H. B. Halicki was a used car salesman who wanted to make a movie. With a little money, one big idea, and a 1971 Mustang Mach 1, he made Gone in 60 Seconds. And in that particular way that movies, especially '70s movies, can be, it wasn't all that good, but it was awesome. Fast forward to Michael Bay's remake in 2000, and the Mach 1 was replaced by a 1967 Shelby GT500. When we got a call offering us the actual car from that movie for the weekend, we felt obliged to say yes... and then drive it like we stole it. The verdict: Eleanor is the hottest piece of car we've spent a weekend with in quite some time.
Photos copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
To bring up another enduring movie character, do you know why so many people quote Tony Montana? Because he had a way with words, and those words were often right, such as when he said, "First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the woman." A common shortcut is to swap "the power" part of that equation for "a hot car," and then you can go straight to step three.
There are different kinds of hot, though; more often than not, when a guy buys a car, he's just a guy in a hot car. On rare occasions, and in rare cars, however, the combination of driver and car instantly renders a guy – and everything he touches – hardcore hot. The kind of car that makes people want to call you "Wolf," or "Hawk." The kind of car that makes hot women stand in your vicinity twirling their hair, hoping you know how to combine the words "love" and "dashboard light." The kind of car that is like putting on a cape.
That car is Eleanor.
A 1967 Mustang Fastback isn't enough to pull off that transformation on its own. To go all the way, to ring the bell, you have to go to – of all places – Yukon, Oklahoma. That's where the crew at Classic Recreations will, after you've given them at least $109,000, turn an ordinary Mustang into Nicolas Cage's greatest desire.
The transformation is comprehensive. An in-house 401 c.i. racing engine with aluminum heads goes up front, topped with an aluminum crossflow radiator, two 12-inch cooling fans, Mass Flo fuel injector system, Concept One serpentine belt drive system and ceramic coated headers. Power runs straight back to the rear wheels via a five-speed Tremec TKO manual (or an optional six-speed Tremec, or an automatic, if you're that guy) and Posi-Traction. The base model puts out 535 horsepower. At the other end, the engine has been worked to 770 hp and will relieve you of $189,000. The vintage body is held in check from twisting around all that power with enough bracing to qualify as scaffolding.
Inside, the car is overhauled with new seats bearing five-point harnesses, Classic's in-house gauges, a wood and aluminum steering wheel at the end of a Flaming River column, and the interior treatment from the deluxe versions of 1967 Mustang models. A feature you could not have gotten on your 1967: a NOS system with an "Armed" toggle on the dash and a "Go Baby Go" red button on the shift knob. The decision to add such accelerated go gas eliminated the possibility of a trunk; there is a space back there behind the rear window, but it's occupied by a giant tank of nitrous.
Underneath, the modern mech theme is upheld by a Total Control suspension conversion that puts coilovers and sway bars front and rear. And behind those Classic Recreations wheels are Baer brakes holding fast to slotted and cross-drilled rotors.
Outside is where we had only minor hesitations about a thoroughly beautiful car. We don't fault Classic because it is merely recreating a movie car. The issue is with Eleanor herself. She's a bit... busy. Mainly up front, and only in certain places and from certain angles, we just kept feeling "Hmm, there's a lot going on." We think it's the number of curves and bulges running from the hood bulge down to the lower grille and the twin, center-mounted lamps; that area of arc and shadow is quite a contrast to the otherwise straightforward lines of the car. It's still a hot piece, and call us blasphemers if you like, but we do prefer it to the 1971 Mustang from the original film.
Outside, though, doesn't matter when you get inside, which is our favorite attribute of Eleanor. And our favorite thing about the inside is this: it's simple. Spend a few moments getting locked into your harness, after which you'll realize that there's nothing to do in Eleanor but drive her. The windows are manual. The locks are manual. The climate controls are Mesozoic: heat comes from the engine, the air conditioning isn't worth fiddling with because even with it on, you will sweat in this car. There are no LEDs to adjust the color of. The key is a tiny, flat piece of metal. Compared to today's lumps of plastic, Eleanor's key looks like something you'd open a suitcase with. The only buttons in the entire car are on the stereo.
Stick that little key in the slot on the dash, turn, and unleash a barrage of rambunctious. The dual 2.5-inch pipes running through Spintek mufflers and exiting just behind the doors barely contain the engine's explosions. Eleanor is easily the loudest car we've ever driven – it set off at least two car alarms every time we took it out. So loud that we practically avoided cemeteries out of respect for the dead. So loud that you could turn a corner and see people already looking down the road for you, trying to figure out where to run to escape the bellow. So loud that wholesome, innocent bystanders would shake their heads as you drove by, thinking "That's a bad, bad man."
You damn right.
That sweet, sweet thunder rendered the sole buttons inside the car, on the Panasonic stereo, useless. Don't be fooled by that speaker array, either – it's just for show. Well, not actually, but it might as well be because you've got to have the volume cranked up so high that it feels like your ears are being assaulted on another flank. And that's before you hit the gas. When you do that, forget about hearing anything.
So you turn the stereo off and you play with the gas as often as possible, for the sound and the fact that the 550 horsepower in the car we had makes a 1967 Mustang run like Niagara. We welcomed the chance to stop at any light, not only for the opportunity to take off, but just to get 60 seconds to play with the throttle. Highway cruising is pure ease, and when you drop down a gear and turn the noise up to "Battleship Engine Room," you exercise the pedal and the car bolts. The suspension is on the firm side but not at all uncomfortable, doesn't squat, and only gets snippy with when going over large, sharp bumps.
Yet for all of the changes made to the car, we can't tell you how it drives at the limit. This is the actual car from the movie, and it's owned by Denice Halicki, the widow of the man who made the original film in 1974, H. B. Halicki. She lives in the hills and didn't want to get a workout every time she turned the wheel, so Eleanor is set up to drive somewhat like an old Buick. The power steering boost comes on so strong and so quickly that when you turn the wheel a fraction in either direction, the wheel practically turns itself after that. One finger – no, make that one knuckle – is enough to explore the limits of lock. That meant we couldn't quite tell where the wheels were, so we couldn't get them placed quickly on the twists.
What we could tell from broad sweepers, where you could set the wheel and then test how quickly you could run through the turn, leads us to believe that the car's abilities are also far beyond those of a stock 1967 Mustang. Sure, with no electronic aids, if you get gimme-gimme with the accelerator, especially out of a turn, you are going to have some issues with the back end. But if you refrain from stabbing, put the knife away, and chauffeur with a sound mind, the 275/40 tires out back hold on to the road at speeds we'd be happy with in any modern sports car.
While we would certainly love to find out what Eleanor can really do, we have to admit we'd be more than happy with the limits of the movie car even if it does have Park Avenue steering. It can still do plenty, it's a perfectly raw dog, and the sensations trigger all the right areas of the brain. This is one of the terrifically few cars that can actually make you a star.
Just a few months ago, this particular blogger hadn't driven a Mustang in donkey's years. Now, a new one seems to come every other month, and each one is better than the last. We had to go back before we were born to top the last one, but we're pleased to announce that the streak continues. Eleanor is – ready for it? – our new favorite Mustang. Go, baby, go...
Photos copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.