Gone in 60 Seconds Mustangs
Inside the Gone In Sixty Seconds Mustangs
John Pearley Huffman
November 14, 2000
Photos By: Randy Lorentzen
Whatever its merits as a film, last summer's Gone In Sixty Seconds was required viewing for Mustang lovers. After all, it's not often that Hollywood makes a movie starring a car, much less a Mustang. And the Mustang in Gone was definitely the star. What's with that Mustang? And the movie? Those are questions substantial enough to build a story upon. And despite the fact that not everything makes sense in the movie (such as hitting the nitrous when the engine is already turning 7,000 rpm), we know you're going to buy the video.
While the 2000 version of Gone In Sixty Seconds is obviously inspired by 1974's Gone In 60 Seconds, it's really not a remake. Although both titles are pronounced the same, technically, they're not identical because the title of the newer movie spells out the word sixty and the old title uses the number (even though the poster for the new movie uses the number). That's not bad, though, since (except for the 40-minute chase within its 97-minute running time) the first movie was practically incomprehensible. "The major appeal of Gone In 60 Seconds--and it is considerable--is that it is a genuine primitive work of art," says the Los Angeles Times, upon the original's release.
Art or not, the idea for the remake germinated at Disney and wound up in the hands of producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer produced Flash dance (probably not a top pick for the guys in the audience), Top Gun, and Days of Thunder with his late partner, Don Simpson, and such recent hits as Armageddon, The Rock, and Con Air on his own. With a script from Scott Rosenberg, who penned Con Air, Bruckheimer recruited Nicolas Cage to star and TV commercial director Dominic Sena to direct. Throw in a supporting cast that included Oscar winners Robert Duvall and Angelina Jolie and hopefully the result would be a hit.
The story is similar to the original in that a group of car thieves needs to steal 50 cars in a 24-hour period. The makers of the new movie threw in a threat to the life of lead character Memphis Raines' (Cage) brother, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi), to add some emotional wallop to the film, but people were going to see this movie based on the quality of the action. And the action would include a big car chase featuring, as in the original movie, a Mustang named Eleanor.
When the movie started production, Eleanor wasn't necessarily going to be a Mustang at all. "We really wanted to see a GT40 blowing through downtown L.A., flying down the L.A. River, doing all that [expletive deleted]," says production designer Jeff Mann. But even for a movie that cost a reported $90 million to make, a fleet of GT40s was prohibitively expensive. So it was back to Mustangs.
"We were looking at a '67 GT500. It's a bitchin' car, no doubt," continues Mann, "but does it really stack up against these other vehicles?" This is a pertinent concern in a film that would be overstuffed with Ferraris. "In the context of all these other cars, it's not necessarily going to be the hottest thing going down the road (That depends on who you are--Ed.). That's when Jerry kind of opened the doors for me to come up with a variation on it ?" Building that variation that didn't suck started with famed Hot Rod illustrator Steve Stanford, who drew up an illustration of an over-the-top '67 GT500.
Former Boyd Coddington designer Chip Foose was hired by the production company to turn Stanford's work into a reality. Foose fitted the car with PIAA lights in both the nose and rear backup areas. He also prototyped the hood, the front valance, the side skirts, the scoops, and other fiberglass parts that would be used for the car. That billet grille is based on aftermarket pieces originally developed for Chevy Astro vans and Foose found the Paul Schmidt (PS Engineering) 17x8-inch wheels that would be sheathed in P245/40ZR17 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, front and rear.
Neither the side-exit exhausts nor the C-pillar-mounted fuel fillers ('71 Mach fuel doors) were functional on the cars seen in the movie. Why? First, because actually making the side exhausts work is tough, considering how the '67 Mustang is built. And second, because they didn't need to be functional.
Once the prototype pieces were completed and the molds were made, the project moved into the hands of Ray Claridg's Cinema Vehicle Services (CVS), where construction of the actual Eleanors took place.
"In all my time in this business," explains Ray Claridg, "this was the toughest show." Because of the screen time the Eleanor Mustang would have and the stunts it would be asked to do, several Eleanors would have to be built. The occasional improvisation of the production of the film itself further complicated the issue; script changes were constant and the needs of the filmmakers practically changed daily. Ultimately, there would be 12 Eleanors built for the film, including the prototype that didn't appear in the movie.
Construction of the Eleanors started with the CVS staff scouring the Southern California want ads, searching for '67 and '68 Mustang fastbacks. The cars CVS acquired ranged from clapped-out machines with leaky 289s to at least one Mustang GT powered by a 390. All the cars in the movie are '67s, and none were actual Shelbys.
Because certain cars were required to do different things in the course of the film, no two Eleanors were alike. Many of the Eleanors remain in CVS' inventory, but they've all been twisted, fiddled with, and rebuilt so many times, it's hard to determine their original condition when they appeared in the movie. And apparently, CVS didn't take any pangs to catalog all the cars.
Some of the cars received Lincoln Versailles rear ends, and at least one of the cars was geared for high-speed running along the concrete canals of the Los Angeles River. All the cars were lowered, but some of them received a Total Control Products (TCP) rack-and-pinion steering system and engine bay bracing. Some of the cars were built to slide around corners, some were built to survive a jump, and others were built to be crushed in a junkyard.
Up close, the Eleanors are a mix of sweet design work and expedient engineering. These cars weren't built to last a lifetime, win a car show, or go extremely fast; they were built to look good in a movie and do their particular task well.
Of the 12 Eleanors built, 7 survived the filming to end up back in CVS' possession. Two of the cars were destroyed doing the climactic jump on Los Angeles' Vincent Thomas Bridge at the end of the film. That jump was done in segments: in the first segment, a car jumped off a ramp and was destroyed during the landing. Another car had a longer jump, and it landed in a pile of cushioning boxes. That car, according to stunt coordinator Johnny Martin, actually came out in surprisingly good (though still damaged) condition. Another car was suspended from wires for the portion of the jump between the takeoff and the landing. A computer-generated Eleanor was used for a few seconds during the jump as well. And finally, another Mustang was destroyed when it jumped off a platform and back down onto the bridge's unforgiving tarmac to complete the jump. That car was definitely totaled.
Two more Eleanors were destroyed in the film's final scenes when the car is seen being snatched up in a junkyard and put into a crusher. Destroying that many Mustangs seemed like an utter waste of perfectly good cars. But it's all in a day's work for Hollywood.
The best Eleanor of those used in the film actually plays the least pristine of the bunch. CVS was in the process of building an Eleanor with a new Ford Motorsport 351 crate engine and all the best mechanical pieces (Versailles rear end, rack-and-pinion steering) when the production put out a call for a car to play Kip's gift to Memphis at the end of the film--a ratty Shelby. The car that was in the process of becoming the nicest Eleanor of them all--finished in primer, fitted with a derelict front bench seat, and mismatched steel wheels--was chosen to play that car. So the nicest Eleanor you see in the film, is actually the cruddiest looking.
The Nicest Eleanor of All (The 13th Eleanor ? Built, but Not Seen in the Film)
Although it didn't appear in the film, the nicest Eleanor of all was built by CVS for producer Bruckheimer. It's an actual '67 Shelby GT500. The side-exit exhausts function, and so does the fuel filler in the C-pillar. The engine bay brace from Total Control Products (TCP) and the rack-and-pinion system were also installed, but the suspension itself wasn't touched. "There's nothing we can't reverse," explained Ray Claridge.
This 13th Eleanor is powered by a 428 with dual quads and was converted from its original automatic to a four-speed by CVS. While the exhaust system hangs low (low enough to be impractical), it makes a sound that rattled the condiments off the kitchen shelves at Bruckheimer Films when it was started in the facility's garage.
It may not have been used in the film, but Bruckheimer's Eleanor has the best claim to being the "real thing" of all the Eleanors.
While star Nicolas Cage did a surprising amount of the driving in Gone, the heavy lifting was done by a team of Hollywood's best stunt drivers. "We've had a lot of man days on this show," says stunt coordinator Johnny Martin. "It's been nothing but weaving through traffic and dodging cars. And we did a lot of chase scenes in the middle of the day, through downtown L.A., so that pretty much causes a lot of traffic. We've had more than 350 guys work in it [the movie]." However, having Cage in the car most of the time allowed the director to better create the illusion that he was driving all the time.