When Mustangs Become Movie Stars: the Story of Eleanor

It’s the only Mustang ever to be named in a film’s credits. But it was actually three cars: two ’73 Mustang Mach 1’s and a single ’67 Shelby Cobra GT500. All of them were movie stars in a pair of screen productions, one in 1974 and the other in 2000, both of which went by the name Gone in 60 Seconds. And each went by the same name: Eleanor.

Shelby GT500 Mustang

In 1974 Toby Halicki, professional stunt driver and part-time actor, released a self-produced film in which he played the role of a car thief hired by a South American drug lord to steal 48 vehicles in a few days, in exchange for the then-princely sum of $400,000. His character lays out a plan to accomplish the marathon criminal session in a systematic fashion. He chooses each vehicle ahead of time and assigns it a female name, among them a ’74 Mustang he calls Eleanor.

Shelby Mustang GT500

For the film, two Mach 1s actually played the role of Eleanor. One was used for driving and action scenes and the other for so-called “beauty shots.” The first was modified in numerous ways, such as having a camera mounted in the back seat and being equipped with a NASCAR roll bar. The other was kept as pristine as possible. Both were fitted with a 351 Cleveland engine modified by Halicki himself, a 4-barrel carb, and a Cruisomatic automatic trans.

The working version earned whatever pay it got for its role. It played a key role in the epic 34-minute car chase in which Halicki is trying to outrun the cops. 93 vehicles of assorted makes were wrecked in the filming process. It was almost destroyed twice, once when it careened into a light pole at 100 mph. The left front fender was caved in, but after two hours of hasty repairs it was back on the job.

Its next close call came when it executed a 30-foot leap and fell 128 feet before landing. Amazingly, it survived and finished its role, although Halicki, who was driving, almost didn’t. Fortunately, he had equipped it with a first aid kit and fire extinguisher.

The film was a huge success. In the late 1990s, Jerry Bruckheimer Films decided to remake it. This time Hollywood mega-star, Nicholas Cage, played the role of the master car thief, Randall “Memphis” Raines, who must steal 50 cars for a British crime boss to save his brother’s life. This time around the role of Eleanor was played by a 1967 Shelby Mustang, one that Cage’s character had been trying to steal for years. By the end of the film, it found its way back into its rightful owner’s hands, but Raines drove off into the sunset with a consolation prize: a rusty, beaten-up version of the same car that’s his to restore.

Shot at a cost of $103 million, the film earned $237 million worldwide. On the other hand, the original cost $150,000 and earned in excess of $40 million at the box office – though that was in 1974 dollars, and without any DVD rental income.

Opinions vary, but the general consensus among car buffs is that the ’67 Eleanor was the more beautiful of the two. The ’73 version, on the other hand, looked like what it was: a product of whatever demons haunted the souls of car designers in the 1970s. (That was the decade of the AMC Gremlin, remember, not to mention leisure suits).

Carroll Shelby, in fact, began creating commemorative versions of the iconic car, leading to a nasty legal battle between himself and Halicki’s widow. Shelby lost the battle, ensuring that no more would be made. It’s just as well. In both films Eleanor is more than just a Mustang. She symbolizes that brass ring, that ever-elusive goal, that inspires men of all professions to exceed their limitations, even if the profession happens to be car thief. A million copies bearing the name can be made, but in every person’s heart and mind there is only one true Eleanor.

See more Mustangs here

Written by Bill Wilson


Did you know that you can get stories like this on the Yahoo mail app?
Download it here.

Latest News

  • Missouri, Kansas students co-winners of National Spelling Bee
    Missouri, Kansas students co-winners of National Spelling Bee

    By Ian Simpson OXON HILL, Md. (Reuters) - Eighth-graders Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Missouri, and Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, were co-winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday. Gokul ended a tense standoff before a packed hotel ballroom and an ESPN television audience by spelling "nunatak," an Inuit word for an exposed ridge in a glacier. Vanya, whose sister Kavya won the Bee in 2009, said she was dedicating the shared win to her grandmother, who died in …

  • Singer Ed Sheeran and his 'lazy eye' immortalized in wax
    Singer Ed Sheeran and his 'lazy eye' immortalized in wax

    After six Grammy nominations, several hit songs and numerous sold-out concerts, singer Ed Sheeran donated a few hours to Madame Tussauds sculptors who worked to create his likeness, revealed on Thursday.     "They put you in grey underwear and a grey vest. "I think it will be quite weird for me, but I think it will be cool seeing what my own parents created," he said. …

  • 'San Andreas' set to shake up box office despite faults
    'San Andreas' set to shake up box office despite faults

    By Alicia Avila LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Director Brad Peyton grilled scientists, scoured earthquake footage and submerged sets in one of the world's biggest water tanks to create the biggest earthquake ever to hit California in his new film "San Andreas." That effort might pay off at the box office, where the Warner Bros film is expected to be the top earner in its debut this weekend, with an estimated $40 million in ticket sales. "We spent a lot of time grounding the experience and …

  • Youthful contestants at U.S. Bee not just whizzes at spelling
    Youthful contestants at U.S. Bee not just whizzes at spelling

    By Ian Simpson OXON HILL, Md. (Reuters) - The youthful contestants at the U.S. Scripps National Spelling Bee boast a lot of interests in their lives besides spelling, with athletes, musicians, actors and writers among the almost 300 competitors. Shiv Lamba, 14, juggles being one of the best young spellers in the United States with playing football for the national developmental squad. The eighth-grader from Centreville, Virginia, said he studies spelling constantly, including while …

  • Trevor Noah to take over 'The Daily Show' on September 28
    Trevor Noah to take over 'The Daily Show' on September 28

    South African comedian Trevor Noah will replace Jon Stewart as the host of the last-night comedy parody "The Daily Show" on September 28, Comedy Central said on Thursday. The Viacom Inc.-owned cable network made the announcement on its website and with a brief video of Noah, 31, testing out the set in the studio and sitting in the chair as Stewart came up from behind him. …

  • Hungary Cannes sensation may help country face dark past
    Hungary Cannes sensation may help country face dark past

    By Marton Dunai BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The makers of the award-winning Hungarian film "Son of Saul" said on Thursday they want as many Hungarians as possible to see it in a country that has been plagued by anti-Semitism and xenophobia. The film -- the tale of a Jewish "Sonderkommando" death camp worker who finds a corpse he believes is his son's and sets his mind to burying him amid the horrors -- won the jury's Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival this month. Director and screenwriter …

  • Actress Lindsay Lohan taken off probation in driving case, prosecutor says
    Actress Lindsay Lohan taken off probation in driving case, prosecutor says

    Actress Lindsay Lohan has completed her community service in a 2012 reckless driving case, a judge found on Thursday, allowing her to leave probation for the first time since 2007, a prosecutor said. The 28-year-old "Mean Girls" star was required to finish more than 100 hours of community service in the case in addition to rehabilitation and therapy. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Young found Lohan had completed that obligation and ended her probation, Santa Monica chief deputy …

  • "We were awful" - Pink Floyd's Waters on band's early days
    "We were awful" - Pink Floyd's Waters on band's early days

    By Edward Baran LONDON (Reuters) - Pink Floyd founding members Roger Waters and Nick Mason joked while unveiling a memorial plaque on Thursday that they were so bad at first that they wouldn't have passed an audition on a talent show.    The pair, together with the late Richard Wright, formed the group while studying architecture at the former Regent Street Polytechnic in central London between 1962 and 1965. The psychedelic and progressive rock band went on to become one of the most …