Car guy stars in a car movie

December 07, 2003|by TODD BURLAGE/Wheelbase Communications

To say the role of "Memphis" Raines in the remake of the movie Gone in 60 Seconds was "sort of" up Nicolas Cage's alley is a little like saying the actor is "sort of" a car enthusiast. Both are tremendous understatements.

So when the role of the car-thief-turned-good-guy-turned-car-thief-to-save-his-brother came open a few years ago, Cage didn't need to call his agent. Getting a chance to drive hot cars and drive 'em fast on the big screen was enough incentive.

"It was a dream role," said Cage in an interview with, his fan website.

"To combine film and cars, the two things I love most, was something there was no way to pass up."

The film didn't spark Cage's love for cars, it was just an extension of that passion.

In fact, Cage, whose hobbies include racing, did much of the stunt driving behind the wheel of Eleanor - a clone of a 1967 Shelby GT 500 Mustang - for the $80 million flick.


"I like going fast, I like the adrenaline. I feel it's just my personality," Cage said. "When you're race-car driving, you can't think about anything except for staying alive. It's an alternative to Valium."

Even as a teenager growing up in San Francisco, Calif., Cage already had a passion for vintage cars. He just never thought he would earn enough money to ever drive or own one.

His first purchase was a yellow $2,000 1975 Triumph Spitfire 1500, a car he bought before he had a driver's license.

Almost every day, Cage would sit in the car parked in his driveway, pretend he was on his way to the beach and wait for the day he could drive it. Once he could, the car was in constant need of repair, so Cage sold it.

"It was the one main thing in my life, but it always broke down," Cage said in the interview. "I was constantly broke. I had to find small acting jobs to pay for fixing it up. All my money went into that car."

Cage recently ran into the man to whom he sold the car almost 20 years ago. Cage bought it back, restored it and sold it for $13,000.

That yellow Spitfire was just one part of Cage's ever-evolving collection that includes dozens of exotic cars and late-model motorcycles valued in the millions of dollars.

In fact, Cage sold about a dozen cars and five motorcycles at the elegant Vintage Motor Cars at Amelia Island auction last year for nearly $3 million.

The biggest tickets of the day were a 1955 Jaguar D-type that sold for $935,000 and a 1938 Bugatti T-101SC coupe that brought $451,000.

"Cars are the art I can drive.

"It's a visceral experience, better than other artistic creations."

Whether it's making one of his many action movies, buying and selling cars or cruising the California coast in one of his vintage machines, Cage is most comfortable when the pace is at its most furious.

Ever since he made his first film splash almost 20 years ago in the comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, there never seems to be enough hours in the day. At 39, Cage has already made more than 40 movies, including hits such as Raising Arizona, Moonstruck and Leaving Las Vegas, a film that netted a best-actor Oscar award.

It's not difficult to understand why a film career seemed to come so easily. Nicolas Cage was actually born with a different last name: Coppola, as in the nephew of renowned film director Francis Ford Coppola. Since he wanted to make it on his own, he changed his name to Cage, which is also a tribute to comic-book legend Luke Cage.

The love for cars just kind of evolved from those early days pretending to drive to the beach in his yellow Spitfire to owning some of the fastest and rarest cars in the world.

"I'm one with the car."

"I can hear it and feel it. All my sensations become aroused in the car.''

Don't expect his passion for life and fast cars to end any time soon, even though the actor has actually trimmed down his collection and seems to be moving toward acquiring the same race cars he drives in between movie gigs.

Among the cars still in Cage's possession are a 1981 Porsche 935 K4 endurance racer and a 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 2.6-liter Monza Spider Corsa, which happens to be the winner of the first post-war U.S. road race.

It's a long way from the days of a $2,000 yellow Triumph Spitfire, but never far from his heart.

Todd Burlage is a feature writer and contributor to Wheelbase Communications.

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