Quick Stats: James “Jimmy” Pankow, trombone, horn arranger, composer, Chicago
Daily Driver: 2007 Bentley Continental GT (Jimmy’s rating: 10 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: Chicago to Los Angeles
Car he learned to drive in: 1962 Pontiac Catalina
First car bought: 1964 Ford Galaxie
Since Chicago went from a little Midwest club band to the world stage, Jimmy Pankow has treated himself to a lot of nice rock star cars over the years. His current favorite is his 2007 Bentley Continental GT, which he says will be a keeper.
“It’s probably the finest production car, in my estimation. At least most definitely the finest automobile I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving. It’s a beast with a mink coat,” he says, rating it a perfect 10.
Full of opinions and stories about his cars, Pankow is also a Porsche fan. “My wife finally had to threaten me, so I sold it. I drove it for 20 years—a Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, custom-painted wheels,” he says. “It was an ’85, so it had the big fantail and it was all manual, cranks for the convertible top and manual transmission on the floor. I loved that car,” he says, fondly.
When Chicago made it big, Pankow treated himself to a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
“That was my first rock star car,” he says. “It was a long wheelbase. That’s before Rolls-Royce partnered with German automotive companies and perfected their little bugs, so it was in the shop a lot.”
Pankow found himself frequently getting cut off on the freeway in the Rolls. “People were flipping me off because the car was an arrogant automobile in terms of its imagery,” he says. “I felt like I should have a big gut and smoke a cigar to drive it. It wasn’t the right car,” he says. “I felt I needed a change so I got the Porsche, and for 20 years kids were going, ‘Cool car, mister!’ Even if it was 20 years old, the car never lost its stud appeal, and then I bought the Bentley and essentially I’ve been a three-car guy.”
The Bentley is Pankow’s “absolute most favorite” car now. “Its got just amazing power with the twin turbos, and it literally roars like a lion when it’s idling. It doesn’t scream like a Ferrari, it roars,” he says. “And the lines on the car are just so perfectly stated, you can look at the car from any angle and it’s beautiful.”
Pankow moved to Nashville nine years ago, and he gets compliments on his Bentley everywhere he goes. “People are just, ‘Man, what a beautiful automobile,’ and I appreciate it, but they’re not jealous, they’re admirers,” he says. “It’s really cool. ‘You must’ve worked really hard to get a beautiful car like that.’ I love that. I am not a poseur, I never have been; I don’t drive the car to get attention. As a matter of fact, to the contrary, that’s why I hated the Rolls-Royce, because it brought too much attention to me. A lot of it was negative.”
With the band’s long-standing success as new generations continue to find its unique sound, Pankow can enjoy any car he desires. “I’m very blessed to be able to afford fine automobiles; it’s the only luxury I allow myself,” he says. “I don’t buy things, I’m not a things person. But I enjoy a nice automobile, and this car is just simply a pleasure to drive.”
He’s also held onto his 2007 Bentley, which he also enjoys talking about. “It’s Cypress green. The color can be deceptive. In the photos we shot of the cars, you can’t really see the chameleon aspect of the paint, and it made for a nice picture. In the sunlight, it’s hard to tell if its greenish or grayish,” he says. “It’s somewhere in the middle. And it’s got a natural saddle interior, which is really a nice marriage with the walnut trim and the Mulliner wheels.”
In addition to the Bentley being a “looker,” Pankow just loves driving it. “It’s just an amazing machine—and it’s dependable,” he says. “Audi built the powertrain. It’s the best of both worlds—German mechanics and English styling and cosmetics. The interior is all hand-sewn. It’s just a beautiful automobile. It’ll be my car for the rest of my life, probably.”
READ MORE CELEBRITY DRIVES HERE:
- What Disturbed’s David Draiman Likes (and Doesn’t Like) About His Tesla Model X
- Super Bowl Champ Vernon Davis
- Clint Robertson of HGTV’s “Boise Boys”
- Jonathan Adams of Fox’s “Last Man Standing”
- “Dozer” Dave Turin of “Gold Rush: Dave Turin’s Lost Mine”
- Cliff Floyd, MLB Network Analyst and World Series Champ
Originally, Pankow was going to get another Porsche. “When I sold my Cabriolet I was in the market to buy another one, and a buddy of mine who was a car nut, said, ‘Jimmy, Jimmy, let’s go for a ride.’ I lived in Calabasas, he came by and picked me up.”
The ride ended up at Bentley Pasadena, where Pankow’s friend knew the sales manager. “I’m going, ‘Why the hell did you bring me, Bob? This is a Bentley dealership.’ He said, ‘Have you ever driven a Continental GT?’ I said, ‘I don’t even know what it is.’ They took me into the showroom, and this car, my car, was sitting there. They had used it on and off for a customer demo, so it had about 400 miles on it, but it was brand new. And they were willing to be very creative with the price. And the Cypress green with the saddle interior was amazing.”
A salesman took them out for a drive. “I got behind the wheel, the salesman sat on the right, and my buddy Bob sat in the back, and he’s going, ‘Jimmy, check this out!’ I turned on the ignition and started the car up and ‘Whoooo!’ [makes engine noise]. I’m going, ‘Holy shit, man, I love the sound of this thing!’”
They got it out Interstate 210, and the salesman urged him to open the car up. “I hit the gas, man, and that thing, it was like, holy cow,” Pankow recalls. “And when it accelerated, it just … Whooo! Whooo!”
One time a fellow driver saw Pankow in his Bentley at a stoplight on Las Virgenes Road and kept challenging him. “I was headed toward Malibu, I had just gotten off the 101, then I was at the light after you go over the overpass. I was ready to enter Malibu Canyon, and next to me at the signal was a guy; he looked like typical Hollywood: jet-black slicked-back hair with the leather jacket. He was in the new BMW M series, the top was down, he had the blond bimbo next to him, and he was looking at me in the Bentley, and whirl, whirl [makes high whiny sound], he was giving me the challenge,” he says, laughing. “I looked at him like, ‘Grow up, man, go get a lollipop and go away.’ And he kept egging me on [makes high engine roaring sound], the BMW was whining. I went, ‘OK, buddy, you don’t want to leave me alone? OK, let’s go.’”
The light changed, and off they went—it was the only time Pankow has raced his Bentley. “He beat me off the line because he had a manual transmission. He was ahead of me by five car lengths, and then these twin turbos kicked in on this beast,” he says, laughing. “Then whoooo [sound of car going fast]. He became a speck in the rearview mirror in a matter of seconds. And the blond chick is giving him shit for trying to be a big shot. The Bentley just smoked him.”
The memory makes Pankow recall another occasion in his old Porsche. “I had never had car over 90 miles an hour. It was the Turbo Cabriolet that I had for 20 years, and I’m on the 15 coming back from Vegas,” he says. “That’s about the most boring stretch of freeway. It’s a straight line for four hours, it’s nothing but sagebrush and cactus. You get hypnotized by the white lines, and the cops don’t even bat an eye if you’re not going over 85. They try to give you a pass if you’re under 85. Everybody does around 80.”
Bored, Pankow wanted to see what his Porsche could do. “I’d never really let it out, so I did. I’m still in third gear, and I roll past 100 miles an hour. I get up to 120, and this car, it’s got the big fantail, I always thought it was a cosmetic thing. This car sits down on the road—it just sucks the road, and everything becomes quiet,” he says. “I go into fourth gear, I’m going through 135, I’ve still got two gears left. All of a sudden, everything’s silent and the car wasn’t moving, the scenery was.
It was like, ‘This is fucking weird, man.’ It’s like I was in an F-16 or something. But I got scared because I had never been that fast. So, I slowed right back down to about 85.”
No sooner did Pankow slow down than a car that had been trying to pace him with no success went screaming by. “And right behind him, ‘Woo, woo, woo!’ Black and white. So, my guardian angel must’ve been in the car with me because this guy got nailed by CHP. I must’ve slowed down just in time,” he says.
2019 Porsche Cayenne
Although Pankow had to part with his 911, he still has two Porsches in his garage. This ride is for more pedestrian trips, like going to the market. “When I run around town, we have an SUV, my son’s Nissan SUV, and also in the picture is a black-on-black 2019 Porsche Cayenne. That’s our most recent acquisition. My wife loves it,” he says. “She hates the Bentley because it’s low profile and she feels uncomfortable because of her lack of visibility.”
Even though Pankow says Porsche makes great cars, he rates this an 8 for just one reason. “The car is amazing. It’s beautiful, and we put the black wheels on it and it looks like Darth Vader. It’s beautiful, I love the Cayenne body styling and its utility—we can haul a ton of stuff in it,” he says. “But the electronics and the displays can be difficult. Even the dealership has admitted it. You really need to do a tutorial to navigate the displays and the electronic information guide for the car. Whether you’re dialing it up on the dashboard or on the steering wheel, the diagnostics are hard to figure out.”
2013 Porsche Cayenne S
Pankow loves the Cayenne so much that he has two. “It’s almost chocolatey, but it’s metallic. Again, with a saddle interior, and it’s a pretty car. It’s a hybrid, so it’s a green car, it gets great mileage, and we’ll probably use that car for just running around a lot because of the mileage factor,” he says.
This is his family car and has about 40,000 miles on it. “Again, the electronic displays on the Cayennes—we were disappointed when it didn’t become easier on the new one. But the fact that we bought another Cayenne, I think, is a pretty good indication of how much we like that vehicle,” Pankow says. “There aren’t too many people who have two of the same car.”
He rates it a 9 because it’s a greener ride. “And it’s got the S, it’s got a little bigger engine, and it’s got the hybrid, so if you need the horsepower, it doesn’t disappoint you. When you’re tooling around surface streets at low speeds, you’re saving lots of gas, so it’s pretty cool.”
Car he learned to drive in
“The car I learned to drive in was the family car. It was a big boat, a 1962 Pontiac Catalina. And then the car before that was a Ford Country Squire station wagon,” he says. “I learned in both.”
His late mother taught him how to drive, once he got his permit. “My dad was a salesman, and he was always on the road. Not like me, he wasn’t on the road eight months a year. But he’d be gone Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,” he says. “After school, my mom would put me in the car when I got my permit. I remember going to the DMV and doing the test to get my permit. The car I was allowed to drive when I got my license was the Pontiac Catalina. A big old boat with the fins.”
Pankow would often pester his mom to let him drive to get practice. “We lived on the north side of Chicago, but in the summer the family would go up and spend a month or more at a cottage on a lake in Wisconsin. My mother had spent her summers there as a child, and she wanted to relive those days.”
The family rented a cottage on the lake in Wisconsin. “It was really awesome. It was in the country, and there was a horseback riding ranch, and there was an A&W with carhop service. There was the country store and the marina. My dad got a little speed boat; he’d take us water skiing, and we had a dock. It was magical, and it was idyllic,” he recalls.
When his dad golfed with his buddies, his mom would sneak Jimmy into the car so he could get some drive time behind the wheel on easy-to-drive country roads.
“She never would have dared do that in the city in Chicago because I wasn’t a licensed driver yet. I remember my dad saying, ‘Jim, remember, don’t bother your mother. You don’t have your driver’s license yet. I don’t want you driving these cars, understand me? You wait till you get your permit,’” he says, laughing.
Pankow was the oldest of nine kids and the first to learn to drive. “My parents had not yet encountered teenage drivers, and my dad was like a no-nonsense big German car. He didn’t want anything to do with me driving these cars until I was legal,” he says. “He had to work hard enough just to put food on the table for nine of us, and he didn’t want to be looking at any accidents with inexperienced drivers.”
But he’s thankful his mom was a “softy,” as Pankow puts it. “She was, ‘OK, Jim, but I don’t want to get in trouble with your father, so you’ve got to be careful. We’re going to go out on the road, and we’re just going to do a few simple things. You’ve got to promise me you’re going to be careful.’ I went, ‘Mom, don’t worry about it, I’ve got it handled. You can trust me,’” he says, laughing.
They were on the highway one day when his mother noticed the time and started worrying about getting back before his dad got home from golf. “‘If he sees you driving the car, we’re going to catch hell for it,’” he recalls her saying.
“In a panic, I tried to do a U-turn on this highway, and the car stalls. I’m sitting in the middle of the highway perpendicular, blocking both ways, and my father is coming up the road, and he sees mom and me in the car, blocking both lanes. And he’s shaking his head, and my mom is going, ‘Oh, shit. We’re busted,’” he says, laughing.
Pankow was driving the Ford station wagon at the time since they needed two cars to get to the cottage. “To get nine of us up to Wisconsin, my dad drove the Pontiac, and my mom drove the station wagon. We had to caravan two cars,” he says.
First car bought
By the time he was a senior in high school, Pankow was making money from playing horns and was able to make the down payment and make car payments on a 1964 Ford Galaxie coupe. His father paid for the insurance. “It was awesome. It was my first car,” he says.
Pankow drove the Ford during his senior year in high school, and it would be the car he was driving when he met his future Chicago bandmates at DePaul University. “I was driving that car to school, which was downtown Chicago, and I wound up hauling the band gear in a small U-Haul trailer behind that car to go to club gigs in Chicago,” he says.
He continued to drive the Ford Galaxie to gigs the band got around the city, as well as to Milwaukee, Madison, and Peoria. “We did the whole nightclub circuit. Walt had a Plymouth, and there were times when he would haul the gear,” he says. “We’d trade off so we didn’t beat the shit out of one engine. I remember doing my own tune-ups, too. The days before they had catalytic converters and all the fancy components in the engine, and you can pop the hood can change your own spark plugs, change your own oil.”
When he started making money playing nightclubs, Pankow traded the Galaxie in for a brand-new 1967 Mercury Cougar.
“One of my best friends in the neighborhood’s dad worked at Park Ridge Lincoln Mercury, and my dad took me down there and helped me negotiate a deal on the trade-in on the Galaxie. He gave me a great trade in because I was his son’s good friend,” he says. “I drove out of there in a brand-new baby blue Mercury Cougar coupe. It had a dark metallic blue interior. It was awesome. I think my dad was a little jealous. Here he was breaking his butt supporting a family of 11. Here was his son buying his own new car. It was like a rite of passage.”
Favorite road trip
In June of 1968, Pankow drove from Chicago to Los Angeles with his Chicago bandmates, towing U-Haul trailers, in a one-way road trip they hoped would change their lives. And it did.
“We were going to be one of the biggest nightclub acts in the Midwest, or we were going to leave Chicago and go to where the record industry is and roll the dice to see if we were going to be something bigger because we discovered our own sound, our own music,” he says. “We wanted to be an original rock and roll band with a horn section, so we decided to head to L.A. That’s where the record industry was. Peter Cetera and I, Walt Parazaider, and Danny Seraphine caravanned across the country to L.A.”
They took Route 66 in what Pankow described as an “amazing trip,” stopping at places that included the St. Louis Arch, Amarillo, Texas, and Flagstaff, Arizona. And they marveled at the Grand Canyon.
“We stopped at the meteor crater in Arizona, the Painted Desert. We checked out all of these natural wonders. We saw the country,” he says. “This is a beautiful country, and we had a chance to see it firsthand driving it.”
Looking back, Pankow describes funny moments with Cetera’s car. “I remember Cetera was driving a VW bug, convertible, and he was pulling a little trailer with all his stuff in it. We started encountering the foothills of the Rockies. You’d be going uphill for 10 miles. It was a steep grade. And because the Volkswagen was water cooled, his car would start to overheat, so he had to pull over. So we’d all, ‘Oh, shit, man, Cetera’s overheating again.’”
They ended up stopping at a gas station and getting burlap bags to hang on the radiator to keep it from overheating. “They were like water bags you hang on the hump of a camel,” he says. “We’d hang them over the radiator cap to keep the frickin’ radiator from driving up. It was real pioneer shit, man. But we made it. We made it to L.A.”
Up until then, the longest trip Pankow had taken was from Chicago to Wisconsin and South Dakota. He’d never been that far from home before.
“Now I was on a trip of 2,300 miles all the way to the West Coast, I felt like a pioneer. When you fly in an airplane you don’t get a sense of that distance. In a car it’s a three-day trip, man, so you’re seeing the actual country firsthand. And you’re following the Thomas Guide, road maps, we didn’t have GPS. So it’s, ‘Hey, shit, man, we took a wrong turn, are we lost?’” he says, laughing.
Pankow drove his Mercury Cougar, which he’d only driven to school and back. “We got to L.A., we were wiped out,” he says. “Walt and Danny, they left rank. They drove from Amarillo, Texas, to Bakersfield, California, nonstop. They went for it.”
When Pankow got to California he sold his Cougar and hitchhiked until he’d made enough money for a new Volkswagen Beetle. “We were all living in a little house under the Hollywood Freeway. We were starting over when we got to L.A. We had built a reputation in the Midwest in these nightclubs, and we were hauling in pretty serious money as one of the biggest club acts in the Midwest, but we gave that up to take a chance on being something bigger, a unique, original act,” he says. “We started working college bars, we played at Cal State Alhambra, we were doing little rock and roll clubs.”
They finally got a gig at the Whisky a Go Go, where they caught the eye of Jimi Hendrix, and that changed their lives.
“We were up in our dressing room and standing in the doorway is Jimi Hendrix. He goes, ‘You fuckin’ guys sound like one set of lungs, and your guitar player is better than me. Do you guys want to go on the road?’” Pankow says. “We went, ‘Hell, yeah! With you?’ So we opened the Hendrix tour, and it was amazing. And the next thing, all the labels were coming, Columbia, Capitol. They were all coming into the Whisky to find out who this act was.”
Chicago Transit Authority’s 50th Anniversary
This is the 50th anniversary of Chicago’s debut album Chicago Transit Authority, and Rhino will release a 50th anniversary remix on August 30. Since this album first came out, Chicago has sold more than 100 million albums, won a Grammy, and made it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The band, which does more than 100 shows a year, is on tour now around the country, and Pankow says they’re looking at the Pacific Rim and Japan in the winter.
“This phenomenon, this success is global,” he says. “I give my family a nice life. I’m thankful I can put food on the table doing something I love. I love getting on that stage every night. Do you know how lucky we are to make a living putting smiles on millions of faces and to realize as a songwriter who has written many of Chicago’s hit songs, you’re sitting at a piano having a personal moment, and the next thing you know, this personal moment becomes a mantra and a fabric of these people’s personal lives?”
View this post on Instagram
JUST ANNOUNCED! We are celebrating the 50-year Anniversary of our debut album Chicago Transit Authority with a newly remixed version available on CD & 2LP on August 30th! This release includes an Individually Numbered, Limited Edition Gold Vinyl 2LP Edition AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW – exclusively at @rhino_records . Order link in bio! #chicagotransitauthority #ChicagotheBand #remix
He says he sees that in every show. “We’re not out here being an oldies and goodies band, we’re out here kicking butt. People come to a Chicago show, they see veteran musicians, and doing it live, there’s no smoke and mirrors. This is live, baby,” he says. “People go, ‘Holy shit! This sounds like the fucking record, and we’re watching it being performed.’ We see jaws drop. A lot of these new acts, there are no musicians on the records, they are made on laptops.”
After decades of touring, Pankow says it’s worth taking people out of their lives for a couple hours and seeing smiles on faces as they think back to a simpler time when they first heard Chicago.
“We love it, 22 cities in 30 days can be intense. When you get older, it can beat the shit out of you. We don’t get paid for running out on stage, we get paid for living out of a suitcase for a month,” he says. “News—it’s all bad news, we’re living in a screwed-up world. All it is whiners, complainers. It’s a bunch of teenagers having a spat. People come to the show to get away from that shit, we are their escape. And they come to that show and have a good time. And, baby, we give them a good time. I’m getting paid to do that. It’s the ultimate salve. And that’s cool. ‘Chicago’s in town—let’s party!’”
Even at 50, and with members who’ve come and gone, to the chagrin of some fans, it seems like Chicago will keep on going on as long as it can still make music.
“We all are blessed, we are blessed to provide this escape for millions of people,” Pankow says. “I said at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, ‘Without you wonderful fans, this wouldn’t mean anything.’ We don’t choose to be successful, they choose whether or not they like us. When we got nominated, 37 million people voted, we had no idea that many people loved this band. I had tears in my eyes. It was like, ‘Holy shit, people love this music.’ We are celebrating our 52nd year on the roa. We have never taken a year off in 52 years. Most people would look at that as a life sentence. I look at it as living the dream. My whole life. How lucky am I.”
For more information and tour dates please visit chicagotheband.com.
The post What Chicago’s James “Jimmy” Pankow Likes About His Bentley Continental GT appeared first on MotorTrend.