The Wheels Are Turning: Vehicles Driven by Geniuses

We’d love to tell you all about the flying car Leonardo Da Vinci cruised around in, but his 16th-century existence meant the great innovator’s flight path didn’t leave his imagination. And there’s a good reason why Einstein’s famously said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”—he didn’t have a driver’s license!

Ever wonder what vehicles some of our more modern geniuses owned? The term “genius” tends to be a bit overused, which is why we’ve put together a selective list of the 20th century’s most brilliant minds and their preferred methods of transportation. Keep scrolling for all the details.   

Pablo Picasso: avant-garde meets avant-garde

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe
Image Editorial credit: Steve Lagreca /
Pablo Picasso
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When you’re one of the creators of cubism, conventional vehicles simply aren’t enough. Modern Art titan Pablo Picasso was a car connoisseur back in the day. His 1963 Lincoln Continental is still kept by his family; he also owned a 1925 Hispano Suiza Limousine and a 1948 Oldsmobile Futuramic 98—but there was one car the Spanish artist preferred over the rest.

The ride he held onto longest was a six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz 300SL from the mid-1950s complete with gullwing doors—which also remains with the family. This funky little roadster epitomizes cool, innovation, and elegance in one fell swoop. Picasso wasn’t the only famous person to recognize its unique charms. Other famous former owners of the 300SL were Paul Newman and Oprah Winfrey.


Alan Turing: couldn’t be bothered with cars

Raleigh lady's loop frame bicycle 1930s
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alan turing
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In case you didn’t know, a British coding nerd played a pivotal role in defeating Hitler’s Germany in World War II, and his name is Alan Turing. By updating a Polish-made codebreaking machine known as the Bombe, Turing and co. were able to crack thousands of Nazi-coded messages on a daily basis. So what vehicle was fit for the godfather of Computer Science?

Like his contemporary Albert Einstein, Turing shunned cars for his beloved bicycle. What is it about a genius and his bike? Turing, in all his high-IQed eccentricity, was said to wear a gas mask while cycling during allergy season and calculated the exact moment his faulty bike chain would habitually disengage so he could dismount and reattach it, rather than replace it!  Turing even toyed with hooking up a motor to the machine shortly before his untimely death in 1954 at age 41.

Igor Stravinsky: retro speed demon

Renault Type NM Torpedo 1925 schräg 1
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Igor Stravinsky
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Experimental, brash, and unconventional, Igor Stravinsky is a pillar of 20th-century classical composition. He spent nearly two decades of his 70-year career living in France, between 1920 and 1939. It was an illustrious period for the Russian-born Stravinsky who treated himself to a shiny new ride in 1925—a Renault, and was known to speed around the Riviera with the same wild abandon he poured into his music.

French heritage brand Renault began producing its first automobiles in the late 1890s and was known early on for building city taxis and luxury personal vehicles. By 1925, Renault sold a few different models and the one Stravinsky owned is unknown, but we trust he tested its limits—back then a Renault’s top speed was nearly 100mph.

Hedy Lamarr: femme fatale by day, genius by night

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Hedy Lamarr
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You didn’t think we were going to have a boy’s only list, did you? You may have never heard of her but you definitely know her. Austrian screen siren Hedy Lamarr was the toast of the war-era silver screen—her face even served as the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Snow White. As glamorous as all that sounds, most of her contemporaries didn’t know she secretly worked to combat the Nazis by developing the technology that would later be used for Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS communications.

Post-war, Hedy drove a big, shiny 1958 “Sixty Special” Fleetwood Cadillac—she actually bought it from the same dealership on the same day as Hollywood legend Clark Gable. She largely kept the fact that she and composer George Antheil had invented a cutting-edge torpedo guidance system to herself, as she cruised around Beverly Hills in style, but today we recognize her as someone whose mind transcended her gorgeous looks—by a long shot.

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Author: Mary Cahill

Mary K. Cahill is a writer from New Haven, Connecticut. She specializes in creating content that combines the automotive world with history and pop culture. When she’s not writing, you can find her absorbed in a novel, traveling the city on foot in search of vintage treasures, or having movie night with her family.

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