Bullitt. The Dukes of Hazard. The Blues Brothers. The list of movies where the car steals the show is nearly endless.
However, there are two instances where the car stands out even more than usual, two examples where a rare vehicle is made even rarer by the application of movie magic. Three decades ago, we were introduced to two special vehicles that captured our imagination while bustin' ghosts and disappearing through time when they hit 88 miles per hour: Ecto-1 and the DeLorean time machine.
Of the two, Back To The Future's DeLorean is probably the betterknown car. Odds are, you've seen a DeLorean in the steel, as they're not completely uncommon. And if you've attended any of the bigger car shows on the West Coast, you'll surely stumble across one set up with the rocket-style exhausts in the rear, and the R2-D2-like timejumping equipment. The regular DeLorean should have been more of a success than it was. Conceived of by entrepreneur and former GM golden boy John DeLorean, the DeLorean Motor Company only made the one vehicle, the DMC-12.
Having been involved in the genesis of the Pontiac GTO, DeLorean could claim to have been present at the birth of the American muscle car. He worked his was up the General Motors promotion ladder, and in 1973 decided to found his own company.
The recipe was all there. The design was penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the genius behind the BMW M1, the VW Golf, and the Alfa Romeo Giuletta. The chassis was fettled by Colin Chapman of Lotus, who based it heavily off the mid-engined Esprit.
Nearly $200 million in development dollars was supplied by the government of Northern Ireland to entice DeLorean to set up shop there, and he did so with the best equipment available. Renault built the factory, and supplied the smalldisplacement V-6 and gearbox for the car. Other funds for setting up the company came from celebrity sources like Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr.
Production didn't start until 1981, but it took just one year for DeLorean to get into hot water. Busted by the FBI for allegedly trafficking in cocaine, DeLorean would eventually beat the rap, but not before the company's image was irrevocably tarnished.
There were other problems too. While most people think of the DMC-12's stainless-steel panels as indicative of a heavy machine, it was actually fairly light, about the same curb weight as a current Scion FR-S, and the 150 horsepower V-6 engine provided decent performance. With handling by Lotus, it should have had sportscar performance to go with those gullwinged looks.
Regrettably, U.S.-spec catalytic converters choked horsepower by a factor of 20 h.p., and the front suspension height was inexplicably raised from Lotus-spec. The DMC-12 ended up putting out the sort of specs you can get out of a Nissan Versa today.
Somewhere around 9,000 DeLoreans were built before the company went bankrupt, and a few afterwards using leftover parts. Five of them were
used in the filming of the Back To The Future trilogy, and basically ensured that the DeLorean would gain cult status despite its modest successes.
It was one of those cases of perfect carcasting. After the script was modified from a stationary time machine, the idea of a DeLorean as a time-jumping car was the filmmaker's first choice.
It wasn't supposed to look polished: as Doc Brown put the thing together in his backyard, the time-machine DeLorean was intended to look home-built. Parts were sourced from electrical supplies stores, and the "nuclear reactor" was actually fabricated out of a Dodge's hubcap.
The first car from the first movie (there were initially three) is not just a survivor, but the most-filmed DeLorean ever, featured in all kinds of extra features and documentaries. Known as the A car, it was the most detailed version, and had a long and happy life in the production of the movies, on display at Universal Studios, and has just undergone a complete restoration.
Our other wacky movie car didn't get the same star treatment. Ecto-1 started life as a bare chassis, sold to the Miller-Meteor coachbuilding company in the late 1950s. It emerged as a dualpurpose ambulance/hearse called the Futura Duplex, wearing those Cadillac fins with pride as it ferried folks either to the hospital or to the graveyard.
Cadillac's commercial chassis industry is a bit of an interesting automotive footnote. An extended and strengthened chassis was built and sold to any of a half-dozen custom coachbuilders, who built the nation's ambulances and limousines in the days before regulations required a switch to heavy-duty trucks and vans.
In smaller towns the ambulance sometimes needed to also function as the hearse, so the Duplexes could be switched in function by the removal of the siren and the addition of some sombre interior curtains. They were very rare cars: in 1959, a little more than 2,000 chassis were sold, which is divided up between dedicated ambulances, hearses, limos, the very-rare flower cars, and the Duplexes. Extremely few survivors remain today.
There were two cars used in the filming of Ghostbusters, although only one of them was actually bought and converted by the studio. The other, the blackprimered car first seen as the before shot while Dan Aykroyd's Ray lists off a litany of work to be done - brakes, muffler, rings, "a little wiring" - was rented at first.
The second car, which would be transformed into Ecto-1 by the work of a hardware designer named Steven Dane, would be the only movie car made. It was at first supposed to be black and menacing, but was soon changed to the cheery white-andred so that it'd show up during night filming; this was surely a better fit for the Ghostbuster's comedy theme. The sequel saw a second vehicle fabbed up, but there was no backup for the original - Ecto-1 was one-of-one.
After the movie was made, it languished in a back lot before being fully restored for the 25th anniversary of the film. Since then, it has again been sitting outside on the Sony Pictures back lot, baked by the Californian sun and weathered by the elements.
As a third car was built especially for the Universal Studios park, the original Ecto-1 was rather neglected. Worse, '59 Cadillac Miller-Meteor's are crazily rare, so it's a bit sad that the car is not better preserved.
As of June of this year, you'll be able to park a Lego version of either one of these iconic rides on your desk, or pick them up for your kid and explain the classics to them. For budding Peter Venkmans or Marty McFlys, they're just the things to push the imagination past 88 miles per hour.
Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.