Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Volvosaurus Rex

Hot car stories usually leave me cold. My own auto needs are fairly utilitarian and pretty well covered by a Subaru Forester, which carries us ably through all kinds of weather and terrain. However, a hot car story involving Paul Newman, David Letterman and Jon Stewart piqued my curiosity enough to make an exception.

If you are likewise intrigued by this cast of characters:
  1. Read the following transcript of David Letterman telling the story to Jon Stewart in 1995 (via

  2. Then watch the YouTube video at the end of the post, in which Letterman adds further juicy details, during a recent Late Show final tribute to Paul Newman.

  3. Finally, check out pictures of the cars themselves on DaddyTypes

STEWART: -- what has been the coolest thing that's happened to you while you've done your show?

LETTERMAN: Well, you know, you'd think being in show business, or as close to it as I've come, you ought to have a lot of cool things happen to you.


LETTERMAN: And I've thought about this and thought about this, and currently I've distilled it now down to the persona of Paul Newman. I have been lucky enough to meet Paul Newman, and I just want to tell you, this guy is the real deal.

STEWART: Really?

LETTERMAN: He is solid gold, he's a great actor, he's a wonderful guy, and just an interesting fellow. I met him, I don't know, five or six years ago. Some friends introduced me. It was at a race in Phoenix. It was Bobby Rahal, who is a race driver, and his wife Debbie, and now, of course, I sound like Dick Cavett. "Gregory Peck was there as well and Jimmie Stewart," and on and on.

STEWART: And Groucho and all the rest.

LETTERMAN: Yes, sir. And so they introduced me to Paul Newman, and you're carrying on a conversation. "How do you do? I enjoy your popcorn and Cool Hand Luke." That's what you're saying to Paul Newman.


LETTERMAN: In your head all you can hear is this huge voice screaming, "Oh, my God, it's Paul Newman. Oh, my God, it's Paul Newman." So I've been lucky enough to kind of have -- I guess it's a friendship. I won't say we're really good friends, but we have kind of a relationship, and he's called me from time to time. About six months ago -- and this is where it starts to get cool --

STEWART: All right.

LETTERMAN: -- Paul Newman calls up and he says, "Dave," he says, "I'm thinking about getting me a Volvo station wagon, and I'm gonna stuff a Ford 302 V-8 engine into it."


LETTERMAN: "This engine is about the size of a small piano, so we're going to have to push back the fire wall. Do you want one?" So, you know, I'm thinking a Volvo station wagon looks like something you'd make in metal shop, and if you want something really sporty you get a bakery truck, and every time you see a Volvo station wagon in the back it's three kids getting car sick on a golden retriever, and I'm thinking these cars are so safe because in traffic other motorists slow down to check out how ugly they are.

STEWART: Right, the tank.

LETTERMAN: So intellectually I don't want a Volvo station wagon, but, of course, internally it's Paul Newman, I say, "Yes, I'd like one."

STEWART: "Bring it on."

LETTERMAN: "Paul, let me have that Volvo station wagon."

STEWART: Sure. Me too.

LETTERMAN: So I'm aware of the fact in talking to Paul, he's far more excited about this than I am. He calls up from time to time and he says, "Have you picked out the interior yet?" And I said, "No, I haven't." He said, "Well, you better hurry. The dollar's falling." And I don't know what that means.

STEWART: No, he's very concerned about the world economics.

LETTERMAN: And then he calls up after that and he says, "Good news. Pirelli's gonna give us free tires." "Wow, that's great, Paul." It's Paul Newman. We're getting free tires. I don't know. So he calls two weeks ago, and he says, "Dave, the cars are ready. We got two, one for me, one for you." He says, "Everything is ready to go. I've got to ask you a question. Do you want a puffer on yours?" You know, and I'm thinking, well, is that like a special inflatable seat? I don't know. Like sails on this Volvo? And I said, "Well, Paul, are you getting a puffer on yours?" And Paul says, "Yeah, yeah, I'm getting a puffer on mine." And I said, "You know, I have no idea." And he says, "It's a supercharger. I said, "A supercharger?" He says, "Now you have to be very careful, because with this supercharger this thing will turn about 400 horsepower, so if you pop the clutch you're gonna tear up the rear end." By comparison, a stock showroom Corvette, 300 horsepower.


LETTERMAN: I say to Paul, "Now wait a minute. Paul, I have a Volvo station wagon, 400 horsepower?" And he says, "Oh, yeah," he says, "from 20 to a hundred you can chew anybody's ass." And I'm thinking to myself, what circumstance would Paul find himself in driving around in a Volvo station wagon where he feels like he's gotta chew somebody's ass?

(Hoots and applause)

STEWART: I don't know. I can see that's very nice though.

LETTERMAN: A 400 horsepower Volvo station wagon.

STEWART: But when Paul Newman offers you a puffer, I mean, you take it. You don't turn down Paul Newman.

LETTERMAN: You'd be a fool to pass on the puffer.

(via DaddyTypes and Daring Fireball)

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