“More than half my life I’ve been with Iron Maiden. It’s part of my sinew.”
Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain isn’t one of those rockstars who has an airplane hangar on his property loaded wall to wall with expensive cars. Even after he’d more than made his bones as a celebrity musician, he continued to drive pre-owned cars for most of his career. That all changed with the purchase of his customized Jaguar. Always a fan of the brand but never quite willing to commit to one, McBrain finally bit the bullet in 2012 when the opportunity arose to co-design an XKR-S. Who can turn down a chance like that?
Pots and Pans
Born June 5, 1952 in Hackney, London, McBrain fell in love with the drums while watching The Dave Brubeck Quartet performing on television. The energetic jazz drums of Joe Morello inspired the young rocker to start banging on pots and pans with wooden spoons and whatever else he could get his hands off. At one point he even started banging on the family’s gas cooker using a pair of kitchen knives for sticks. Before long it became clear that he had to have a real drum kit if he wanted to keep his fingers, so mom and dad invested in a simple set with a snare, tom-tom, cymbal and two sticks. By the age of fourteen, McBrain was already playing at local weddings around London.
Nicko was eager to start working as a drummer right away, but ultimately conceded to his parents’ urging to attend Southgate Technical College just to make sure that he had a backup plan. He never needed that backup plan. Right away McBrain was getting work playing in pubs with bands around town, performing with cover bands, and taking session work, filling in drums for various acts at the studio.
Many people forget that Nicko McBrain was not, in fact, the original drummer for Iron Maiden. Or even the second. The band was founded in 1975, and McBrain did not begin playing for the group until 1982. Oftentimes a band’s fans are hesitant to accept lineup changes, but for almost forty years, McBrain has been the backbone of the group, delivering those heavy, energetic drums that Maiden-lovers have come to expect. McBrain’s signature move may be the back-hand snare hit, using the heavy end of the stick to create a more explosive pop as he strikes the drum.
Nicko would go on to be one of the most consistent members of the band, sticking with the group through multiple lineup changes in the 1990s. Being a late addition to the group, McBrain had the opportunity to become an Iron Maiden fan before he became a member, and to this day plays with his own Iron Maiden cover band, McBrain Damage, in between recording sessions and tours with Iron Maiden proper.
Nicko has always had an affection for Jaguar, but his focus was on his work. If he wanted to treat himself he was more likely to buy a new set of Paiste cymbals and Remo drumheads than a slick sports car. Once Jaguar discovered that McBrain was a big fan of the carmaker, however, they couldn’t resist the temptation to reach out to the drummer to collaborate on a one-of-a-kind auto.
Nicko’s custom-built Jaguar is based on the XKR-S, a 200-unit-run not sold outside of Europe. Built in 2008 for the 2009 season, the car was praised for its incredible aerodynamics and its potent 4.2 liter V8 engine. Nicko’s Jaguar is not your regular custom job. He didn’t just get embroidered seats or a unique paintjob. Rather, the car was almost rebuilt from the ground up, with Jaguar consulting with McBrain every step of the way.
That’s not to say that it isn’t decked out with an Iron Maiden theme, of course. All text featured on the car is written in the classic Iron Maiden font, and the skull-embroidered seats just scream “METAL.”
This wouldn’t be the last time Jaguar produced a McBrain-customized car, however. In 2018, Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works showed off a Jaguar XJ Series III known as the “Greatest Hits” edition, a clever reference to the XJ’s status as a classic Jaguar, greatest hits albums, and the heavys trikes of McBrain’s explosive drumwork.
Many rock stars may be more than happy to simply pick a fancy new sports car off the lot, or take a Ferrari or a Lamborghini to a customizer to have a few personalized features added. For Nicko McBrain, nothing would do but a fully-customized, top-to-bottom ride from his favorite carmaker.
“I’ve always been the comedian of the band, the life and soul. But when I have an off day, yeah, I’m the moany one.”