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Celebrity Drive: Paul Stanley of KISS Loves His 'Vette

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2015-02-09 K.S. Wang

Celebrity Drive Paul Stanley © Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Paul Stanley

Quick Stats: Paul Stanley Kiss front man, author, painter
Daily Driver: 2015 Corvette Stingray (Stanley's rating: 9 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: See below
Favorite road trip: Interstate 95 from New York to New England
Car he learned to drive in: 1963 Ford Galaxie
First car bought: 1961 Rambler American

Kiss front man Paul Stanley is a bit of a Renaissance man as a singer-songwriter, painter, New York Times best-selling author, star of "Phantom of the Opera," and, in a former life, a New York City cab driver.

He can add styling a Corvette for General Motors to the list after working with the automaker on a 2015 Stingray for the SEMA show in a car that would also become his daily driver.

"I've yearned to be driving an American car without apology," he says. "I like driving a car that says 'Corvette' on it. I like driving an American car because we've always had capabilities to turn out great cars, and for reasons that are lost to me, we chose not to. But as the competition became stiffer and as the car industry seemed to be folding, I guess the message was resounding, and lo and behold, here were some great cars."

Photo: Al Soluri © Provided by MotorTrend Photo: Al Soluri For Stanley, the decision about what car he drives is about supporting American automakers. "I have an Escalade, which is great for the family, but I personally wanted my primary car to be an American car without people either scratching their heads or having to explain to people," he says. "I'm proud to drive these cars, and I've seen the cars that are coming up from General Motors, and they are unapologetically world-class contenders. I saw some of the next generation cars in Warren, Michigan, that are just going to blow people away."

His daily driver before the SEMA Stingray was the previous year's model, a Blade Silver 2014 Corvette C7. Stanley was such a big fan of his 2014 Corvette that he was asked to prepare a concept car for General Motors at the 2014 SEMA show. "It took me two seconds to think about it, and I said, 'Of course,' " Stanley says.

He flew out to Detroit to explain what he was looking for conceptually. "It was interesting because what they told me is they really hadn't worked with any celebrities who could articulate, could verbalize what they wanted or why," he says, "and I very much wanted to take this fabulous car and make it into more of a European gentleman's sports car."

When Stanley originally saw the new Corvettes coming out, he reached out to General Motors. "I called Mark Reuss, who at the time was the president of General Motors North America and now is in charge of global development, so we struck up a really fun friendship," Stanley says. "He also turned out to have really great taste in music because he's a huge Kiss fan."

Stanley says that mechanically, the new Corvette Stingray is perfection. "I've been waiting literally decades to be able to drive an American car," he says. "It's one thing for people to tell you buy American, but my response is, give me something that's world class and comparable. That unfortunately wasn't the case for a long time."

For the SEMA Corvette, which has the Z51 performance package, Stanley wanted the front of the candy-red sports car to feel elongated so he made the roof and part of the rear panel brushed silver. "It would pull the car back so it would seem more like it was on its haunches," he says. "I wanted something very rich and pretty classy. I think the best way to make a statement is with elegance as opposed to bombast, although one would never know from what I do in the band. But as far as the front end, the grille, I've always thought it had a tendency to look a bit like a gaping hole."

Stanley says he wanted to accentuate the grille with the same finish used on the roof; he also incorporated it into the side mirrors. Exterior elements also found their way inside the car. "I wanted to go with diamond stitching and to accentuate the outside color and pull it in with the border stitching on the seats and use some real polished carbon fiber for the dash," he says. "The car came out pretty spectacular, so once it was done, I was pretty insistent, with a smile though, that that car deserved to be driven by me."

He gives the Stingray a 9 rating. "There's nothing that beats the ability to conceptualize something and then see it brought to fruition and then to be able to drive it," he says. "What I basically created was my Corvette. The way I see the car and the inside is the environment that I want to be in when I'm driving."

Celebrity Drive: Paul Stanley of KISS Loves His 'Vette

Having personalized the SEMA Corvette makes it a real head turner visually, he says. "You're not quite sure what the car is," he says. "It's very interesting that a car in many senses can be a blank canvas. You have the shape of it, but how you accentuate and where you put focus can very much alter the perceived shape and dynamics of the car."

Photo: Ross Halfin © Provided by MotorTrend Photo: Ross Halfin For Stanley, a car is about reflecting somebody's personality. He sees the interior of the car as an environment where one spends a lot of time. "Look, I was a New York cab driver, so my knowledge of cars may be a little different than others."

There isn't anything Stanley dislikes about the Corvette, but he wouldn't give it a perfect 10. "I'm not sure if there isn't always room for improvement on something," he says. "But I love the car. For me the performance of a car is only relevant within the boundaries of what you get to do with it."

Most people won't be driving a car to its limits or taking it to the racetrack. "What a car is capable of doing at the outer limits of what is possible for the car is irrelevant," he says. "How many people ever get to push the envelope? To me it's really about within the boundaries of what is doable on a daily basis. Does it reach that and exceed that? Does the interior of the car make me want to be in it and make me enjoy the experience of driving."

For the SEMA car, he chose the automatic transmission. "It's a paddle shift," he says. "Again, there've been times where I've had a stick shift. I understand people going, 'That's the real deal and that's the way it really should be driven.' But the fact is, tell that to somebody who's in stop-and-go traffic constantly, and I beg to differ. I want the experience to be comfortable and not demand me to be an octopus at any time."

Although he is recognizable himself, Stanley doesn't mind that his car will bring him more attention. "It doesn't turn heads because it's loud; it turns heads because it's gorgeous," he says. "Beauty is meant to be looked at. It's meant to be shared.

Stanley also has a Cadillac Escalade as the family car, which he really likes. "I liked the Escalade because I've always loved SUVs and once again the idea of an American SUV," he says. "I like the lines of it. The new one that just came out, which we'll probably be trading into, is even nicer. It's just refining the concept. When it's done properly, an American interpretation of perhaps an international point of view is very comfortable for me. Perhaps it's a little bigger and a little more massive and meatier. And that's fine with me."

He can't rate the Escalade. "There's very little in life that I think deserves a 10," he says. "Am I in love with the car? No, I'm not in love with the car. It's a great utilitarian car, and it certainly serves the purpose, but my feelings for it are not those of passion. It's great for what it is. It doesn't warrant a rating other than me saying it certainly fills the role. Not anything beyond that. It's a very good car."

Photo: Denis O'Regan © Provided by MotorTrend Photo: Denis O'Regan

Tesla Model S

Rating: 9
"The torque in that car is astounding. When we first went to test drive it, I was expecting something out of Disneyland, a bumper car of sorts."

Test driving the Tesla defied his expectations. "It's ferocious off the line; it just pins you to the seat," he says. "All in all, it's a terrifically thought-out car, although surprisingly they missed a couple of key points, at least for me. Elon Musk designed it to hold all his kids, and there was a flip-up seat in the back for three kids, which is terrific, that faces the rear."

Stanley says his problem is that there's no air-conditioning back there. "So unless you're planning on roasting your kids, it's very, very hot back there," he says. "For a car that's so well-thought-out, I'm surprised that there are no vents for air-conditioning back there. Other than that — I don't know if they've revised it, but up until this point — there's no audible warning of distance from anything when you're backing up, so you see things on the screen, but there's no signal. So those are two surprising things coming from a car that's clearly so well-planned."

Stanley does give the Tesla a 9 out of 10. "I think it's a pretty brilliant car, but it doesn't connect with me emotionally at all, and to me that's really what it's all about," he says. "Everything should connect on an emotional level. Things should resonate with you inwardly and not intellectually, and for me the Tesla doesn't do that. It's a brilliant car, but it doesn't make my heart race. It doesn't make my palms sweat."

Lack of adrenaline-pumping qualities aside, he recognizes the car's significance. "As far as a vision and ground breaking, I can't give it a 10," he says, "but a 9 for sure."

Photo: Maury Englander © Provided by MotorTrend Photo: Maury Englander

Car he learned to drive in

Stanley grew up in Queens, New York, where he learned to drive in his parents' 1963 Ford Galaxie.

"I learned when I was 17, so that would be around '69," he says. "Back then we still had what were called the 'blue laws,' so Sundays most stores closed regardless of what your theological or religious beliefs were. It was pretty much expected that you closed on Sunday."

Empty parking lots at department stores were the perfect place to go and learn to drive. "Then the big day came when you left the parking lot and got on the road," he says. "I distinctly remember being on some small streets where my dad was very comfortable. Then I took a wrong turn and wound up on the freeway, and he was trying to keep his calm."

Celebrity Drive Paul Stanley © Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Paul Stanley

First car bought

Stanley bought a 1961 Rambler American for $35. One reason it was so cheap was the door didn't work. "You could only enter the car from the passenger side because the driver's side was completely smashed in as though a train had hit it," he says. "So if I was picking up a date, I would always park on the other side of the street so that she would only see the passenger side. I'm sure more than one thought I was rude because I would slide across the seat first to get to the driver's side."

He bought the car as soon as he got his license, when he was a senior in high school, having saved up enough money to buy the inexpensive car.

He went to the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan and would drive the car to school.

Celebrity Drive Paul Stanley © Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Paul Stanley It isn't that common to have a car in high school in New York City. "I wasn't driving a BMW; I was driving a $35 wreck," he says. "I was taking my life into my hands every time I drove that car. Ultimately, I was getting off at an exit off the Major Deegan Expressway, and my right wheel broke off — the whole assembly broke off. Back then those cars had something called trunnions for the steering as opposed to a ball joint, and the whole thing just broke. The wheel broke off, and that car was a hazard."

That broken wheel led to an unceremonious end for the Rambler. "Once the wheel broke off, it was done," he says. "I took the license plates and walked away."

First splurge car

Owning the current Corvette Stingray is a bit of a full-circle moment for Stanley.

"My first splurge car — I obviously had never owned a new car, and I thought that it was inappropriate to buy a Mercedes as my first new car because where do you go from there?" he says. "So I decided to not go the distance and instead interestingly I bought a Corvette, and they were not at that point great cars."

It was around the time Kiss "Alive!" and "Destroyer" came out, making it a mid-1970s Corvette. "The cars were really incredibly front-heavy, and people would tell you to put cinder blocks in the back to try to even out the weight," he says. "I remember fishtailing on a street in New York, and I decided that it was time to get a Mercedes. And I sold the car and got my first Mercedes."

It was a burgundy Corvette with a saddle interior. The current Stingray is a more vibrant color, he says. "It has more of a cherry tint on top of it, and then also it's parchment leather, which is much more refined."

Celebrity Drive Paul Stanley © Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Paul Stanley

Favorite road trip

"My favorite road trip memory was driving during the changing of the seasons," Stanley says, recounting a particular drive he took in 1977.

He drove up Interstate 95 to New England. "It was the change of seasons, which was pretty incredible, particularly in New England, where you'll see leaves change colors that you never thought were possible," he says. "I just took a road trip with a girlfriend at the time and stopped at bed and breakfasts and stopped on farmers' roadside stands and bought things, and it was terrific. It was a terrific, terrific trip."

It was during one of the few breaks between touring. "At that point I was living in hotels on the road, so to have a little time to unwind was great," he says. "I always wanted to go up and experience Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont and just do it during the summer going into fall."

Celebrity Drive Paul Stanley © Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Paul Stanley

"Face the Music: A Life Exposed"

In Stanley's New York Times best-selling memoir, he wrote about the time bandmate Gene Simmons offered to buy a car for him — a Jaguar.

"He gave me the brochure for a Jaguar around 1988," he says. "He was feeling perhaps a sense of acknowledging that I had taken up his work and mine, and it was a nice thought. Instead I went for a Porsche, a 928."

Stanley has had three Porsche 928s, most recently a 928 S4 in the early '90s. "My first couple of Porsches were in New York, as were most of my cars up until I moved to Los Angeles in the early '90s," he says. "It wouldn't be unheard of for me to put 2,500 miles on the car over a year, so the cars were virtually new. I know that a lot of purists had issues initially with the 928."

He adored that car and to this day wishes he still had the last one. "In hindsight I've always missed that car," he says. "It was just a terrific, terrific car."

He also writes about the time the band bought a Porsche 924 as a welcoming gift for Eric Carr, their second drummer, who joined after they asked Peter Criss to leave the band.

"I was somehow supposed to be (Criss') mentor in terms of how to dress and how to conduct himself," Stanley says. "I was supposed to give him a crash course in being a rock star, and one of his first questions was, could he take the 924 and have it painted camouflage? And I said, 'That's a no can do. You'll just have to keep it silver.' "

Those in the Kiss Army have been excited about the band's 40th Anniversary World Tour, which resumes later this month in Japan. "There's always new horizons," Stanley says. "Here we are, in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and here we are a 40th anniversary world tour, so it just doesn't end. The idea in life is climb a mountain and see the one next to it."

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