15 Surprising Cars Celebrities Drove Before The Fame

Being a celebrity often goes hand in hand with earning millions of dollars, living the high life, and, in some cases, building highly enviable car collections. But, it's sometimes easy to forget that most celebs started off as regular people with budgets just like the rest of us. As such, there are plenty of now-wealthy A-listers whose first cars were a lot less glamorous than the lives they now lead.

Whether they're rappers, politicians, or petrol-headed talk show hosts, many of America's most well-known names drove very unassuming rides before they were famous. Some were quick to ditch their first cars as soon as they were able to afford something else, but a few famous faces have kept theirs for decades. In one case, a well-known celeb was even forced to sell their first car to raise funds for the business that made them a household name. Every one of them could buy a new Lamborghini or Ferrari without having to worry today, but back when they first started driving, things were a little different.

Ludacris: Acura Legend

Rapper and actor Ludacris has amassed an estimated $25 million fortune over his years in the music and film industry, and he's owned a number of high-end exotic cars, including a Rolls-Royce Phantom, a BMW i8, and a Ford GT (via MotorBiscuit). He reportedly started selling his car collection in 2019 due to concerns about his impact on the environment, and he stated in an interview with USA Today that he's looking to make his collection mostly electric in the future. But, the one gas-powered car he's never going to sell is his 1993 Acura Legend, which he bought just before making it big in the music industry (via autoevolution).

The Legend has been part of the rapper's garage since 1999, and autoevolution reports that it now has over 255,000 miles on the clock. The car was overhauled by Acura's Design Studio after the rapper got into an accident in it in 2015, with the team adding a custom paint job, new wheels, and a high-end speaker system. Ludacris still drives the Legend on a regular basis, and has shown it off on his Instagram several times, even posing with the car next to a private jet in May 2022.

Jeremy Clarkson: Ford Cortina

Presenter, journalist, and all-around motoring aficionado Jeremy Clarkson has probably driven more cars than he can remember, but his first car is one he is unlikely to forget. He said in an interview with TopGearbox that after passing his test, he went out and bought a Ford Cortina, because it was the only thing his family ever drove. "I was raised in a Ford Cortina, only ever went anywhere in a Ford Cortina, so I thought I better buy a Ford Cortina, then."

The car was a 1969 model year which Clarkson bought in 1977, and he reportedly modified it almost as soon as he bought it. Some of his (admittedly questionable) mods included fur-lined doors, race seats, and extra brake lights. He later sold the car, rediscovering it years later with the help of a British TV show. Unfortunately, it had fallen into disrepair, having been off the road for many years. When he's not filming "The Grand Tour," and driving the most exotic cars the automotive industry has to offer, Clarkson can often be found in a Range Rover, with two reportedly used as daily drivers on his farm in the English countryside (via The Sunday Times).

Lewis Hamilton: Mini Cooper

Seven-time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton has a garage full of exotics including a Ferrari LaFerrari, a custom-built Pagani Zonda, and a 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 that was certified as original by the late Carroll Shelby himself. But, his first car was much more modest. After passing his test in 2002, Hamilton went and bought himself a used Mini Cooper, which he picked after driving his mum's Mini while he was learning (via GQ). Hamilton said in an interview with CNN that his Mini was "just the greatest thing," giving him his first proper taste of freedom as a teenager.

He was quick to point out to CNN that although he was used to driving at high speed on the track, he was careful never to act like a race driver on the roads. He said, "I thought I knew everything, and it doesn't matter how good you are as a driver — you don't. It was a big wake-up call getting a car and getting that big responsibility; it's not only you now, it's all the people you're driving past!" Hamilton's sensibility has continued to prevail with his current daily driver, which is an electric Smart Fortwo, a sharp contrast to the millions of dollars of other race-bred machinery in his garage (via Vanity Fair).

Barack Obama: Ford Granada

The 44th President of the United States of America is no longer allowed to drive on the open road, as he had to forfeit the right to get behind the wheel when he was elected in 2008. In fact, no former presidents are allowed to drive on public roads, instead having to be ferried about by the Secret Service. Before his term in office, however, Obama had a series of very normal vehicles, including a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a Ford Escape Hybrid (via Gear Patrol). His first car was even more unremarkable: a Ford Granada that Obama graciously described as "not the peak of Detroit engineering."

Despite the fact that the car was only a few years old when Obama inherited it from his grandfather, he said that the car constantly shook and rattled, which unfortunately wasn't unusual for a Malaise-era car. Obama was also less than impressed with the car's status with women, telling AAA in an interview, "I don't think the girls were particularly impressed when I came to pick them up in a Ford Granada" (via USA Today).

Lady Gaga: Ford Mustang '67

Stefani Germanotta, professionally known as Lady Gaga, might not be the first celebrity that most people would think of as a hardcore petrol-head. But, it turns out her car collection would make many seasoned collectors jealous, with a garage full of classics that spans everything from a pristine Chevy El Camino to a Rolls-Royce Corniche III. Gaga's first car was an equally tasteful classic, with GQ reporting that she bought an ivy-green '67 Mustang with rally wheels shortly after passing her test.

As well as featuring her own cars in her work, Gaga has managed to get behind the wheel of some of America's most famous celebrity cars as part of her musical career. While on a tour to promote her album "Joanne," she turned heads by arriving at one stop in none other than Elvis Presley's 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood. She also jumped in an open-seat race car with Mario Andretti for a ride at the Indy 500, although she didn't get to drive herself at the event (via IndyStar).

José Mourinho: Renault 5

Portuguese soccer coach José Mourinho is considered one of the greatest in the history of the sport, with successful stints managing clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea, and Inter Milan (via AS Roma). He's always had a penchant for British cars, with a collection that includes a variety of Jaguars (via AutoJosh). He's become closely tied with the brand, appearing in a number of commercials for them, and attending events as an official brand ambassador (via Jaguar).

However, Mourinho's first car wasn't a Jaguar, and it wasn't even British. It was instead a Renault 5, which was bought for him by his father, José Mourinho Senior. The car was a present for passing his driving test, and he soon racked up the miles on it, as the daily commute from his house to his university was an 80-mile round trip. His next car was another sensible purchase: a Honda Civic, which was the first car he bought with his own money (via The Telegraph).

Scarlett Johansson: BMW Z4

Scarlett Johansson started acting at a very young age, making her film debut at just nine years old (via IMDb). By the time she was old enough to drive, she already had over a dozen movie credits to her name, and so she had the cash to buy a more expensive first car than most. Johansson opted for a BMW Z4, buying it shortly after she passed her test. But, she wrecked it just a few months later, saying that the car was "too fast and too wild," and that someone should have told her to buy something less powerful (via The Times).

She then swapped the Z4 out for a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which she also crashed within the space of a year (via Left Lane News). This time, Johansson was trying to escape from the paparazzi, although the car reportedly only suffered minor damage. The "Black Widow" actress has continued to have issues with paparazzi, claiming in 2019 that she got into a car chase with multiple vehicles following her after an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (via Today). Thankfully, she escaped without incident that time around, but the experience was enough to prompt her to start a campaign against dangerous paparazzi vehicles, to avoid another "Princess Diana death."

Jay Leno: Ford Pickup '34

Comedian, talk show host, and high-profile car collector Jay Leno has an eclectic mix of vehicles under his ownership, including everything from a million-dollar Lamborghini Miura S to an old American LaFrance fire truck. His collection is thought to be worth well north of $50 million in total, and once he's bought a car, Leno is known to rarely ever sell it (via DuPont Registry). He's no stranger to buying cars in rough condition and restoring them, and in fact, his first car was also a bit of a project.

In an interview with Petrolicious, Leno recalled that his father bought him his first car, a 1934 Ford pickup, when he was about 14 years old. It was parked at the side of a gas station, and it wasn't running when Leno bought it. After towing the vehicle back home, Leno's father worked with him to help restore it over a number of years, so that by the time he got his license, the truck would be ready for the road. After a few years of driving the truck, Leno traded it in for a Datsun sports car. He then moved to California shortly after, vowing to never sell a car again. Fast forward 40 years, and Leno's collection continues to grow, with an estimated 181 cars and 160 motorcycles now stored at his collection in Burbank, CA (via Jerry).

Andy Murray: VW Polo

British tennis ace Andy Murray has won three Grand Slam titles, including two at the world's biggest tennis event, Wimbledon (via The Sporting News). He's consistently been ranked among the world's top players for over a decade, and he's the fourth highest-earning tennis player of all time, with his career earnings surpassing $62 million. With a bank account like that, Murray could choose to drive any car he wanted, but he reportedly still daily drives a used Volkswagen Polo that's worth only a few thousand dollars (via Auto Express).

Murray said that he couldn't bear to part with the car, despite his wife urging him to sell it. He bought the car while he was learning to drive, and he said the biggest advantage of it is that it's so ordinary that he never gets recognized while driving it. He's no stranger to exotic cars, having bought a Ferrari F430 when he first got famous, but he reportedly sold the car shortly after buying it because he didn't enjoy driving it. Murray also drives a Jaguar I-Pace, the newest electric SUV from his long-term sponsor, Jaguar.

Giorgio Armani: VW Beetle

Italian fashion magnate Giorgio Armani started his career as a buyer for a chic Milanese department store before branching out and creating his own designs. After founding his brand in 1975, he quickly developed a reputation for disruptive and innovative collections, becoming one of Hollywood's favorite designers in the decades that followed (via Brittanica). But, to raise money to launch his own business, Armani had to give up one of his most prized possessions: his VW Beetle. According to Robb Report, Armani described the Beetle as his favorite car, saying that although he was forced to sell his first one, he bought himself another as soon as he had the money.

With an estimated net worth of $5.8 billion according to Forbes, Armani could now afford an entire fleet of Beetles if he wanted to, but he reportedly prefers to spend most of his time on his 213-foot yacht. At the ripe old age of 88, it's no surprise that he's not too keen on driving around the crowded streets of Milan anymore.

Shaquille O'Neal: Ford Bronco II

Shaquille O'Neal is a giant in the world of basketball, both in his achievements, and in the very literal sense. He stands at a reported 7 feet and 1 inch tall, although that figure may be a little generous if his recent comments on "The Big Podcast" are anything to go by (via Essentially Sports). His size means that he's always had trouble fitting in regular cars, and several of his cars have had to be extended to accommodate his large frame. His Lamborghini Gallardo, for example, was modified by Gaffoglio Metalcrafters to allow him more headroom and legroom so he could drive comfortably (via Motor Authority).

His first purchase was a lot less exotic than the cars and trucks he's used to driving. Shaq started out with a Ford Bronco II, an SUV that actually cost Ford millions of dollars in damages. It was found to be dangerously prone to rolling over when cornering, with many reports of injuries, and even deaths, for both the driver and passengers. Over 260 deaths were recorded as a result of this flawed design, with Ford eventually agreeing to a settlement of $70 million from the resulting lawsuit (via The Wall Street Journal).

Elon Musk: BMW 320i

Before founding one of the world's fastest expanding car companies, and helping to bring electric-powered cars to the masses, Elon Musk was simply a talented entrepreneur with a penchant for fast cars. Unfortunately, he was less keen on insuring those cars, and when he crashed his McLaren F1, the damage was so bad that it ended up being sent to the scrapheap. A similar fate was met by his first car, a 1978 BMW 320i. Motorious reports that the car was used by Elon while he was running his first company, Zip2, and he'd sometimes lend the car out to his associates and interns.

While one of those interns was borrowing the car, they crashed it, and the damage was so bad that the car was written off entirely. It wasn't too big of a deal for Musk, though, as he sold the company shortly after to found his next big project, the payment platform PayPal.

Daniel Radcliffe: Fiat Punto

For many movie fans, Daniel Radcliffe will forever remain the face of the young wizard boy, Harry Potter. His starring role in the blockbuster adaptation of J.K. Rowling's hit book series captured the imaginations of a generation of the young, and the young at heart. It also made him an absolute fortune in the process. He could have bought himself anything he wanted, but spurred on by his concern for the environment, Radcliffe bought himself a humble Fiat Punto.

The budget hatchback was one of the greenest options on the market at the time, and it was also popular enough that it would blend into British traffic seamlessly, reducing the chance of Radcliffe being spotted. He reportedly drove the car for a number of years before upgrading to his current fleet of vehicles, which reportedly now includes a Lamborghini Huracan and a Range Rover (via MotorBiscuit).

Sydney Sweeney: Ford Bronco

After her breakout role in the HBO drama "Euphoria," Sydney Sweeney quickly cemented her reputation as one of America's best new actresses, with critically-acclaimed roles in "Madame Web" and "The White Lotus." Her latest project, "The Registration," was also picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures, so it seems like fans will be seeing a lot more of her work in the future (via Deadline). As well as her career in the film industry, Sweeney launched a TikTok account in 2021 to showcase her work on vintage cars, of which she has several. Her first car, and the main focus of her account, called Syd's Garage, is a classic Ford Bronco.

It's a 1969 model year car, and Sweeney reportedly picked it up from an auction site in 2021 in original, unrestored condition. Through TikTok, Sweeney has documented her journey to restoring the car, aiming to make it the "perfect car for when the sun's out." She's already made a long list of changes, including the transmission, leaf springs, and interior, but she told Hypebeast that it was important to her to "preserve the integrity of the original Ford build." The car already looks vastly improved from when Sweeney first started work on it, but it seems like she's a long way from done with the project.

Doug DeMuro: Volvo 850 Turbo

One of the biggest automotive YouTubers on the platform, Doug DeMuro's car collection is predictably extensive. He's owned everything from a Ferrari 360 Modena to a retro Nissan S-Cargo microvan, but his first car was very different from both of those. In an article for Autotrader, DeMuro explains that his parents bought him a Volvo 850 Turbo sedan while he was in his junior year of high school, but despite Volvo's reputation for making solid cars, his 850 was very unreliable.

In fact, the car broke down so often that his parents offered to buy him a second car by the time he reached college, a used Audi A4. After the transmission on that car failed, his parents bought him another vehicle, this time a VW Golf GTI. From that point on, DeMuro would buy all his own vehicles, eventually going on to amass the unusual mix of cars he has today.