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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Seattle’s famous cars/owners: A mostly sordid history

The Emerald city has no shortage of celebrities. Some are human, others are vehicles. A few blur the line beyond comprehension. Below you’ll find a brief history of such local flavor, most of which do not have happy endings. To quote Bill Cosby, “If you’re not careful, you might learn something.” 


Seattle’s most savage dunker was glorified at the peak of his career for rattling backboards alongside the likes of Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf. During the good times, the Kemper owned as many pimped out rides as the next NBA big man. After leaving the league in 2003 and fathering at least seven children, he was arrested on April 4, 2005 in Shoreline Washington for rolling dirty. 

Along with another man, police found Kemp with cocaine, about 60 grams of marijuana and a semiautomatic pistol (1). The Seattle Times caught up with Kemp several months later as he prepared for a triumphant return to the NBA:

“HOUSTON — Shawn Kemp is standing next to his car, a Dodge Magnum RT with Oregon plates and 24-inch chrome rims and windows tinted black. He's strapping 25-pound weights on each ankle. Dressed head-to-toe in swooshes — Jordan socks, Nike Shox and red and white shorts — he shoves two American flags into the ground at George Bush Park.

His hill awaits. But why the flags?

"This is the American dream,'' Kemp says.” (2)

Kemp never made it back to the NBA. He did manage to live the America dream for a short while. His taste in automobiles is evidence enough of that. 


Ironically enough, the Northwest rock icon took his life in 1994, but was terrified of getting into a car accident prior to the suicide. The best sources I can gather on the Internet agree that Mr. Cobain’s grungy car of choice was a late 70’s Volvo. He puttered about Seattle in it at agonizingly slow speeds to avoid peril. Supposedly he was informed Volvo’s were the safest cars a person could buy. 

If only Volvo could protect against heroine, shotguns and Courtney Love.. 


The former mayor of Seattle was touted for a time as being the country’s “greenest” mayor for his commitment to proliferating environmental progressiveness in the city. Much like Seattle’s sports teams, the glory soon turned to resentment, and eventually failure. From the Seattle Times:

“GRABBING THE mantle of "environmental leader" always comes at a price. Nickels faced charges of hypocrisy just like Al Gore did. Though his personal car is a Toyota Camry, he took heat for being driven around in a gas-guzzling city Cadillac. By the end of his term he rode in a city-owned Toyota hybrid.” (3)

A poll of likely Seattle voters in late 2008 showed that 31% approved of Nickel’s performance while 57% disapproved. The numbers didn’t get much better by August 2009 and he was defeated in the primary election for his third term as mayor.(4) 

Maybe “city” Cadillac’s are just more of a Bellevue thing. 


By the time city officials realized their newly-installed trolley line carried a potentially damaging acronym, opponents of the controversial project at Kapow! Coffee house had already begun distributing T-shirts that read “Ride the SLUT.” From the Seattle PI:

"We're welcoming the SLUT into the neighborhood," said Jerry Johnson, 29, a part-time barista. Johnson said the T-shirts were done just for fun, but they seem to have tapped into something: The first 100 sold out in days and now orders for the next 100 are under way.”

"There was a meeting with representatives from the city several years ago," Johnson recalled. "They asked us what we could do for you. Most people raised their hands and said 'affordable housing,' " he said.”Then the people from the city huddled together -- 'whisper, whisper, whisper,' -- and they said, 'How about a trolley?' 

Officially, the trolley is now dubbed a streetcar, making it the South Lake Union Streetcar to avoid rueful chuckles from the townsfolk. But as the PI acknowledged:

“..the trolley name already has caught on, and in the old Cascade neighborhood in South Lake Union, they're waiting for the SLUT.” (5)


From 1980 to early 2005, any motorist passing by Lincoln Towing yard at Fairview Avenue North and Mercer Street would be hard-pressed not to notice the iconic Lincoln Toe Truck. 

Crafted from a broken-down VW bus, the pink vehicle sported giant toes bolted atop its cab with the big toe reaching nearly 11-1/2 feet into the air. After 25 years of mostly stationary service, visible to millions of motorists, the beloved pink oddity led a parade from Seattle Center to the Museum of History & Industry where it currently resides. (6) 

And there you have it, a happy little jewel at the end of a long dark list of regional automotive lore. Aficionados of the subject will note that the Fremont troll (crafted out of a VW Beetle) was not included here. To that I say, “Google it;” these blogs can only be so long and fewer people know about Shawn Kemp’s Dodge Magnum RT. Until next time, keep on commuting Seattle. 



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