The recent passing of Ken has left a huge hole in the car community, and it only seems right that we remember him for what he did; he made cars cool for a whole new generation. All images credited to Hoonigan Racing
Cast your mind back to 2008, there was a global financial crisis, the iPhone was still a new idea and BMW made good-looking cars. If you said Ken Block most people would have said “Who?”, some might have said “Oh the DC shoe guy” or maybe even “Doesn't he do a bit of rallying in the USA?”. That was all about to change, Ken was about to go viral.
The first time many of us got our first glimpse at Ken Block was in 2008 when he released a video titled Gymkhana Practice on his own YouTube channel. This video showed him doing some rather outlandish slides in a tuned-up Impreza on an old airfield, it was loud, wild and just what the world needed. We hadn't quite seen anything like it, with most car media on YouTube consisting of ripped episodes of Top Gear, grainy footage of people crashing or the occasional manufacturer promo. But this was different, it was Jackass for car nuts.
That first video had over 20,000,000 views in the first year, which not only put Ken Block on the map but also generated a huge amount of marketing for DC. Enter Gymkhana Two The Infomercial. This second video was polished, dripping with production quality and took the stunts to a whole new level. There was clearly some DC money behind it but who the hell cared? What we got was a Hatchback Impreza, the LA Docks, and some stunning action shots of a car being driven to the absolute limit. It turned the dial up to 11 and from then onwards Gymkhana fever gripped the automotive world.
Gymkhana 3 saw the location change to a banked racetrack in France and featured yet more wild stunts, but more importantly, the car had changed. Thanks to a deal with Ford we now saw Block in a rallycross spec Fiesta, it made all the right noises and had an aggression that we hadn't seen from the previous 2 Subarus. This new tie-in with Ford had reinvented the McRae fever we saw in the 90s with Subaru, now it was all about fast Fords, Monster energy stickers and flat peak caps.
The marketing was clearly working, and the videos continued. Gymkhana Four (The Hollywood Megamercial) is a particular favourite of mine, there's an unrivalled energy to the production and the speed at which some of those stunts were done is truly eye-popping. It’s a 9-minute action film that you can watch repeatedly and still enjoy, mind you the same can also be said about 5 and 6.
Films 7-10 were where the series reached all new heights, we saw the introduction of the Hoonicorn, Hoonitruck and countless other bonkers Ford based creations and of course increasingly polished production and stunning cinematography. Videos were now released under The Hoonigan brand, with Ken acting as “Head Hoonigan In Charge”. Daft job title aside this is why Ken was such a legend in the car community, he just wanted to have fun and by extension he wanted us all to have fun. This carries through to Hoonigan’ shockingly simple mission statement “Just make cars fun”.
Ken’s latest video was an example of him doing what he does best, democratising automotive fun. Rather than let the brand/idea go stale with another crazy petrol powered space frame Ford, he partnered with Audi and created the Hoonitron. A vehicle which tows the party line of being an EV, but also happens to have iconic S1 Quattro inspired looks and makes insane noises. This was Block proving that EV’s can be just as cool are their ICE counterparts, they can slide just as well, go just as fast and even make an interesting noise.
The passion that Ken Block had for motoring in combination with his flair for marketing lead to a true golden era where anything could be done in a car, and you could have any amount of fun you wanted. Ken will be sorely missed, but lets remember him for his contribution to the car world, his all-out commitment to having fun and of course his bonkers driving style. I’m sure he arrived at the gates of heaven in the Hoonicorn, gave it a lick of handbrake, executed a three hundred foot long slide before jumping and out, giving Jesus a “Kill all tires” hat and saying hello to his old pal Colin McRae.
Remembering Ken Block. Sadly no tyres were harmed in the writing of this blog.
Alex is off to correct that.