Quick Stats: Ralph Macchio, actor, Cobra Kai
Daily Driver: 2016 BMW 328i (Ralph’s rating: 9 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: California coast
Car he learned to drive in: 1971 Mercury Montego
First car bought: 1980 Mazda 626
Ralph Macchio may have said no to revisiting The Karate Kid for three decades, but he’s had a daily reminder to “wax on, wax off” with the iconic 1947 Ford sitting in his garage. In the new YouTube Red original series Cobra Kai, fans can see if the old Ford that helped his character prepare to beat his nemesis years ago will make a cameo.
For those who’ve ever wondered what happened to Daniel LaRusso after that crane kick to Johnny Lawrence’s face, the show picks up more than 30 years later with LaRusso now a successful car dealer.
As for the Ford, Macchio tells Motor Trend that “it needs a little bit of engine work, but it looks fantastic.”
“I asked if I could buy the car,” he says. “I didn’t hear from anyone until the second Karate Kid sequel came out. My doorbell rang on the day that movie came out, and there was a flatbed in front of my house in New York with the car on it. They gifted it to me from the studio, and it was awesome.”
Although Macchio hasn’t driven the Ford in decades, he rates it a perfect 10 for what it means to him. “It’s a 10 because it’s one of the most famous cars in movies, certainly the most famous car in a movie I was in,” he says. “People ask me about it all the time. I did use it recently for a charity event where people got to donate to take pictures with the car, for prostate cancer awareness.”
The car has had a paint job since the movie. “[It’s] more of the traditional yellow that Ford painted the car back in the day,” he says.
When Macchio first got the car, he did drive it a little. “As in the case of almost every movie car, they all look great on screen, but they’re problematic to work,” he says with a laugh. “It purred like a kitten on camera, but not always off camera. Once I got it, I had to get it registered in New York because that’s where I live. It’d never top more than 45 mph. I think it probably needed some TLC. But that was a trip. When I would drive that car around, people would see me in the car, they’d feel like out of body. It was just insane.”
After a while, Macchio stopped driving the Ford. “I did not use the car as much, as having possession of the car just seemed like such a cool thing,” he says. “I received the car at a point in my life where I was traveling more and it wound up … more a museum piece that needed to be dusted off, and that’s what I’m doing now and in conjunction of the release of this series.”
Although it’s not been driven in decades, Macchio has had mechanics look at the Ford in recent years. “They say it’s all in shape,” he says. “It’s fairly simple. The wheelwells and the brakes are generally fine, and it was always covered; it was never out in the weather. The mechanics, they’re dying to get their hands on the car to get it up and running, so I’m just looking at my options to do that the right way, whether I want to film that, whether I just want to have someone do it.”
2016 BMW 328i
Macchio’s daily driver is his 2016 BMW 328i, which he rates a 9 out of 10. “The thing I like so much about that car is the responsiveness, the steering and the braking system,” he says. “It’s more of a driver’s car than a passenger’s car because it’s a little on the smaller side, sporty-like. In New York winters I love the ability to feel the road and get out of a jam because it’s so responsive in its steering, and I think it’s one of the best braking systems I’ve ever experienced.”
The ride, however, could be a bit softer. Macchio had a Mercedes with a softer ride before but says that “right now I like the responsiveness” of the BMW.
There is one thing Macchio wished BMW designed a bit differently. The button to unlock the four doors from the driver’s seat is at the top of the dash instead of on the doors. “So sometimes you get out of the car and you realize you didn’t open the back door for someone else to get out,” he says. “It was not enough for me not to get the car, but it’s enough for me to say, ‘Shouldn’t this be on the door?’”
Macchio used to have a complaint about the navigation system, noting that the feature is often part of a larger and more expensive options package. But once phone screens got larger, he just mounted his phone in the car and uses that for navigation, noting that because it’s connected through Bluetooth, he hears it well.
This is his third BMW, after owning a Mercedes-Benz E320 about 18 years ago. He appreciates that BMW includes complimentary scheduled maintenance. “The lease deals BMW had were the best with everything inclusive, [including] service. You’re paying for the service anyway, but they … create an attractive package,” he says.
“In a TV show I just finished, I was driving an Audi A7, and I was like, ‘You know, maybe I’ll look at this one next time if I can afford it,’” he adds.
Car he learned to drive in
The car Macchio learned to drive in was a burnt-orange 1971 Mercury Montego, on the suburban streets near his Long Island home.
Macchio wishes he had some images of himself on his first attempt at parallel parking. “That’s the one thing you’re worried you’re not going to do OK,” he says. “Are you going to hit the curb, are you going to scrape the car in front of you as you try to curl in? It’s such a daunting thing. Now I do it so easily [and] these cars park themselves.”
Although Macchio’s dad and one or two cousins taught him to drive, he also took driver’s ed in high school. He points out he failed the first time, “but not by much I don’t think,” he says, laughing. “And you get it in the mail. They don’t just tell you, [as they do today]. It was always run to the mailbox every day, like waiting to hear whether you’ve been accepted to a certain college or not.”
Macchio says his dad bought the Mercury in anticipation of Macchio needing a car. But it ended up being “sort of” his high school car.
“I remember I got my license, and the first thing he did was say, ‘You’re not ready to drive yet,’” he says. “So it took a while before he allowed me to have the keys. Which is something I do with my kids, as well. It’s just an instinct when you think your kids are ready to get behind the wheel. It’s a big transition in life when your kid even just goes down to the store to get a loaf of bread; you just can’t wait till they’re back safe.”
First car bought
After landing in Los Angeles and getting cast in Eight is Enough, Macchio bought a manual-transmission 1980 Mazda 626.
“I needed a car right away because I relocated, I was on the show in 10 seconds, and we found an apartment,” he says. “We went to a car dealership, walked in, and looked around for what was ready to go … that I liked. I bought it for $9,000.88. I don’t know why I remember, I guess because I remember taking my pennies and quarters and making the 88 cents. We paid it cash.”
He doesn’t recall why he wanted a manual transmission back then. “It was the furthest thing from a muscle car that you could imagine, but I figured I was in California and it’d be cool to have a stick shift,” he says. “It was fun to drive until I got up some of the steeper hills in the canyons. Then I wished I didn’t have a stick when I would roll back 15 feet just to go forward. I felt I was a little in over my head. It was fun, man. I just started working as a young actor, and there I was in California driving this little modest car and learning how to get from the San Fernando Valley down to MGM studios.”
That’s the car Macchio used to drive onto the movie lots with when he first started. It eventually made its way across the country in 1984, after he filmed Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders.
“It stuck around for a long while till the transmission just went. I would put it into gear, and it just got tired. At $9,000.88, it gave me everything it could,” he says.
One memory he has with his Mazda was the time he drove it in Los Angeles to his first Bruce Springsteen concert, which he attended with some crew members from Eight is Enough.
“It was the River tour, and so much of the music [was connected to] cars and motors,” he says. “I remember driving back and playing these songs in my head and thinking I was that Jersey guy, whether it’s ‘Born to Run’ or ‘Thunder Road’ or ‘Racing in the Streets,’ and driving on the freeway back to my little rental apartment. And … for the moment as I was driving, I was in the coolest muscle New Jersey car ever. But once I stepped out of my little daydream, I looked back at this little silver-blue modest 626, and it brought me back to the reality of what I was really driving.”
Favorite road trip
“Even though … I love the East Coast and going up even to Boston and certainly up to upstate New York, the road trip that I remember the most, my wife and I were just married. We were out in California, and we took a ride up to Mendocino from Los Angeles. It is beautiful, the California coast.
“This was in the 1980s,” he continues. “I remember pulling over and being awestruck [at the scenery]. Being from the East Coast, it’s a totally different coastline.”
It goes down as his favorite road trip because Macchio had never done that before.
“I’d never driven that long; I probably haven’t driven that long since,” he says. “I’m not the guy who can get in the car and just go 11 hours and say, ‘Boy that just felt like 10 minutes.’ “Especially now, my back starts bothering me, my hamstring gets tight, I have to get out, walk a little bit. There are those people, it’s like runners, marathoners, they just get into the zone.”
These days, Macchio says, he will drive the four hours it takes to get to Boston, where his son is in college. He also likes to occasionally visit Napa and drive up to San Francisco.
Cobra Kai on YouTube Red
Cobra Kai is the name of the nemesis dojo from Karate Kid, and the YouTube series takes place 34 years later. People have always wanted to know what happened to Macchio’s character.
“The fans always did,” he says. “I never did. I said no for 30 years, [but] these writers and creators came up with such a smart angle. [They] created the next generation of his whole high school world that is a big part of the show, and there’s the rivalry between the Daniel LaRusso character and Johnny Lawrence, who suffered the great crane kick to the face, and now 30 years later has not let go of it. And it’s really kind of humorous, but it’s got a lot of heart, and Miyagi is peppered throughout the Daniel LaRusso life even though he is no longer here. There are elements of the pop culture that the fans are going to love but also a relevant and subversive look at bullying in 2018 as opposed to what it was in 1984. It’s really smart and entertaining, and it should be a fun ride.”
There are 10 episodes to binge watch, and the first two episodes are free. In addition to revisiting this character he’s most known for, Macchio has also been busy on other shows, such as Kevin Can Wait, as well as HBO’s The Deuce.
“Very cool show,” Macchio says of The Deuce. “I did five episodes last year. I just started Season 2, so it’s nice to have a gritty drama like The Deuce on HBO and do a sitcom with Kevin James and then now have Cobra Kai as a big mainstream piece of pop culture that’s coming back.”
Macchio became so well known from The Karate Kid that fans will do the “wax on, wax off” gesture or talk about the movies when they see him.
“You get that all the time,” he says. If I go to a sporting event and they show a clip, people jump out of their seats. It’s like a movie that has become part of everyone’s childhood. It’s part of the American lexicon. It’s in the dictionary practically. It’s interesting with this Cobra Kai show, it was so much about Cobra Kai and ‘sweep the leg,’ and ‘get him a body bag,’ and all these lines from the movie that have become pop culture that people know. You could say this stuff, or someone will do the crane pose of that kick, and it’s known around the world. It’s crazy.”
Although the classic Ford has been sitting in Macchio’s garage for 30 years, he has plans for it, provided there’s a Season 2 of Cobra Kai.
“When we have Season 2 of the show, I think it should make an appearance,” Macchio says. “Maybe in time, if this show takes off as we expect and we do season 3, 4, and 5, [the car could make] appearances all around the country. It can become like a DeLorean in Back to the Future. Who knows?”
Cobra Kai is now available to stream on YouTube Red.