Halloween is the season of the witch, when ghosts, skeletons, and other eerie creatures of the night hold sway. That said, our morbid curiosity with the macabre goes well beyond the season, yielding such timeless Hollywood classics as “Psycho,” “The Exorcist,” and “Sinister” on the big screen. As for our home screens, they often feature tamer fare such as “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters.”
The Munsters’ perspective on all things fright may have focused mostly on humor, but it also delivered not a few innovations, thanks in part to Grandpa’s lab in the basement. Two of those contraptions became “horror cars” – the Munster Koach and Drag-u-la – decidedly freaky takes on family vehicles. The mastermind behind these two fully functioning vehicles had nothing to do with the show, but was a renowned custom designer whose workmanship also yielded the original Batmobile. George Barris was his name, and the stories behind the two horror cars offer a fascinating look at vehicles that survived the show’s two-season run in one form or another.
Basically a rolling mortuary, the Monster Koach appeared in more than 20 episodes of the Munsters. George Barris already had a strong reputation for building custom cars for Hollywood executives and films when the show’s producers reached out to him to create a vehicle.
The Munster Koach is a running version of a vehicle based on no less than three Ford Model T bodies. It was built on a custom 133-inch frame, and the engineers took a 289 cubic-inch Ford V8 and bored it out to 425 cubic inches, adding Jahns high compression pistons, a set of Bobby Barr racing headers, an Isky cam, and 10 chrome-plated Stromberg carburetors. Barris paired it with a four-speed manual transmission. Other features included a power rear end, dropped axle, split radius rods, and T springs.
Although its engineering was of significant importance, it was the Gloss Black Pearl paint and blood red interior that projected a hearse vibe, replete with ornate rolled steel scrollwork, coach lamps, and tiered seating. Add in characters who passed for Count Dracula, Frankenstein, a lady vampire, and a boy werewolf, and the fright quotient is raised considerably. Alas, the original model was eventually taken apart, although one or more replicas still make the tour circuit.
Unless you’re a Munsters aficionado, you may not know that a second horror car made a brief appearance on the show. Known as Drag-u-la, the vehicle’s body was actually a fiberglass coffin powered by a 289 cubic-inch Ford Mustang engine with two four-barrel carburetors mounted on a Mickey Thompson Ram-Thrust manifold.
Like the Koach’s Gothic motif, this roadster featured four organ pipes on each side of the car along with antique lamps. Drag-u-la rode on Firestone racing slicks with 10-inch Rader aluminum and steel wheels. All four hubcaps were embossed with large silver spiders.
The story behind Drag-u-la is that it was built for one episode, Hot Rod Hermann, where Hermann Munster lost the family Koach in a race. To win it back, a faster car was needed and that’s where the producers turned once again to George Barris’ shop to build the second model. You can see the original Drag-u-la at the Volo Auto Museum outside of Chicago.
What other horror cars can you think of? Certainly “Christine,” the possessed red and white 1958 Plymouth Fury from the 1983 thriller by author Stephen King, ranks high on the list. It’s the kind of horror flick we auto enthusiasts love to watch during the season of the witch.