By Mike (Roadie) Marino
Published May 2004
Lights, camera’s, action! Quiet on the set! The casting couch and the Golden Age of Film. It was the heady Hollywood heydays. Glitz and glamour were personified by Gable and Garbo, and it was the same era of over consumption and arrogance that inspired the Gloria Swanson/William Holden film treatment of the great washed up stars of the Hollywood Hills…”Sunset Boulevard”. It was Hollywierd at it’s gluttonous best. Premiers, autograph’s, paparazzi by the busloads…and the cars, oh man, those cars. These were the V-8 and V-12 chariots of the gods that had descended from the heavens to walk among us mere mortals. Cadillac. Stutz. Duesenberg.
Ragtops purring, humming, wind in the hair, racing without a care down the Malibu coast, full moon on the water, waves silver tipped, racing shoreward to engage in oceanic intercourse with California’s golden beaches. Gay laughter and witty repartee punctuated the night with scarves flying and whipping in the West Coast breeze…flags of the Republic of Celebrity. Gasoline was being consumed in gargantuan quantities as film land flaunted itself to the delight of a hungry public. In time the Golden Age would pass, the patina would fade from the movies and the stars themselves, and in the coming of age, piston pubescent era of the 1950’s – 1970’s roadhead, the cars would become the main attraction.
Take two moonshining pretty boys, add some backwoods mayhem with a slurred southern drawl…a kissin’ cousin-type sister in painted on hot pants from the planet Salivation, and you have the makin’s of a recipe for success with “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
John Schneider and Tom Wopat perfected the roles of the deep fried southern troublemakers who gave heaping plateful’s of grief to Boss Hogg and Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane. Car chases, car crashes, car near misses. It was a piston pumping inbreed festival of stars and bars, as well as cars. The women were awed by the sinewy brothers of the backwoods. One blonde, (only his hairdresser knew for sure), and the other the obligatory brunette, dark, swarthy and deep. In other words, The Anti-Blonde!
Now we need something else. Something the guys can relate to. Soon the seas of sexuality parted with divine inspiration and from the fog emerged everyone’s backwoods dream…Daisy Duke. Heaven itself in hot pants, and the sexual thunder that emerged from her rocked our world, as we waited patiently in line to get a direct hit by her lightning. If other sex symbols of the day were mere thunderstorms, then, Daisy Duke qualified as a full-fledged hurricane!
Although women dreamed of going to the moon with Luke or Bo, and the guys wanted to search for a needle in Daisy Dukes haystack, the real star of the show was an automotive phallic symbol named “The General Lee”. Named after the spirited leader of the Confederate Army, the car symbolized the muscle of an era gone by, and when The Dukes debuted in 1979 it was already considered late Sixties and early Seventies nostalgia.
The venerable V-8 Dodge Charger was chosen for a reason. Power. Power…and more power. Mucho, macho, machismo muscle. The Charger won 22 of 54 major NASCAR races in 1969, so why not take the king of the track and make it the king of the backwoods. Give it a distinctive blaze orange paint job, add a Confederate flag on the roof, have the horn blast out the opening notes of “Dixie” and you have one deep south southern-fried mo-sheen.
The Charger itself was a thinly disguised street racing screamer that rocked and roared as the engine came to life with the power of the beast from 20,000 fathoms. Raw power and energy unleashed, and the timing couldn’t have been better. The country was full of hollow-eyed asphalt junkies, and a gallon of gas fix was just pennies on the dollar and it all got jammed into the gasoline vein of the Charger to burn up fast at 10 mpg.
The “Dukes” production company had around 17 “Gen’l Lee’s” and some models were ’68’s, some were ’70s, but there is no doubt about it, the Charger was king of the streets. Soon there would be change on the Charger horizon and the muscle era itself would surrender at the environmental equivalent of Appomattox, but, thanks to The Dukes of Hazzard, “The General Lee” marches on.
The Sixties were Pow! Bang! Zoom! when it came to high camp and pop culture. Water pipes and tailpipes were coming to a high point, and nowhere were the pipes higher than on the turbine powered Caped Crusaders mighty crime fightin’ vehicle, The Batmobile! Only Batman and the Boy Wonder could pull off a leather and leotard 1920’s Berlin cabaret look and actually make it look manly. The crime-fighting duo took on a cast of characters straight out of a nightmare. The Joker. The Riddler. Mr. Freeze. Devious devices designed to destroy were thwarted by the two tightfisted men in tights. On the other hand, dress Julie Newmar up in ass-hugging Catwoman leather pants, high black boots and a whip, and you have a dream come true.. Colorful crime fighters, indeed, but the real star was not Bruce Wayne, not Alfred, and no, not Dick Grayson. It was no less than a turbo charged jet-black one vehicle Panzer division with batwings known simply as The Batmobile.
The car had class. It was starship power with the sleek svelte look of that classy chassis. pulsating and rippling, black Sabbath metal and fiberglass, whirring turbines and enough gadgets and gizmo’s to chock James Bond on a Martini olive of overkill. “Holy Headers Batman, this beast kicks asphalt!” Bruce Wayne nods, “Yes, it does Boy Wonder. May I call you Boy Wonder? This magnificent machine is an asphalt eating crime fighter, way beyond its time. Let Superman have his yellow sun induced gravity fighting super powers, me, I’ve got horsepower to the max, Baby.”
The roots of the legendary Batmobile are lodged in the year of our Ford, 1955. The designers at Ford-Mercury were developing a concept car, as all auto manufacturers were doing that year. The styling alone was alien inspired and you’d swear Michael Rennie was ready to make the earth stand still with his mighty robot Gort. The car was called the “Futura” and designed by the Versacci of auto design of the day, Ghia of Italy. Fast forward to the Sixties.
Hollywood. Batman is on the drawing board and ready to leap to life from the pages of a comic book to the small screen. The producers scratched their heads. “We need a car. Not just any car either. We need, a car with chutzpah, and chutzpah to spare, and even more chutzpah after that.” The design challenge was finally dropped like an excited salmon in the lap of the King of the Kustomizers, George Barris, and he had three weeks to pull it off. Pull it off he did, and created a pop culture icon that still revs and races through the dark, wet Tim Burton streets of celluloid Gotham City.
George actually made three of them and they went on tour like a comic book USO troupe and even participated in staged racing events at drag strips across the country, and while actors like Val Kilmer, Adam West and Michael Keaton have had their shot at portraying the mighty man in black, there will always be only one George Barris. Three Batmobiles, yes, but only one George Barris, the caped customizer of the POW! BANG! crime fighting generation of the heavy on the pop-goes-the-culture 1960’s.
The forces of good versus evil has played itself out on the human stage for daily performances since the day the Garden of Eden lost it’s virginity and it’s innocence, and the 1960’s were the ultimate personification of social upheaval and the perception that the world was filled with violence without meaning. No sense to the nonsense, and a duality that led to schizophrenia, and raised the question, “just who are the bad guys anyway”?
This problematic scenario was played out on the big screen in the early 1970’s in the Dennis Weaver, cult masterpiece, “Duel”, where a traveling salesman with humongous oversized aviator sunglasses tries to outrun the 18-wheel version of the Headless Horseman. It’s a 90-minute monologue with accompanying chase scene that pits a hungry Peterbilt against, of all things, a slant 6, orange-red, four-door sedan Plymouth Valiant.
Faceless, motiveless, the pit bull of a big rig chases our hapless hero down the asphalt and up the asphalt. Climbing uphill, the valiant Valiant is loosing power. The radiator, now red-hot, begins to overheat, the needle racing into the dreaded red zone Dennis Weaver sweating drops as big as Buicks, panic etched into his face looks in the rearview. The truck is noticeably absent, he enjoys an inward chuckle as a sense of momentary relief overcomes him, even in the sweltering heat of the California day. A deep sigh and a slight twinge of joy. It’s over! It’s over! Then dread and terror returns as the truck reappears and begins to round the bend, gain speed and close the gap. The knife plunges deep into his spirit, slices clean through his fragile psyche and reaches raw bone, as he falls screaming silently further and further into the depths of his own personal asphaltian hell, his fears, dancing a macabre dance of death in the shimmering mirage in the road ahead, as he finally realizes. Objects in the rearview mirror really are closer than they appear. David has finally met Goliath, and now Goliath must fall.
The Plymouth Valiant is the kissing cousin to the Dodge Dart, and why Spielberg chose a 1968 Plymouth to be the automotive anti-hero to the Peterbilt diesel anti-Christ in this superb thriller is anybody’s guess. The car certainly lived up to it’s Valiant name in this conflict flick of a time that was stretched tighter than a polyester leisure suit that was two sizes too small. The Sixties were a confusing time, and the Seventies sought to untangle the tie-dyed mess that was created, and in the process gave us a wonderful film and cheap sunglasses along with a most valiant Plymouth that could hold it’s own against diesel evil incarnate.
San Francisco. Frisco to the old-timers. Ess Eff to the uninitiated. The streets of the city have been haunted by writers, poets, dharma bums, beatniks, hippies, sinners and saints. They’ve all found solace and comfort in her shroud of fog. The Golden Gate Bridge, the Catherine Hepburn of bridges, stretches from Marin to the tip of the peninsula, while the heavy metalesque Bay Bridge, spanned the gap from Oakland to The Embarcadero. Magnifico structures that shuttle commuters to and fro, from frenzy to fury at times, to the slow and go madness of the rush hour at others, that makes travel halt and congeal like a slow moving line of caramel by the sea, until it heats up, thins out and races along again at 60 plus miles per hour. The Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge, standing as sentinels over the bay, but they’re not the only bridges in San Francisco. Not by a long shot. Let’s face it, San Francisco just wouldn’t be San Francisco, without it’s Nash Bridges!
Don Johnson introduced us to the art deco architecture of Miami, as well as the audacious flair of men wearing pastels with pride, and still being macho. Those fashion statements conjugated with scripts and storylines of modern day piracy, and created a TV child that regaled us with bedtime tales of Columbian drug cartels plying their trade in the salty seas of the Caribbean on televisions cult classic, “Miami Vice”. Crockett and Tubbs, made “Vice” an instant cop-pop culture hit, but soon Sonny Crockett tired of wearing pink, and decided to escape the beach culture of Miami, and seek Bohemian peace in the Victorian quietude of the San Francisco Hills. It was against this most Rice-A-Roni of backdrops that became Nash Bridges and decided to trade his cigarette boat in for one of the most recognized Motor City muscle monster mo-sheens to ever grace and race up and down Lombard Street. A drop dead lemon drop, lemon twist yellow 1971 Hemi ‘Cuda.
Don Johnson and Cheech Marin. Johnson, a Crockett without a Tubbs, and Marin, a Chong-less Cheech, were flawless as buddy-pal-partner cops, Nash Bridges and Joe Dominguez. Crime fightin’ television with not only a sense of humor, but more importantly, a sense of flair and high fashion. That sense of fashion was most prevalent on the street as the crime fightin’ Nash and Joe banged around the Baghdad by the Bay in the ‘Cuda. Bare in mind, Amigo, this is not just any old Cuda. This one had more class than Princess Grace. Hell, this one had panache, and not just any old panache either. This one had Nash Panache.
In 1964, Plymouth came out with it’s first of the line Barracuda’s. Ford was getting ready to unleash the Mustang from the muscle corral, and Plymouth’s horsepower hind-end was up against the asphalt wall. They needed something to out distance the Ford monster before it hit the pavement, and they needed it fast. The engineers took their trusty Plymouth Valiant, touched up the front-end and gave it a rear window that wrapped around. Then they gave it a shot of medicated muscle, and from the automotive womb emerged, kickin’ and screamin’, the infamous Plymouth Barracuda. The name alone conjured up images of a man eating fish ready to draw first blood and tear into a victims tissue and render them, well, you know…dead. The Barracuda was ready to strike and hit the sales floor and the asphalt two months ahead of the dreaded Mustang, but even with it’s head start, the Barracuda was not the sales beast Plymouth thought they had created, and the Mustang was officially crowned king of the wild horsepower realm.
The 1970’s brought a muscle makeover to the fallen Plymouth hero, and the Barracuda was given a hemi transplant and enough power to be damn near psychotic on the street. Woodward Avenue in Detroit was the testing ground of this new wild child, and the re-born 1964 east, become known affectionately as the ‘Cuda. High performance with a demonic grin and a rock and roll attitude.
In the Nash Bridges storyline, the car was given to Nash when his brother, Bobby, went to Vietnam. He never came home and ended up instead as MIA. As a result, Nash and Joe had one of the hottest rides on the tube. The color chosen for the show was “lemon twist yellow”, which was actually one of the original 18 colors available for the Cuda. Incidentally, most of the ‘Cuda’s seen on the show were in reality 1970’s that were made up to look like ’71s, if your a purist that will have great and deep, if not a downright religious meaning for you. The rest of us, however, just close our eyes and pretend we’re at the wheel of pop cultures most famous Cuda and racing down the hills towards Fisherman’s Wharf and wearing a really cool jacket fresh out of Nash Bridges closet. Only in San Francisco can high fashion and hemi horsepower wear flowers in its hair.
Car boosting was elevated to museum quality in the film, “Gone in 60 Seconds”. Nick Cage and Angelina Jolie, along with a memorable cast, hot-wired their way through the streets of Long Beach in southern California. Memphis Raines on a Holy Grail rampage of high speed grand theft auto action, in an effort to save his brother from the junkyard crusher, just more proof, that blood is indeed thicker than 10-W-40. But wait. there’s still one more car to go. The one that even the great and holy Memphis Raines fears. The almighty automobile known as Eleanor.
Eleanor was a sexy, man eating, asphalt eating Motor City dream machine complete with phallic apparati and a sweet Jesus fuel injection system to give her the automotive equivalent of a high octane, high speed Detroit orgasm. In the Nick Cage version of “Gone in 60 Seconds”, Eleanor was a Shelby Mustang GT500, but in the 1974 original, she was a 1973 Ford Mustang Mach I.
Flashback! Flashback! In the polyester year of 1974, there dwelt in the kingdom of the junkyard, a King. The King was surrounded by all manner of metal and junk, discards and throwaways, formerly loved, but now forgotten automobiles, piled high on a trash pile, unholy ground, about to be blessed by the prophet/king. The king’s treasure chest grew full. Pieces of metal, a car door here, a hood ornament there, a side view smashed mirror over there amid the piles of aluminum scrap fascinating him as they glimmered as brightly as gold and silver in a chaotic treasure house. Then it came to him in a V-8 vision that only a junkyard junkie could conjure from the spiritual depths, to put the pieces of these old relics together and create a tribute to what they were in their glory days, the days when they just rolled off the assembly line, loud and proud. Their style, beauty and grace all but blinding, and what better venue than the celluloid pedestal where this monument could last a lifetime. It was at this moment of realization that H. B. Haliki wrote, produced, directed and starred in the original “Gone in 60 Seconds”, which was released to drive in and indoor movie theaters across the country in 1974.
The original film had our protagonist on the prowl for just 46 cars and not 50 as in the remake, however, there were more chase scene mileage per hour than the Cage motion picture vehicle, and most importantly, the elegant Eleanor was a 1973 Ford Mustang Mach I and not the equally exotic Shelby Mustang GT500 of the remake. The flick was a hit with the asphalt crowd and they roared and cheered as H. B and Company revved and redlined their way across the cinematic landscape and when the closing credits rolled down the screen, the salivating road heads eagerly anticipated the making of “Gone II” as though they were waiting for the chrome-magnon version of the Second Coming, and it wasn’t too awfully long in coming. H. B. decided in 1989 that enough time had passed and the public was ready for Part II, but it was during filming and the performing of his own stunts that the man who gave life to “Gone”….was gone himself, in less than 60 seconds.
Cage/Jolie rock n roll, lock n load in “Gone: The Remake”, and no, yes, Angelina’s red hot pillow soft lips and gleam in the eye warm the heart and soul, but it’s that damned Eleanor that makes the heart race faster and faster, jet propelling our erogenous zone to the outer limits of comfort. Her redlining engine on fire with petrol and passion. Her sleek, svelte body an alluring aluminum vehicular vessel of lust. Tail pipe searing hot to the touch, the leather seats exciting the senses, and turning asphalt into hot tar at a glance. Eleanor Rules!
Memphis Raines is no match for the intoxicating Shelby Stang, and he knows it, better than anybody, and in the end, after a chase sequence that is not bad by any standard, he presents a limping, scratched and badly beaten up Eleanor to the obligatory bad guys who proclaim, “I asked for 50 cars and not 49 and a half”. More chaos, more machismo, more punches, and eventually Memphis reigns supreme, good guy wins and all that stuff, and in the end not only gets to keys to Eleanor, but gets to hotwire Angelina as well. Now, just who the hell is Carroll Shelby, and why are they naming cars after him?
Carroll Hall Shelby came out roaring down the quarter mile track of life in Texas in 1923, and after a stint in the Air Corp, that need for speed led him the world of asphaltia, and in 1952 had raced his first quarter mile in a rod outfitted with a flathead Ford V-8. By 1961, Shelby teams up with a British auto manufacturer and after much Trans-Atlantic haggling, the culmination was the creation of the Shelby Roadster 260 that was brought to life in the Shelby facilities in southern California. The name comes to Shelby literally, in a dream, for his new dream machine, The Cobra. The car is test driven, and in April of 1962 makes it’s first public appearance at the Auto Show in New York with the Ford display, and as a result, orders for the new monster defy imagination. The Cobra had struck a nerve. Soon, Shelby and Ford become synonymous, and by 1966 the first of the ’67 Shelby Mustang GT350’s and GT500’s are produced. By 1969 the thrill is going, going, though not quite gone, and the Shelby project ends. The leftover ’69s are upgraded to ’70 specs and production finally ceases. The Ford-Shelby Era is now a thing of the past, but thanks to H. B. Haliki there will always be a Motor City elegance known simply as the Marilyn Monroe of automobiles, Eleanor!
It was a night of fire, blood, and fear. The gym was alive, with death, all around, surrounding it like water surrounds a peninsula. The screams soon reaching to the sky and to no avail, and soon the night fell quiet. The journey through the tunnel of terror was not over. It was just beginning.
Blood poured from the elevators and filled the hallway of the Overlook Lodge. Danny had the “shine”, but daddy had the axe. “Heeeere’s Johnny!”. Suddenly, Cujo jumps at his throat and lays him to rest, at peace, six feet under in the Pet Cemetary.
Stephen King, the King of Horror, has given us killer dogs, killer writers, killer storms and yes, actor Tim Curry as a killer clown, but when Arnie Cunningham lays eyes on a 1958 Plymouth Fury named, Christine, it truly is a classic car to, well…die for. Christine is more than a car, she is a primal love story of geek meets gadget. The more time Arnie spends with Christine, the more possessive “she” becomes. Arnie polishes and restores her lovingly. Her fins thrust out proudly, her engine finely tuned, her body wet with wax and God help the fool who tries to interfere and come between Arnie and his gearbox soul mate. “Arnies got a girlfriend, Arnie’s got a girlfriend”! The film was more than an automotive classic, Christine was, and is still the Motor City bitch from asphalt hell.
In addition to the film, it is also a must read for any fan of classic cars, and of course, fan of Stephen King’s. There are some discrepancies concerning the actual model of Plymouth that Christine is supposed to be. In the book she’s referred to as a 1958 red and white, four door Plymouth Fury, however, on the back jacket cover, King is sitting on the hood of a ’57. Plymouth Fury’s were only available as a two-door hardtop from 1956 to 1958 and it wasn’t until 1959 that you could get a four-door model. All that aside, it doesn’t really matter, Christine put V-8 fear into all of us and proved once and for all….Hell Hath No Fury Like A Plymouth Scorned!
This Dharmabum Roadhead writer’s work has been described as DELIGHTFULLY WIERD and WICKEDLY WONDERFUL!! Mike (Roadie) Marino is a publisher of an on line magazine called ROAD TRIPPIN’ USA. It’s an asphalt kickin’ journey of Roadside Nostalgia and American Pop/Car Culture for the Chrome-Magnon in all of us. The style is lock n load and deals with the realm of where Pop Culture and Chrome meet Asphalt and Art!!
Mike also writes a monthly feature column under the banner THE ROADHEAD for the award winning Offbeat Travel zine. His column deals with bizzare ashpalt and roadside oddities and locales from mechanical museums to Cadillac Ranch. Mike is also a freelance writer of travel and history pieces that have been published in magazines and ezines in the US and Europe.
Most current project includes toiling endlessly on his first book about Pop and Car Culture in America of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Although born in the rustbelt of industrial Detroit, he’s also been the definitive son-of-a-beach and has lived in a treehouse in Honolulu, the tie dyed spare change neighborhood of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, as well as the North Beach district..where the Beat Goes On!!
Today Mike (Roadie) Marino lives in Missouri near the banks of the Missouri River with his word processor. In addition, to writing and backpacking, Mike has a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, Jimmy Buffett albums and Corona Beer. If you would like to use any of Mike’s articles some of which are included here, contact him at the email address below or at firstname.lastname@example.org He also accepts contract work and what the hell, a good agent wouldn’t hurt either. So contact him for rates and information. Now…Have Fun Reading…Grab A Cold Corona..And Kick Asphalt!!!