2011 Ford Mustang GTEnlarge Photo
2011 Ford Mustang GTEnlarge Photo
Robert Matthew Van Winkle is a busy guy: world traveler, restorer of vintage cars, avid motocross rider. And in his spare time, he grabs a microphone and performs under his stage name, Vanilla Ice.
Love him or hate him, Rob's smash hit, "Ice Ice Baby", defined a moment in pop music history. If you were around, you know it was inescapable: booming from cars, bubbling out of malls, escaping from the foam headsets of Sony Walkmans. It marked the emergence of hip hop as a style for the mainstream -- in fact, everyone from Eminem to the Black Eyed Peas owes a portion of their popularity to Rob's radio rap. But most importantly for car enthusiasts, "Ice Ice Baby" immortalized one of the baddest cars of the late 20th century: the Ford Mustang 5.0.
Since Ford is ramping up to relaunch the 5.0, we thought now was as good a time as any to catch up with Mr. Van Winkle and, as Fergie would say, reminisce on days when he had a mustang. Here's what we learned.
The origins of Rob's gearhead tendencies
Rob's father was a car salesman, and a damn good one. "He was always coming home with demo cars. He was a top salesman, so he was able to get pretty much anything he wanted." But dad wasn't just a big roller, he was a tinkerer, too. He passed on the futzing gene to Rob, who's been a grease monkey and gadget-guy all his life.
The origins of the "5.0" lyric
Rob grew up in Houston and southern Florida, so the guy spent a lot of time outdoors. He whiled away some of those hours doing normal kid stuff, but when he hit driving age, Rob could more often be found behind a steering wheel, racing friends and strangers. Rob had worked himself up to the legendary Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z 5.7, which was an awesome car, but not quite awesome enough: "I'd tricked it out with a Corvette motor, and I could smoke just about anything on the road. Well, anything but the 5.0." Rob's need for speed -- paired with his father's car connections -- helped put him in a Mustang 5.0, which he proceeded to accessorize in the style of the day: said Rob, "It was basically an airbox for my 15-inch subwoofers." Then we digressed briefly on the fashions of the late 80s, including Z-Cavaricci pants. (That portion of the interview has been redacted to prevent our own self-incrimination.)
His new, green eating habits
For the past three years, Rob has been vegetarian. We asked if this change was rooted in some new-found, eco-friendly philosophy, but as much as he'd love to say that, his broccoli lifestyle is actually the result of health concerns: "I have high cholesterol, it's hereditary. When my doctor told me, I decided to change my diet rather than take drugs to lower it. And it's worked".
Given that pragmatism, we doubted that Rob's green ways at the dinner table would change his love of big rides -- and we were right: "I wish I could say that I'm into green cars and stuff. I know a lot of people are going that way. But I love my old cars too much. One of my favorites is a 64 Cadillac they used in the film 48 Hours. The car gets a whole four miles to the gallon. Of course, I checked the price of gas in 1964, and it was only about 30 cents a gallon, so I guess filling up wasn't such a big deal."
His current set of wheels
Before Rob cut out -- we were both on iPhones, so a dropped call was inevitable -- we felt obligated to fire off three more questions: What do you roll in now? Is it a ragtop? Does your hair still blow? Rob was kind enough to laugh: "Man, I wish I still had that 5.0. But I'm not doing too bad: these days, I'm in a 2007 Rolls Royce Phantom. And yeah, the hair still blows."
As proof of that last bit, here's a video of Rob in action, making an appearance alongside the British twins known as Jedward (whose hair is too stiff to blow) in their UK chart-topping cover of "Ice Ice Baby". Haters can mute the volume and focus their attention on the 'stang in the back: