"You've got to train for life. Well, anyway, the best thing I've ever done in my whole life and the thing that's pleased me the most is my Corvettes."-Jack LaLanne with VETTE (December 2006)
Jack LaLanne is America's oldest and most loved fitness expert. He opened the first modern health spa in America in 1936 and brought physical fitness to national TV in 1951. His inventions include the first weight pulley machines using cables, the first weight selectors, and the first leg-extension machine. He was the first fitness trainer to have women work with weights, and he encouraged the disabled and elderly to exercise for their own health. But there's something you probably don't know about Jack LaLanne.
His passion has always been fast cars-the faster, the better. In-between his fitness routines and motivational talks across the United States, Jack gets behind the wheel of his fourth Corvette, an '05 coupe. Yes, you read that right: Jack LaLanne, at 92 years young, is the proud owner of America's premier 400hp supercar. Figuring he was the oldest Corvette-owning celebrity alive, we asked him for an interview. Somewhat surprisingly, he agreed.
You see, Jack LaLanne is a top-rated celebrity. If you're old enough to remember black-and-white TV, you likely saw him every week on The Jack LaLanne Show. Even through the '80s, Jack was often seen with his famous smile, friendly tone, and inspiring personality, getting people off their couches and onto their living room floors for sit-ups, push-ups, and leg lunges.
More recently, Jack has promoted longevity with infomercials for his Jack LaLanne Power Juicer. He's an inventor, a seminar speaker, and a hero to many. He spoke with us last December from his company's office in Morro Bay, California.
"We've never been busier," Jack told us, describing his life with his wife and partner of 54 years, Elaine. "We've never been more successful in our lives than we are today. Everybody wants my lecture seminars, and man, we go, go, go. We're hardly ever home."
When Jack is home, he enjoys driving and posing for photographs with his C6. The car is finished in Magnetic Red Metallic over Ebony leather and is equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission. Jack tells us he enjoys manually shifting through the gears one redline visit after another. You see, he isn't a newcomer to performance. He loves how the Corvette accelerates, corners, steers, and generally outperforms every other car he's ever owned.
We started the interview this way:
VETTE Magazine: Mr. LaLanne?
Jack LaLanne: Mr. LaLanne couldn't make it. Jack came instead.
VM: What may we ask you?
JL: Anything. My life's an open book.
So we began asking Jack about his love affair with the Corvette. He told us it goes all the way back to 1953 and the car's introduction. He's owned four Vettes since, including a '53 roadster, a '97 LS1 coupe, and his current LS2 '05 coupe. Jack made sure we understood that the Corvette has always been a part of his life.
"I love the Corvette. I had the first one that ever came out. I think it was a '53. The first one. And man, it was something."
We had to calculate how long ago that was: 54 years. That sounds like a long time until one realizes Jack has been driving for 80 years. To us, that's a serious accomplishment. To Jack, it was another day of living with his cardinal rule: "If I can't please Jack LaLanne, then I'm a failure. What the hell are you going to be successful [at] if you can't please yourself?"
By 1953, Jack LaLanne had already been on TV for two years, bringing exercise into American homes. He drove his Corvette every day to the studio where his show was produced. "Oh, yeah, wherever I went, it went with me. Well, you know the people were talking about it, and I liked the looks of it. It was a sporty car," Jack told us.
We asked him what people thought of the '53 Corvette at the time. After all, it's easy today-five model-generations later-to take the very first Corvette for granted. To many, the car was merely a part of history. To Jack, it marked a proud moment in his career. "Well, it was a conversation piece," he told us. "You know, they were so different."
But alterity wasn't the early Vette's only defining trait. "The Corvette's always had a great name. Say 'Corvette' and everybody thinks of something really different and really fast and sporty."
We saw instantly the connection between Jack LaLanne and the Corvette. Both have the best physiques in the business. Both are household names. Both outperform the competition-not that there is any. With that in mind, we asked Jack if he preferred Corvettes for their well-sculpted bodies or their track-honed performance. "Oh, it's both," he laughed. "I like the way they look. They're different. You know, how many cars out there look like Corvettes?"
"Not too many," we agreed.Jack continued talking, "You want something nobody else has. You don't want an old look-alike thing, and that's why Corvettes have the reputation of being one of the fastest cars. For the money, honey, how can you beat a Corvette?"
We weren't going to argue with Jack LaLanne. After all, at 92, he could whip the VETTE editorial staff with both hands tied behind his back. We read Jack's biography. This is a man who set a world record of 1,033 push-ups in 23 minutes and later "commemorated the 'Spirit of '76' by swimming 1 mile in Long Beach Harbor, handcuffed, shackled, and towing 13 boats (representing the 13 original colonies) containing 76 people."
Jack has had every car imaginable, and he told us why the Corvette is still the best vehicle ever made. "You buy a Lamborghini or a Ferrari-one of those cars, they'll cost a couple hundred thousand [dollars], and they don't do much better than a Corvette. I've always had good cars, and a Corvette is one of the [best] cars I've had. I've had Lamborghinis, I've had Ferraris, I've had Stutz Blackhawks. You name it, I've had them. What did I spend on my Vette? Sixty grand? For the money, Corvette is tops."
We asked Jack what kind of exotic steel-skinned beauties he dreamed about well before the Corvette was envisioned as well as the earliest automobiles he could recall. "I've always dreamed about sports cars. Always . . . something sporty, something different. The first car I had was a Model T. You pushed it up the hill with your feet. Yeah, you know, you had to crank the thing and all that crap. I'll never forget getting in it. And then we had a '24 Chevrolet. I'll never forget that. The damn car stalled. We were taking a trip with my family and my brother told me-I was just a kid-told me to go out and crank it. So I cranked the damn thing, and it kicked and broke my arm."
Jack has recently moved up to a C6 from his '97 C5, and we had to know what he thought about the Corvette's newest generation of technology. He answered, "How can they improve on it? The way it handles, the way it drives, the acceleration it has-I had it 160 miles per hour on the little road that goes in front of our house here [laughter]."
A hundred and sixty miles per hour? Who's going to tell Jack LaLanne it's time to slow down? Not us.
Jack still lives the life he preaches. "I work out two hours a day, seven days a week-an hour-and-a-half of weights, another half-hour in the pool. And I change my program every 30 days to do something different. You know, because you get bored doing the same thing every day. Your body doesn't respond. You get bored. Your muscles know nothing. It's your brain, right? Exercise is something you've got to do the rest of your life. It's a lifestyle. I tell people, dying's easy. Living's a pain in the neck. You've got to work at it."
Jack keeps his youthful stamina going with body workouts and working out his Corvette. To him, it is the ultimate fun. He told us, "The Corvette is the little boy in me. You know, it's like a toy. I just love it."
Our conversation eventually turned to the subject of Jack LaLanne and motorsports. We were surprised to hear that this avid lover of life had never strapped on a Simpson five-point harness, protected his noggin under a Bell Racing safety helmet, climbed under a rollbar, and throttled at full force down an asphalt track with three tree lights beckoning his launch. Here is an excerpt:
VM: Jack, have you ever raced a sanctioned event?
VM: Never done a quarter-mile?
JL: I'd love to.
VM: If someone invited you, would you come out and do it?
JL: My wife would divorce me.
VM: Oh, come on.
JL: (Impersonating his wife) "What happened to you, Jack? Oh, my." My wife is my protector.
VM: I see.
JL: Without her, I'm nothing.
VM: If we invited you to a racetrack, do you think she'd let you come?
JL: Sure. She wants to please me, and I want to please her. We've been together over 53 years.
VM: We'd like to see you behind the wheel of a fast Corvette.
JL: I've always liked fast cars ... (pause) ... and slow women.
VM: Do you want us to keep laughing or ask the next question?
JL: Ask the next question.
VM: You really like Corvettes, don't you?
JL: If you don't like Corvettes, you don't like sex and money.
Our conversation turned back to Jack's love for street-driven Corvettes. We asked, "Do you think your new Corvette is the best Corvette you've ever owned?"
Jack answered without hesitation. He was as knowledgeable as the best Corvette salesman, and he knew it. "Oh, no doubt about it. You know what I like about it is the [ride] control. Corvettes have always had a stiff ride. Now you just push that little button, you know, and you get like a passenger-car ride. And you push the button [again], and you get like a race car. I mean they've thought of everything-all the interior and all the instruments, you can see them, they're so visible, and I don't know how you can improve upon it."
We continued with more questions. An interview with Jack LaLanne is a once-in-a-lifetime thrill, after all, even for a group as jaded as the VETTE editorial staff. "Jack, what exercises do you recommend for Corvette drivers, when they are driving and to make sure they can enjoy their driving?"
Now we were on Jack's home turf. He started sounding like the TV star we know he is. "The number-one thing is straighten up in your seat," he said. "Pull your gut in and breathe deep. Take a lot of deep breaths and everything. That keeps you awake. Too many [people] sit in a car and they slump. People should straighten up, you know, and be sure your posture is good."
VM: Jack, can you lift a 3,179-pound Corvette right off the ground?
JL: I've never tried it.
VM: We know that for one of your birthdays
JL: On one of my birthdays I did 1,000 chin-ups and 1,000 push-ups. For my 70th birthday I towed 70 boats with 70 people in it, my feet and hands tied-my hands were in handcuffs, my feet were tied together-and I towed these boats a mile-and-a-half in Long Beach [Harbor]. Man, that was a stinker. For my 93rd birthday coming up, I'm going to tow my wife across the bathtub.
We were laughing so hard at this point, it was difficult to ask the next serious question. Still, Jack heard it as a kairos. It was a deciding moment in our conversation. And so we asked: "Some people say there's an age that's too young to own a Corvette, and some people say there's an age that's too old to own a Corvette. What's your answer, Jack?"
We could hear him taking on a more personal tone. It was as if his words were going out to every Corvette owner in the world. "Be young. Keep yourself young by having a good, sporty car like a Corvette. It keeps you on your toes. It keeps you young. It keeps you thinking young. It keeps you thinking modern and good things. Corvette is a modern, modern automobile."
We had one last question before our interview concluded. "Jack, what message do you want Corvette owners to know from Jack LaLanne personally?"
Even 2,700 miles away, we could hear a smile well up in his voice. "Just be proud of that car and take good care of it. Make sure you change the oil and you keep it shined and keep it clean all the time. To me, that's your personal property. That's part of you. Be proud of the Corvette, and it will do things for you."
The world sees many winners. We are pleased to have shared time with one of the best.
We'd like to thank Liz Cardenas of Befit Enterprises for coordinating our interview; Jack's wife, Elaine LaLanne, for her help in the interview; and Jack himself for sharing his love of Corvettes with VETTE readers.