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Tenor John McDermott and his a 1986 Mercedes 560 SEL.

S. Konrad Cetes

John McDermott

  • Profession: Tenor
  • Age: 57
  • Hometown: born in Glasgow, Scotland, and raised in Willowdale, Ont.
  • The Car: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL

Notable achievements

  • A founding member of The Irish Tenors
  • Old Friends (1994), Love is a Voyage (1995) and Christmas Memories (1998) were platinum records; while Danny Boy Collection (1998) went triple platinum
  • His latest CD is called My Gentle Harp
  • Honorary member of The War Amps for his support of veterans’ causes
  • Charitable works include the McDermott House Canada, a not-for-profit charitable foundation committed to improving quality of care for Canadian veterans, the Fisher House, War Amps, and the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans


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  • Ongoing tour with stops on Sept. 25 in Woodbridge, Ont., and Oct. 5 in Cobourg, Ont.
  • Fundraising concert on behalf of McDermott House Canada with Shauna Rolston and Erika Raum on Oct. 26
  • Performs with Dan Hill at a benefit fundraiser Nov. 14 for Prostrate Cancer Research at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto,
  • John McDermott & Friends, Sunday, Dec. 16, 8 p.m. at Koerner Hall at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto
  • Just finished recording the first “John McDermott Trio” CD and a new Christmas CD comes out this fall

Tenor John McDermott burst onto the music scene by chance. While working at a Canadian newspaper he belted out an impromptu version of Danny Boy at an office party and the rest is history.

His first album Danny Boy went double platinum in 1993. Since then, McDermott has recorded more than 25 albums – three went platinum and one reached triple platinum status.

But he hasn't spent his money frivolously. He actually gives back, especially to veterans' causes. And on the road, he skips the fancy sports car in favour of an older 1986 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL.

Why did you buy an old Mercedes?

I'd go out to dinner sometimes with my good friend Larry Heisey, a great supporter of the arts in Toronto and Canada. And I'd drive his car – a 1986 Mercedes 560 SEL.

I said to him, 'This car rides like a dream.' He said he only drove it from May to September. In 2003, I told him how much I liked the car and he said one day he would sell it to me. In 2004, a couple of years before he died, he did just that and I absolutely love to drive it.

Now, there's just over 100,000 kms on it. It has got everything – all the toys – that the new cars have. It's just a fantastic car. It rides like a dream.

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Do you baby it like he did – no driving in the winter?

No driving in the winter. It's serviced and locked up at the end of September. My other car is a Lincoln Aviator – I've had it for six years now.

What's the best and worst feature on the Benz?

It's ultra-comfortable. It's great on fuel.

There's nothing I don't like about it. I've never had a problem with it – not one.

What does a vintage Mercedes say about you?

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I like old things. I like nostalgia – much like the stuff I perform. I like the old songs and the old stories that go with them.

What was your first car?

A 1967 Triumph Spitfire – it was an absolute piece of junk. It had no floor on the right-hand side and when I bought it my dad said, 'Buy two.' I laughed at him. About a month after I bought it, I found myself in a junkyard buying a second one because I had to replace all the parts that fell off of it.

My worst memory with that car: we were driving to Cobourg. There was an accident and I swerved to avoid it and I went sideways into the back of a truck. So the driver's door was bent into me and the windshield was smashed.

Think about this for a second – the OPP arrived on the scene and the car still runs. I had to get to the hospital to get my ribs checked out. So I put on a pair of safety goggles and the cop followed us. We went straight to the hospital driving the car.

We had some real incidents in that car. This only happens in the movies – we drove it into a construction site. We were driving around and this guy is waving at me to stop, but there's a glare in my windshield and we couldn't see. We drove right into this big hole in the ground at the construction site! We had a front-end loader that digs holes lift our car out and push it back and we drove out.

It wasn't long after I got rid of it.

How did it come to an end?

It broke down on the 401 at Cobourg. I parked it on the side of the road with a note on it, "Scrap it!"

Then I got a Renault because they were inexpensive. Then I had a Volkswagen Bug, which I ran into the ground because it was so good.

What's your best and worst driving story ever?

Best is driving north in my Mercedes and worst driving story is running out of gas in my wife's car. She had told me the day before to fill it up. I called her and gave her hell for not having gas in the car. She said, 'Think back 24 hours.' Then I just shut up. I kept my big mouth shut.

Do you prefer buying used over new vehicles?

Always. I like the old cars. For what I do, it gets me to where I'm going. I had another car that I just sold, which was a 1986 Alfa Romeo. I bought it from a friend of mine. I didn't drive it enough – I enjoy the Mercedes too much. So I just sold it.

What do you think of modern Mercedes vehicles?

Neh. When I go and get it serviced at a Mercedes dealership, they always want to buy it off of me. I say no.

Is there a classic car design you'd want to bring back again?

An old Bugatti. I went to the Bugatti Hill Climb in New York years ago and I got to ride in an old 1932 Bugatti and it was fantastic. It was an open roadster. The '65 Mustang was great, too. I like muscle cars.

If I could bring you the keys to any classic or new car what would it be?

A classic. I'd take the '65-'67 Mustang.

My uncle had one – he also had four sons, so I didn't stand a chance of getting that one.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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About the Author

Petrina Gentile is an award-winning automotive journalist - one of the few women who cover cars in Canada. Her life revolves around wheels. She has been writing for the Drive section since 2004. Besides auto reviews, she also interviews celebrities like Norman Jewison, Patrick Dempsey, Rick Hansen, Dean McDermott, Russell Peters, and Ron MacLean for her My Car column. More


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