As we mourn an icon of the automotive landscape, we celebrate some of our favorite moments of his eventful career.
On 2 January 2023, Kenneth Paul Block was killed in a snowmobile accident, aged 55.
Ken Block, Kenny G, or Kenny from the Block, will be remembered for many things. He built a shoe empire and sold it off to focus on building a new kingdom called Hoonigan Industries and getting the most out of life. Having now looked back at his career in rallying, it's evident that Block was not in the same leagues as Sebastien Loeb, Colin McRae, Walter Rohrl, Carlos Sainz, or Ari Vatanen. Yet, he was infinitely more recognizable than any of these men.
Block lived life harder and got more out of it. He was an automotive constant and a reminder that we are all Hoonigans at heart. Though there isn't a single dictionary in the world that has recognized the word, Block and the company he started came up with one that is equal parts trademark and lifestyle descriptor - Hoonigan. "A person who operates a motor vehicle in an aggressive and unorthodox manner, consisting of, but not limited to, drifting, burnouts, donuts, as well as acts of automotive aeronautics. One who hoons."
Ken Block made cars fun. He was a gearhead ambassador to the broader public that sometimes fails to understand that a car is much more than a device that takes you places.
He used YouTube to grab the attention of an entirely new generation of car fans via his famous Gymkhana series. But he was so much more than just a tire slayer. His collection of vehicles also proved that he was a connoisseur, owning several cult vehicles from the past and keeping an eye on the future.
In our heads, he'll always be associated with the Ford Mustang, F-150 Raptor, and Fiesta, even though he drove for Subaru in his earlier years. Last year, he joined Audi to prove that electricity could also be fun and quite useful off-road. Sadly, we'll never know what else he and Audi had planned, but we don't doubt it would have been epic.
We do not doubt that Ken Block went straight to automotive heaven, arriving sideways in a cloud of smoke in the famous Hoonicorn.
As an homage to a great man, we looked back at six of his best moments.
The first-ever Gymkhana video was made before Hoonigan even existed. It's a wonderfully simple video meant to show how Ken Block practiced for a rally event. The plot is simply Ken Block hooning around on an empty airfield, showcasing his incredible car control.
This was an introduction for many car fans who weren't familiar with DC Shoes or any of Block's earlier endeavors. If you've seen it, you've undoubtedly seen Parts Two to 10, plus the various additional videos.
Thanks to Gymkhana, Block became an international celebrity. To date, he's the only rally driver to feature as a regular on Top Gear. Gymkhana became so big that Top Gear did an entire feature on Ken Block, also filming a mini Gymkhana in the process. This was during the heydays of Top Gear when 350 million people tuned in each week.
After that debut, Block would feature on the famous show many times.
The Tuthill Porsche Safari Film will live on as the last major video in which Ken Block makes an appearance. Tuthill Porsche posted an entire documentary on the experience on 21 December 2022, and we've been keeping a review of the film on ice until someone has had enough time to watch it.
Watching it now will be an entirely different experience, knowing that Ken Block is no longer with us. Still, Block promoted the rally in his typical casual style, with a beer (or contractually required Monster Energy) in hand after the racing was done.
Instead of posting the entire documentary, we give you Block's highlights. Watching it, we learned that Block only brakes for three things: camels, donkeys, and kids.
This video shows Block's dedication to winning. In early 2022, Block imported an ex-WRC Hyundai i20 that was adapted to race within local rallying specifications.
Block and the Hyundai were three miles from the finish of a Power Stage, and a deer jumped in front of the car. Instead of slowing down, Block immediately went into systems check mode. Unfortunately, the gearbox was finished, but that was the least of the problems.
While still hooning as much as possible, the windscreen became caked with mud and oil. Even then, the navigator had to convince Block to slow down because oil on the windshield usually means big trouble. Is there any wonder Block's last documentary was called Go Fast Risk Every Thang?
The crashed WRC you see above was quickly rebuilt and given a new livery. Once the 2022 American Rally Association season was over, Block took his i20 for one last ride in LA traffic. We say one last ride because the car went back to Europe after Block finished racing it in eight events.
For one final drive, Block did the rounds in LA. He picks up some donuts and visits a few friends.
Why? Because it's fun. And if you had access to a WRC car that can go from 0-60 mph in less than two seconds, wouldn't you want to go out and hunt all the smug people in their Teslas?
Gymkhana eventually spawned a spin-off series called Climbkhana, where Block takes on the most dangerous roads in the world. The first Climbkhana featured Pikes Peak and the Hoonicorn Mustang V2. If you've watched it, you'll know this 2017 video is equal parts amazing and frightening.
How could it possibly be topped?
Well, as it sadly turns out, Block never peaked. Every new video was gnarlier than the one before, as proven by 2018's Climbkhana TWO. That time, Block used the 914-horsepower Ford F-150 Hoonitruck and chose Tianmen Mountain in China as his playground.
Ken Block teamed up with Mobil 1 to build a Porsche 911 for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
Unfortunately, engine failure stopped Block from competing in the event, and now he never will. Hoonigan promised that it would be back, and we do not doubt that it will. We're sure that Block would not have wanted the Hoonipigasus parked in a museum, so the only question that needs answering is who will pilot it in Block's place this coming year?
Block and the Hoonigan team were graceful in defeat. Instead of posting a message saying that the car failed, the team returned and did a deep dive into the car and what happened at Pikes Peak.
This video makes it to the list because it features an unusually serious Block talking about commitment to the team. Block knew he was merely an (admittedly large) cog in the machine and that messing up meant ruining an entire team's efforts, and this video shows that he never got too big for his boots.
We were like kids on Christmas morning every time we waited for a new Ken Block Gymkhana film to drop, and that's how we will remember him, too: smiling, laughing, and not taking life too seriously. RIP, legend. Your pioneering spirit, love of cars, and insatiable zest for life will never be forgotten.