Jon Bon Jovi kicked off his career with a guitar, three chords, and a dream. Twenty years later he's still a man on the move. He's the lead singer for the super group that bears his name, a band that's preparing a CD box set commemorating 100,000,000 albums sold. He's starred in several hit movies like U-571, as well as on the popular Ally McBeal television show, and he's co-owner of the Philadelphia Soul arena football team. His mind is constantly filled with lyrics and recordings, just as you'd expect from a musician of his stature.
That's just the public Bon Jovi, though; there's plenty more that you probably don't know about him. Down deep he's just a Jersey kid who made it big, and his down-to-earth demeanor might surprise you. Bon Jovi is also a dedicated family man and friend. One of his closest friends is Obie O'Brien, the sound engineer for Bon Jovi and longtime partner in the biz. Bon Jovi and O'Brien have been blessed with talent and success beyond their wildest dreams, but as car folk, equally important is their love of early American iron.
It might not be surprising that these guys have some pretty cool cars--don't all rock legends? What might surprise you are the types of cars in their garages. Naturally, both have modern transportation for the daily commute, but their toys--their favorites--are the type of which ROD & CUSTOM dreams are made. Bon Jovi's top ride is a '57 Nomad, dressed in black with big-block power. It sits neatly next to his blue '70 Chevelle SS convertible that rarely sees the top up. O'Brien, on the other hand, prefers his highboy Deuce, a traditional-style rod motivated by a tri-carb nailhead Buick. It lives next to a white '59 Caddy that was coming apart for restoration when we saw it.
The 454 in the Nomad is powerful and reliable. "All I fear is the local cops," Bon Jovi sa
"My first car was a '63 Buick Special they towed to my house," Bon Jovi says. "It was all I could afford at the time, but eventually I got it to run and learned a lot. You just can't learn to work on today's cars; you need classic cars for that. After I made some money, I had musclecars like a '69 Camaro and a '67 Mustang. I also had a 308 Ferrari and a few others, but there's no affection for new cars, not like the passion people have for older cars."
The coupe's 401 Buick is fed by three deuces on an Offy intake. Vintage Speed prepared the
Perhaps that's why he is so hot for the Nomad, which is used for local cruising and family jaunts to the Jersey Shore. We don't have to tell you that '55-57 Nomads have had a cult following through the years thanks to their limited production and sporty, high-class styling. Today you can find one in just about any condition from rusted to restored. Bon Jovi could afford the best of the best, but he opted for a "driver" that's hot rodded just enough to have some fun.
Under the dual-gunsight hood sits a '70-model 454, bored and stuffed with TRW 10:1 slugs and an Eagle crank and rods. The valvetrain consists of a Comp cam and lifters, Manley springs, and stock rockers. An Edelbrock Performer intake and Edelbrock Q-Jet handle induction chores. "It's got kick when you need it, but it's surprising how well it handles," Bon Jovi says. "It's actually really easy to drive."
Those road manners come courtesy of a rebuilt front suspension with Eibach springs and a new antiroll bar. Out back are new leaf springs and coilover shocks. The '57 has four-wheel disc brakes and rides on BFGoodrich tires wrapped around American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels. The rear is a 12-bolt with 3.73:1 gears.
The interior on the '57 is fashioned in red and black; it happens to be Bon Jovi's favorit
O'Brien's '32 coupe is equally as impressive and is driven hard and often near his home in southeastern Pennsylvania. "I use the car all the time. You can see it's got chunks of paint missing because the tires kick up rocks and stuff," O'Brien says.
O'Brien, like Bon Jovi, has a love of hot rods and rock music that dates back to childhood. "My first car was a '55 Buick I purchased for $30," he recalls. "You could fit a lot of people and farm animals in that car, but it didn't have much of a cool factor, so I got a '56 Chevy with a 283, two four-barrels, and a four-speed. Whoever put it together never quite got the angle between the transmission, driveshaft, and rearend correct. I would throw Second gear and it would throw the driveshaft right out of the car. I had a trunk full of U-joints!"
There's a little less room in the Deuce. Full Moon Designs did the interior, though O'Brie
The hot '56 was followed by a '57 Chevy and a '63 Impala SS convertible with the coveted 409, in which he'd give many a "death ride" to Bon Jovi bassist Hugh McDonald, whom he's known since 1955.
"My first street rod was a '30 Model A highboy that was all steel with a solid-cam 327, three two-barrel carbs, and a Muncie four-speed," O'Brien continues. "Over the years I've also owned a '56 Roadmaster convertible, a few '57s, three or four '56s, and one '55. However, the coupe was a gift from Jon and I love it to death. It's my favorite car."
The whole band is into cool cars. In fact, during the recording of the album Crush, they watched American Graffiti over and over, as many as 6-8 times a day! "We watched that movie all day," O'Brien says, "and on the last day of recording we flew in Paul LeMat just for good luck. We had big success with the single 'It's My Life' and I suspect the Milner mojo had something to do with it."
It's fitting that O'Brien's Deuce has some Milner coupe styling influences, the result of a complete makeover after O'Brien received it. "When I got the car, it had lots of billet and a small-block crate engine. I knew I was going to change the engine and I was considering a flathead, a 409, a Hemi, and the nailhead. They all had plusses and minuses. I love the look of the nailhead and they are torque monsters. I found a '63 401 and I got it for $275, complete. We took it apart and it was in great shape, so Blitz Automotive bored it .060 inch over and polished the crank. Russ Miller, known as a hot rod guru in southeastern Pennsylvania, assembled the short-block using forged pistons, but with a stock crank and rods. Poston Engineering supplied the lifters and the cam, which has .478/.486-inch lift and 268/272-degree duration."
The stock Buick heads were also freshened and topped with an Offy intake with a trio of Rochester two-throat jugs. The Joe Hunt magneto is actually an HEI-type distributor in disguise. Once the spark is fired, the spent gasses exit through Sanderson headers and a custom exhaust by Jenning's in Oxford, Pennsylvania. The nailhead is backed by a Lokar-shifted Turbo 400 transmission sending power to a Ford 9-inch rear.
O'Brien went with vintage-style burgundy paint that was sprayed and flamed by Ramic Rod Works. The fine lines come courtesy of Kobbie, who has done pinstriping for most of the band members. Kobbie also put his touch on the counter in Obie's kitchen, which is an outstanding replica of a '50s diner.
The Deuce sits next to O'Brien's next project, a '59 Caddy that's slated to get a Paxton s
Also helping with the project was O'Brien's son Bill who handled general ball busting and offered sound advice. All kidding aside, the younger O'Brien is an accomplished tech and pitched in quite a bit. Future plans call for a cabin rehab and possibly some head porting for more power.
Like most enthusiasts, Bon Jovi and O'Brien could bench race all day, yet their shop talk always comes full circle to the subject of friendship. "Jon is the most loyal and generous friend that I could ever have," O'Brien says. Likewise, Jon most certainly appreciates the efforts of his friend O'Brien. Together, they're just a couple of lucky guys who made the most of the American dream and are celebrating with some very cool American iron.