by Ben Selby
Any millennial car fan is bound to have seen at some point, the 2000 Jerry Bruckheimer produced turbocharged action film, Gone in Sixty Seconds. We have all been wowed by Nic Cage’s attempt to act, those larger than life blonde dreadlocks of Angelina Jolie, and we have all at some point, lusted after that gorgeous custom Shelby Mustang GT500 known to all as “Eleanor.”
However, while this new millennium outing was another typical adrenalin-fuelled cinematic petrolhead thrill ride with a solid story to match, in this writer’s opinion, as far as the car action goes anyway, pales in comparison to the real deal. The original rule-bending, car crashing, damn the health and safety regulations original Gone in 60 Seconds of 1974. Basically, if you are a petrolhead, you need to see this film.
In order to understand how this car chase masterpiece came to be, we have to look at the visionary behind the camera, a maverick car-obsessed businessman by the name of H.B Halicki. Known to everyone simply as “Toby,” Halicki well and truly lived the American dream. At the age of 15, he left his home in Dunkirk New York and moved out to the sunny pastures of Southern California. He had one goal, to well and truly “make it” in America. He started working in garages and within a few years, his passion for all things automotive showed, and he had his own body shop. He was always working with his hands, fixing, breaking and mucking around with cars.
Toby soon decided he wanted more. He took real estate classes and slowly moved up the property ladder, buying, selling and investing in million-dollar commercial properties. Toby was finally making some serious dough, which meant he could have the best. This included one of the biggest car and toy collections in the world. Then one day, having achieved exactly what he set out to do, he declared to his loved ones, “I’m going to make the greatest car movie of all time.” Toby, however, had no filmmaking experience, but this made little difference, he wanted this badly.
So, having penned a script, assembled a band of local actors, permission from several California Counties to film, and his “leading lady” which we will touch on more in a minute, he was ready to get the ball rolling. Toby epitomised the one-man band independent filmmaker, having written the script, he was now directing, producing, financing, distributing and starring in the lead role. Toby Halicki was a busy boy. He also must have been a natural smooth-talking salesman, because what he was about to do, he could never get away with today.
The plot centres around Maindrian Pace (Halicki), an automotive insurance agent who by day, investigates motoring related insurance claims and fraud. However, he also happens to be America’s Number One Professional Car Thief, who, along with his select band of vehicular vagabonds, steal to order whatever cars or vehicles their client wishes, providing the price is right and the cars are insured. So, when a notorious South American Drug Lord offers Pace and his gang $400,000 to steal 48 of the rarest cars around, there was no way he was going to pass it up. However, if they failed to perform, the ending would not be so merry.
As the film progresses, each car is slowly added to the Drug Lord’s inventory. Each car is given a female codename as not to arouse suspicion from passing locals. Some serious metal can be seen throughout the film, from a yellow De Tomaso Pantera, red Ferrari Daytona, Rolls Royce’s and Cadillac’s galore, one of which they found a boot full of heroin! Many of the cars used in the film came from Toby’s own personal collection. One car in particular, a BAJA spec Ford Bronco Race Car, was owned by Indy Car Legend Parnelli Jones, who cameos as himself in the film.
However, one car of the 48 is the centre point of the whole story, Toby’s leading lady herself, a yellow 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1, Eleanor. Having stolen all the cars on the list, Eleanor is the only one which remains. Pace, in disguise, is driven to the International Towers in Long Beach where Eleanor is parked. Eleanor is the property of a local radio DJ who is live on-air and blissfully unaware of what is about to happen.
Pace is unaware that one of his own gang has tipped off the police of Pace’s whereabouts, so when Pace emerges with Eleanor from the International Towers underground car park. An unmarked squad car we come to know as “One Baker Eleven” is lying in wait for him. With a blip of that 351CI V8, Pace says that classic line, “should have read my horoscope this morning!”
What follows is a non-stop 40-minute chase sequence through several California towns and as more and more police cars join the chase, the more broken and battered Eleanor became. Between takes, Eleanor needs constant tinkering to keep her in good form for the next big crash or stunt.
Toby had a NASCAR roll cage fitted and strengthened the chassis so she would take unreal levels of punishment. Eleanor also electric kill switches, an onboard first aid kit, a special camera mount in the back seat and three sheets of 3/8 inch steel on the underside of the car. This Mustang was never going to be factory fresh again.
After crashing and racing through downtown long beach, leaping through alleys and destroying so many food stalls, boxes, a canoe, and even taking a sound thrashing from an angry old ladies’ umbrella, the local fuzz corner Pace in a downtown park, however Pace manages to escape after a pedestrian lying in the way moves out of his path.
As the chase leaves city limits, more and more police and innocent motorists bear witness to the carnage caused by Pace and Eleanor’s high-speed getaway. Toby did all his own driving and was fully prepared in case something went wrong, and it did. Before entering the city of Carson, Toby wanted Pace and Eleanor to cut across multiple motorway lanes before tearing up an offramp. Everything was going to plan, until a stunt driver in a pedestrian-car clipped the back of Eleanor as she drove across the interstate.
This sent Toby and Eleanor spinning wildly into a power pole, and Toby was seriously injured. However, having seen the rushes after he recovered, he realised there was no way he wasn’t going to keep the footage in the film. Another incident occurs later on in the chase when Pace and Eleanor, who by now were looking pretty worse for wear, were speeding towards a police roadblock outside a Mazda dealership.
Standing in as a police extra during this scene was J.C Agajanian Junior, whose father, famous US Indycar and Midget Car race team promoter J.C Agajanian, had a cameo role where Pace steals his Rolls Royce at a Midget Car Race Meeting at Ascot Speedway. Toby asked Junior if he would stand in during the roadblock scene. The plan was for Toby and Eleanor to come racing towards the roadblock and at the last minute, pull a wild 180-degree spin and charge off behind the Mazda dealership to the next scene. All Junior had to do, was aim and shoot his fake pistol.
As Toby came careering towards him, Junior knew something was wrong, Toby was going way too fast. Junior had been around racing cars his whole life and was a pretty good judge of what a car can do in certain amount of time. When it became obvious Toby couldn’t possibly do his spin, he ditched the acting and focused on one thing, survival. He left over the boot of the unmarked police car in the nick of time as Toby and Eleanor slammed head-on into the car, missing Junior by inches.
Toby checked to see if Junior was ok, and after recovering from shock and what I can only assume was a change of underwear, Junior sloped off the set, still very dazed and thankful to be standing. When Junior was shown the rushes by Toby a week later, Junior was stunned that Toby was so excited about how it turned out. “That car nearly wiped you out man, that was awesome!” Naturally, the footage stayed in.
The next big blooper came a few scenes later at Moran Cadillac, a very prestigious Cadillac Dealership. Toby had exercised his smooth salesmanship on the Dealer Principal, who allowed him to shoot the film there in exchange for the publicity. However, when Toby told him one of the police cars was to crash into a row of Cadillacs, he was understandably nervous. Toby had a solution, he parked a few of his own Cadillac’s in the front of the row, which in theory would mean Toby’s cars would take the damage and leave the brand-new dealer stock untouched.
Yeah, this didn’t really happen for the police car hit the Cadillacs at such speed, it caused a domino effect which meant every car, including the dealer’s inventory, were written off. The shot of the sales manager’s look of horror, was not acting!
The finale of the chase has gone down in history as one of the greatest Hollywood escapes ever. With countless police on his tale, Pace races toward an accident scene, slams on the brakes, locks up and careers into the crash scene. Using the bonnet of one of the wrecked cars a ramp, Pace and Eleanor leap 30 feet into the air. We see this in glorious slow motion from multiple angles, savouring every second as the battered, battles scarred Eleanor makes a final leap of faith before crashing down hard on the tarmac below, the chassis flexing on impact. Toby used a properly constructed ramp for this scene, and he really did jump that heavy Mustang 128 feet in the length.
The chase ends as Pace spots an identical Mustang to Eleanor he can swap over coming out of a car wash. He then parks the smashed-up Eleanor in the queue and gets out to the utter disbelief of the staff. “Sir what happened to your car??” Pace responds with “Just those parking lot attendants” Classic.
Gone in 60 Seconds in legendary. Toby and Eleanor’s wrecking romp destroyed a total of 94 cars in one of the biggest car chase crash films ever. Honestly, it would take forever to go into detail about every single incident in this film, there was just too many to list!
Toby Halicki continued to make car crash films, including the Junkman in 1982m where a Guinness World Record of 150 vehicles were trashed. Tragically, while making Gone in 60 Seconds 2 in 1989, Toby was killed on the set after a power pole fell on him caused by a collapsing Water Tower. His wife Denice and family were witnesses. Denice later went on to be the executive producer of the Nic Cage remake of Gone in 60 Seconds in 2000.
As for Eleanor, two cars were used for the film. With the stunt car which endured all the hardship during filming, still around today. Father of the Mustang, the late Lee Iacocca, said after seeing the film later in life, “The remake was pretty spectacular, but nothing like this, this is just raw meat.” Definitely couldn’t agree more.