Toronto isn’t exactly a modest city when it comes to its supercars. If someone were to ask me, “Hey, did you see that XJ220 this weekend,” I’d have to ask, “Which one?” Still, it’s a bit of a special occasion when the Gumball 3000 comes to town.
So what makes the Gumball 3000 so special? Well, it’s a spectacle. Sure, anyone can take a group road trip, but this Robin Leach-like fascination with the lifestyles of the rich and famous elevates Gumball to a global icon. Whether or not icons deserve reverence is a different story, although not one I’m hugely interested in debating today. The other big thing that makes the Gumball 3000 special is history. While the One Lap of America trackday road trip has been going on longer, it’s a bit nerdy. It’s car people road tripping from track to track, great for gearheads like me who are in quite deep, but a bit boring for the masses. Supercar owners road-tripping from party-to-party though? That was a pretty new concept when the first Gumball 3000 happened in 1999.
Another factor contributing to the Gumball 3000’s success is media. While the rally always had star power with Kate Moss and Guy Ritchie attending the very first event, the crew of Jackass tagging along for the 2001 event cemented the Gumball 3000’s place in pop culture history. In a way, Jackass was a perfect fit for the Gumball 3000 – celebrities behaving badly.
Oh come on, you didn’t believe for a second that famous people would stick to the speed limit while road-tripping fast cars, did you? Look, if I had enough wealth to basically equal freedom from consequence, I’d travel pretty quickly so long as conditions were safe. One of the highest speeding tickets of all time was allegedly handed out on the 2003 Gumball 3000 to a Koenigsegg CC8S driver accused of traveling 242 mph in a 75 mph zone. This story’s a bit of an urban legend with little in the way of conclusive evidence, but urban legends build reputation. And hey, 242 in a 75 definitely fits with the Gumball 3000’s reputation.
Of course, the Gumball 3000 of today is a far cry from the Gumball 3000 of the past. Looking at previous entries, some of the cars are truly astounding. A Brabus SV12 Megacar, a Jaguar XJ220S, that aforementioned Koenigsegg CC8S, multiple Bugatti Veyrons, a replica of the Batmobile, a flamethrower-equipped BMW 8-Series, the list goes on and on.
By contrast, this year’s field was fairly cookie-cutter. A Ram TRX and a particularly-interesting Beetle [Editor’s Note: a little tricky to tell with only this shot, but I think that’s a ’68 or ’69 – JT] certainly stood out, but most entrants brought modern Lamborghinis, Ferrari 812 grand-tourers, and current 992-generation Porsche 911s. It’s safe to say that these days, things are a bit different for the Gumball 3000.
Some say it all went downhill after a 2007 crash between a participating TechArt-modified Porsche 911 Turbo and a Volkswagen Golf in which the occupants of the Golf were killed. Details of the crash are disputed, but it’s generally agreed upon that the driver of the Golf was turning left onto a main road when the vehicle was struck by the Porsche. According to The Guardian, Nicholas Morley, the driver of the Porsche, received a suspended sentence, while Marketing Week reported that Gumball 3000 sponsor Adidas pulled support for the rally.
Admittedly, it would be hard to have the same sort of event as the first Gumball 3000 today. Social media’s a snitch, the roads are more crowded, penalties for speeding are stiffer, and infrastructure is in a more advanced state of decay. Today, the Gumball 3000 is still a road trip with lavish parties at overnight destinations, except it’s now largely a charity fun run of sorts. This year’s event raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities including Laureus Sport for Good, Project Wreckless, and Tony Hawk’s The Skatepark Project. All fairly reasonable causes if you ask me.
Mind you, Gumball hasn’t exactly banished the antics of old, they’re just fewer and farther between. While nearly every car entering the Gumball grid either took it easy or took care not to chirp the tires, a group led by YouTube personality Pog had a slightly different approach. Was ripping a donut on Bay Street safe? In this case, probably. It happened in a fenced-off area upstream of most fans, car control was actually nice and tight, and the fenced-off area was free of other entrants’ vehicles. Was ripping a donut on Bay Street frowned upon? Ooh yes, Pog’s group got an immediate “tut-tut” from Gumball 3000 officials.
The crowds though, haven’t moved on. They leaned into the spectacle, crowding gates and throwing hands, phones, and cameras in the air for revving Lamborghinis and Pog’s crew’s donut, fervently salivating all their admiration for these fast, mad, expensive machines. To rip a line from Marie Kondo, the spectacle of the Gumball 3000 sparked joy. Almost as astonishing as the energy of the crowd was its diversity – Toronto may be one of the most multicultural cities in the world, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Normally, you’d expect this sort of thing to be a bit of an upper-middle-class frat boy cliché, where white dudes from the suburbs take the train downtown to see the sort of cars that little their Instagram feeds. Not so. The crowd was electrically young, with a massive array of ethnicities represented. Men and women alike were there to push their way towards the barriers, yearning for a glimpse of a Lamborghini Aventador SV-J or a McLaren 765LT. And keep in mind, this was all on a Friday, where students would’ve had to shrug off school and adults would’ve potentially had to either take time off or trade shifts.
While the Gumball 3000 may not be the wild band of roving outlaws it once was, it still has the power to captivate the next generation of automotive enthusiasm. There may not be many members of Generation Z showing up to old-school cruise nights, but that definitely doesn’t mean that car culture is dying. It’s just taking on a different form. The Gumball 3000 may be a controversial event, but it’s a solid window into one facet of the next generation of car culture. Long may it run.
Lead photo credit: Thomas Hundal