An Authentic Eleanor Mustang Revisits The Set Of Los Angeles
Story and photography by Chrome Cars
When Chris Zöllner of ChromeCars left the movie theater one night in 2000, he felt like a different human being. It’s not that he was obsessed, no, he was infatuated by a car he’d just seen in Gone in 60 Seconds. Who doesn’t know the legendary duo? Nicholas Cage as master thief Memphis Raines and the legendary Custom 1967 “GT500” – nicknamed “Eleanor” – instantly generated excitement among muscle car aficionados, including Chris. From then on, he meticulously kept track of the 11 cars used in the making of the movie and discovered that three of the original so-called “Hero Cars” had survived the film shoot. He documented everything he could learn about them and their replicas.
Kai Nieklauson and Oliver Schneider are also avid fans of Eleanor. A few years ago, their acquisition of a replica—incidentally their first classic car—had spurred on the founding of ChromeCars. When Chris Zöllner joined them, the self-titled “automotive archaeologists” finally got the rare chance to acquire an original Hero Car, some 17 years after the movie’s release.
But back to film which turned the GT500 into a legend. The plot revolves around Cage’s character, who must steal 50 vehicles in a single night in order to free his brother from the clutches of a dangerous gang of stolen-car dealers. The last theft is of a GT500, “Eleanor,” for which Raines has developed a very special, quasi-erotic, affection. When he first sees the car, he gently caresses the “lady’s” curves and talks with “her.” Says Chris Zöllner of the moment when he first saw the GT500: “When Eleanor swept onto the screen, everyone in the audience gasped and I too was instantly smitten. The vehicle was clearly not an original GT500 but a completely new interpretation of an old classic.”
The movie completely energized the worldwide Mustang community. Everyone wondered where this new styling had come from. And who could copy it? “It was actually Hot Rod designer legend Steve Stanford and Chip Foose who designed Eleanor for the film,” Chris explains. After the release, interest in the vehicle was so huge that Cinema Vehicle Services (CVS), the company that built the on-screen cars, decided to produce a strictly limited edition run (rumored to be 150) of Eleanor assembly kits. Wheels, exhausts, and fiberglass add-ons were all part of the package. CVS even kept a list of all the cars and chassis numbers that ended up being outfitted with a so-called official “CVS Body Kit.”
“No other body kit than the one produced by CVS can be considered authentic,” emphasizes Chris. Not surprisingly, numerous tuners and providers tried to capitalize on the boom by producing their own replicas, some of which were even officially licensed. “But it is my understanding that only conversions made with the original CVS kit can be called Eleanor Replicas,” he adds.
CVS produced 11 vehicles for filming Gone in 60 Seconds, including various camera cars, but only the three fully-functioning GT500 still exist today. “These cars are the particularly beautiful ones and only used in filming scenes featuring the stars themselves,” says Chris. Incidentally, right after wrapping the movie, producer Jerry Bruckheimer commissioned a twelfth car on the basis of the 1967 GT500.
The cars in front of the camera were based on the normal ’67/’68 Fastback Mustangs that were typically equipped with small-block V8 engines. The three Hero Cars, though, are genuine contemporary high-performance cars. They all have a nine-inch Lincoln rear axle, a complete chassis upgrade including coilovers, high-performance wishbones, rack-and-pinion power steering, stabilizers by TCP (Total Control Products), and 351cid high-performance engines made by Ford Racing.
The only car with a big-block engine was the so-called “high-speed vehicle” that was equipped with a 390cid V8 and used for the action-packed driving scenes such as the ones set in the LA River. According to the ChromeCars experts, this car is no longer around, and in fact, the majority of the movie cars were destroyed during the filming of the legendary leap over the cop cars shot on the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Long Beach. Several others did not survive the chase scenes in the container port of Long Beach.
In the end, all that was left was a pile of wrecked GT500s and the three Hero Cars. After the film wrapped, the three were brought back to CVS to be retrofitted and readied for eventual resale. Part of the process was to replace the lateral exhaust systems because the mock-ups used for the movie had no actual function. “CVS used the BORLA dual pipe system with muffler, which was hard to obtain even back then,” says Chris. “Today, this system is a key identifier of a genuine Hero Car.” Indeed, the shape, contours, proportions, and overall appearance of the original cars are considerably more harmonious and elegant than all the replicas that’ve cropped up in their wake.
The three Hero Cars ended up being sold to collectors. One went to a famous Lamborghini dealer in the US, and another was snapped up by an anonymous private collector. “In 2013, this car was auctioned off at Mecum Auto Auctions in the US for the unbelievable sum of $1 million,” says Chris. The sale marked a milestone in the movie car market and offered important insight into the future value of genuine Eleanor Mustangs.
Chris continued to keep a close eye on the development of the Eleanor mythos, to observe auctions and find new contacts. In February, ChromeCars got the unique opportunity to put in a bid for the Eleanor Hero Car with the CVS-designated chassis number #7.
Chris recounts, “Our #7 was originally sold by CVS to a collector in the UK who held onto it until 2012. After that the trace was lost.” Now in their possession, the team remains tight-lipped about how exactly their Eleanor deal came about or how much money changed hands. “But what we can say for sure is that for now we have no intention of selling #7,” says Chris.
And why would they? It’s hard to let go of such a rare specimen. Instead, ChromeCars decided to take Eleanor back home to Los Angeles. They organized photo shoots at the original film locations and were again overwhelmed by Eleanor’s beauty. “In the end, it was because of her unique shape why we all fell in love with Eleanor,” says Chris. “If you put a genuine Hero Car next to a low-budget replica, you immediately see how big the differences actually are.” No wonder that such passion generates considerably higher prices for the CVS versions than for replicas. For Oliver, Kai and Chris, who were first smitten by this cult classic 17 years ago, a dream has come true: Eleanor #7 has arrived.