'Eleanor' steals the scene in car movie

March 15, 2004|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

For movie-loving car nuts, the names Angelina Jolie, Nicolas Cage and Robert Duvall pale in comparision to the real star of the movie Gone in 60 seconds.


She had no dialog, but made the most noise. She was Cage's bittersweet ally and probably had more on-screen presence than the rest of the cast put together. She, of course, was a 1967 Shelby GT500 Mustang, code-named Eleanor, the 50th and final vehicle that Cage, who played retired-car-thief-brought-back-into-action Randall "Memphis" Raines, had to steal and deliver to a ruthless crime boss.

Enough about the plot. For car nuts, Gone in 60 seconds - a remake of the cheesy 1974 movie that also featured a Mustang - is not 112 minutes long, but precisely 14 minutes long, the exact length of the movie's climactic car chase, timed from the moment Eleanor enters the picture, to the moment she's delivered, beaten to a pulp (and 12 minutes late, by the way), to the bad guys. Great, Cage saves his pretend little brother, but Eleanor is crushed by a 100-ton crane. For car lovers, it's their worst nightmare come true.


Granted, the other 49 cars looked great, too, but there's just something about a gray Mustang leaping backed-up bridge traffic in a single bound.

Since the movie, Eleanor has spawned numerous clones - interesting considering that even the original Eleanor is a clone of a popular '60s Mustang - and companies that have no problem charging (and getting) tens of thousands of dollars to build them. How and why did this happen?

After more than a century of film making, the cinema remains the most influential, ahem, "art" form around. Not only does it dictate the clothes we wear, the food we eat and the furniture we use to decorate our homes, but it holds considerable sway over the cars we want to park in our driveways.

Eleanor is based on the original 1967 GT500 built by Carroll Shelby, an ex-racing driver and the father of the Cobra sports car. Back then, using a Ford Mustang fastback body as a starting point, Shelby replaced the stock 390-cubic-inch V-8 with a 355-horsepower 428-cube "Cobra Jet" V-8. The GT500 parts also included an enlarged grille, dual driving lights, unique air-scoop hood, side air intakes behind the doors, rear-deck spoiler and sequential turn-signal taillights from a 1967 Mercury Cougar.

Most of the 2,050 GT500s built that year at Shelby's Southern California factory included air conditioning and special wheel covers, with buyers selecting either a four-speed manual transmission, or three-speed automatic. The optional GT stripes that extended above the rocker panels were dealer-installed.

At around $4,200, about $2,000 over and above a base Mustang coupe, the GT500 was a pricey item in 1967. But, as they say in Hollywood, you ain't seen nuthin' yet.

To create Eleanor, Gone in 60 Seconds producer Jerry Bruckheimer ordered a more modern interpretation of the GT500 be built from scratch. That meant updating the front and rear styling, adding side-mounted exhaust outlets, fender flares, lowering the ride and stuffing a set 17-inch alloy wheels shod with modern-day rubber into the fender wells.

To appeal to younger audiences, Eleanor was fitted with a power-enhancing nitrous-oxide system (a gas that provides extra oxygen for the engine) with the appropriate switch labelled "GoBabyGo."

A flashy "Pepper Gray" metallic paint job with contrasting wide-band black racing stripes completed the exterior updates.

Most of the 12 Mustangs built for the movie used nothing particularly special for running gear and wound up being destroyed during production.

The one performance version that remained intact received a 400-horsepower, 351-cubic-inch V-8 supplied by Ford. A 13th Eleanor, not used in the movie, was constructed from an original GT500 for Bruckheimer's personal transportation.

The buzz surrounding Gone in 60 Seconds and its Eleanor car star reverberates to this day. The parts needed to convert a 1967 or nearly identical '68 Mustang into a movie double are readily available from aftermarket suppliers and the value of clapped-out fastback donor cars continues to escalate, due in no small part to the movie. (An original GT500 recently sold for $280,000 at the Barrett-Jackson auction held in Scottsdale, Ariz.)

To take the phenomenon one step further, Carroll Shelby, the creator of the original car upon which Eleanor is based, teamed up with a group of Dallas, Tex.,-based entrepreneurs in 2002 to produce the Shelby GT 500E, a very close clone of the movie machine. Buyers can order their completed cars in a variety of strengths, from a relatively tame 325-horsepower V-8 all the way up to a supercharged 427-cube mill with 750 horses on tap. The price of admission runs between $80,000 and $150,000.

That's a lot of coin, but remember, you're getting both a cinematic-influenced fashion piece and an honest-to-goodness historic Shelby-inspired performance machine, all rolled into one. Thank you, Eleanor.

Malcolm Gunn is Wheelbase Communications' historical writer.

© 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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