Profession: Award-winning author and TV producer/writer
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
He worked as a cook, dishwasher, and salesman before he launched his career as a writer, publishing his first novel, A Firing Offense, in 1992.
Now, George Pelecanos is one of North America’s top crime writers with 19 novels under his belt, including his latest, The Double. He’s also known for writing and producing HBO’s award-winning drama series, The Wire.
But he’s not just obsessed with writing – his other passion is cars. When he’s not penning his next book, Pelecanos is driving around town in one of three vehicles. He owns a 2008 Ford Mustang Bullitt, a 2006 Ford Mustang GT, and a 2000 Jeep Cherokee.
Have you always been a car guy?
Yeah. I am a fanatic. Muscle cars, especially. I grew up in a blue collar neighbourhood in the era when people bought and maintained muscle cars in my neighbourhood. All the teenage boys we worked on our cars and tricked them out.
What sparked your interest in Mustangs?
My dad had a ’64 1/2 Mustang, which was one of the first few Mustangs off the line. You sort of end up going back to what your dad had.
My first Mustang in the modern era was a black and red Mustang GT, but then I saw in a magazine that Ford was about to produce a Bullitt Mustang limited edition based on the 1968 Bullitt film with Steve McQueen, which was one of my favourite films from my youth.
So I had to have it. It’s a 2008 highland green, just like the car in the film. They only produced 7,700 cars – I’m number 28 off the line. It’s a beautiful car. It’s very basic. It’s stripped down. There aren’t many badges on it. The grill is blacked out. There’s no spoiler, no graphics.
The rear plate does say Bullitt on it and so do the rocker panels, but that’s about it. It’s a five-speed on the floor. The engine is faster than a regular GT because of the cold air intake. And the other interesting thing they did was they computerized and calibrated the pipes to sound just like the rumble in the car in the film. So it’s loud.
So you can blame your dad for this obsession with cars?
Yeah. My dad liked cars, too. I remember when he bought his first Mustang. It was aquamarine blue over white. It was a really beautiful car. He was so excited – the night before he picked it up he didn’t sleep all night.
Are you trying to recapture your youth by driving a Bullitt?
I reject that notion of some middle-aged guy driving around in a car trying to look young – that’s the car of my generation. It was what I knew as a kid and what interested me. Some people think it’s immature.
It’s not a big car culture in D.C., especially with people on the high ground – people with money. They probably think I’m a red neck driving around. But I don’t care. I’m having fun.
Here’s the thing about these cars – my car cost me the same amount of money as it would have cost me to buy a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry – a boring car that I would have hated every time I got in it. I like getting behind the wheel of this car – I can’t wait to drive it!
Have your Mustangs landed you in trouble – any speeding tickets?
I’ve been pretty lucky. I commuted to Baltimore for five years when I was doing The Wire. I had my other Mustang, the black one. Because I would often come home at 3 or 4 in the morning I would make it a contest to see how fast I could get from Baltimore to Washington. It’s normally a 45-minute ride and there were nights when I made it home in 22 minutes.
You also drive a 13-year-old Jeep – shouldn’t you be driving something newer?
I also own a 2000 Jeep Cherokee. I’ve owned four of these. My son totalled one and I totalled another one. Both of us walked away from it so they’re safe. I hit some black ice. I went across four lanes of traffic on the beltway and I hit this concrete barrier head on going 60 mph and I walked out of that crash.
This is the legendary I6, inline six engine – there’s a reason why you see so many of them on the road even though they haven’t produced the car in 12 years. It’s sort of like the Dodge Dart of my generation, meaning it’s a car that really lasts and sticks around if you change the oil every 5,000 miles and put rubber on it when it needs it. That’s really all you have to do.
It’s a truck. I’ve put crossbars on the roof. I use that Jeep to transport my kayak and my bicycle. I needed something to haul those things around. I actually think it’s a beautiful car – it’s black and it’s got nice wheels on it. It’s sharp.
What was your first car?
A ’70 Camaro was my first car. I had it jacked up with chrome reverse mags. I had worked from the time I was 11 in my dad’s diner. I worked for tips and, by the time I was 16, I had about $2,000 in my drawer.
When I turned 16, my sister had bought a Camaro brand new in 1970 and she was getting married and getting ready to sell it. I bought it from her for $1,600.
Muscle cars also play a big role in your books, too?
Yeah. I write a lot of period books. One of the reasons I write them is because I love to describe the cars. I actually wrote a book called Shoedog, which was contemporary when I wrote it, but I wrote the book because I wanted a chapter where the guys could pick out the cars for the robbery. They go to a garage and they got this gear head working there and he describes the cars lovingly.
Do you always buy North American-made cars?
I try to buy American. I had a couple of BMWs and that was a mistake. They weren’t as fun to drive. And you sort of have to be an activist if you are pro-union, pro-American worker. I want to buy American vehicles. My wife drives a Ford; my son drives a Jeep and I do, too. Mustangs are all American made. I’m going to continue buying American.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
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