Dennis Gage on Two Wheels
True confessions of TV’s top car guy
Ride British, drink stout: Gage is a fan of new Triumphs, counting a 1998 Trophy as part of his growing collection.
Photos by Neale Bayly
Standing five foot ten and weighing 150 pounds dripping wet, Dennis Gage, the handlebar- mustachioed host of Speed TV’s My Classic Car, is probably the most unlikely television star you’ll ever meet. Yet for the past 10 years, he’s been lighting the old car world on fire with his passionate discourse on classic cars and the classic car scene. But these days, classic bikes are what really “move” Gage.
Gage’s first motorized interests centered on motorcycles, not cars. He got his first bike, a step-through 50cc Honda Cub, at age 12. He paid all of 90 bucks for it, and put it through hell, bounding through the fields surrounding the family farm in Illinois. “It was a clutchless three-speed, but I found that if you revved the engine holding the shift lever down, it wouldn’t engage until you let back up, and you could pop a hell of a wheelie,” Gage says. “Eventually it stopped shifting. I don’t know why.”
The hapless Cub was followed at age 14 by a Montessa 250 dirt bike (“what a piece of crap that thing was,” Gage says), after which Gage left bikes behind for cars. At 15 he bought his first car, a 1959 Ford Thunderbird. He paid $100 for it, and, he says, learned a valuable lesson: “Never buy a car at dusk. I woke up in the morning and there was this pink car out there. Flamingo Pink. So I’m 15, a farm boy, with a pink T-Bird.”
That pink T-Bird set off a love affair with cars, and it would be another 15 years before Gage would reunite himself with motorcycles. In the interim he went to college, worked as a handyman, played pedal-steel guitar with a successful country-rock band (Mad Foot), got his Ph.D. in chemistry, worked for Procter & Gamble in research and product development, and, in 1992, moved on to head up product development for nutrition giant Mead Johnson in Evansville, Ind.
It was at Mead Johnson that two important things happened: First, Gage rekindled his interest in bikes, buying a 1981 BMW R100RS (which he still has, see sidebar, next page), and second, he met Brad Kimmel, who, although Gage didn’t know it at the time, was his partner-to-be in My Classic Car.
The set up
The pair met in 1994 when Gage, on a lark, took a bit part in a television commercial Kimmel was producing. Walking to their cars after the shoot, Kimmel told Gage how he wanted to create a show about America’s love affair with the automobile, and asked Gage if he was into classic cars. Kimmel needed a character conversant in car, and Gage fit the bill.
In February of 1995, with their interest in the concept building, Gage took a crew to interview a friend who owned a Shelby Mustang. “It was exactly what I do now,” Gage says. The pair filmed a pilot for their hoped-for series, airing it on two local television stations. Almost as an afterthought, they flashed one station’s 800 number on the screen; the phones at the station lit up, and after 300 calls they had to shut the line down.
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