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Celebrity Drive: Rod Argent of The Zombies

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 12/3/2018 Motor Trend Staff
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Quick Stats: Rod Argent, composer/keyboardist, The Zombies

Daily Driver: 2004 BMW Z4 (Rod's rating: 8 on a scale of 1 to 10)

Other cars: see below

Favorite road trip: London to West Country

Car he learned to drive in: 1964 Ford Cortina GT

First car bought: 1964 Ford Cortina GT

When the Zombies' 1968 album Odessey and Oracle came out with now timeless classics like "Time of the Season" and "This Will Be Our Year," its young keyboardist and composer Rod Argent was already driving his first rock star car—a 1950 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith—but still living at home.

Argent bought the splurge car shortly after the Zombies had its first hit, "She's Not There," in 1964, and it remains one of only two rides he's had that he rates a perfect 10.

"It was one that the royal family used to drive. Obviously not in 1967 they didn't, but in 1952-53 that's the car they were driving, and it was huge, and it was wonderful," Argent tells MotorTrend, from his home in the U.K.

a person standing on a stage© Motor Trend Staff

Although the Rolls was perfect in his eyes, Argent says it wasn't perfect in terms of driving performance. "It was one of the biggest cars Rolls has ever made and it didn't have power steering, power braking, but the actual feeling of driving home from somewhere with that silver lady in front of you—it was old-fashioned, a wonderfully vintage-looking car," Argent recalls.

He loved the interior. "It had a sort of living room in the back where they had wonderful cocktail cabinets, wonderful upholstery, and it was fantastic. But if you were in a slightly dodgy situation, you had to slam your foot as hard as you could, because it was such a heavy car and it would usually come to a halt just in time," Argent says, laughing. "It had those problems."

He lived in St. Albans, about 20 miles north of London, where his huge Rolls, parked outside of his parents' house, changed the pattern of the neighborhood bus.

"We were a working-class family. We didn't have a garage; I had one built a little later on the side of the house. The double-decker bus had to change its route because that's where it would reverse and go on its return journey and there wasn't enough room for it to reverse," he says, with a laugh. "When I had the Rolls—I was probably 21, I still hadn't moved out."

The other car Argent would've given a perfect 10 is the car that got away—a 1971 Aston Martin DB6—when his second band, Argent, was doing well.

"I wish I'd kept it because the prices they're going for now, my goodness," he says, laughing. "That's my favorite car ever to drive. That was absolutely gorgeous. It looked fantastic and it drove beautifully."

2004 BMW Z4

a car parked in a field© Motor Trend Staff

Rating: 8

These days, Argent drives two other cars he loves. One is his 2004 BMW Z4 that he bought in 2005 to commemorate two different, but equally important, occasions.

"I bought it as a present for myself for my 60th birthday, and my dad had just died and he was 93," he says. "The two things seemed to tie together, really. I bought it to sort of mark something."

Argent drives the BMW in the summertime, with the caveat that these are British summers. "In England, this year it's been a fantastic summer, but most of the time it's very, very mixed," he says. "Some summers I've hardly driven it at all, so the mileage on the BMW Z4 is under 29,000. And it's in fantastic condition. It just drives absolutely beautifully."

The BMW caught his eye sitting in the showroom. It was a demonstration model and had very few miles on it. "I love the color scheme. It has deep, deep red leather seats and silver car, I just thought it looked great," he says.

There's hardly anything Argent dislikes about it. "It's a two-seater, which means that it would only be driven most of the time with my wife," he says. "It's not a car to be driven for very long journeys."

He's even tried to drive it while touring with the Zombies in recent years, instead of using transportation given to him. "I found it wasn't ideal for that, because once you're doing it day after day on longish journeys, it's by far not the most comfortable way to travel in that way," he says. "But for occasionally driving to the seaside, for driving in good weather and through nice countryside, it's absolutely lovely. I've got no issues with it from the point of view of the enjoyability of the driving if one does it on a limited scale."

2007 Mercedes CLS 320

a car parked in a parking lot© Motor Trend Staff

Rating: 8

"I had it almost from new, but it looks and drives as brilliantly today as it did on the day that I bought it," Argent says, adding he bought this diesel model in late 2007 when it was slightly used.

Compared to what his two perfect 10 cars he's owned, Argent rates this Mercedes an 8 on a scale of 10.

"I feel that's a pretty high score. I was very lucky and I kept it so long because I found a fantastic ex-Mercedes mechanic, who has kept the thing in wonderful condition for me. And it's meant that nothing really has ever gone wrong," Argent says. "I'm touching wood as I say that."

Argent now lives in Hampshire, an hour's drive south of London, but for 38 years he lived in Bedfordshire, north of the city, which is where his mechanic is located. That means it now takes him two hours to get to the mechanic.

"I wouldn't have anybody else service it, because he's kept it in wonderful condition for me and it's never really gone wrong. I only have to take it back to him once a year," Argent says. "If it's a tiny thing that needs done, I'll get it done where I am, but anything more than that, I'll take it to him."

Argent got the Mercedes after having owned three BMW 7 Series sedans for three years each.

"It got to the point where it was time to change the car again and I just didn't like the look of the new model at all. I said to my wife, 'I just don't know what to do. I don't like any of these,'" he said. "She said, 'Why don't we have a look at the Mercedes garage?'"

When he went to check out the Mercedes dealership, he didn't like any of the models except the CLS. "It had such lovely lines," he says.

Argent took it out for a test drive and absolutely loved it. "I loved the smoothness of the ride, I loved the fact with diesel it had so much torque, it was so much power in the mid range," he says, "You could put your foot down at 55 and it would just leap. I thought that was fantastic. But it was super comfortable."

He loved the way it looked as well as drove. "And it's remained as comfortable. And this fantastic guy I found who is the ex-Mercedes mechanic, said, 'If you're not bothered about changing your car every two years and having an up-to-date number plate,' which don't concern me at all, he says, 'You wouldn't have to change this until you're at 350,000 miles. There's absolutely no reason it shouldn't drive as well up to that mileage or more than it does now, and if we keep on top of it, nothing's going to go wrong.' He's fulfilled his promise, and I think they both still look brilliant."

Argent also liked the fact that the Mercedes has a different feeling than his BMW. "It was sleeker, it was a wide car, but it was sleeker in line. And I really love the look of it," he says. "It's a very firm ride, it's a very enjoyable ride, but for a limited distance, because it becomes a little uncomfortable if one drives it for hundreds of miles."

First car bought

Argent took lessons, practicing in the instructor's car to prepare for his driver's test at age 19. "I had nine or 12 lessons and was lucky enough to pass the first time," he recalls.

After passing, Argent bought a 1964 Ford Cortina GT. "At the time, my father didn't have a car. I bought what was a pretty racy car at the time, and I don't remember all that much about it, except I knew so little about car mechanics that I didn't even realize you had to put oil in it," he says, laughing. "So the very first time it ran dry, not a good thing to do at all. That was a steep learning curve. It was quite fast, the insurance was very high, so I insured my car in my father's name."

Having his dad's name on the paperwork came in handy one night when he had to deal with a police officer. "I lost the road coming back on some black ice one night," Argent recalls. "I was exceeding the speed limit and I had a very lucky escape because I crashed into a wall, demolished the garden wall, and landed in somebody's front garden. I was obviously pretty shocked and the police came."

The officer let Argent off the hook. "He said, 'I can see this is your father's car and in cases like this, we think the roasting you're going to get from your father because of demolishing his car will be punishment enough,'" he laughs. "Of course I didn't tell him it was an unusual situation and that it was my car."

Rod Argent et al. posing for a photo© Motor Trend Staff

The Cortina wasn't cheap for a typical 19-year-old, but Argent wasn't typical, having had his first hit with the Zombies, "She's Not There." "So, my income was exceptional for a 19-year-old kid," he says.

But the Cortina stayed at home when the Zombies went on tour. "I think our first van was called a Commer, and it was pretty brutal because in those days there was only one short motorway, so to get anywhere in England took forever and the heating was awful in the Commer van," he says.

In the winter, band members had individual sleeping bags to keep warm. "On really cold nights, we'd go into the sleeping bags in the van and just sit in the seats inside the sleeping bags because it was so cold," he recalls.

Favorite road trip

Sometimes the best road trips are the spontaneous ones that have no schedule or destination, and the one Argent took with his wife when they were first married remains his favorite.

Argent recalls the trip took place about 1975, when he had some time off after being with his second band Argent, with their hits "Hold Your Head Up" and "God Gave Rock and Roll to You."

"I had a convertible Jaguar, the very first one they made, it was a Cabriolet model and we said one day, 'Why don't we for our holiday this year, why don't we just take off and not know where we're going and we'll just drive to where we fancy, depending on the weather, depending on what's going on, and just book into a hotel as we arrive?'" Argent says. "And we had a fantastic couple of weeks."

They drove to a different place every day, starting at a hotel they'd wanted to try. "We spent a night in a beautiful hotel in London and took off the next morning not knowing where we were going," Argent recounts. "We both said, 'It's a lovely day, why don't we put the top down and go to the West Country?' So we went to the West Country where the most beautiful landscape is."

By afternoon, they looked for the nicest hotel they could find. "We didn't always have the perfect hotel, but we found a couple of lovely spots just by chance. And that remains a very nice memory," he says.

Even though they hit a couple of bad traffic jams since it was holiday season, the weather was nice, and with the top down and the cricket match on the radio on the long journey, that was all he needed.

"It was just a lovely memory, we didn't know from hour to hour, or day to day where we were going, so it was a bit of an adventure," Argent says.

#ThisWillBeOurYear and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

With all the critical praise and reverence from younger bands, the Zombies—formed in the psychedelic 1960s—are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This year, the Zombies have been nominated for the fourth time, and they're invoking their famous song to ask members—and fans—to vote for them by Dec. 9 to make this their year to finally be inducted.

When the Zombies came out with Odessey and Oracle, Argent had no idea that it would one day become as revered as it has been throughout the decades.

"The album didn't really sell at the time, but then about 10 years later, very many people, from Paul Weller to Tom Petty to Dave Grohl, started quoting it as their favorite album of all time and then lots of young independent groups right up until the present day have said equally lovely things about it," Argent says.

With all that momentum, Argent and Colin Blunstone decided to go back on the road. "We broke up in '67 and then we all remained in music, but around the year 2000, Colin and I got back together for fun to do six gigs, and those six gigs have not only lasted for 18 years of touring around the world, but when we started touring in America again, we started off in many places, playing to a handful of people. Now we play to bigger audiences everywhere, so in a sense there's been just a gradual resurgence that hasn't stopped."

Argent thinks the reason there's so many young fans in the audience now is that young indie bands now cite the Zombies as a musical influence.

"We have lots of people in their late teens and 20s who come to our shows," he says. "If anyone had said to us, 'You'd be having young people come to see you in 50 years' time,' I'd have thought they were completely crazy. But it happens. And that's fantastic because you get so much energy coming back from the audience, and they love all the new stuff, as well," he says.

a group of people posing for a photo© Motor Trend Staff

Although they are sure to play their hits, Argent is perhaps more excited about his new music, such as their critically acclaimed 2015 album, Still Got That Hunger, of which he composed most of the tracks on.

"That was our last album, and we had a phone call while we were on tour from Billboard magazine, saying, 'We just wanted you to know that for the first time in 50 years as the Zombies, you've got an album in the Top 100 albums,'" he says. "It's as important to us to re-energize ourselves. The most energy we get is from creating and recording new material, even though we love the fact that our older material is being so well received."

Argent still loves being on the road and making new music at a time when most people just want to be retired. "Music's always been the most important thing to me, and every kind of music from classical to jazz, to '50s rock and roll. I would say to be playing still and to be still able to feel so re-energized on stage when we play, in the sense that it really does not feel any different, the level of energy coming from the stage or coming back to it, than when we were 18 years old," he says. "That is a real, real privilege, and I can't think of any other profession where you would still feel that infusion of energy from being able to do what one does."

Argent knows the value of having created timeless music that will be appreciated, even when they are gone. "I feel very, very lucky from the point of view that I've made a lifetime's living out of something that I would wake up each morning and pay to be involved in," he says. "And it just feels like a real privilege just to be honest."

The Zombies on Tour in America

The Zombies are always on tour in America, with a cruise in February in Florida and dates in Florida and Texas after that.

"In the last few years, with many other bands, we've been doing a Moody Blues cruise in the Caribbean and then touring sometimes in addition, in the south of the country like Florida, because the tour's around the Caribbean," Argent says.

Fans can vote for the Zombies to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Dec. 9, by voting at rockhall.com/vote. For more information about the Zombies, visit thezombiesmusic.com.

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