Drive My Car: The Beatles’ Road Incidents
“Better slow down/Baby now you’re movin’ way too fast”
– Larry Williams (1958)
by guest blogger Obadiah Jones
Apart from their obvious love of music, each of The Beatles had an eye for nice cars. While they were together, the Fab Four owned more than forty different automobiles. These ranged from George’s first car, a blue Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe, to Ringo’s royal red 1964 Facel Vega II Coupé to John’s psychedelically painted Rolls-Royce Phantom V. But although they could afford some exceptional cars, they were not always the most exceptional drivers. In fact, each Beatle would pay the price for poor driving through fines, repairs, license endorsements and suspensions.
In December 1959, more than two years before he joined The Beatles, Ringo was the first to purchase his own secondhand car from fellow Liverpool drummer Johnny Hutchinson. The hand-painted Standard Vanguard cost him £75 cash and he adored it. Ringo drove illegally for nearly a year before even attempting to take his driver’s test in November 1960. He failed the test but continued to drive under the radar.1 (In fact, Ringo would not pass his driving test until 8 October 1964 in Enfield, Middlesex. This time, he passed on the first attempt following lessons with instructor Walter Wilcox.)2
When Ringo’s group Rory Storm & The Hurricanes was accepted for a residency at Butlin’s holiday camp in Pwllheli, Wales, starting in June 1960, Ringo sold the Vanguard to yet another Liverpool drummer. Using his first three months’ wages, Ringo then bought himself a Ford Zephyr Zodiac Mk1, which he would continue to drive for the next three years.3 Apart from his illegal driving, Ringo had so far avoided any incidents or accidents. When he was later joined on the road by his friend George Harrison, that would change.
In March 1962, just after he passed his driving test, George became the second Beatle to own a car. His was a Ford Anglia, and he bought it with a cash deposit and weekly repayments from a friend of their manager Brian Epstein, Terry Doran, at Hawthorne Engineering Company in Warrington. Ringo, by this point a friend of the band but not yet a member, offered to give George a lift to pick it up. A life-long Formula One fan, George could now live out his racing dreams behind his own set of wheels. On the way back from Warrington on 27 March, George and Ringo raced home to Liverpool. George pulled ahead and won the race but did not realize Ringo had rear-ended the driver ahead of him who had slowed to avoid a dog. Within months, George would rack up two speeding warnings, only one away from being disqualified for a year.
During this time, Paul was also taking driving lessons but would not sit his test until later in the summer. He too passed and celebrated by purchasing a dark green Ford Consul Classic 315 from Blake’s on Hardman Street.1
Later in 1962, Epstein bought the group a cream-colored Ford Thames 800 Express Bus from Doran’s dealership. Although NEMS Enterprises Ltd made the payment, the cost was deducted from the group’s subsequent weekly paychecks. The Beatles’ road manager Neil Aspinall had, until now, been driving the group and their equipment around in his own Ford van, but there was a problem: Pete Best was about to be sacked as The Beatles’ drummer and his mother Mona had bought the van for Neil’s use.1
In early 1963, as their star began to rise, The Beatles took their trusty new van on tour across the United Kingdom. By this point, Ringo was firmly in place as Best’s replacement. Returning from a one-night stand at the Majestic Ballroom in Hull in the wee hours of 14 February, Aspinall let George take a spell behind the wheel, while he occupied the passenger’s seat. While passing through the small port town of Goole in East Yorkshire, George took a turn too quickly on icy roads, slid down an embankment and crashed the van through seven concrete posts of the Burton’s menswear factory fence. Remembering the incident, George said:
The accident had ripped the filler cap off and the petrol was pouring out. We got out and had to shove T-shirts and things into the hole to try and stop the flow of petrol. We’d started to push the van back up on the road when, out of nowhere, came, ‘‘Allo, ‘allo, ‘allo, what’s all this then?’ It was a cop, and he booked us for crashing.
The ‘cop’ was police constable Kershaw, who at 1:00am watched the van turn Paragon Corner and slide fifty-six feet. The vehicle came to a stop with a loud crash. When George and Brian Epstein appeared at Goole Magistrates’ Court for the offense on 12 June, George pleaded not guilty for ‘driving the van without due care and attention.’ He was fined £10. George remembered having his license suspended for three months, but, if true, it was not reported in the local paper.3,4
Later that same year (November 18), The Beatles’ van was in another accident. This time, the driver and sole occupant was roadie Malcolm ‘Mal’ Evans. It was a stormy evening and The Beatles were due the next day at the Gaumont Cinema, Wolverhampton. Mal was close to the destination (on the A5/Watling Street, Cannock) with all the group’s gear in the back, when he collided with a lamppost. The impact was so forceful that he crashed through the windscreen and ended up in Staffordshire General Infirmary with twenty stitches for a laceration on his forehead. He had no memory of how the accident occurred.
Although no Beatles were involved, a few points of interest emerged from the incident. At Cannock Magistrates’ Court on 24 February 1964, Mal appeared for a summons. But because Mal had been driving without insurance, it was The Beatles’ management company, NEMS Enterprises Ltd., and not Evans individually, that was charged. During the proceedings in court, it was revealed that the van’s insurance covered J. W. Lennon, G. Harrison, R. Starkey and N. Aspinall. Not M. Evans nor P. McCartney. NEMS lawyer E. Rex Makin denied that NEMS had permitted Evans to drive the van and argued successfully that the police had not ‘substantively’ proved a case against them. The case was dismissed.5 The question is, why did the insurance cover John, who did not have a license, and not Paul who did? It could be because Paul’s license had recently been suspended.
Three incidents caused Paul to temporarily lose his license in the first half of 1963. The first occurred on 8 March, when Paul was fined £5 for speeding at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court. The second took place two months later around 11:40pm on 15 May. Driving home from two concerts at the Royalty Theatre in the Roman city of Chester, Paul was stopped on New Chester Road by police constable Powell. Paul had been speeding at 60mph and was unable to provide his license or insurance for the bizzie. Powell let him go with the promise that he would produce his documents at Allerton Police Station within the next five days – a promise he did not keep6.
Paul’s third incident transpired exactly one month later (14 June) as he drove the rest of the group home from a ‘Mersey Beat Showcase’ at the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton. Flying along Seabank Road in Wallasey at 55-60mph, Paul was pulled over at 11:45pm by Constable Stephen Goodhall. Not only could he offer no explanation for why he was driving at nearly twice the speed limit, Paul was once again unable to produce a license or proof of insurance. On 15 July, Paul was fined £15 at Birkenhead Magistrates’ Court for speeding and a further £2 for failure to produce his documentation. Paul did not attend but pleaded guilty in a letter to the court, in which he also offered the dubious (but not implausible) excuse that the group had been trying to outrun a carload of fans. The very next month (26 August), Paul was fined in Wallasey yet again for, what seems to be, the same offense. The Liverpool Echo reported that this was Paul’s third speeding conviction that year. He was subsequently fined £25 plus a further £3 for failing two summonses to procure his license and insurance documents.7 In addition, Paul had his license suspended for nearly a year. He would get it back in time for his twenty-second birthday in June 1964. The Daily Mirror reported that Paul was planning to celebrate by buying himself a new car.8
It was less than a year after having his license returned that Paul’s driving was back in the news, but this time he had not even left his driveway. On an icy January day in 1965, rumors swept London that Paul had been killed in a car crash on the M1. Tony Barrow, The Beatles press officer at the time, called Paul at his 7 Cavendish Avenue home to confirm that he ‘had been home all day with his black Mini Cooper safely locked up in the garage.’ 9 (This predated the more infamous ‘Paul Is Dead’ conspiracy by more than two years).
For George, the success of The Beatles allowed him not only to upgrade his arsenal of guitars but also his wheels. In July 1963, he traded in his Ford Anglia for a fancy new dark green Jaguar Mark 2. And then again the following spring, George upgraded to a sleeker, silver Jaguar E-Type. Expensive sports cars were status symbols for these young, male pop stars. In 1964’s Goldfinger, James Bond became forever associated with the iconic Aston Martin DB5, reinforcing the suave, masculine image of the sports car. Still, even three months before the premiere of Goldfinger, Paul bought himself the birthday present of a brand new DB5. The Beatles did not need Bond to tell them how to be cool.
Fast sports cars, however, are not famous for encouraging prudent driving. The day after being photographed with his gleaming E-Type by Leslie Bryce for the Beatles Book Monthly magazine (11 July), George had a minor collision with a green Ford Anglia in New King’s Road, Fulham, on his way to The Beatles’ concert that evening in Brighton. The two drivers were unharmed and got out to exchange details. George’s sports car came out the worst of the two vehicles with the left front side smashed in. George later explained to a reporter that ‘when the other fellow suddenly turned right, I put my foot on the brake, but the road was wet and though I was going slowly the car skidded a bit and we collided…I got out and went for him…“That’s a nice way to treat my best car.”’ Passers-by, realizing who the wreck belonged to, quickly rushed to collect mementos from the collision. While the Jaguar was towed away to a garage, George was given a ride back to his London flat in a policeman’s Black Maria to arrange alternative travel to Brighton.10 Several months later, Fabulous magazine reported that George’s Jag had been bumped again by a van who did not see him.11 In both cases, it was made to sound like the other drivers were at fault, but given George’s tendency to break the speed limit, we should take his defense with a grain of salt.
But it was probably John who was the most notorious of The Beatles when it came to reckless driving. His poor eyesight is well documented, but it did not stop him from successfully passing his driving test ‘with flying colours’ on 15 February 1965 under the examination of Arthur Scrine at the Weybridge Driving Test Centre. Since the previous Christmas, John had engaged instructor Paul Wilson in seven hour-long driving lessons. John undertook the examination in his white Mini Cooper. Afterwards, he told a reporter, ‘I don’t think that just because I have passed my test in my Mini I am a good driver. I am still learning.’12
Two months after getting his license, John enthusiastically told Disc Weekly’s Susan Shaw about a new blue Ferrari 330GT he had just bought. ‘I haven’t had any accidents in it yet,’ he told her, ‘but there is a dent in the bumper – I backed it into George’s garage the other day.’13 By October, John was looking for a change and put the Ferrari up for sale at £6,500.14
In fact, lots of cars were being bought and sold around this time in The Beatles’ camp. Twenty-four of the group’s cars were purchased through a company owned jointly by Brian Epstein and Terry Doran called Brydor Cars Ltd (Brian Epstein Automobiles). The company had been set up in November 1964 and took over an existing garage (Broadway Motors Ltd) in Hounslow, Middlesex in early 1965.15 Like John, first with a white Mini and later a black one, the other three Beatles bought colorful Minis around this time – they were all the craze! Paul’s Mini came in Aston Martin sage green, Pattie Boyd’s was orange and Ringo opted for a Rolls-Royce regal red finish.
On 28 June 1967, George was fined £6 and had his license endorsed at South Western Magistrates Court for speeding (48-52mph) in his black Radford Mini Cooper 1275S in Roehampton Lane, Putney.16 The next month, George’s black Mini was repainted by James P Fallon coachbuilders with designs taken from Ajit Mookerjee’s Tantra Art.17 This psychedelic Mini was filmed that September zipping around West Malling airfield for the group’s self-produced film Magical Mystery Tour. Also in 1967, John was reported to have been in a minor accident one January weekend in London
In 1968, both Ringo and Paul were back in court on speeding charges. Ringo was fined £8 on 7 May and had his license endorsed at Feltham Magistrates Court. He had been doing 60mph in a 40mph zone in Twickenham and wrote in to plead guilty.19 Although Ringo, the oldest Beatle, had been the first driver of the group, as the Sixties progressed he spent less time behind the wheel. The Starkeys employed a chauffeur, Alan Herring, who ferried Ringo to and from recording sessions at EMI Studios, Abbey Road. Perhaps this is why Ringo had the fewest incidents.
Paul, on the other hand, never employed a chauffeur and enjoyed the freedom of driving himself. On 22 July, he was driving back to London from Liverpool when he was stopped on the Fletchamstead Highway, Coventry. Two days before, Paul’s longtime girlfriend/fiancé Jane Asher announced on BBC1’s Dee Time national television program that her relationship with Paul was over. Her exact words were, ‘I didn’t break it off, but it’s finished.’ 20 To avoid the press, Paul and his new girlfriend-of-the-minute Francie Schwartz left the same day to lay low in Liverpool. Nonetheless, the press caught up to Paul at his father’s house on the Wirral the following day. At the end of their visit, Paul and Francie raced south in time for The Beatles’ 7:00pm recording session at EMI. It was while skirting Coventry that Paul was pulled over yet again for speeding in his Aston Martin DB6. Not only was he driving between 55-60mph, but he was also driving with a three-month expired Road Fund License. In her scandalous 1972 book Body Count, Schwartz recalled:
…a cop pulled us over and tried to write out a speeding ticket while Paul tried to charm him out of it. There was grass all over the floor, but the cop couldn’t stop staring at Babyface. Paul delivered a piece of Beatlecharming bull about how the cop didn’t have to give us a ticket, how we could all be friends if we tried, and the policeman smiled encouragingly. He took a second look at me. I must have had a stupid stoned smile, because he handed me the ticket fast, as if he didn’t want to think twice about what had really been going on in that car.21
Two court summonses for 23 October were subsequently sent to the Beatle via the Apple office at 95 Wigmore Street but got lost among the mountains of mail. Having received no reply, Coventry Magistrates Court adjourned the case on 23 October andtransferred it to London courts. On 20 December, the court postponed the case for anadditional three weeks to give Paul time to respond once it became evident the original letters had been lost. It is clear, however, that this was not high on Paul’s priorities because of the holidays and the imminent start of the Get Back sessions at Twickenham Film Studios. The case was adjourned on 10 January for an additional two weeks to allow yet more time for Paul to provide his license. On 24 January the case was delayed a final timebecause Paul had still not provided his license. The matter was finally settled on 7 February 1969 with Paul pleading guilty by letter. He was fined £10 for speeding, £5 for driving with an expired Road Fund License and £8 6s 8d in back duty fees.22
It was in the first month of 1969 that Paul sang about ‘driving nowhere’ in his song ‘Two Of Us’, inspired by country excursions with his new girlfriend Linda Eastman. While returning from one such excursion a few months later with his now wife, Paul was caught again driving ‘without due care and attention’. No, Paul’s driving travails were not over. While navigating road works in his Aston Martin on 11 May, Paul nearly hit a policeman directing traffic on the London Road in Bath. Again, two summonses were sent and unanswered. One summons was for the 11 May incident, the other accused
Paul of failing to ‘give information on the identity of a driver of a car of which he was the owner.’ It is not clear whether Paul did not receive the notices or simply did not care. Unlike the average driver, he knew he could easily afford any fine they served him and the worst he had faced in the past was nine months without his license. The case was adjourned twice on 15 and 22 of September. On 29 September, Paul pleaded guilty to Bath Magistrates and was fined £25 for careless driving.23
The most notorious road incident concerning a Beatle, however, occurred on 1 July 1969 in the Highlands of Scotland. Notably short-sighted, John tended not to drive himself around too often. He had employed a full-time chauffeur, Les Anthony, since 1965. So it is surprising that, in June of that year, John decided to take his new bride Yoko Ono, her five-year-old daughter Kyoko and his six year-old son Julian on a motoring holiday around Britain. Setting out from Weybridge in a Mini on 21 June, John drove the family through Wales, stopping in Port Eynon the first night and Tywyn, Merioneth, the second. On 23 June, John steered the car into his aunt Harriet and uncle Norman Birch’s driveway in Woolton, Liverpool, for a two-night visit. This was the first time Yoko had met John’s Liverpool relatives (although not her first trip to Liverpool, where she had performed a sold out ‘Happening’ at Bluecoat Hall on 26 September 196723). John planned to continue driving up to Scotland to show his family his childhood haunts and visit more relatives. Feeling too cramped, however, John had Anthony drive his British Leyland Austin Maxi up to Liverpool for the onward journey.
The Mini traded for the Maxi, John and family set out from Liverpool on 25 June completing the 200+ mile journey to Edinburgh. In the Scottish capital, John and company spent five nights with his aunt Elizabeth ‘Mater’, her second husband Bert Sutherland and his cousin Stanley Parkes.25
On 30 June, John set out with his family for the Highlands. By nightfall they had made the 200 miles to Golspie, and the next morning arrived at their destination, Durness. During his summer holidays as a child, John would stay with his aunt Mater and uncle Bert in a croft, Sangomore, on this remote stretch of Scotland’s North coast. It was here that John returned with his new family for the first time since he was fifteen.1
After a day exploring the local sites, such as Smoo Cave, John drove his family back toward Tongue, Lairg. Running low on petrol, John was directed by a local lady to Burrs of Tongue station. Shortly after, they were photographed while stopping at the local post office. With a full tank, John steered back onto the rural single-track roads so typical of the highlands. When an oncoming vehicle startled him, John drove off the side of the road and crashed into a ditch. Sitting in the front seats, John and Yoko took the worst of the impact. ‘I didn’t know what to do,’ John said at the time, ‘so I just let go of the steering wheel.’ 25,26
An hour later, an ambulance sped the family back to Golspie to the Lawson Memorial Hospital. John was given seventeen stitches on his chin, Yoko fourteen stitches to her forehead and Kyoko four stitches on her lip. Julian was unhurt but in shock. An x-ray performed later this evening revealed that Yoko was pregnant. The baby had fortunately been unharmed in the crash, but they were kept in hospital to be monitored. Tragically, she would miscarry in October – her second miscarriage in a year.
Meanwhile, the smashed Austin Maxi was towed away by local George Reid and his son Neil. The wreck would later be memorialized as a lawn ornament when the Lennons moved into the grand Tittenhurst Park estate, Ascot. John’s stay at Lawson Memorial Hospital until 6 July delayed his return to EMI Studios, where the other three Beatles were hard at work on their final LP Abbey Road.25
During their years together, the Beatle day trippers and speed demons racked up more than their fair share of traffic violations. This summary does not include however many run-ins (if any) they had with Lovely Rita the meter maid! The record shows that the law was rather lenient towards these superstars, allowing them extra time to comply and letting them off with minor fines. For this reason, it is no surprise that the group felt little need to reform their road behavior. Indeed, George and his wife Pattie would nearly lose their lives in an accident near Maidenhead on 28 February 1972 in his white Mercedes-Benz. George lost control of the car and plowed into the central barrier of a roundabout on the M4.27
John lost his confidence as a driver after his accident in Scotland and, as far as is known to this author, never sat behind the wheel again. The solo Beatles continued to own a wide variety of luxurious cars well into the 1970s and beyond – a love that never died. For four lads who came from working class families who did not own a single car between them, to own a whole garage-full of expensive rides was proof that they had made it. The confidence and swagger that served them in breaking new musical ground, however, was also manifest in the cars they owned and the way they drove them.
1. Lewisohn, Mark. The Beatles – All These Years – Extended Special Edition: Volume 1: Tune In. 2013.
2. Beatles Book Monthly No. 16 November 1964 and Daily Mirror 13 October 1964.
3. The Beatles Anthology. 2000.
4. The Goole Times and Weekly Herald 14 June 1963.
5. Birmingham Daily Post 19 November 1963 and Liverpool Echo 24 February 1964.
6. Rees, Dafydd. The Beatles 1963 – A Year In The Life. 2022
7. Liverpool Echo 15 July & 26 August 1963 and Daily Mirror 16 July 1963.
8. Daily Mirror 5 May 1964.
9. Beatles Book Monthly No. 43 February 1967.
10. Liverpool Echo, Daily Mail & Daily Herald (London) 13 July 1964.
11. Fabulous 16 January 1965.
12. Liverpool Echo 15 February 1965; Aberdeen Evening Express 15 February 1965; Illustrated London News 27 February 1965.
13. Disc Weekly 10 April 1965.
14. Daily Express 25 Oct 1965.
15. Liverpool Echo 13 January 1965.
16. Evening Standard 30 June 1967.
17. Sunday Mirror 23 July 1967.
18. New Musical Express 21 January 1967, Flip Teen Magazine June 1967 and Runcorn Weekly News 26 January 1967.
19. Evening Standard 7 May 1968.
20. Sunday Mirror 21 July 1968.
21. Schwartz, Francie. Body Count. 1972. (pg 85).
22. Coventry Evening Telegraph 24 October & 20 December 1968 and 10 & 24 January and 1 & 7 February 1969 and Birmingham Daily Post 8 February 1969.
23. Liverpool Echo 15 September 1969, Belfast Telegraph 22 September 1969 and Daily Mirror 30 September 1969.
24. Liverpool Echo 26 September 1967.
25. Madinger, Chip; Raile, Scott. Lennonology: Volume One | Strange Days Indeed A Scrapbook Of Madness. 2015.
26. Spitz, Bob. The Beatles: The Biography. 2005.
27. Evening Standard 29 February 1972.
About the author:
Obadiah Jones is a musician and researcher originally from Colorado, based in London. A graduate of The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (BA Hons), where he earned a one-on-one songwriting session with Sir Paul McCartney, Obadiah has been a life-long Beatles fan and has covered every song in their oeuvre on his accounts @beatlescovers (Tik Tok) and @thembeatlescovers (Instagram). Obadiah is also the host and creator of the new Beatles podcast Gimme Some Truth that presents new research to unravel the fact from the fiction in the history of the group and their music. Obadiah also has his own Beatles blog, all about records the Beatles owned – The Beatles’ Record Collection.