09
Jan
20

Rockford Files Pontiac

Rockford Files Screen-Used Firebirds

Rockford Files Screen-Used Firebirds

By Jim Suva

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The first Rockford Files Firebird was a 1974 Gold exterior/tan interior Firebird Esprit, with a 400 cubic inch engine. All the cars used for the show came from Pontiac, a GMC division, through Visa Group, to Cherokee Productions. While filming the first season, it was decided that due to the hard driving and stunts, they needed the Trans Am/Formula suspension. So near the end of the first season, all the 1975 through 1978 Firebirds were Formulas.

In March 2002, I had a conversation with a man named Vinny Imerti who maintained the Firebirds for the TV series, as well as the Rockford movies. He sold his business, Carriage Studio Rentals, which had merged with Cinema Vehicle Services around 2002.

Vinny told me that Pontiac supplied three new Firebirds per year for the TV series. They received Firebird Formulas, and then they would remove the splitter exhaust tips and the rear spoiler. They also changed the hood and rear deck lids, and filled the drill holes from the spoilers. (I believe that Universal Studios decided to paint the Firebirds a Lt Topaz color for the 1975 model year, which was the color used throughout the rest of the TV seasons.)  This was done so that it gave the illusion, Rockford always had the same car

In 1978, James Garner was not fond of the 1979 Firebird styling, plus he knew the series was going to be ending soon.  As a way to save money, he decided to use the 1978 Firebirds for the last two seasons. 

After the last filming in December 1979, Vinny bought two of the Firebirds and James Garner bought the other one. Mr. Garner sold his 1978 Firebird Formula 400 to local TV Station WGGT (Channel 48) in Greensboro, NC. This Firebird was later raffled off by Coca-Cola on March 3, 1982. The car was presented to the winner by NASCAR Driver Richard Petty at a local Circuit City store.

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The winner was a lady named Frances. Unfortunately, she chose to have the car repainted a darker color, and she had the seat covers replaced. Francis owned and drove the Firebird until she sold it in July of 1989.

A gentleman named Lloyd bought the Firebird from Frances. Lloyd was a huge James Garner fan, and he rarely drove the car. In fact, most of the time that he owned the Firebird, it was in storage. Lloyd died in 2003.

Lloyd’s daughter, Kelly, is now the owner of the Firebird. On August 29, 2009 I had the honor of meeting Kelly in person in Iowa. I took great pleasure in photographing and then actually driving the Firebird. The Firebird is all there, including the holes drilled to run recording wiring. Kelly even has a plug-in plate with five jacks for microphones. The car also has a skid plate mounted to the frame to protect the engine and transmission from any damage from stunts. This Firebird is a rig car (sound car) used for close-ups while driving. I believe it is also a stunt car. Kelly has a letter from James Garner that was sent to the Program Manager at Station WGGT. The letter identifies this car as an actual screen-used Firebird Formula 400, and that he drove this car during the filming of the Rockford Files. Unfortunately, the letter does not state the car’s VIN number.

One interesting note is that this car has power windows. The plastic plugs for the power windows in the door panels can be seen in “Material Difference”, “Love is the Word” and the “Big Cheese” episodes. This Firebird was used during the last two seasons. Pat McKinney and I are 99% sure this is an actual Rockford File Firebird.

The documentation on the Firebirds from the TV series were destroyed sometime around 2000. Since there is no longer a written list of VIN numbers for the Firebirds used on the TV series, it is hard to identify with 100% accuracy an actual screen-used Firebird.

Ross Healey located a 1976 Firebird Formula in San Diego in 2008.  After 2 years of trying to talk to the current owner, he purchased the Firebird in March 2010.  This Firebird has a letter signed by James Garner stating the vin number and the fact he drove it on the Rockford Files.  Ross also received a photo copy of an article about the original owner’s history with the Firebird.  This could be the best documented Firebird from the original tv series.  Pat McKinney purchased the 1976 Firebird from Ross a few years ago, along with all the documentation.

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Pat Mc Kinney, who lives in Southern California has been lucky enough to have owned four Rockford Firebirds. He purchased the first one from a couple in the early 1980’s. At that time, Pat managed to get written documentation from Vinny proving he now owned a screen-used car. He also found a prop plate with 853 OKG on it, in the trunk of the car. He kept this Firebird for a while, and then sold to a friend, whose wife had an accident with the car. Sadly the car was totaled, but she was ok. This car and the other three Firebirds that he currently owns all came through Livingston Pontiac in Woodland Hills, CA. All four Firebirds were special-order cars with similar equipment. In fact, the VIN number of Pat’s original 1978 that was destroyed, was only a few numbers off the 1978 Firebird that he owns today.

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Pat currently owns a 1977 Firebird that was a rig car. It is unique in that it was the only car that had holes drilled near the bottom of each of its fenders for sound wiring and microphones. According to a Roy Clark stunt coordinator and stunt double for James Garner, this was the only car that was rigged in this way. When this Firebird was used as a Hero car for filming of the outside of the car, painted plugs were put in to fill the holes. These plugs are clearly visible in several episodes in the 1977 season. “Quickie Nirvana” and “Requiem of a Funny Box” are two of the episodes. The Firebird is currently being restored by Pat. You can see pictures of the restoration on the Rockford Files website. There was a spoiler that was put back on the Firebird after filming. When Pat removed the spoiler, the original Rockford paint was clearly visible. Pat had a paint chip analyzed, which matched the paint on his 1978 Firebird. The color is Lt. Topaz.

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Pat’s 1978 Firebird was purchase from the daughter of a stunt man for the Rockford Files. I believe the stuntman’s name was Create. This car was used in the episode “Rock in Roll will never Die”. Its right-front fender and passenger door were smashed, and sold as-is to Mr. Create. Mr. Create purchased the car for his daughter who had the car painted grey. When Pat purchased the car from her, the paint was peeling and worn off in areas. You could see the Rockford paint coming through. This Firebird will be his next restoration project. The car also has low mileage, making it easier to restore than his 1977.

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Because of the Firebirds that Pat owns, we now have resources to help identify the Firebirds that were used on the TV series.

I asked Vinny about the two Firebirds that he supplied for the Rockford Files movies. He told me that he and his partner tried to sell the cars. He told me that the Firebirds were repainted and made into something completely different. In fact, I saw one of these Firebirds on e-bay in October of 2002. It is painted a bright gold color.

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The three movie Firebirds were a 1977 and two 1978 used cars. They rebuilt them and painted them. In fact, Vinny said they were actually painted the wrong shade, but no one noticed. He said that everyone always remembered the 1978 Firebirds, which is why they were rebuilt that way. These Firebirds had the standard interior with power windows.

Vinny said it was a pleasure working with James Garner. He was really a great guy!

If anyone has any other information about any original screen used Rockford Files Firebirds, please let me know at jimsuva34@aol.com.

I hope that this information will help other Rockford Files fans!

07
Jan
20

Last General Lee build in Georgia!

Last Built General Lee in Georgia

Last Built General Lee in Georgia

Written by Jim Suva

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In 1978, Warner Brothers Studios had a new TV show, The Dukes of Hazzard. It starred John Schneider as Bo Duke and Tom Wopat as Luke Duke. They were cousins who lived with another cousin, Daisy Duke, played by Catherine Bach. They lived in corrupt Hazzard County and were always in trouble with the law for doing the right thing. Another star of the show was their 1969 Dodge Charger they called the General Lee. The show ran for seven seasons, from 1979 to 1985.

The Start of Filming

Warner Brothers in California built three General Lees and sent them to Georgia for filming in November of 1978. The first five episodes of Dukes of Hazzard were filmed in Georgia, from November to December of that year. Don Schisler was hired as the transportation coordinator for the show and H&H Auto Body, owned by Henry Holman, was the shop that kept the cars in good working order. During that time, they rebuilt the three original General Lees over and over, to the point that they needed to acquire more cars. They built and used two more Chargers during filming for the first five episodes, for a total of five General Lees. After the first five episodes, production went on Christmas break; filming was to continue in January. However, during the Christmas break, Warner Brothers decided it would be better to film in California instead of Georgia, and production never returned to Georgia. The Studio had any usable vehicles in Georgia sent to California. This included three General Lees. The rest of Season 1 and all additional seasons were filmed in California, where it has been said anywhere from 250 – 350 General Lees were used. Of the five General Lees from the Georgia filming, Lee #1 and Lee #2 were scrapped, Lees #3, #4 and #5 were sent to California, used, and eventually scrapped. None of the five screen used Georgia cars remains today.

Volo’s History with The General Lee (#6)

In 2007 Volo Museum Director, Brian Grams, ran across a General Lee for sale. The description was vague, but it appeared to be documented with Warner Brothers paperwork. Volo promoted a “real General Lee” which sparked heated debate in the Dukes of Hazzard Fan community. They were told the car was never used, nor was it built by Warner Brothers. Volo was told it was bought as a parts car and was turned into a replica General Lee much later. At that time, Brian was no expert on the Dukes of Hazzard, so he had to rely on what he was told. But Brian also asked a lot of questions!

Investigation into Volo’s General Lee (#6)

The former president of the now defunct General Lee Fan Club, Travis Bell, visited the museum, suspicious of the validity of the car. He looked the car over and was able to confirm with Volo that their car has the main hoop section of the roll bar in it from Lee #1. Travis has the additional pieces of the roll bar from Lee #1 and was able to match them up, using the cuts and some of the chain links. Travis also supplied Volo with a few pictures of the car in pre-General Lee condition, taken at H&H Auto Body. This is where Brian’s investigation truly began.

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Looking at the photos of the car in its original state, it was obvious to him that the car was much too nice to have been a parts car. Brian questioned if they had a car that nice sitting there, then why would they not use it instead of rebuilding the wrecked ones? One thing the photos did prove is that the car was still in its original state after filming had finished in Georgia. Lee #1 was repainted blue and used in the final scene filmed. Lee #1 was sitting next to Volo’s car (gold) in its final state before going to the scrap yard. Brian knew it was not screen used, but still questioned its pedigree based on the fact it was too nice to be a parts car.

He contacted a man by the name of Jon Holland. Jon had written a book called Roads Back to Early Hazzard. He was and still is the devil’s advocate about this car, saying that it is a Warner Brothers owned parts car that was bought by Don Schisler and turned into a General Lee replica years after production. Don gave the car to his son, John Schisler. Jon Holland has talked down the car since day one, which has been one of the greatest resources Brian could have had, because whenever Jon said something about the car, it gave Brian a new direction. For example, Jon said the car was painted several years after production left Georgia. This gave Brian the clue to finding out when the car was painted. If it was painted several years later, then it is a replica, plain and simple. However, if it was painted before Don Schisler bought the car (Dec 1, 1979) then it is a real General Lee and not a replica.

Thus began the quest: when was the car painted orange? No one seemed to know. Jon Holland’s theory is that the car was gold when production left Georgia, as seen in the photos. Brian’s debate on that is that just because the film production went on break, that didn’t mean business at H&H stopped. They had wrecked cars to dispose of, and not knowing at the time that production wouldn’t return, they would have been preparing for the return of production, which was supposed to happen in only a few weeks. Filming stopped, production did not.

The first thing that was proven, thanks to Travis Bell, was that the roll bar was in fact from Lee #1. The next thing discovered was that it was not Larry West who did the graphics on the car. Brian had posted the car to the Volo Auto Museum’s Facebook page which showed a man painting the graphics on it, with the caption “Larry West painting the graphics on our General Lee”. Soon after, someone named Ronnie Edwards left a comment “That’s not Larry West, that’s me”. Brian reached out to Ronnie and asked some questions. Ronnie was hired by Don Schisler to do graphic painting. Ronnie said Don hired him to do two General Lees. Lee #6 was for the show, it was a gold car with a 360 engine, that is Volo’s car. Ronnie said “It’s the real deal and the holy grail of all General Lees out there”. Ronnie could not remember when he did the graphics on the car, but he did supply Brian with more photos of the car when it was at his shop, having the graphics painted. There was an interesting item in one photo, the roof of a General Lee can be seen leaning against his building. This was the roof from Lee #2. They cut it off so Ronnie could copy the graphics.

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Lee #1 and Lee #2 went to the scrap yard on Christmas Eve 1978, which raises the thought in Brian’s mind, if the car was built years later and Lee #1 and #2 went to the scrap yard, what is the probability that they would have, without reason, cut out the roll bar from Lee #1 and the roof of Lee #2, and just have them sitting around for years. Common sense says, they cut those parts off because they had immediate use, which tells Brian the photos were taken closer to the filming dates than the claimed built dates. Common sense isn’t proof though. Brian studied the pictures hard, looking to see if he could find something with a date, like a registration sticker, and then he spotted it. In the background of the General Lee is a sign “Bill Hutson for Sheriff”. Bill Hutson became Sheriff in 1980, his campaign was in 1979. The election was the 2nd Tuesday in November of 1979. Ordinance is a campaign sign must be down no later than 10 days after the election. This was a populated town and not a rural area, the ordinance would likely have been enforced. That means the picture was taken no later than November 23rd 1979, and there the car is, as a General Lee. That means the car was turned into a General Lee sometime between December 24th 1978 and November 23rd 1979. Don didn’t buy the car until December 1st of that year, after it was already a General Lee. This also proves Jon’s “Years later” comment was incorrect. Being fair, there could have been a verbal agreement between Warner Brothers and Don and that’s just the paperwork date. So technically, Don could have built it into a replica, just earlier than thought.

Travis Bell, who confirmed the roll bar, had come across more photos of Volo’s General Lee, this time at H&H Auto Body with H&H employee Danny Hobbs behind the wheel of the car. Those photos place the car at H&H proving H&H were the ones to paint the car. So, Brian questioned how he could get in touch with any of the original builders. Ronnie Edwards was able to give him contact info for Don Schisler’s son, John, who was a helping hand during production, as well as the one the car was supposedly built for. Don had passed away several years prior to Brian’s investigations, so he was unable to speak with him. When Brian asked John about the car and brought up the story about the replica built from a parts car for him, he chuckled and said, “There is nothing further from the truth”. They had a discussion, which he later put in writing, that it was the last car they had built for the show. He said he remembered it well because it was the last one built. He said it is the only surviving Georgia era General Lee.

Brian was able to find Henry Holman, owner of H&H Auto Body and speak to him. Henry said, in writing, it was the last car they had built for the show, Lee #6. He also said he remembered it well, because he was the one who found it. Henry was making a beer run to the gas station, when a woman pulled up in the car, he asked her if she wanted to sell it, put her in touch with Don and they made a deal. He said when it was announced that production was moving to California there were four General Lees on set, three of them went to California, and the fourth was given to Don Schisler, to settle money owned to him by Warner brothers. Warner Brothers gave Don Schisler all the unusable wrecked and scrapped cars as partial payment. This showed the car as being built prior to mid-January 1979, and built for Warner Brothers with intent to be used, NOT as a replica for Don’s son.

Later Brian was able to track down John Blanchette, who purchased the car from Don Schisler in November of 1980. According to him, Don told him the car was screen used for close up shots and was sold to him as the real deal. John, amazingly, kept and still had possession of all his records of the car from work he had done to it, old photos, letter correspondents and best of all the original ad he purchased it from. The ad that Don Schisler himself posted. The ad clearly reads “General Lee as owned and built by Warner Bro. for Dukes of Hazzard series, not a replica, only privately-owned General Lee in existence.” The phone number in the ad corresponds to Don Schisler and is actually still is registered to his family.

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Brian was later able to contact one other person, Danny Hobbs, the man pictured in the car at H&H Auto Body. He too confirmed that they “Got it ready, but didn’t use it” in the Georgia episodes.

Explaining the False Stories

As a summary, the false “known history” of the car was that it was originally bought by Warner Brothers, used as a parts car only, and was sold to Don Schisler, who later restored the car into a replica for his son John. Actually, this was the 6th General Lee ever built, as well as the last General Lee ever prepared by the Georgia crew for screen use. It is also the only surviving Georgia-era General Lee. If filming didn’t move to California, this car would have been used and would not exist today. It is the first General Lee ever to be released to the public. The Volo ad has cool factor of being the first advertisement ever for a General Lee!

So, where did the parts car/replica rumor come from? This is what Don Schisler told people over the years. But why? It’s likely because when production moved to California, Don was given all the scrap and parts cars. Since the car was never screen used, Warner Brothers wouldn’t have known if the car was a parts car or a ready-to-use General Lee. He could easily acquire the car by saying it’s a parts car. The bill of sale shows “$10 and consideration” which supports the car was given to him as part of the “scrap and parts cars agreement”. When questioned, to avoid any backlash, he maintained the story he told Warner Brothers, except when he told the complete opposite, in writing, in his ad! Don basically told two different stories.

Travis Bell and a partner of his, located Lee #1 in the scrap yard and purchased it. That is how Travis was able to confirm the Volo car’s roll bar is from Lee #1. Volo’s #6 car has had only 1,500 miles on it since 1978 and it is all original and unrestored, just as it was built in 1978/79. Original H&H paint, original hand painted graphics, original wheels, push bar, etc., hence the only “Surviving Georgia Lee”.

Epilog

Brian believes only 20 TV series General Lees exist. 17 of the California cars were sold off to Wayne Wooten in 1990 – these are the ones that have a contract and are for private use only. There is Volo’s Lee #6, Lee #1, now owned by Bubba Watson, and there is a California TV series car that Warner Brothers painted a different color and used for another TV show after Dukes of Hazzard. It was later discovered to be a General Lee. Volo’s car is the nicest unrestored General Lee in existence.

You can find a video and many of the documents on the Volo Auto Museum website https://www.volocars.com/the-attraction/vehicles/13166/1969-dodge-charger

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04
Jan
20

Ford vs. Ferrari

Ford GT40 from Ford v Ferrari

Ford GT40 from Ford v Ferrari

by Jim Suva

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The movie Ford v Ferrari opened in November, 2019. It stars Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as Ken Miles. The movie tells the story of how Ford beat Ferrari in the 1966 “24 Hours of Le Mans” road race in France.

This story is about one of the screen-used Ford GT40s from the movie, and how Volo Auto Museum got ownership of it.

Opportunity Comes Calling

Brian Grams, Museum Director at Volo, was in his office chatting with his father, Greg Grams, Founder and CEO of Volo Auto Museum and Auto Sales. Greg had seen Ford v Ferrari the night before and was commenting about how great it was, and how Brian had to go and see it. Ironically, at that exact moment Brian received a text message from one of his contacts who works in the Entertainment industry. He was asking if Volo Auto Museum wanted any cars from the movie. Brian knew they would not be bargain autos by any means, and he figured there would be little interest on Volo’s behalf, considering they did not have any space to display an additional movie car at that moment. But he still brought it up to his father, whose eyes lit up with excitement. Brian thinks the adrenaline from seeing the movie was still racing in his veins, because Greg was definitely interested.

The offer was pretty wide open as far as the pick of the litter. They had their choice of cars, from the Ken Miles family’s woody wagon, to partially assembled Ford Falcons from the Ford factory scene, to Corvettes, Porches, Ferraris and of course, the GT40s. Not having seen the movie, Brian gravitated to the Ferraris, whereas his dad loved both the Ferraris and GT40s. They knew there was a limited window on this opportunity, because the cars were released that day, and were offered up to museums and collectors. They knew that the best ones would be the ones to disappear first. Brian and Greg narrowed their choices down to the #21 Ferrari or the Green #95 GT40. Greg suggested Brian and his brother Jay, go to see the movie. This would help them to decide which would be the right car. They could then make a more informed decision the following morning. Jay went to see the movie, but Brian was unable to go.

The next morning Jay said, “Get the GT before its gone! The whole movie is about the GT40!” Brian tried calling his father, but could not reach him. He called his mother and asked her to get in touch with Greg, but she had no luck either. Not wanting to miss out on the car, Brian decided to pull the trigger on the green #95 GT40. The purchase was done sight-unseen, and with little to no information about the car. He knew it had an LS3 engine and he had seen a few photos of the car, sandwiched between other cars, and it showed a lot of scrapes and scratches. Brian at this point had no idea how the car was built. Was it built quickly, just so that it would look good on film, like so many Movie/TV cars? Was the car built with quality in mind? What was he going to get for the premium price he was about to pay? He also knew in the back of his mind, that no matter the car’s condition, it would be timeless. Ford v Ferrari is the first true car movie to have been released for many years. Even the Fast and Furious franchise, that features a lot of cars is not a true car lovers movie. So here he had a real car from a true car movie.

After making the commitment to purchase the car, Greg reached out to Brian (the adrenaline of the movie having since left his veins), and decided that Volo did not need the car, did not have the space, and felt the funds could be better used elsewhere. When Brian told him he already bought the car, Greg was angry that Brian did not wait to discuss the purchase with him, but Brian also thinks he was secretly pretty happy and excited.

Inspection and History of Volo’s Ford GT40

The deal was completed and the car picked up. Upon delivery Brian noticed that the many scrapes and scratches that were on the car were actually studio effects! They were painted on, including dirt and brake dust, to give the car that race-track-used look. There was no actual damage to the car! He was happy to learn the car was not the typical movie car that was cheaply built just to look good on screen. It was an incredible build.

This is where Brian’s research began, which wasn’t too difficult, because the movie’s recent release. The first thing he did was a Google search, and picked bits and pieces out of articles. During that process he learned that two companies, Superformance and Race Car Replicas had supplied a majority of the cars to the film. Brian reached out to both Superformance and RCR. RCR replied that it was one of the cars they had built. They supplied the production company with over 100 cars, from the Ferraris to Porsches, GT40s, etc. All the cars used the same driveline per request by the production company. All the cars were powered by LS3, for ease of repairs and maintenance on the set. This was much easier than having a variety of different drivelines. There were a total of twelve GT40s and RCR supplied 10 of them. Superformance supplied the other two.

The cars all featured an RCR custom built aluminum chassis, designed after the original GT40 chassis. The body is made of fiberglass from a mold that was taken off an original GT40. It is a very close replica to an original GT40, unlike other replicas that have mis-proportioned bodies and use existing chassis, from a Fiero, for example. The RCR GT40 has the same chassis design, but is a few hundred pounds lighter because of its use of aluminum instead of steel. It handles and performs much like an original GT40. RCR sent the cars to the production company complete, with exception of one thing, the paint. All the cars were sent in bare gel coat, ready to be painted by the production company.

Another discovery Brian made was a few sheets of paper in the car, which depicted the Daytona race scene. This was an outline so the drivers knew where they needed to be positioned and when. It was essentially the race choreography. There was also a GPS transponder likely to be used by production to monitor everyone’s position and speed. One last thing he found in the car was a tag labeled Paul Dallenbach. With a Google search he discovered that Paul is a professional stunt and race car driver. Paul is the one who drove this GT40 in the movie. Paul said the car handled great, like a true race car, with the exception of the tires, which were chosen for looks instead of performance. They had a hard time sticking. Paul drove the car on average 130 mph for filming. Ironically, the #95 car that Paul was driving was in the 24 Hours of Daytona race scene, where car #95 had come in 2nd place. In real life, Paul actually raced in the 24 Hours of Daytona race, and placed 2nd in his racing career!

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In the movie there are far more than twelve GT40s shown. Since the production company had only twelve cars, how was that possible? The cars were recycled and painted to look like different cars for different scenes. Through a friend, Brian was able to get a few images from the production “key list” of cars. He learned before Volo’s car was the green #95, it was the red #3 Dan Gurney car, that was used in the Le Mans race scene, as well as a yellow #8 car that was used in one of the pit scenes of the Le Mans race.

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In addition, the key list showed a scene where the green #95 car hits a 66 Mustang, in which the Mustang ends up exploding. Unfortunately this scene must have ended up on the cutting room floor.

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One last discovery was the paint scheme of the #95 car, the real Moody and Holman #95 car that raced the 24 hours of Daytona was white with some green accents. So why was this car not painted the same? The production company did this intentionally, to help the audience more easily identify cars that would otherwise look too similar and could be confusing to movie goers.

Final comment

I went to see this movie and I can’t wait for it to come out in digital format. In my opinion, it is one of the best racing movies ever made. If you get a chance, go see the movie and then come to the Volo Auto Museum to see this piece of movie history. You will not be disappointed!

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20
Dec
19

Miami Vice Daytona Spider

Miami Vice Screen Used Daytona

Miami Vice Screen Used Daytona

Written by Jim Suva

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In 1984, a new TV show called Miami Vice hit the air waves on NBC. It was a big hit because of the designer clothes, exotic cars, the hit sound tracks. Don Johnson starred as Sonny Crockett and Phillip Michael Thomas as Rico Tubbs as two undercover Miami Vice detectives. Sonny drove a black 1972 Ferrari Daytona GTS/4 Daytona Spyder.

The Ferrari Daytona cars that were used on the first two seasons, and a few episodes of Season 3, were actually Daytona kit cars built on a Corvette chassis. This is the story of the original Daytona, Car #1. The car is presently owned by the Volo Auto Museum, in Volo, Illinois. Brian Gram oversees Volo’s extensive Star Cars display. He has thoroughly researched the Daytona Spyder, and this is what Brian found out about the history of their car.

Birth of the Daytona Spyder Kit Car #1

In the 1980s, Al Mardekian, who was a specialty car dealer in CA, also built kit cars, such as a Lamborghini. He considered doing a Cobra replica and contacted known builder Tom McBurnie. Tom visited Al’s shop to discuss the project. Al’s idea was to build a Cobra on a Corvette chassis. Unfortunately, Tom said the proportions were too different to make this possible. While at the shop, Tom noticed a Ferrari Daytona Spyder for sale in the dealership showroom, and asked, “What about a Daytona?” Al agreed and gave Tom the Daytona (which was really a customer’s car and not Al’s) to be dismantled and have molds made from it. Once the molds were made, Tom set out to make his first car, which was built on a 1976 Corvette chassis. When putting the car together he ran into an issue. The panels did not fit on the passenger side. Tom was unaware that the Corvette donor car had been in an accident and was improperly repaired. The wheelbase was 1.5 inches shorter on the passenger side than on the driver side. Tom was able to make the adjustments to make it fit, the car was painted red and had a Gale Banks Twin Turbo engine in it. Tom continued to build an additional three cars, known as Cars #2, #3, and #4. Car #4 was black with a tan interior, built on a 1981 Corvette chassis. Those were the only cars Tom built for Al.

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The Miami Vice Connection

Meanwhile, Universal Studios was working on the new Miami Vice TV series. They wanted an exotic car that would fit the character of Sonny Crocket. Miami Vice producer, Michael Mann, was friends with Dan Haggerty, a.k.a. Grizzly Adams. Dan had seen the Daytona replicas on Al’s car lot and suggested to Michael that they should be used on the show. Michael went to visit Al and asked about leasing Car #4, the black and tan one, and Al agreed. The Miami Vice pilot was filmed, and the show went into production. Once in production, they needed a second car to use as a stunt vehicle. They ended up leasing Volo’s Car #1 from Al. They had to remove the Gale Banks motor for a tamer engine and painted the car black so it would match Car #4. Meanwhile, Al got into some difficulties, and Universal was concerned because they were leasing the cars. The studio couldn’t afford to lose them. So, they did what any large, well-heeled movie studio would do, they bought them! (See Ferrari Lawsuit Section below.)

Universal Studios secured the cars and continued to film. On an interesting note, Michael Mann placed the Ferrari emblems on these cars, and it is obvious he placed them incorrectly. In the early episodes, you can see that the nose emblem was placed high above the headlights. In later episodes it was moved to the correct location between the lights.

A Real Life Miami Vice Sting Operation

During filming, one of the Daytona’s was borrowed by a mechanic who worked on the set. Unfortunately, the mechanic used the car to make an illegal deal selling gun silencers. But it was a sting operation and he was arrested. Luckily, the car was returned to the set, unharmed by the experience!

Ferrari Lawsuit

Since Miami Vice became such a popular TV show, Ferrari became upset with the notoriety the replica Ferrari was receiving, so they sued Universal Studios. In the end, Ferrari and Universal came to an agreement; they would get rid of the Daytona in the storyline. This would ostensibly make people forget about the Daytona. Ferrari would then donate two new Testarossa’s to take place of the Daytona’s in the show. But how would they make Sonny’s Daytona disappear from the storyline? The answer was simple. Blow it up on the show! Disclaimer: Special effects were used; no Daytona’s were actually harmed during filming!

Universal Studios now had two Testarossa’s and two Daytona’s, but they needed a Testarossa stunt vehicle. They agreed to trade the two Daytona’s to Carl Roberts, who had been involved in maintaining the cars on set, for a Testarossa replica for stunt use. Carl built the Testarossa stunt car, and took possession of the two Daytona’s, but without their titles.

Carl wanted to go into business building Daytona replicas. However, Ferrari eventually sued both Tom McBurnie and Carl Roberts for trademark infringement and put a stop to production.

Daytona Car #4 history after Miami Vice

Carl Roberts sold one of the Daytona’s, Car #4 to a private party. Car #4 changed hands several times, but today has been owned by the same owner for many years.

Daytona Car #1 history after Miami Vice

After Miami Vice stopped using the Daytona’s, Carl Roberts rented out two Daytona’s to produce Speed Zone, starring John Candy. Which included car #1.The movie was filmed in Canada. The cars were delivered to Canada, used for filming, and then set back to California. Carl hired Don Horn to pick the cars up in California and bring them to his shop in Lubbock Texas for storing. That way Carl could pick them up at a later date. Carl sent a driver out to pick up the “Hero” (Car #1), but the driver blew the motor, so Carl had Don Horn pulled the engine from the other Daytona. Once that was done the hero car was driven back to Carl’s garage. Carl made a deal with Don Horn that he would trade Don a Daytona body kit to cover the cost of the repairs. Don borrowed the money from Roger Pamperine to do the repairs. But Don never paid Roger Pamperine and Roger put a lien on the car. The lien was for $3,000, but Roberts refused to pay. In order to get a title, the car had to be put into a police auction and sold. Roger Pamperine bought the car from the auction, allowing him to get legal title, selling the car to regain his investments.

The car was then acquired by Jeff Allen from the TV show Car Chasers. He put it on eBay, where the Volo Auto Museum was the high bidder. Jeff represented the car as the original Daytona from Miami Vice, he had documentation, emails and letterhead copies that referred to this and the other Speed Zone car as Miami Vice Daytona’s. Brian Grams, not being a historian on Miami Vice, accepted the documents as proof of it being the original car.

        Volo Auto Museum did a partial restoration and presented the car in the museum. Shortly after being put on display, the Volo Museum was called out for representing a replica car as the original. Most of the time Brian ignored those comments, because usually they came from Miami Vice fans who were comparing the car to what they saw on-screen. In this case, it was not accurate, since Carl Roberts had modified the car for Speed Zone. Then, a person who had knowledge of the original VIN numbers approached Brian. He was friends with the owner of Car #4, and he had copies of the Universal documents that listed the two Daytona VIN numbers. He was able to confirm that Brian’s VIN number was neither of the VIN numbers listed. He knew a story of Carl Roberts scrapping the chassis and not knowing the whereabouts of Car #1’s body, and he suggested that maybe the Volo car was the body from Car #1. They went back and forth over many of the unique details of the body. There was a patch where the fiberglass was repaired, from when Michael Mann improperly placed the nose emblem, the passenger side of the car was shorter by 1.5 inches, and it was red under the black paint. There were holes cut in the doors where speakers were originally placed in the Miami Vice car. The auto museum determined that it was likely, but unprovable, that this was the body from Car #1. Brian left it at that, not happy, but satisfied it wasn’t a complete replica car. The problem was that even though there was evidence to support it, it cannot be proven this is the Car #1 body.

Vice%20junk
Fb%20vice
Vice%207

This put a fire in Brian, he knew he was missing something. He went to the car and wanted it to talk to him. Brian just kept looking at it wondering what was missing, and then there it was! He was reading the VIN number and he noticed the rivets holding the VIN tag were not GM rivets, which immediately made him question the authenticity of the VIN tag. Brian immediately went searching for the frame number, which is located at the rear of the frame, near the rear tire, but there was no VIN, no stamping of any kind. Remember, Car #1 was wrecked before Tom McBurnie got it. The entire rear section of the frame was replaced with a new one. That was evident by the type of welds. Not knowing any additional location where he could check a VIN number, Brian was quite let down. One more piece of the puzzle, the frame replacement, supports it being Car #1 but without that VIN, the proof wasn’t there.

Brian called a Corvette restorer whom he knows and was told the VIN is also on top of the frame on the driver’s side. He told Brian you can’t see it without taking the body off. Brian knew taking the body off was not an option. The Corvette expert said, if you were to sit in the driver’s seat, place your hand down on the sill, that’s where it would be located on the frame. Brian got a hole saw and cut a hole there, and just like a bullseye, there was a VIN number. It was NOT the same VIN number listed on the tag. The VIN number on the tag was for an 81 Corvette, the frame was a 1976 frame. Brian called the original source who had knowledge of the VIN numbers, to see if it matched against the Universal paperwork. Unfortunately, he was on vacation. After about a week of nail biting, he did call Brian to congratulate him on finding the missing chassis, but the body still could not be confirmed. Then it occurred to Brian that perhaps the original trim tag was still in the door jamb, and sure enough, it was. The codes on the tag were for a 1976 Corvette, NOT a 1981 Corvette like the VIN tag would have implied. To further prove it, the date code on the Trim Tag matched up to be within three weeks from the date of the frame. Everything was finally tied together and proven! Volo had found, without doubt, the missing Daytona from Miami Vice and the #1 prototype Daytona replica. He was provided with copies of the Universal Documents once he was able to prove the car’s pedigree. Brian talked to Tom McBurnie about it and he mentioned it was originally a green Corvette, who said that the original car he used was white. Brian sanded down some of the paint in the door jamb, and it went from black, to red, to white, and finally green. The car must have been painted white after the collision. Mystery solved!

Conclusion

Since the discovery, Volo Auto Museum has spent thousands of dollars reversing the modifications made to the car by Carl Roberts. Their goal was to bring it back to its screen accuracy as closely as possible to its Miami Vice days.

Here is link to a YouTube video Volo did with Tom McBurnie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRKxnCj5Gpk

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23
Oct
19

Dune Buggy Star Cars

Dune Buggies were a big hit in the 1960’s and TV noticed the interest, so naturally put them on TV! Dune buggies appeared in many shows and “beach” movies, but a few were customized to become unforgettable “Star Cars!” The main Star Cars that emerged were the “Bugaloos” buggy, Speed Buggy cartoon, and Wonderbug.

Bugaloos buggy and the original cast in the Macy’s Day parade

Here’s an excerpt from “Cars of the Stars” about the car:

1970s – A Barris Fun Buggy four-passenger fiberglass body was used as a base for the hockey stick silhouette design of the Bugaloos Buggy, featured on “The Bugaloos” television series. Since the concept of the show, starring Martha Raye and the four Bugaloos, showed the group with wings enabling them to fly, it was determined logical for the car to “fly” and to “ride” on water. The buggy was equipped with two large flapping butterfly wings, and twin screws installed under the rear body for high-powered water sporting. Oversized headlights looked like the eyes of a bug, while the taillights were tunneled portholes that illuminate at night. Wide oval Firestone tires were installed on Ansen one-piece sprint wheels. The interior was individualized for each Bugaloo – each star having his/her own telephone system and Muntz stereo tape system with individual earphones. The buggy was painted in a green, yellow and orange butterfly theme with orange and purple pinstripes. – Cars of the Stars, ©1974 . http://bugaloos.net/bugaloo-buggy.shtml

Speed Buggy was never a real car, just a cartoon inspired by the 1968 Walt Disney Pictures film The Love Bug and the Speed Racer anime franchise. Only 16 episodes, but there were in heavy rotation in re-runs!

The cast of Wonderbug in the transformed version of the car.

Wonderbug was a segment of the first and second season of the Americantelevision seriesThe Krofft Supershow, from 1976 to 1978. A live action group of kids found a “talking car” and it would transform int Wonderbug!

Even Spiderman got into the action, and a Spidermobile was featured in several comics during the Dune Buggy Craze! A “real” version was built of this in 2015!

Built by Jack Orell in Georgia

There are other lesser known Dune Buggies, and many films and shows featured a stock buggy at the beach, but this short list are the most famous on screen versions of the fun open air “Kit Car” craze known as “Dune Buggies”!

09
Oct
18

National Lampoon’s Family Vacation Wagon Queen Family Truckster

Hi Star Car fans!

I have a long list of star car blogs I still need to write, but sometimes I find a great blog on a star car and just ask to repost it!  Here’s a guy actually named GRISWOLD and he made an awesome Wagon Queen Family Truckster from “National Lampoon’s Family Vacation”

Just a taste of it here, click the link for photos to read his build story! Great job, Steve and family!

Nate Trumangriswoldvac-vacation-1

The Making of the Griswold Family Truckster
by Steve Griswold | Aug 27, 2013 | Uncategorized | 45 comments

The Griswold Family Story
We are the Griswolds, and, yes, we are heading on vacation. I have been hearing jokes all my life but love the National Lampoon Vacation movies. So we decided to create our own Griswold Truckster so we can take the kids on some awesome road trips. If you have seen the National Lampoon Vacation movie, you know the Griswolds purchase the Family Truckster in metallic pea; it’s not what they ordered at Lou Glutz Motors, but after their trade in is crushed into scrap metal they are happy to take home the Wagon Queen Family Truckster to start the family road trip to Walley World.

I am sure you want to know how our Truckster came to life. We took many photos along the way and have created a Griswold Family Truckster Photo Album here.

You can email Steve or Lisa Griswold at:
Pixie Vacations / Griswold Family Vacations
Email
Steve@PixieVacations.com
or
Lisa@PixieVacations.com
Phone: 678-815-1584
Website: http://www.PixieVacations.com / http://www.GriswoldFamilyVacations.com

The Griswold Family Truckster
Just so you know the Wagon Queen Family Truckster in the National Lampoon movie is a 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire that has been modified by Warner Brothers, not by George Barris who did the Batmobile and other famous movie cars. For some reason George Barris gets credit for the Truckster but Gary Schneider did extensive research before building a Truckster himself and found out George Barris did not build the Griswold Family Truckster.

 

10
May
18

Think you have seen all the star car movies?

By Nate Truman

Since the 1970’s I’ve been an avid “star car” fan, builder, and collector.  I’ve spent way too much time researching, and enjoying movie and TV cars as my main hobby.  With a career in TV and films, I have had access to many of the screen used cars and spent many years on the backlots of studios looking under tarps and finding out little tidbits of info on these stars of the screens with wheels!   Today, with the advent of “Google search”, most everything you may have a passing interest in can be answered almost instantly but not everything comes up on some of the older or less “famous” movie and TV vehicles.

So today I’m just going to publish a small part of my “blog ideas” list, and see what you and other Star Car fans want to read about, and it can also be used as a check list if you want to see a film that also features a cool ride!  Leave a comment on which car you want to see a blog about, and I will dig though my files and share my “analog” info along with what I can gather from my star car pals!

 

 

 

In no particular order:

“HAROLD AND MAUDE”   JAGUAR HEARSE

“CHITTY CHITTY-BANG-BANG”

“BULLITT” STEVE McQUEEN – 1968 FORD MUSTANG 390 GT

“THE CAR”

“CHRISTINE”

“SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT”

“THUNDER ROAD”

“DAMNATION ALLEY”

“HERBIE THE LOVE BUG” 1963  BEETLE

“AUSTIN POWERS” BRITISH FLAG JAGUAR XKE and XK8

“UNDERCOVER BROTHER”

ROY ROGERS JEEP

“MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE CLOWN TRUCK

“BLUES BROTHERS” BLUES MOBILE – 1974 Dodge Monaco

“VANISHING POINT”

“MAD MAX”

“GHOSTBUSTERS” [1984]1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Ambulance

HERKIMER BATTLE JITNEY (Mystery Men)

ANTICHRIST LORRIE -(The Gods Must be Crazy).

1967 FORD SHELBY GT500 FASTBACK (Gone in 60 Seconds).

THELMA AND LOUISE – Thunderbird

FERRIS BUELLER’S 1961 FERRARI 250 GT SPYDER CALIFORNIA

CHEECH & CHONG’S SWEET N’ LOW DOPE VAN

STRAKER’S FUTURE CAR FROM UFO SERIES

MR. MAJESTYK YELLOW 1968 FORD PICK-UP




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