Quick Stats: Steve Guttenberg, actor, HBO’s Ballers
Daily Driver: 2015 Ford Mustang (Steve’s rating: 10 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: Los Angeles to Alta, Utah
Car he learned to drive in: 1973 Chrysler New Yorker
First car bought: 1970 Toyota
When you look at his two very different daily drivers, actor Steve Guttenberg has two principals that guide his own philosophy on life—support your own neighborhood, and don’t let labels dictate your self worth.
His 2015 Ford Mustang convertible, which is kept on the West Coast, was a conscious decision to support U.S. automakers. “I really wanted to buy American,” he says. “Then I thought about my favorite car. Of course the dream car was the Mustang and it was the 50th year, and I said, ‘Got to have it.’ It’s all-American, and today I think we need to focus on that a little bit right now. Not that I’m an isolationist—I’m not. But sometimes you have to celebrate your neighborhood, and the United States is my neighborhood.
“I just really wanted that 50th year, and I’ve always been a fan of the ‘65 and the ‘64. I wanted to get something that had an everyday reliability while having some style and some classic history, and the Mustang fit the bill.”
Guttenberg’s first American car was Chrysler New Yorker, but this is still his first Mustang. “It drives so well, has such a sleek look,” he says. “They really upped their game, and I think it’s in such great shape right now. I like the American hood. It’s got a big front, a big chest and when you drive it, you’re looking over the car to the road and I think it gives you a perspective that you’re in an American vehicle. The Europeans, the Germans—you don’t get that feeling while driving it that you’re in something that has national pride. I’d say maybe something patriotic about it.”
There isn’t anything Guttenberg dislikes about the Mustang. “It has a really cool color, it’s not called ‘Army green,’ but it’s a cross between gray and green,” he says. “I love it. It’s just such a great car, and when you have the top down, it just is such a dream. The convertible top works so well. They’ve designed it so perfectly. Easy on, easy off.”
Guttenberg’s new Kia Sorrento was also a purchase he didn’t take lightly. This purchase was about supporting the best product and not about brands or needing a certain badge one can afford to drive in life.
2017 Kia Sorrento
Guttenberg wanted an SUV and test drove all the high-end ones, but this Kia stood out as the clear winner. “I love the Kia company. I just got it,” he says. “I really think that Kia and Hyundai have become the new standard in foreign economical cars. I was told that the designer from Audi was hired by Kia and Hyundai, and they just stepped it up to an incredible level.” (Editor’s note: He’s talking about Peter Schreyer)
He feels the handling on it is terrific, as are many other things. “The safety is five-star, the warranty of course is 10 years, 100,000 miles,” he says. “The interior is stupendous, much better than the SUVs that I test drove. Some of the really big names disappointed me.”
Guttenberg rates the Kia 8.5 out of 10. “Only not a 10 because the money but because of what it costs to up the game,” he says. “If it cost more, it would have been a 10. It could definitely compete with any of the big guys. It’s funny, we were driving the other day next to a German SUV, and our car looked exactly same and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s pretty funny.”
He says that after test driving high-end SUVs, he felt some of the companies were starting to rest on their laurels. “Sometimes when you’re very successful, you start to slack back because you don’t need to practice seven days a week, you take three days off because you’re the best in the world,” Guttenberg says.
Guttenberg noticed the leather wasn’t really leather in some SUVs. “They can up the price and still have the symbol on the front or the back, which, if that makes you go, you’ve got to wear a symbol on your jacket so you can walk into somewhere and say, ‘Hey, I’m in your club,’” he says. “That’s what a lot of people need. I don’t need that.”
Guttenberg liked an SUV by Acura, which came close in his mind. But in the end, the KIA was the best one. “I don’t need two pounds of bologna in a one-pound bag,” he says. “I need an SUV to get me places and drive great, and I’ve got to feel good about it. I don’t wear my diamond tennis bracelet all the time. Sometimes I just want my little string bracelet that my niece made me. And it’s the same thing. It looks great, feels great, and it gives me the same sort of high when I look at it. In a car, I need to feel really good about what I’m driving.”
He didn’t have any snobbish notions of needing a certain badge to show off. “Snob is the first step of going to the basement. I don’t want to go to the basemement,” he says. “Range, Land [Rover], Cadillac, I drove them all. And they’re all fine cars, I just found Kia to be the top of the game. They just are. They try harder, they’re smarter. They’ve got no blind spots, it drives great. If you need that ‘Members Only’ label on your car, then, that’s what you need. If you’re confident, you like who you are, then you don’t need that label. You know who you are.”
This purchase wasn’t a money issue either for him. “I’m penurious because I think it’s responsible to be smart about money. But, luckily we can buy any car we want,” he says.
Going to a car show also helped him with ideas on what cars to try. “What happened was, we live in New York, and we went to the Javits Center to the auto show,” he says. “I looked at everything there. I really got a good idea, and then I went and test drove everything. I like to go to car shows. I go to dog shows. When I buy something I always go where the best is and then get an idea. I go to jewelry shows. I love to go to home and garden shows. I go to boat shows. The great thing is, in one building you see everything.”
Although New York City might not be the best place for driving an SUV at times, Guttenberg is a former cabbie. “Best place to learn how to drive is New York City,” he says. “You learn either you burn out and you become a raving maniac in New York City, or you learn patience, tolerance, and waiting for your moment.”
Guttenberg gets Yoda-esque on driving in New York, quoting John Wooden: “Don’t hurry, but be quick.” He says that when he’s in New York, he doesn’t hurry, and he is quick. “So when I’m driving and I see an opening, I take it right away,” he says. “Any car is good in New York City streets. You’ve just got to be a good driver, and you’ve got to be patiently aggressive.”
Car he learned to drive in
Guttenberg learned to drive in his dad’s 1973 Chrysler New Yorker. Although he grew up in North Massapequa on New York’s Long Island, his parents taught him to drive mostly in Syosset in an industrial park. His dad took him there on Sundays.
“My dad’s a U.S. Army ranger, so everything was by the book,” he says. “He taught me about the speed limit, he taught me about a full stop, taught me how to parallel park correctly, taught me how to make three point turns, and he taught me not to rush. When I did something wrong, in my opinion, he was hard to deal with, but he wasn’t. When I did the wrong thing, he yelled at me and told me to do the right thing. It was easy.”
His dad gave him the New Yorker to drive senior year in high school, where the car was just a utilitarian vehicle to get to class. “In 1976 nothing really happened in cars,” he says. “Only for the cool guys who were shaving and had full beards and looked like they were 35 in their senior year high school did anything happen in any car. Nothing happened in my car. And I think that’s really healthy. I tried my best to have something happen in the car, but nothing ever happened, and I’m really glad.”
Guttenberg’s car was named Murray, and one eventful thing did happen in the car. “I’ll never forget, one time we went to Farrell’s ice scream parlor where I later on became a waiter, and a friend of mine threw up in it,” he recounts. “After we went to the ice cream parlor, he got in the car, and he threw up all over the car. And he was pretty belligerent about it. He got out and when he went into his house, I took out all the floor mats where he threw up and washed them out in his pool as retribution.”
When Guttenberg went to college, his dad sold the New Yorker to a business partner’s son, who that winter ended up totaling the car.
First car bought
Three days after graduating high school, in June of 1976, Guttenberg moved to California to become an actor. He bought a used, manual 1970 Toyota for $1,500, and having only driven an automatic, Guttenberg taught himself from a book borrowed from the library.
“My godfather gave me a car for a year to drive, and about six months later I bought the Toyota,” he says. “I thought it was unfair for me to keep driving it. It was a really odd car, not a Nova but a weird name starting with a ‘P.’ But I gave it back, and I got this Toyota, which was a great car.”
Guttenberg had money for the Toyota from being a waiter at a California ice cream shop. He relied on the Toyota to get get him to auditions.
“That car. I was just remembering yesterday how many times I ran out of gas on the 405 freeway,” he says. “Young actor, trying to save my pennies and not fill-up until I had to fill-up, and several times I ran out of gas with that sucker and was walking on the 405 toward an exit looking for help.”
When he quit Hollywood a year later to go back to college at Albany State University, Guttenberg gave it to his little sister. “I was really successful my first year, but I just couldn’t live with the Hollywood culture, and I didn’t make any friendships,” he says. “I just wanted to quit, so I did.”
Later, in the height of the 1980s during his Police Academy years, Guttenberg also had two very different drivers—a Toyota Corolla and a Ferrari 308, though the Ferrari didn’t get out onto the streets much. It was his splurge car. “I made more movies than anybody else in the ’80s,” he says. “The Ferrari 308—I just liked it. I had the Ferrari in the garage.”
Favorite road trip
“My favorite road trip was with my friend Larry Richman in his Porsche 928 from Los Angeles to Alta, Utah,” Guttenberg says.
The two drove 140 mph for 500 miles. “Culminating in a 20-mile race with a highway patrolman,” Guttenberg says. “The patrolman lost and didn’t ticket us. We took him to dinner, and he gave us a case of Stella Belgium beer.”
The last episode this season for HBO’s Ballers ends Sunday Sept. 24.