Courtesy of MotorTrend
Celebrity Drive: Twisted Sister's Dee Snider And His Dodge
Muscle-Car Guy Loves His Dodge Demon Challenger SRT8
Car he learned to drive in
Although he was born in Astoria, Queens, Snider learned to drive on the suburban streets of New York's Long Island, where he grew up. "My father originally tried to teach me in a 1967 Plymouth station wagon, three-speed, manual on the tree, the shifter is on the steering column, old school," he recalls. "I was the oldest of six and I was the first person he tried to teach and he always had shift cars."
"We buck down one block in this family station wagon, we went one block, bucking out of control. My father says, 'Stop the car. Get out.' Two days later, we had an automatic transmission station wagon," he says. "Plymouth '71 Satellite station wagon. He saw the writing on the wall -- he had six kids, they were all about a year apart. And he says, 'This is the first one I have to teach how to drive and teaching him to drive a stick is a nightmare. I'm just going to get an automatic.'"
Snider later learned driving a manual transmission on a very durable 1973 Mercury Comet. "My grandfather passed that on to me. That was a three-on-the-tree. Originally it was a goldish color, but I never washed it. So it got a furry kind of feel to it," he says. "It was six-cylinder three-speed, bench seats. It got me through a lot of things. My father had another car that I didn't drive: a Falcon. You never see any of those around. Six-cylinder 3-speed shift and it couldn't get up certain hills. We'd go visit his brother in Nyack, and we have to have a running start to get up the road that led to his house. The engine was feeble."
When Snider was learning to drive the manual Comet, he was practicing in their driveway. "The driveway had a slight hill to it. So I was going up and down the driveway because first gear is a tough one. I don't remember if I didn't have my license, but for some reason I'm going up and down the driveway," he says.
All of a sudden Snider's dog bursts out of the front door of the house because he saw another dog, and they started fighting. "I jumped out of the car and I run over to break the dogs up and I turn around and I look -- I forgot to set the parking brake. It starts rolling backwards and it's heading straight for my neighbor's early '60s Cadillac. That was his pride and joy. He would polish it every week and it was parked on the street," Snider says.
Snider remembers watching the whole thing play out like it was in slow motion. "I remember running to the car, and to this day, I don't know what I planned on doing if I got between the Cadillac and Comet," he says.
He didn't get to the Comet in time and it smashed into the Cadillac. "As it bounced back, I remember looking and thinking, 'Oh, it didn't do any damage for some reason!'" he laughs. "I jump in the car, I pull up the hill, I put it in brake and it just caved in - the back quarter panel of his old Cadillac. Mine just hit the bumper on my car. And I had to go and knock on his door and tell him that I had just crashed my car into his pride and joy."
The Comet was a sturdy car and the back bumper only shifted as it rolled into the Cadillac at about 10 to 15 miles an hour. "In the old days the bumper was a big chrome job that actually did something. Back then you didn't have the monochrome, color-keyed bumpers that when you tap a car, the insurance company says it's totaled."
Snider says that learning how to drive in suburbia for him was much easier than his wife's task when she had to learn in Manhattan. "She remembers getting off the West Side Highway the first time as a new driver, like, 'OK, we're going to merge on the West Side Highway, are you kidding?' That's trial by fire there."
First car bought
Snider's dad gave him $500 to spend on his first car, which was a 1966 Ford Mustang convertible. "Pony interior, 289 high-performance engine, and factory air in a convertible was rare back then and now it's standard," he says. "I got the car in '73 and it was a '66 so it was already a 7-year-old car and I ran it into the ground. If I had that car today, the combination of the high performance engine, Pony interior, factory air, convertible '66 Mustang – that has value."
He bought it for his senior year in high school. "I got $500 bucks to buy a car. That was the same promise he made to each of us kids," Snider says. "The first day I had it, while I was driving, the heater core blew and emptied the contents of the radiator - rusty dirty water back then -- into the passenger seat and I had to bypass the heater. I drove that for the next two years with no heat - winter, spring, summer, fall, had blankets in the car and I remember the girlfriend's chattering, like 'Whoa, no heat!' But I had a car, which most people didn't have. Better to ride in a freezing car than walk in the freezing cold."
Snider likes to support the American car companies. "I think it was because when I grew up, my dad was a cop, blue-collar guy. It was always 'Buy American' and of course now he's totally a Japanese car guy," he says. "After the late '70s when the Honda came out and they were changing the face of production vehicles, he got so fed up. He was a Ford guy too and he switched over and he stayed there."
Snider feels that the quality of Japanese cars made American automakers step their game up.
He quotes something his father would often say back then. "He would dream of the day his car would go past 100,000 miles. All my cars go past 100,000 miles if I have them long enough. The Hummer's at 127, the Dodge Durango (his son drives it now) is like 170, I had a Shelby Durango and it's got crazy miles on it," he says. "It had some work done, but cars were in the junkyard before 100,000 miles back in the '60s and early '70s."
Twister Sister days In the mid-1980s, after Snider made it big as the frontman of Twisted Sister, he was finally about to treat himself to restoring his a 1969 Boss 302 Mustang.
"Right when Twisted hit, first thing I did was spend way too much money fixing a car I could have bought for way cheaper from somebody else. But it was the point of being my car," he says. "It was a '69 Boss 302 and that was my dream car. I got it in '79, dragged the carcass -- because it was a basket case, but I knew its value -- around at a time when my wife and I had no money and we had a studio apartment and a kid," he recounts. "And yet I was paying for a garage for a rust bucket of a '69 Boss 302 and my wife's going, 'Let me understand this, we can't afford a room for our baby, that thing is in the garage!' I said, 'But it's a Boss!' And when I struck oil in '84 I immediately sent the car to the best people – SuperStang in upstate New York, they do the best restorations, particularly on Mustangs -- Randy DeLisio," Snider says. "And Alridge Automotive, nicknamed Boss City, out in Portland, Oregon."
Snider's car didn't have the original Boss motor, so they built him one with original stock parts. "I had that flown in, I was spending money like a rock star, oh that's right!" he says. "So I had the car completely restored and drove it all the time."
After 27 years, Snider sold the Boss to someone in Australia for $50,000 and that man shipped it over there.
Favorite road trip "My favorite memory of a road trip is the drive to Florida," Snider says. "I don't necessarily think it's my favorite road trip, but it's got memories connected to it, because you drive down there, you'd be watching the signs for South of the Border And as you approached, the signs become more and more frequent to stop at South of the Border and they had the fireworks, but my dad never bought fireworks; he bought sparklers."
South of the Border is a popular stop in South Carolina. "It's legendary. If you drive to Florida to this day, you will see signs start probably two states up and then they get crazier and crazier," Snider says. "It's a truck stop, but this is a scene. And you go there and they've got fireworks and my dad would never buy the big box of fireworks."
Years later, when Snider finally did the drive himself as an adult, he made sure to stop at South of the Border. "The first thing I did was stop, go in, get the shopping cart, get the General Lee – that's the big box of fireworks - and bought the damn thing," he says. "When you get down south, they were legal. In the north they're not legal, so you've got to get some fireworks. You can't do that in New York."
Snider's favorite road trip is through British Columbia from the west coast in Canada heading through the mountains, which he did in the 1990s.
"I was doing a Canadian van tour and I was driving and this was post-Twisted-Sister, during a career slump, I had a side project called the SMFs and Widowmaker," he says. "It was back in the van, starting over, unless you're willing to spend your money financing everybody else's shit, you've just got to get back and do what you got to do."
He remembers from Vancouver and through the mountains of British Columbia "driving literally through herds of elk and seeing moose early in the morning and bald eagles and the guys were all sleeping and I'm going, 'Guys, wake up, this is unbelievable beauty!' Incredible vistas, amazing drive. I only wish I was in a sports car," he says. "We did it with Twisted Sister in the '80s, in the ugly duckling rent-a-car tour, but I was probably the guy sleeping in the back drooling on the other guys in those wonderful moments."
"Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale" and other projects
Snider wrote a musical he'll also perform in, which he hopes to open on Broadway. The first step is staging it in Chicago, where it will run November 4 to Jan. 4 at the Broadway Playhouse Theater.
"It's a musical I wrote about a struggling rock and roll band who sells their souls to the devil, but find they magic of Christmas instead," he says. "It's alternative holiday entertainment, but it's gotten a really great response and we're finally launching it in Chicago, hopefully bringing it to Broadway in 2015. I've been working on it for five years, starting rehearsals in September and I think we start previews in October. It is pretty crazy."
It's a major personal achievement getting a Broadway-caliber show off the ground and Snider's hoping it becomes as successful as Cyndi Lauper's "Kinky Boots." "It's not easy. Cyndi's achieved it with 'Kinky Boots' and great success, a friend of mine and I'm proud of her and happy for her. But it's a long road," Snider says.
Fans will get a little taste of Snider's musical August 18 at the annual free Broadway in Chicago Summer Concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park.
Snider's memoir, "Shut Up and Give Me the Mic," is available now in paperback. "It's written by myself, which is unusual, and it's nothing like any other book. It's not about sex, drugs, and rock and roll," Snider says. "It's about growing up, having a dream, struggling, achieving your dreams, and then losing everything. And fighting your way back."
"House of Hair" is Snider's national weekly radio show. You can hear it on 220 stations in North America.
For more information on the musical, his book, and other events, please visit DeeSnider.com. To find a radio station near you, please visit houseofhaironline.com and Twisted Sister's upcoming tour dates are available on TwistedSister.com.
For more information about purchasing Snider's Demon Challenger through Port Jeff Chrysler Jeep Dodge, please visit portjeffchryslerjeepdodge.com.