If you were to ask any guy on the planet to describe his dream life, you can almost say with certainty that the majority would describe the reality of Maximillion Cooper, founder of the Gumball 3000.
The Gumball 3000 is an annual event that sees some of the biggest names on the planet get into some of the most insane cars on the planet and drive 3000 miles across the globe, stopping at specific cities to party at some of the most exclusive clubs, with the worlds greatest DJ’s.
Max has built a global brand that seamlessly amalgamates all of his passions and spends his life travelling the world in many of the world’s most sort-after cars, partying with A-list celebrities, visiting some of the most breathtaking places and dealing with some of the biggest heads of State to make his dream a reality.
It’s not all million pound cars and champagne, though. The Guy Society was lucky enough talk to Max about his journey, the Gumball and his ambitions, plus the extensive work and planning that goes into this monumental experience.
The Guy Society: Although you are globally recognized as the founder of the Gumball 3000, you studied fashion at Central St. Martins. How did you move from a future in fashion to founding one of the most famous rallies on the planet?
I never really moved from fashion into cars, they are both passions of mine, and creating Gumball 3000 was really the result of combining my interests in cars, fashion, music and popular culture, with the vision to create a lifestyle brand. I actually started racing cars whilst I was studying fashion design at St Martins in the early 90s – designing during the week and racing at the weekends (this wasn’t the norm for a St Martins fashion student!). By the end of the 90s I wanted to create “something” that could embrace the worlds that inspired me – and by this point I’d become friends with numerous celebrities and influential people within the fashion, music and car industries that I knew I could get to support my own dreams and ambitions. The rally came about as my way of getting these successful and influential friends together – and by putting them through a unique, emotional and often life changing experience, they instantly became supporters and ambassadors of my vision. At the beginning I never intended for the rally to become an annual event, but after seeing the reaction of both participants and media following the first one, it became clear that I could “use” the rally to build a global lifestyle brand. Thus, I embarked upon creating different and often “fantasy” routes each year; adding a regular dose of celebrities across music, film and sport, mixed together with business leaders and some “cool kids” – the skateboarders, models, DJs and graffiti artists – and I had created a recipe that became my formula to create the brand, as well as the method of continually reinventing it (like any fashion designer has to do).
Throughout the 16 years since creating ‘Gumball 3000’ I’ve always maintained a professional and personal relationship with the fashion world; one year I asked several designer friends to create bespoke racing suits and driving jackets for all the participants in the rally, including Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Diesel, DKNY and Giorgio Armani – and more recently I’ve been working with Paul Marciano at Guess, designing the upcoming Gumball 3000 x Guess capsule collection.
As the Gumball 3000 brand continues to grow in reputation and recognition, I’m increasingly asked to design or consult as ‘Creative Director’ for other brands, especially for commercial partners of the rally; this is a role that I have really enjoyed in either a ‘Gumball 3000’ or ‘Maximillion Cooper’ capacity – for brands such as Adidas Originals, Puma, Armin Strom watches, and for both Fiat Abarth and Morgan Cars within the automotive industry.
The Guy Society: Just looking at the scope of the Gumball rally, it must be a monumental task you plan. How long is the planning and what does it entail?
Depending on what crazy route I’ve decided that we should carry out, the task of organising it varies dramatically. Already by the second year I thought that flying the vehicles ‘mid-rally’ would be a good idea. 15 years later I still haven’t decided if it is a good idea or not (based on the crazy logistics that goes into this, not to mention the astronomical costs!) – but by being able to load up 120 amazing cars onto 3 cargo planes mid event – and fly them half way across the world – offload them and just carry on driving certainly adds to the cultural contrasts and sheer outrageous experience of the adventure.
After managing to successfully pull off the 2006 rally from London to Los Angeles in just 6 days (that year cars drove from London – Belgrade, were then flown to Thailand, to drive from Phuket to Bangkok, and were flown again to Salt Lake City in the U.S. in order to drive to Las Vegas and then cross the finish line on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills) – I thought if this is possible then we can incorporate any country in the world. That’s when I started organising the most ridiculous route we’ve ever done…. From San Francisco to the Beijing Olympic Games via an overnight stop in Pyongyang, North Korea! This one took just over 2 years to plan…working with Kim Jong Il, the U.S., British, Chinese and Korean Governments, and the United Nations…but it happened (all according to plan)…so now the world is not enough!
The Guy Society: For anyone that’s seen the rally, it looks like an incredible experience. What are your most memorable moments?
There have been countless life changing experiences, unique encounters, and memorable moments throughout the past 16 years, but if I were to choose just a couple of them, I’d probably say that the first time Gumball did Russia in 2001 was an adventure I’ll never forget.
Russia back then was pretty lawless and had a scary edge – I wanted to take over 100 very expensive vehicles and wealthy influential people to drive one of the most dangerous highways that existed…. what was I thinking about!
After escaping a Russian “car-jacking” on the ‘recce’ and realising that there were real dangers I decided to hire ex-British Special Forces (SAS) as my security staff, then managed to get some ex-Russian Special Forces (KGB) guys to work for me in Russia. Then after multiple trips to Moscow to meet with the General of the Russian Army and Mrs Putin I somehow arranged for the Russian military to help manage the Gumball drive through Russia. Once cars on the rally crossed the border into Russia (which still resembled a full-on ‘Cold War’ fortified defence station) – Russian helicopter gunships flew over the cars protecting us from the notorious highway mafia. This was definitely an experience that I don’t think could ever happen again.
Then there have been multiple “situations” in the planning of the rallies where I’ve felt like I’m in a sketch from ‘Monty Python’ ” – I mean getting entertained by multiple heads of governments and Kim Jong Il doesn’t happen every day! And my second most memorable moment was during our overnight stop in Pyongyang, North Korea.
As if just taking the Gumball to North Korea wasn’t surreal enough – after hosting a concert in the May Day Stadium (for 200,000 people) we arranged an after party back at the hotel later that night where I found myself singing karaoke to the Sex Pistols ‘My Way’ with Alfonso Ribeiro (aka Carlton Banks from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Ryan Dunn from Jackass, and the North Korean Prime Minister! It’s going to take quite a lot to top this moment for being one of the most surreal of my life.
The Guy Society: I’ve seen the DVD’s and you really get some interesting/crazy cars and characters taking part. What’s your all time favorite car and team?
Every 3-4 years seems to bring a new “favourite” team – and there’s no doubt that Johnny Knoxville, Bam, Steve O, Ryan Dunn and Chris Pontius embraced and dominated the early years of Gumball – participating as “Team Jackass” almost annually between 2001-2009. They embodied the eccentric “wacky races” spirit that has helped define Gumball’s reputation for being a fun filed ‘road-trip’ unlike any other motoring event.
More recently both “Team Wolfpack” and “Team Galag” have continued this mantle, fortunately not in quite the same vein as Steve O – but they undoubtedly bring their own fun and creative character driven show to the rally and that perpetuates the importance of camaraderie between the participants (“my Gumball family”) with a big emphasis on entertaining the fans. I mean watching “Team Galag’s” Batmobile, aka “The Tumbler” from The Dark Knight movie driving 3000 miles alongside Ferrari’s, Bugatti’s and other more regular supercars is just insane!
The Guy Society: Do you have an ultimate dream rally that you haven’t done to-date?
I would love to be able to take the rally through the Middle East and incorporate some of the most ancient remarkable cities, landmarks and world heritage sites that have become threatened by war and unrest over the past 15 years.
I’d like to do a route from Cairo to Dubai – setting off from the Pyramids, then driving down the Nile and east across the Suez Canal into Israel, then onto Beirut in Lebanon, followed by stops in Damascus, Bethlehem, The Dead Sea and Petra, then drive across Saudi Arabia and parts of Iraq to Kuwait and up to Qatar before reaching the finish line in the UAE. Unfortunately with unrest and turmoil in parts of this region it seems this is an unlikely route I’ll be able to organise in the near future.
The Guy Society: You’re an avid art collector, is it true you have over 3000 pieces in your collection?
Yes that’s true, possibly more. I’ve been buying and collecting art from the mid-90s, mostly street art back then, and my father is an abstract painter and sculptor, so I also have a huge amount of his work.
The Guy Society: If you had to save one piece, which one would it be and why?
Artwork that I’ve been given from close friends and my father means far more to me than anything I’ve bought. If I had to keep one piece it would be rusty metal abstract sculpture that my dad gave me recently. It’s a piece he made in the early 70s that stood outside in my parents garden for the past 40 years. It reminds me of my childhood in the countryside, watching dad chisel and weld bits together everyday to create incredible works of art.
The Guy Society: You’ve travelled around the world and seen some of the most amazing places. What’s your favourite place you’ve visited?
I love experiencing new cultures, and have had too many incredible adventures to single out a favourite place; I love Tokyo, for its super futuristic Blade Runner aesthetic…although as I’m sat here writing these answers from Morocco, I’d say that the ancient city of Fez is right up there as one of my favourite places. Stood inside the medina, it feels like I’ve either gone back over 2000 years to biblical times, or that I’ve gone forward a couple of thousand years and I’m in Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s home in Star Wars…
The Guy Society: You have an incredible car collection. What’s your next addition going to be?
A 1989 Ferrari F40 is soon to become my daily driver. It’s been on my list to buy for the past few years (actually since the day it was unveiled), and that dream is now about to be a reality. And I really want a LaFerrari…
The Guy Society: If you could drive just one car for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The 1970 Porsche 917 (chassis number 043L) better known as the “hippie car”. This car is insanely fast, futuristic, beautiful and just CRAZY….one day this car has to be in the Gumball collection!
The Guy Society: It’s evident from your social media accounts that you’re very much the family man and not too long ago celebrated your 1st wedding anniversary with Eve, congratulations. What do you like to do when you aren’t driving around the world in supercars?
Every few weeks I need a “pit-stop” away from my ridiculously crazy schedule that has me lapping the world like I’m in a non stop endurance race – so I like nothing better than being at home in the English countryside and going for a walk on the Malvern Hills with my wife and four children, far away from the hectic schedule that absorbs my “Gumball life”. It’s important that I get to escape the social scene every few weeks and just breath in fresh air. I need to surround myself with nature and to play football with my 9 year old son – this allows me to step away from the constant decision making world that all successful business involves, and to get perspective – enabling me time to enjoy my family and to re-energise. I feel claustrophobic in the city, and having grown up in the countryside it’s important for to me that my children also get to enjoy this simple life.
The Guy Society: Thank you for your time. I better let you get back to planning Dublin to Istanbul 2016! Any sneak peaks into what we can expect from that?
The Dublin to Istanbul rally is taking the public face of the event to the next level, incorporating Glastonbury festival scale events in each city throughout the seven days, combing the spectacle of the cars, with action sports demos and music concerts featuring musicians that are all participating in the rally – including deadmau5, Afrojack, Skrillex and one of two other BIG surprises!
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