When you think of the world’s great movie and TV cars there are sure to be a few iconic machines that come to mind. The Back to the Future Delorean, K.I.T.T from Knight Rider or perhaps the various iterations of the Batmobile.
But when it comes to being a true automobile legend of the screen, there are some reasons why the Ford Mustang better known as Eleanor from Gone in 60 Seconds should be up there on the list as one of the greatest movies vehicles of all time.
And no I’m not talking about the customized 1967 Shelby GT500 that starred as Eleanor in the 2000 Nick Cage remake of Gone in 60 Seconds. In talking about the yellow ‘73 Mustang fastback from the original 1974 cult classic car chase masterpiece.
Unlike other movie cars which are loaded with sci fi technology, possessed by supernatural spirits or in the case of Fast and the Furious just packed full of NOS, the original Eleanor was a nearly stock ’71 Mustang “Sportsroof” that was facelifted to look like a ’73 in the movie.
Eleanor’s humble background and portrayal is fitting given that Gone in 60 Seconds itself was a low budget independent film with written, directed and produced by H.B. “Toby Halicki,” who also did all of the stunt driving in the film.
Despite the movie’s low production value, complete lack of professional actors and ultra thin script, it became a cult classic and one of the greatest car-related films of all time thanks to its legendary car chase scene.
The plot of the movie is simple. Madrian Pace (Halicki) is an insurance investigator who also happens to run an auto theft ring, and he has five days to steal 48 specifically requested vehicles for a foreign drug lord.
To keep track of them, all of the vehicles are given female code names, and the ‘73 Mustang known as Eleanor is the one that gives Pace the biggest challenge, leading him to the climactic, extended chase sequence.
The World’s Greatest Car Chase
While countless films feature car chase sequences—many of them quite great, none before and none since have done it like Gone in 60 Seconds. While there are a few shorter chase sequences earlier in the film, it’s the final act of the movie that elevates it to a historic level.
The chase starts in downtown Long Beach where the police are tipped off to Pace’s final attempt to steal Eleanor and an incredible pursuit begins with cops chasing him and the Mustang all over Long Beach and the South Bay area of LA County.
From packed downtown streets to wide open freeways, a vast construction area and even through car dealerships, the chase just keeps going—and you can’t take your eyes off it. All told, the chase spans 40 minutes of screen time, with some 93 police and civilian vehicles being destroyed over the course of the pursuit.
Dangerous Stunts, Incredible Driving and No CGI
Even by a 1974 standards Gone in 60 Seconds’ car chase was a raw spectacle of legit stunt driving and automotive destruction, but it looks even more incredible next to the heavily CGI-infused car action we see in modern films.
If you want to know just how dangerous the car chase was to create, there were at least two different accidents during shooting where Halicki suffered substantial injuries, including an unplanned and hairy mishap where the Mustang clips a Cadillac and spins into a light pole going about 100 miles per hour.
Naturally, the footage of the crash is included in the movie as if it was planned all along, despite the fact production had to be halted for three weeks while Halicki recovered from his injuries. Apparently the first thing he said after regaining consciousness from the crash was “Did we get coverage?”
Eleanor Takes a Lickin’
While all of the aforementioned stuff has helped make Gone in 60 Seconds one of the greatest car movies ever, it’s the way the Mustang is portrayed specifically that puts Eleanor at the top of the movie car rankings. Like the chase itself, Eleanor never seems to stop despite the incredible amount of damage dealt.
The car starts off as brand new, shining machine stolen from a parking garage, but by the end of chase scene it’s hardly recognizable—almost a zombie version of the Mustang that looks and sounds like rolling scrap metal.
While you might think a sequence this large and this destructive would require at least a dozen different Mustangs to be built and subsequently written off, amazingly there were just two cars used during production.
One was the “beauty” car which was left stock and used for all of the static, close up and interior shots. For whatever reason it was crushed once filming had wrapped up, although it would no doubt be worth a substantial amount of money today.
The other Mustang was the stunt car, which had been reinforced and fitted with a roll cage and other safety features which would be of tremendous value during filming. The battered stunt car was then painted and used during promotion of the film, wearing all of the damage sustained during the chase including the aforementioned 100 MPH light pole collision.
The stunt car still exists today and I had a chance to see it on display during a Mustang exhibit at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles several years ago. As a someone who wore out my VHS copy of Gone in 60 Seconds as a kid, seeing Eleanor in person was like coming face to face with one of your heroes.
Better than Bullitt?
It’d be wrong to talk about how iconic the Eleanor is without mentioning another Mustang featured in a legendary car chase scene several years earlier—the Highland Green ‘68 fastback that Steve McQueen famously hustles through the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt.
There’s no denying the Bulitt car is the more recognizable movie Mustang, having spawned three different special edition models from Ford and countless replicas, but when it comes to screen time and action scenes, Eleanor is the champ.
It’s easy to forget that Bullitt car chase is just one small part of an otherwise pretty unremarkable detective film. But the mission to steal Eleanor meanwhile dominates the plot of Gone in 60 Seconds, and the legendary chase scene takes up nearly half of the movie’s total run time.
It’s all of this and more that help make the original version of Gone in 60 Seconds an unforgettable film and Eleanor not just the greatest movie Mustang, but also one of the greatest movie cars of all time period. Apologies to Nick Cage and the late Steve McQueen.
If you’ve read all this, and somehow haven’t yet seen the original Gone in 60 Seconds do yourself a favor and watch it now. Pro hint—there are a few different full-length versions of the movie on YouTube right now, including one with the original music soundtrack and sound effects which is definitely the proper way to see it.
If there’s any reason you’ve missed out on this legendary piece of automotive cinema, your life may be about to change. Enjoy.