drove the hot cars. Eric Clapton had a fleet of amazing Ferraris, and Rod Stewart spent his entire advance from his first solo album on a Lamborghini. Yet Garcia cheerfully assented to the drummer getting a cool car, while he himself may not have had a car at all.

Mountain Girl's Plymouth Station Wagon
A 1961 Plymouth Wagon, possibly similar to Mountain Girl and Jerry Garcia's car in 1967
 In fact, the whole time the Dead lived in the Haight, from mid-66 through early '68, there was no talk of Garcia driving. However, thanks to intrepid Commenter LIA, we know that once Garcia and Mountain Girl moved out of 710 Ashbury into a nearby apartment, she recalled "We had a big Plymouth station wagon with a back window that didn't roll up, and that was what we got around in." Lacking further evidence, I am using a picture of a 1961 Plymouth.

In 1968, the Grateful Dead leased a fleet of 13 Ford Cortina Mark IIs like this one
Grateful Dead 1968 Ford Cortina fleet
In mid-1968, Ron Rakow arranged for the Grateful Dead to lease a fleet of 13 Ford Cortinas, presumably 1968 Mark IIs. Whatever hodge-podge vehicles the band members and family may have been driving--Kreutzmann and his Mustang excepted, of course--the Cortinas would have been cooler and more fun. The somewhat unreliable Cortina never really caught on in the United States, but in England they were both ubiquitous family sedans and pretty cool street cars. Indeed, the legendary Lotus-Cortina variant (1963-70) had a phenomenal competition record, and was a formidable race and rally car in the hands of the likes of a Jim Clark or a Vic Elford.

Presumably Garcia or anyone who drove him around used the Cortina fleet once the band moved to Marin County in the Spring of 1968, although I think Mountain Girl still had the old Plymouth wagon. Marin County was and is thinly populated and spread out, and walking or public transportation was not a serious option. The Ford Cortina was a cool and practical little car, but while it was an English icon it was not an American one. I don't recall a specific story or picture of Garcia driving or riding in a Cortina, although he must have. Due to Rakow's peculiar business practices, almost all of the Cortinas were repossessed by New Year's Eve. Bob Weir had run his into a tree, but Pigpen took a fancy to his, and kept up the payments and held onto it.

Update: I just noticed that Dennis McNally says that in May, 1969, at the birth of the New Riders, Garcia drove his "midget school bus" (p.318) down to Menlo Park to play with John Dawson. I wonder what kind of vehicle this was? Whatever it was, the description makes sense for a musician's utility vehicle.

When Sam Cutler met Jerry Garcia in December 1969, he was driving a "battered old Volvo," possibly similar to this 1966 Volvo 122S sedan
1960s Volvo Sedan
Sam Cutler's book You Can't Always Get What You Want (2010: ECW Press, Toronto) is mostly a description of the 15 month period from June 1969 through September 1970, when he went from shepherding the Rolling Stones across America to shepherding the Grateful Dead across America. The apex of the book comes in December, 1969, when Cutler is left in the Bay Area to clean up the disastrous mess left by the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway. Cutler describes being met at Mickey Hart's ranch by Garcia, who had "arrived in a battered old Volvo" (p.193). Cutler doesn't describe the car further, but I take it to be a mid-60s Volvo 122 Sedan, which were popular in California at the time. By this time, when Garcia wasn't on the road, he was living a quiet suburban life in the beautiful little Marin town of Larkspur.
I was surprised when we arrived at Garcia's place to find that he lived in a perfectly normal house in a perfectly normal street intertwined with massive redwood trees. Perhaps I expected him to dwell in some strange version of Gandalf's Garden, or a peculiar Hobbit's cave? His house was set back from the road and had a driveway beside a front lawn that needed mowing. There was no front fence; the garden was open to the road (Cutler, p.196)
In 60s Northern California, the Volvo 122 was a sort of hip Mom-mobile. Volvos were still exotic cars, a critical factor in the Bay Area, and they drove well enough for Dad to enjoy them on the freeway, but they were safe, reliable and had lots of room in the back seat. Whether or not Jerry shared the car with Mountain Girl isn't clear, but rock star or not, an old Volvo 122 was exactly what a hip young couple with a child would have had in sleepy Marin in the late 60s.

The three bedroom house and the old Volvo that Garcia shared with Mountain Girl and her daughter describe a certain kind of reality that is often ignored when thinking about Garcia's wide range of activities in the 1970s. It is a traditional trope of rock stars that they are terrible drivers who need to be waited on hand and foot by a retinue of sycophantic groupies and road crew. Yet in the early 70s, when Garcia was not on the road, he was a regular at San Francisco recording studios and clubs like the Matrix, Keystone Korner and Keystone Berkeley. None of that would have been possible if Garcia wasn't able to drive himself to where he needed to be, find a parking space and drive home. Easy tasks, yes, but not one mastered by the likes of many a rock legend.

In 1970, Jerry Garcia was a hip guy who lived in groovy Larkspur with his little family, and when he wasn't on the road, he drove into San Francisco and Berkeley to ply his trade. In that respect, he was probably similar to a lot of young professionals his age who were lawyers or architects or something similar. Plenty of people in Marin liked to smoke a joint, or more, but they still had work to do. So they drove a Volvo 122 to where the work might be, a suitably cool vehicle but a reliable one, with plenty of room in the back seat for the family or a Fender amp, as needed. As the 1970s wore on, when Garcia became both more successful but less able to travel freely, I believe he mostly took to driving BMW sedans. Now, BMWs are wonderful machines, but they represent a little more success, and they were commonplace in Marin County by the middle of the 1970s. At the end of the 1960s, though, like many of Marin's future BMW drivers, Jerry Garcia was just another ambitious professional commuting to work in an old Volvo.

Update: a reader found a comment elsewhere from someone who said:
I remember back in the 70's when he had a funky house up in Madrone Canyon in Larkspur near where I lived, and also he used to live up on the hill in Stinson Beach at Mountain Girl's house near where I lived. I used to see him all the time in Larkspur and Stinson Beach. He did have a cool little Volvo sportwagon (made by Jensen), but he never once gave me a ride when I was hitch hiking over the hill.
Now, I just assumed that Garcia had a Volvo 122, but I don't really know, or maybe he had a 544, or maybe he had a Wagon. The Volvo 1800 ES Sportwagon was not made until 1972 (to my knowledge), so that would date the car as later. Nonetheless, the Sportwagon was a cool looking and high performing car for a wagon, prefiguring the BMWs Jerry would drive in later years.

Update 2: Correspondent Michael positively identifies Garcia's Volvo as either a 1972 or '73 P1800ES. He even sent in a photo (I think by Annie Liebovitz, from Rolling Stone) of Garcia at the wheel, allowing a positive identification.
Jerry Garcia at the wheel of his 1972 (or '73) Volvo P1800ES (photo probably by Annie Liebovitz, from Rolling Stone)

A rear view of a 1973 (or 72) Volvo P1800ES, though not Garcia's. The car was only made for two years, and the body and some gear were designed by the English manufacturer Jensen. The engine and chassis was based on the sports-car like Volvo P1800S coupe.

Appendix 1: David Nelson
A 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle

Working on automobiles requires knowledge and skill, but in post WW2 America, it didn't require specialized tools or a degree in computer science. Parts could often be had cheaply, as well, from junkyards or other sources. This led to the post-war phenomenon of the "Car Guy," usually a young male who not only kept his own car running, but took pride in making sure that however old his car might be, it looked better and ran faster than his classmates' rides. Jerry Garcia was fairly far outside this slice of Americana, but I believe that to a moderate extent David Nelson was a "Car Guy." This meant that Nelson would have always had a good ride to share with Garcia, a necessary thing for any band seeking work. Hunter wasn't a good enough guitarist to play bluegrass with Garcia, but Nelson was, and I think he had a better car, too.

A white 1962 Chevy Impala station wagon, probably similar to the car David Nelson had in 1967
Initially Nelson had a '48 Plymouth that he drove Garcia around in, but I think he liked Pontiacs. I know that by 1967, Nelson's Pontiac station wagon was the main band vehicle for his group, the New Delhi River Band (update: thanks to David Gans, we know from Nelson himself that his wagon was a white '62 or '63 Chevy. I have assumed it was an Impala, but it could have been a Bel-Air). Pontiacs were commonly available GM cars, but they had a well-deserved reputation for relatively high performance, particularly according to the metric a friend of mine used to describe as "dollars per miles an hour."

Betty Cantor-Jackson said that when she first met David Nelson at Pacific Recording in San Mateo, during the initial period of producing Aoxomoxoa, he rode up on an Indian motorcycle. Whether the Indian was Nelson's or just borrowed, it marks him with a certain sort of cool. The Indian motorcycle company (based in Springfield, MA)  had a legendary competition history, but the company had gone out of business in 1953. Thus riders of an Indian (the Scout and the Chief were their most popular models) were an exotic cult who appreciated high performance without having to lay down too much money. Nelson seems to have been one of the few people in the 1960s Garcia universe who qualified as a "Car Guy," and even riding an Indian, whether or not Nelson owned it, marked him as such.

Appendix 2: Bob Weir's Vehicular History
A 1965 Mercedes 220, similar to Bob Weir's first car
A 2007 article in Motor Trend magazine had an interview with Bob Weir, where he discussed his own personal history of driving and automobiles. For anyone who has read down this far, its well worth checking out. Weir was younger than Garcia, so his driving history was quite different. He learned to drive on a tractor at John Perry Barlow's family farm when he was 15. Weir did not get a driver's license until he was 20, presumably in order to drive one of the Cortinas. Weir then bought a used Mercedes 220 in 1968 or '69. The Mercedes 220 sedan had a profile similar to the Volvo 122, a good car that had hip cachet but wasn't too expensive, believe it or not. Mercedes 220s also had a rock-and-roll sub-plot in 1960s Marin, connected to the MESA Amplifier company, but that is too long a tangent even for this blog.

Although Weir was mostly a BMW driver as well--his first new car was a 1969 BMW 2002ti--he became a true American male when he bought a 1963 Corvette Roadster in 1976. Weir still owns the car today.

A 1963 Corvette Roadster, similar to the car Bob Weir bought in 1976 and still owns today
Appendix 3: Bob Matthews 1955 Plymouth Station Wagon
A 1955 Plymouth Plaza station wagon, probably similar to Bob Matthews' car
A Commenter (h/t LIA) discovered that Bob Matthews Plymouth Station Wagon was also used as an equipment vehicle for the Warlocks and the early Grateful Dead. Matthews was still a teenager in 1965, and a 1955 Plymouth would have been cheap, easy to fix and large enough to fit lots of friends or lots of amplifiers, depending.


  1. Wow, about time we had a post on Jerry's cars! Definitely an overlooked subject. Close research may turn up other vehicles...

    There are a few references to the auto world in Dead songs...for instance Sugar Magnolia: "Takes the wheel when I'm seeing double, pays my ticket when I speed...jumps like a Willys in four-wheel drive." The Cadillac also pops up in Cassidy and Money Money. (And, of course, NFA among other cover songs!)
    It's telling that these are Weir's songs, not Garcia/Hunter. Although, Day Job from the '80s does have the sarcastic line: "Daddy may drive a V-8 'Vette, Mama may bathe in champagne yet." (One lyrics site says Garcia would occasionally sing "Stingray 'vette." Funnily enough, back in '69 Lovelights Pigpen would also sing about "a Stingray on a four-day ride.")

    The skeleton at the start of the Grateful Dead Movie is, of course, riding a motorcycle instead of a car!

    Glad you finally got to reading Cutler's book; it probably has a number of useful things for you.

  2. A few more car details:

    Laird Grant, one of Jerry's early friends, said: "I'd pick him up at the Army base and we'd cruise around. I had a '47 Cadillac convertible we partied in." He offered more details on Army fun: "I'd go on base and we'd go to the PX and get a bunch of beer and put it in my '47 Cadillac convertible and drive around and throw beer cans at the sentries."

    Jerry learned to drive before the Army. His older brother Tiff had a driver's license, and once they hotwired their stepfather's car. As McNally tells it, the incident that pushed him into the Army was that he stole his mother's car! Jerry confirmed, "I'd steal my mother's car and I'd go down to the Peninsula."

    Once in the Army, Garcia became an 'auto maintenance helper' at Fort Ord. Laird Grant: "The army said, 'What do you want to do?' and he said, 'I want to do electronics,' but instead they gave him motor pool!"
    Alan Trist recalled, "What he told me in '61 was that...his job was driving the missile trucks."

    I remember Jerry talking in an interview about the Army buddy he bought the Cadillac from, but can't remember which interview...
    Tiff mentioned that when Jerry bought the car, "I had to sign for it." (Perhaps because Jerry was still underage?)

    When he married Sara, she said that for the honeymoon, "We drove my parents' '59 Mercedes to Yosemite."
    Garcia didn't have a car at that point, and had to hitch-hike to Dana Morgan's store to teach. But at some point in late '63 or early '64, he got the Corvair.
    Sandy Rothman remembers it: "We went in Jerry's white '61 Corvair. The magic Corvair. What I called 'the intrepid little beast.'" (Sue Swanson remembered it as "a little yellow Corvair.")
    I'd imagine a '61 Corvair was not the cheapest car around, so Sara's parents may have helped. It's somewhat ironic, then, that Jerry would drive off with it to the East and leave her to get around somehow!

    When the Warlocks got started, Weir didn't have a car and (despite being a postal driver) neither did Lesh, so Lesh recalls the band having two cars: "Jerry's Corvair or Billy's station wagon."
    They had friends who'd help with their cars, though - Sue Swanson would also drive them around. "I had a car and a credit card for gas; that helped, so they let me hang around." (Car type not specified.) She remembers the band driving around both in her car and the Corvair, along with Billy's station wagon.

    Bob Matthews also drove for the band: "I had this old beat-up '55 Plymouth wagon, which I think was the original equipment car."
    Laird Grant, meanwhile, became their "equipment guy. I became known as the Van Master, because I could put more shit into a small space and get somewhere on time and set it up."
    So, vehicle-wise, this band had a lot of support from the start!
    (Sources: Jackson's Garcia; McNally's Long Strange Trip; Greenfield's Dark Star; 1993 Golden Road.)

    1. Phil mentions in his book that the band took their gear to his first gig at Frenchy's in Bill's station wagon. (Sue Swanson also remembers that - the band would drive around in a couple cars, the station wagon & Jerry's Corvair)

      Phil also says Sue would drive Weir to school in "her '63 Pontiac 'George'" - at least til he dropped out. (Weir wouldn't get his own car for a couple more years.) Weir's Motortrend article specifies that Sue's car was "a maroon 1964 Oldsmobile F-85 with a V-8 named George," which Neal Cassady would take for drives.

      Bob Matthews probably offered his station wagon when he was available, but I think the band switched to Laird Grant's van by the time of the Acid Tests.

  3. LIA, very interesting information. So it seems that the 61 Corvair was white and Jerry still had it when the Warlocks started. Interesting also to hear about Matthews' 55 Plymouth Wagon.

    I hadn't considered the car-centric lyrics to Weir songs, but it fits in with my theme that Weir was a more comfortable with the conventions of 70s rock musicians than Jerry.

  4. Actually it would be surprising if Jerry didn't still have the Corvair when the Warlocks started. Assuming he got it in late 63/early 64, the Warlocks started in mid-65 - not that long a time. He didn't have the finances at that point to get a new car!

    I didn't look to see when he stopped driving it (if that's even mentioned anywhere), but like you, suspect that he hardly drove at all when he lived in the Haight. I even wonder if Sara kept the Corvair? (Mountain Girl may have had wheels of her own.)

    One of Hank Harrison's books has a photo of Garcia circa '71? 73? standing in front of some expensive new car he bought - can't find it now, though, and it's outside of the time-range of this post anyway!

    1. I remember riding up to Berkeley with Garcia to see the Kentucky Colonels at the Cabale. Maybe mid-'64, but not sure.

  5. More early cars to report, though not Jerry's -

    When Sara met Jerry, Hunter & David Nelson in early 63, "I had my roommate's car, her little Mercury convertible, so I drove them home. Which was pretty classy; none of them had cars." She told Blair Jackson that her driving him home "was a treat" for Jerry!

    If her memory's true, not only was David Nelson without a car when living at the Chateau, but Hunter's old Chrysler had apparently passed on by 1963.
    However, McNally reports that in 1962, "Nelson, who had graduated from high school in 1961, owned a motorcycle and a 25-dollar '48 Plymouth, which immediately became band transportation."

    Norm van Maastricht met Garcia & crew earlier on, in fall 62:
    "Hunter, at least I think it was Hunter, owned this old wreck of a car; a Plymouth or Pontiac, I can't recall which. That was their only car. It ran pretty good but I remember it seemed to be lacking brake shoes." Which made stopping difficult! (This may well be Nelson's $25 '48 Plymouth.)
    Norm tells some tales of how scary it was to be driven around by Jerry in that car - borrowing Hunter's glasses to drive at night, ending up on the wrong side of the road...
    "After one particularly harrowing white-knuckler I told him that he'd have to do something about that car. Very quietly & gently he said, 'Look, all I want to do is to live my own weird little life my own weird little way and play music for a living."
    They would use that car to go to gigs: "We four would load us and our instruments into that old car and go anywhere we could play." Norm, not having a car, would have to ride the bus to Palo Alto: "I missed a lot of shows because I didn't drive and transportation for me was sometimes a problem."

    If Hunter's or Nelson's cars finally broke down or left the picture, it may have been the need to reliably get to gigs that pushed Jerry into getting the Corvair...or perhaps it was Sara's urging. Would be interesting to know how he got it.

    Also - at the time, Phil Lesh was living with Tom Constanten in Berkeley. He says, "I drove into Palo Alto on weekends, borrowing TC's car." According to McNally, it was an Oldsmobile.
    Phil says that "there were several cars parked at the back of the Chateau, being used for housing by people who couldn't afford rooms." He remembers Jerry & Hunter sharing a car - according to Jackson, in fall 61 Jerry "moved into a broken-down car that had its windows whited out and was collecting dust behind the main house." Later on he & Hunter were able to get rooms in the house.

    When Phil listened one night to Jerry playing guitar at the Chateau and decided to tape a demo of him for the Midnight Special radio show, they drove to Berkeley in TC's Oldsmobile to get the tape recorder.
    Thus, even Constanten's car becomes a bit player in Jerry's story! Without it, Phil may not even have met Jerry...

    Later on - by the time the Warlocks were doing the Acid Tests, they'd graduated from Bill's station wagon, as Laird Grant told Greenfield:
    "I was hustling their equipment in my minivan. A Metromite walk-in van. It had a little teeny four-cylinder Austin engine and it was just like an eight-by-eight; a little bit bigger than a postal truck. We'd stack our PA and everything else into it, and a lot of the time the band went along. Usually Pigpen rode with me anyway. I set their stuff up on some of those Acid Tests."

    Jackson wrote in the GD Gear book, "At first the band mostly used Kreutzmann's gray 1958 Dodge station wagon...but that quickly became inadequate, so they used the ancient International Harvester Metromite delivery van that Laird Grant, their very first roadie, had bought for next to nothing."

  6. And finally -
    When Jerry & Mountain Girl moved out of 710 Ashbury into their own apartment in 1967, she said: "We had a big Plymouth station wagon with a back window that didn't roll up, and that was what we got around in."

    This was the car that she and Jerry took on a camping trip to Lake Tahoe when the Dead played a show there, as described in Greenfield's book p109.

    So in late 67 & 68 at least, Jerry was driving his own Plymouth station wagon.
    I'm not sure whether he replaced it with the Volvo by the end of 69, or whether by then he used the Volvo to get around while MG had the Plymouth - a typical suburban two-car family!

  7. LIA, thanks for the amazing research, as always. I have updated the post accordingly.

  8. A reader pointed out that in the Comment post on this thread
    (I can no longer link directly to Comments)
    correspondent "Paul" says Garcia invited him to smoke a j in his old green Ford Cortina. Thus perhaps at least some of the band's Cortinas made it into 1969, or else it was Pigpen's or someone else's.

  9. First night of the Greek shows, 9/11/81. My taping equipment was discovered and I had to go back stage to check it in. Right next to the trailer where I was leaving my stuff, in pulls a rusty, noisey, grey, 2002 BMW. Not ten feet away Jerry emerges from this beast with his briefcase. He looked at me and I said" they're taking my tape deck Jerry." He stops, turns to give me a complete two arm, hands up, shrug. Then continued into the inner sanctum. That was my brush with Garcia.

  10. what's the scoop on the car that there is a picture of garcia filling up at a gas station?


  11. A little later than what you cover, but someone posted this on the Keystones page at FB: "Jerry Garcia driving his red Cadillac thru Berkeley early Monday mornings, 7-8 am 1972-73. His Red and White Caddy not only stood out but it had his plates GARCIA."

    This sounds totally implausible to me, but maybe I am wrong. Anyone?

    1. I'm sorry, I find this amusing little nugget completely unconvincing. First of all, I don't believe California had Vanity Plates until the mid-70s. Secondly, why would Garcia be driving through Berkeley between 7-8 am on Monday mornings? Third, Berkeley in the 70s was full of Deadheads with dark, curly hair and glasses who grew the beard and embodied the Garcia look. One of those guys might have gotten vanity plates--some years later--that said Garcia and driven around in a red Cadillac.

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    1. A few more details here:

      "The newly discovered Grateful Dead's first band truck was originally purchased by Owsley Stanley in 1965 and used until 1970 for moving the Grateful Dead's sound equipment... This 1949 red Studebaker truck became the first of the Grateful Dead's early band vehicles... Along with published information in the November issue of Rolling Stone magazine from November 25, 1982, Owsley himself has stated that his red one-ton truck was known in the Bay Area and in Dead circles as the "Dred" or the "Dredded Dormammu" – it was named by Owsley after a Marvel Comic book character. He has said in personal emails that he named and owned the Dred and it was used by him as manager to help move their audio gear to local gigs as well as to L.A. in 1966 for the Dead's first L.A. recording dates... After being imprisoned in 1970 for manufacturing LSD, Owsley gave the truck to an artist friend in Berkeley."

  14. John Dawson mentions in the 12/27/70 radio interview that in May 1969, Garcia would bring his pedal steel to the coffeehouse in "this big rickety old orange bus that he had."
    The DJ asks if it was really a bus, but Garcia doesn't answer...

  15. In Blair Jackson's "Cutting Room Floor," chapter 10, he writes of Garcia's studio sessions:
    "It only involved hopping in his Cortina — or that lemon's oddly ostentatious successor, an old Bentley he bought in mid-'70 — and zipping across the Golden Gate Bridge for a few hours."
    So Garcia got the Bentley in 1970. (There's a picture in Hank Harrison's book "The Dead" of Garcia standing in front of this car in 1971.)

    1. I haven't checked to see if it's the same picture, but there's a picture of him standing in front of his Bentley in a writeup of the 3/14/71 Madison GD/NRPS show, credited to Wendy Lombardi.

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  17. The Grateful Dead - Owsley band Truck from 1966 now at auction! A rare 1960s Art Car!

    One of the largest vintage Rock and Roll artifacts ever offered at auction!

    We all know Rock music is here to stay, celebrity-owned cars are very cool and culturally historic American cars rarely become available to automobile collectors or history museums...

    And it's very rare that a music celebrity-owned, iconic and culturally important automobile simply shows up after 45 years — especially one that represents a moment in time that references the 1966 Summer of Love, the early Grateful Dead, Owsley,the Counter-Culture movement, Rock-n-Roll and 60s Art Cars...

    Michaan's Auctions in Alameda California, is pleased to present such a historic automotive vehicle at auction. The Owsley / Grateful Dead Band Truck from 1965, will be offed at an auction featuring historic 20th Century Design on November 6th, 2014 at their Alameda AUCTION HOUSE location. Also at auction is a rare collection of vintage Rock posters from the 1960s and featuring the Grateful Dead.

    The newly discovered Grateful Dead's first band truck was originally purchased by Owsley Stanley in 1965 and used until 1970 for moving the Grateful Dead's sound equipment. Discovered several years ago resting in a storage shed in Berkeley by design historian Steve Cabella, it was found in it's present state and represents a true frozen moment in time, a time capsule if you will...Still in its original condition from its time with the Dead, parts of the original crazy color style has been lightly misted over in primer at some point in its history, possibly to make it less Pop looking, and thus preserving the original red Owsley paint and the psychedelic motif. Known as the Father of LSD, Owsley was the Dead's first band manager and their original sound-man.

    The historic reference, relevance and romance of this automobile are not found in most vintage collector vehicles of any price. The only comparable iconic 60s counter-culture vehicles are Janis Joplin's 1967 Porsche, John Lennon's painted Rolls Royce and of course, Ken Kesey's Merry Prankster's bus known as "Further."
    It has retained the original early multi-colored Art Car paint, which identifies it as part of the 1960s rolling revolution. Stored for decades, it remained in possession of Owsley's friend from 1970 until 2012, when it was discovered hidden in a storage shed in it's currently preserved state. Such originality is very rare and and too valuable for anything other than serious preservation and exhibition in a suitable venue honoring it's connections to the counter-culture movement in the America nearly half a century ago.

    Fully documented by all the previous owners, including Owsley Stanley, aka: "Bear," this iconic truck and its multiple original connections to mid century cultural history represent an extremely rare opportunity for ownership of a culturally important vehicle from the1960s.

    For more information on this vehicle, please visit and for more information on this auction and this item, please refer to the auction information listed below.

    Please refer to department for more information.

    Main Gallery:

    Michaan's Auctions
    2751 Todd Street
    Alameda, CA 94501
    [Email Seller]

    Annex Gallery:

    2701 Monarch Street
    Building 20
    Alameda, CA 94501

    Phone: (800) 380-9822 or (510) 740-0220
    Fax: (510) 749-7517

  18. Garcia, Jerry, 1942-1995, “Ben Fong-Torres interviews Jerry Garcia. Interview recorded circa 1975 for the documentary radio program "What was that?" broadcast on KSAN-FM in San Francisco [radio broadcast],” Grateful Dead Archive Online, accessed December 19, 2014,

    In this interview, Garcia says Hunter had a Dodge when they were hoboing around Palo Alto ca. 1960-1961.

  19. Where else could I possibly put info about Jerry's cars, even if it is beyond your temporal frame?

    3/4/73: "On the afternoon of the performance, around 1:00 P.M., while I was sweeping the front ramp, a brand new gold P-1800 Volvo sport wagon rolled up, looking oh so good-and out stepped Jerry."

    Bernstein 2013, 114

    1. Thanks to a correspondent, we have a picture of Garcia at the wheel of that Volvo (a 72 or 73 Volvo P1800ES)

  20. 7/24/73: "At some point, I saw Jerry sitting at the bar, having a cup of coffee and a cigarette. I walked over to chat. "Who owns that old red panel out front?" he asked. "Sure is fuckin' cool!" "You mean 'Castro Valley'? That's my rig." "What was it? An old plumbing truck?" "No, man. It's a 1942 Chevy rescue wagon ... , custom-built for the
    Castro Valley Fire Department during the war." "It's looks like a Furry Freak Brothers truck, straight out of R. Crumb's imagination." "You got that right!"

    Is this notion that Garcia drove a vintage fire truck around really true? It feels unlikely to me, but I have found Bernstein (2013) to be quite accurate and excellent in general.

    1. I don't imagine that Garcia regularly drove around a 1942 truck. But I do believe that the Dead might have had such a vehicle around the shop. Maybe if Jer's car was out of service, he would drive the shop truck. I presume the story is exaggerated for effect, but that doesn't make it incorrect.

    2. Unless his Volvo 1800 was more dependable than mine, he probably drove that truck a lot!

    3. Laird Grant told me Jerry never owned a fire truck.

  21. Ca. early 1976, Jerry is driving a silver BMW.

    1. I think the 1973 Volvo SportWagon was the last of Jerry's non-BMW cars. They are neat looking cars if you go and research them, with a body by the English car maker Jensen (fortunately the innards were from the more reliable Volvo, I think a P1800).

  22. 6/8/74, interview backstage after the Dead show by Ken Wardell:

    Q: are you still driving your Bentley?

    No, I gave it up a real long time ago, about three years ago. I got a bargain on it.

    It was a ’48 Bentley. It had been owned before by these guys in Chicago, and it’d had that thing that happens to cars when you drive them in the midwest - salt rock snow roads and all that sort of stuff. The body was rotted out, rusted out, all underneath. It was nice, though, it was beautiful on the outside but underneath it was crumbling. I drove it for awhile, but I felt intimidated by it because it was much too nice of a car in the interior and everything, for me, ‘cause I’m sort of seedy. So I passed the car onto a friend, I laid it on a friend, and he laid it on somebody else. But it’s still in the family.

    18:24 Q: What do you drive now?

    Well, right now I’ve got a Honda 600 sedan, which is a 2-cylinder that gets 42 miles to the gallon. It got it used. It’s the minimum transportation, the least amount of car you can have.

    1. Wow, I don't think Garcia ever talked as much about his cars in another interview - and it's pretty revealing of his personality as well.

    2. Garcia also talks about his Bentley at length in a 1972 KSAN interview. Actually he was specifically asked about it, so it seems many people at the time found it striking to see Garcia driving a Bentley. So Garcia took time to explain that it was cheap, not in good shape, and barely ran when he got it; and by mid-'72 it no longer worked and he had it up on blocks, and planned to give it to a friend. He also makes it clear that he's not into the car culture: "I'm not really into that trip."

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  24. Did Jerry ever own a three door VW, pick up, plate number, 80 807U,California plates?

    1. Jerry definitely drove some sort of VW Microbus in 1969, possibly some kind of pickup truck. I don't know the exact model, and it may have been informally modified.

      I don't know the license plates, but some of the details seem to fit.

  25. From Rock Scully's book Living with the Dead:
    "In the summer of '69 Garcia and Mountain Girl move out to Larkspur... At some point early in the spring he has bought a porky little orange school bus that he's fitted out with funny-looking curtains on strings. Collages on the walls and a mattress in the back and everything is glued together with chewing gum. The bus is parked right next to the house. It serves as an office and playroom for the kids, Sunshine and Annabelle, and sometimes as a guest house or a place for Garcia to nap in the afternoon. (p.163 - reliability not guaranteed, but it's the same bus referred to by John Dawson in the 11/4/13 comment above)

    Joel Selvin's book Summer of Love has the brief detail: "Garcia, Mountain Girl and Sunshine rented a small house in Larkspur and drove around in a beat-up Plymouth station wagon." (p.169) He dates this roughly to 1968 - definitely the same car that Mountain Girl mentioned above.

    1. More on the schoolbus! A memory from David Nelson:
      “I remember driving to gigs with Garcia. He had this little miniature schoolbus, like five or six rows of seats. You could put gear in there and you could also hang out in between the shows, because it opened out in the back, and you could just hang out there in a hammock or something. I remember [Hell's Angel] Freewheelin’ Frank would come over and talk.”

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  27. Did Jerry or any of the band members own or a drive a 1952 chevy panel truck?

  28. From This Is All A Dream We Dreamed, Bill Kreutzmann on his car in 1966:
    "I could carry most of the band's equipment in my gray '58 Dodge station wagon with a rebuilt engine. When we lived in Lagunitas, we were recording at Gene Estribou's in San Francisco, and I would drive the band in every day. To get the car to make it to San Francisco, I'd have to put half a container of oatmeal in the radiator to plug it." (p.52)

    It's understandable he'd want a new car! He got the Mustang by the time he met Mickey Hart in Sept '67 - Mickey was very impressed that Bill could fit a drum set into the little Mustang!

  29. Great Reading!!!! Regarding the 2015 Grateful Dead Auction of a 1956 Chevy Bel Air, is there any pictures verifying the band used this vehicle for decades, I would think there would be some pictures somewhere, or is it a possible hoax?

  30. It seems your guess that David Nelson was a "car guy" was right. Blair Jackson writes that “In high school in the late '50s, Nelson was swept away rod culture - he drove a '51 Ford convertible with the words "Midnight Flyer" painted on the side.”

  31. I owned a Red 122 ( just like the photo) that I was driving through Northern NJ in the nineties. While stopped at a light at a small intersection I noticed the car waiting across the way was a large black BMW with California plates. Instantly wondering who drove that beautiful car across the country I noticed the driver was staring at my car really intensely .When the light finally changed we approached each other really slowly. I was in disbelief the driver looked like Jerry and driving in New Jersey of all things. But now I understand why he would have liked my car so thank you for your blog.

    1. Wendy, what a great story. There weren't many 122s on the road by the 90s, so probably every former Volvo owner gave your car a good stare. It's fun to think you provided a nice little flashback for Jer.

  32. I'd love to talk with someone who worked at "Mill Valley BMW" (now a Sonnet Porsche dealership) in the mid 1980s. I know Garcia bought a "full-tilt-all-bells-and-whistles" 750iL 12 cylinder there, and I saw Menasha Mathesson in a little 3 series that had "Mill Valley BMW" plate frames on it. Also, in 1987 I was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and another 3 series BMW was tailgating me like crazy. I looked in my mirror and saw Garcia himself leaning over the wheel trying to see a sticker on the back of my Chevy Blazer (it was a SYF with an "SCCA Racing" logo where the bolt normally is). He followed me all the way to the toll both, so I paid his toll! After the toll booth he whipped around me and stuck his left hand out the window and gave the same wave as if he were walking offstage after a "Brokedown Palace" encore. Anyway, I think the Dead spent some real $$ at Mill Valley BMW.

  33. Did Jerry Garcia ever own a 1972 VW Westfalia Campervan? I was told he did, or at least in part. His girl friend might have owned one, which girl friend i am not sure. There is a hand print in paint on the back of the van claiming to be his daughters in later years. This is coming from a guy who says he played at Woodstock and knew Jerry personally. He's now 80 something living in Oklahoma. Just trying to verify or put it to rest.

    1. Garcia owned an orange VW microbus (possibly modified) in about 1969, so it couldn't have been a '72. This sounds like one of those stories. A lot of vehicles went through the Dead family and Garcia may have sat in them sometimes, but I don't find the provenance convincing at this point.

  34. Didn't Charles Reich mention an Alfa Spider parked in the drive of the Larkspur house when he arrived for an interview for what became "Signposts to New Space"?

  35. What kind of car was he when he got busted in Golden Gate Park? :o

    I actually came here as a result of search "did jerry garcia ride a motorycycle?"

    I noticed a Harley-Davidosn sticker on his guitar in this video:

    Anyone know? He befriended hell's angels we know, but did he ride?

    1. Garcia was busted in a BMW, I forget the model. Not a small one.

      Highly, highly unlikely that Garcia ever rode a motorcycle. No evidence. Come to think of it, no evidence he rode a bicycle either. Harley sticker no doubt due to friendship, rather than riding.

      David Nelson definitely had an Indian motorcycle around 1968, about the only motorcycle sighting I can think of in Deadland.

    2. Here's a motorcycle pic of Hunter and Betty by David Gans:

    3. I have a friends who owned a restaurant in Key West when Jerry pulled up on a Harley.

  36. Rick Medeiros,Republic of the Marshall IslandsMarch 7, 2018 at 9:08 PM

    Did Jerry own a Green Mustang during the 70"s.I was hitch hiking out of San Rafael and got Picked up by a person that resembled Jerry. He dropped me off at the Terra Linda exit. Highway 101

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  38. I just discovered a cancelled check signed by Jerry for a car he purchased at "Bianco Cadillac" on January 4, 1992 in the amount of $16,300. Does anyone have any knowledge of what type of vehicle he bought at this time?

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  42. The comments accompanying the photo of Jerry Garcia in a Volvo 1800ES are misleading. It was earlier noted he was seen in Oakland drving a battered 1966 122S 2 door. In regards to the 1800ES, the P1800, 1960-1962, was assembled by Jensen for Volvo. And the plateform used was based on the Volvo Amazon. But the assembly of the 1800S, 1800E, and the 1800ES Shooting Brake were moved to Sweden, beginning in 1962. 8077 1800ES Sportwagons were built from August 1971 -June 1973, some 5000 of which were shipped to the US Market.

  43. JG 4/19/87: "I'm not a toy person in a big way. If a car starts and stops, that's good enough."

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  46. When I was living at Weir's in Ross, our landlady gave us a blue and white mid-fifties Ford. It's the same one on the back of one of the GD albums. Bobby and I were going to drive it to Woodstock. Fortunately, a rehearsal was called and there wasn't enough time to drive. We California boys had someone cut a sun roof-sized hole in the top of the Ford, because it was Summer and, of course, it never rains anywhere in Summer!