What Would Chicago Drive?

Right on time for Chicago’s appearances in Appleton Saturday, Rockford Monday and Madison Tuesday, Motor Trend interviewed Chicago trumpet player Lee Loughnane:

While Chicago has celebrated 49 years music that has spoken to several generations, and was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Lee Loughnane considers his BMW M5 the first real rock-star car he’s ever owned.

“I don’t know if I ever considered myself getting a rock star car, I just got a car to drive around in. I wasn’t going, ‘I’m a rock star, I’m doing this.’ I always felt, ‘I’m a musician and I’m having a great time on the road,’” he says. “And now it’s 50 years later, and I’m going , ‘Oh my God, I still get to do this.’ Now I got a rock-star car with the M5. I definitely consider that a rock-star car.”

He gives his 2008 BMW M5 a perfect 10. “I was looking for a 5 series and there was an M series sitting in the parking lot that was used and for sale. That was after I (drove) the 5 series, it was a 530 or 540,” Loughnane says.

Loughnane test-drove the used 2004 BMW M5 and the salesman suggested taking it up to 70 and then hitting the brakes. “It stopped on a dime, straight as an arrow, there was no swerving at all. I went, ‘Yeah, this is pretty nice,’” he says. “I started driving it around, taking it too fast for particular corners and that sucker would move around the corners with no problem at all. So it really hugged the road nice. It’s a great car. Unbelievable.”

He bought the used 2004 M5 back when he was living in California and that sold him on the model, so four years later Loughnane got a new M5 in 2008. That M5 is his current daily driver.

“I still only have about 40,000 miles on it,” he says , laughing. “This one I’m probably going to drive into the ground, I have what – 200-300,00 miles to go? This one does the same thing however, so I knew that all the M5s were going to be as good,” he says.

He’s planning on keeping this M5 for the long haul but his son has other ideas. “My son wants me to get a new car. He keeps looking at cars on the highway and wants me to get new stuff, and I’m, ‘I’m happy with this, it’s paid off. Come on!’” he says.

The M5 has a nickname. “I call it the Batmobile because it’s so fast off the line. It’s 500 horsepower. It’s fast, it’s like a rocket ship. The biggest problem is I don’t really get to put it through its paces because you can only do 80 miles an hour. I do five miles an hour over the speed limit because I’ve gotten a couple of tickets for doing too much. I’ve had it up to 90, but I don’t want to keep getting tickets, so I don’t do it. But it definitely deserves to be driven and it’s not fair that I can’t put it through its paces. Maybe I should take it down to Bondurant or something when I have some time off,” he says. “We work a lot. And then when I’m home I’m raising my son, taking him back and forth to school and stuff in that car.”

Clearly the M5 is the car that …

I have never driven an M5, but I did drive a 1994 540i with the six-speed once. To say that was nice is a gross understatement, though when a former coworker mentioned the $125 oil changes BMW sells for his 3-series … well, I’ve never had a car whose oil change costs $125.

The story also mentions Loughnane’s first car, first purchased car and favorite drive:

Loughnane grew up in Chicago, where he learned to drive in a 1960 Ford Fairlane 500, “With those big wings in the back, you could you hurt yourself if you ran into those.”

His dad bought it for him for $400 and he passed his driver’s test in it as well. “I was raised in Elmwood Park, city streets. It wasn’t highway driving but there were people going different speeds all at different times, so it was getting used to all that stuff. He didn’t want me borrowing his car anymore. The first night I took it out I got into a fender bender,” he says, with a laugh.

Loughnane drove it to the South Side that night. It was raining and he was too close to the car in front. “He stopped, I hit the brakes, but the brakes weren’t great at the time, we had to get the brakes fixed, and I ran into the guy in front of me,” he says, with a laugh, mimicking his voice back then. “Dad! I had an accident!”

His dad got it for him as his high school car and a neighbor helped teach Loughnane to drive. “My next-door neighbor actually took me out in his stickshift and started teaching me some of that stuff. It wasn’t all that often, but I remember him putting me in the car and teaching a few things about it,” he says. “I met my first wife in California. She had a stick shift, that’s how I learned to drive stick shift, with those hills, learned how to put the emergency brake on it or you slide all the way down the hill.”

Since it was just meant to be his high school ride, Loughnane says the Fairlane “wasn’t that great of a car. On a scale of 1 to 10 I give it about a 4 or 5. It was just a car to be driving around and it gave me independence.”

He adds, it was a good car to learn to drive on, “Figuring out the right side of the road, how to stay in the lane, because looking off the right fender, it always looked like you were closer to that side of the road than you actually were.”

First car bought

Loughnane was one of the founding members of Chicago and by 1971 he was living in Malibu when he bought his first car, a new Pontiac Firebird. “We had made some money with the band at that time, so I was able to buy a car,” he says. “We had a couple records out, we were doing pretty good.”

Comparing it now to his M5 it wasn’t that great, he says, but back then it got him where he needed to go. “I went everywhere in it – practice, to dinner, everywhere, to the airport. And I loved driving though Malibu canyon with it, it was great, with those turns,” he says.

He kept it for a while until one day when he was on the 405 freeway when he got into an accident. “We were coming home from a tour and I remember Robert (Lamm) and Jimmy (Pankow) were in the car with me, and when the cops came up to the scene, they put us in separate areas so we couldn’t practice our story,” he said. ‘They talked to us individually, we all came up with the same story, and they let us go home. They realized it was the other guy’s fault. He had stopped on the highway, you couldn’t tell right away, about 200 yards ahead of us.”

Loughnane got rid of the Firebird after that accident. “I don’t remember what I bought after that,” he says, with a laugh. “I might have bought the CJ-7. By that time, it had the rotating hubs in the front you had to get out to put it into four wheel drive.”

His mid-1970s CJ-7 came in handy for his Malibu life then. “I had a lot of fun with that car because I put a winch on the front of it. It wasn’t good for the radiator, it heated it up for long drives, but just driving around the city and up to my house, I had a house on the top of a hill in Malibu. It was on a dirt road, and the dirt was clay, so when it got wet, it turned to – like ice,” he says, laughing.

It was tough to navigate the dirt road when it rained. “The tires went around it one time, the tires would kick up with the clay and you had no more traction after that,” he recalls. “So if you hit the brakes, you’d slide whatever way the road was graded, so you just had to keep going straight if you could.”

When he did get stuck, the winch helped get him out.

Favorite road trip

Loughnane’s favorite drive is one he does often, driving the two hours from his Sedona home to Phoenix and back. “It’s just really pleasant. I just have a good time doing it. It’s comfortable, the car is great, and I love the drive, I love the scenery. I wish I could take it through its paces more, but I can’t without getting pulled over,” he says, with a laugh.

The route he takes is I-17 north. “It’s running errands, it’s going to the airport to go on the road, for a one-nighter we’ll take a plane over to the gig, play the next day and then the day after that we fly back home, so I just leave my car at the airport,” he says. “If my son has something to do in Phoenix, we’ll drive down there in that. Airport, shopping, there’s more shopping in Phoenix than there is in Sedona, a small town.”

On the drive, Loughnane usually listens to Real Jazz on SiriusXM. “They play some of the greatest stuff,” he says. “I usually listen to jazz and make phone calls. I can catch up on a lot of business too.”

One wonders if Loughnane thinks to himself on one of those I–17 runs …

Loughnane came up with one of the funnier lines in Chicago’s (ridiculously overdue) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction when he listed the three things he said have never failed him — his trumpet, his lungs and his bandmates — and then added, “I want to thank all my ex-wives for making sure I have to keep working.”



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