Home » RIP Paul Reubens, Pee-Wee Herman, Who Made Us Laugh And Had Great Taste In Cars

RIP Paul Reubens, Pee-Wee Herman, Who Made Us Laugh And Had Great Taste In Cars

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Like so many of us, I was saddened to hear that Paul Reubens, better known to most people as Pee-Wee Herman, cycling enthusiast and noted Big Shoe dancer and one of the few people brave enough to prove to the world that the Alamo does not, in fact, have a basement, has died. Reubens’ 1985 movie Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was a significant part of my cultural upbringing, and I’m sure there are plenty of obituaries and reflections you’ll see online that cover the deceptive importance of his body of work wonderfully. But we’re a car site. Fortunately, I think the cars that can be seen featured in much of Reubens’ work demonstrates that he at least appreciated cars on some level, as the ones that he chose to use were absolutely selected with care. Let’s take a look at some of them, as you indulge this mildly thin pretense to honor Pee-Wee.

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure did seem to populate background cars and incidental cars with older ones that fit Pee-Wee’s 1950s-ish aesthetic; in 1985, roads were pretty well filled with Honda Accords and VW Rabbits and Chevy Citations and that sort of thing, but when cars are shown in the movie, it’s pretty clear those cars were curated:

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Roadsidecars

Even back in 1985 the roads weren’t exactly crawling with 1950 Plymouths or Volvo Amazons. There were some, sure, but these cars fit a certain tone that was clearly important.

Edsel

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Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was the first movie Tim Burton ever directed by the way. It was fundamentally a road trip movie, and as such is full of cars, and carefully chosen ones. Most significantly is the 1959 Edsel Corsair driven by an escaped convict that Pee-Wee gets a ride with. As a kid into cars, Pee-Wee’s unashamed glee at being told to take the wheel was hilariously familiar:

Pee Wee Yt

There was another inspired car casting choice later in the movie, for a character obsessed with Paris and who later migrated to France, only to return for a visit at the end, and seemingly managing to source one of the most intensely French cars possible, a 1963 Citroën ID décapotable by Chapron, also an extremely rare version of this Citroën, with only about 1,700 examples built.

Ds Vert

They could have just shoved these actors into a LeCar and called it a day, but they didn’t, and that matters, at least to me.

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When Reubens revived Pee-Wee for a new movie back in 2016, there was even more careful and inspired car casting, including finally showing Pee-Wee’s very own car, a ’64 Fiat 600, which also was shown performing the baddest-ass stunt driving of a Fiat 600 that had been seen in Western cinema in likely half a century:

Pw 600

There’s also a Morgan three-wheeler in that film and a number of other great cars, including a very specific and strange and appropriate one:

Tbirdjr

That’s not just some random toy car, that’s a 1959 Thunderbird Junior! These were built by the Powercar company from 1955 to 1967, and could be had in either electric form (allegedly powered by an actual Ford starter motor) or a gas-powered version intended for adults. These weren’t cheap at all, costing about $4,000 in equivalent dollars today.

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Tbirdjr 2

These were said to be capable of up to 40 mph! Who was buying these as adults? Well, if any adult was likely to buy one to drive around as a normal car, aside from a Shriner with processional goals in mind, I think it would be someone like P.W. Herman. These were also sold as promotional items for Ford dealers, as this add suggests:

Thbird Jr Ad

All of this is just to say that I think, at least on some level, Paul Reubens was one of us, and I don’t just mean a goofball, I mean a gearhead. He was an original, silly and funny and there was more sophistication under that plastic, back-of-the-comic-book-ad surface than you’d realize at first.

Let’s pour some Tequila and do the Big Shoe Dance for Pee-Wee one last time:

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Screenshot 2023 07 31 At 5.21.18 Pm
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Arthur Flax
Arthur Flax
10 months ago

The passing of Paul Reubens is indeed sad news. I wasn’t aware of his attachment to the car world.

However, last week’s Air Venture Experimental Aircraft Association event reminded me that his father, Milton Rubenfeld, was a WWII bomber pilot and one of the founders of the Israeli Air Force, flying Czechoslovakian versions of the Messerschmitt BF109, which he said “was not a very good airplane.” He was known for his dry wit (read of his adventures in the 1948 Israeli War) which, as they say, is probably where PeeWee/Paul Reubens got his start in the comedy world. He was also said by some to the the very definition of swagger.

It’s interesting to me that, while I was a casual fan of Paul Reubens and his comedy, I was even more aware of the well known actors, comedians – and family – who surrounded him. These included Gilbert Lewis, “The King of Cartoons,” who also invented (badly) artificial intelligence on the original Star Trek, Laurence Fishburne, Phil Hartman and S. Epatha Merkerson, all of whom I recall were on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Scorp Mcgorp
Scorp Mcgorp
10 months ago

can’t believe no one mentioned his scooter!

https://youtu.be/UsmFg7CD1Pg?t=166

LTDScott
LTDScott
10 months ago

Gotta admit I had never watched Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure until last night. That sure was something, and I had the same observation that the cars were clearly specifically curated for the movie.

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
10 months ago

Soar high, Max.

“C O M P L I A N C E.”

KennyB
KennyB
10 months ago
Reply to  Zeppelopod

“AFFIRMATIVE”

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
10 months ago

My god, that DS convertible is perfection

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
10 months ago

I cannot hear the word “Tequila” without having the Big Shoe Dance play out in my head.

Also, it is because of Pee Wee Herman that the Alamo now has two basements…

https://www.sacurrent.com/movies-tv/still-claiming-pee-wee-30-years-later-the-alamo-actually-has-two-basements-2458505

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
10 months ago

RIP Pee-Wee Herman 🙁

Scott Finkeldei
Scott Finkeldei
10 months ago

Great article!

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
10 months ago

He was 70.

SEVENTY!!!

How is it possible that Pee Wee Herman was SEVENTY EARTH YEARS OLD?!?

I mean, the 80’s were just 20 years ago, right? RIGHT?!?

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
10 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

I’m still trying to figure out how I’m 60 already.

I mean, WTF??????

Outofstep
Outofstep
10 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

I said this to one of my clients yesterday. How was he 70?!. I watched Pee Wee as a child. I can’t believe it. My license says I’m 40 which I can’t believe either.

D-Dog
D-Dog
10 months ago
Reply to  Outofstep

Watched PeeWee and apparently listened to Minor Threat as a child! Nice combo – me too!

10001010
10001010
10 months ago

We just finished rewatching Big Adventure. My favorite scene in that movie is when he calls Dottie from a payphone and to prove to her that he’s in Texas he starts singing “The stars at night are big and bright” and everyone stops what they’re doing to clap and sing the next line. It’s a stereotype but it’s 100% true, we will all do that, it’s a subconscious reaction trained into us from infancy.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago
Reply to  10001010

“Can you remember anything?”
“I remember the Alamo.”
(cheers and yehaws)

Texas is a proud nation.

Last edited 10 months ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10001010
10001010
10 months ago

That’s my 2nd favorite scene 🙂

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
10 months ago

My seventh grade history teacher in Richardson, Texas taught the Texas history. When the end-of-the-class bell rang, Ms O’Neill proudly said, “Remember the Alamo!”, every time. She was our favourite teacher and made Texas history so much fun to learn. That sort of stuck to our collective consciousness to this day so every time we hear this slogan, we remember her fondly to this day…

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
10 months ago

Just want to say Pee Wee’s Playhouse was one of the few shows I could watch with my little kids that had jokes for both age groups. Plus I got a first look at Phil Hartman.

What I appreciate is the Autopian pointing out the great cars that I had forgotten about. That Citroën is a beautiful vehicle.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
10 months ago

I remember Pee-Wee as Murphy Brown’s secretary and as the boss’s nephew on the same show.

Last edited 10 months ago by Col Lingus
Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
10 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Oh man, completely forgot about that!

CatMan
CatMan
10 months ago

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was must watch tv for me on Saturday mornings, and I was in my late twenties when it was airing. He was a true original

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
10 months ago
Reply to  CatMan

Same here. It made the early morning wake and bake more fun.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
10 months ago
Reply to  CatMan

Yeah, I think my mom was almost as into it as I was, she would have been about your age at the time

CGMWillys
CGMWillys
10 months ago

Pee Wee was great but I always relish his death scene in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ the movie!

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago
Reply to  CGMWillys

“We’re immortal Buffy. We can do anything.”

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
10 months ago

The secret word for today is: “sad” (´,_ゝ`)

Thank you Mr. Reubens for all the laughs.

Last edited 10 months ago by Shooting Brake
Drew
Drew
10 months ago

We can use his name all the time. I doubt we can ever wear that legendary name out.

Steve Kilpatrick
Steve Kilpatrick
10 months ago

This one really hurts. I loved watching both “Playhouse” and his first movie, and frequently imitated him and his laugh for YEARS. Looking back at the wonderful vehicles in his productions was a treat. Thank you for this epilogue…

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
10 months ago

Sad news for any Gen-Xer, but it also reminds me of John Hughes’ love of cars and how he very carefully included his favorites in his movies.

Sure, mostly European sportcars, but I have to imagine he had a certain fondness for that Chrysler LeBaron convertible too.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
10 months ago

That Tequila clip is a perfect send-off. Thanks for that

OldDrunkenSailor
OldDrunkenSailor
10 months ago

BAT just sold one of those Thunderbird Jrs last month, seems like it was somehow indeed a starter that powered it. https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1956-ford-thubderbird-junior/

I have no idea how that thing didn’t keel over near immediately, I’m not mechanical engineer but I’d never expect one to survive if run like a normal ev motor.

RIP Paul, such horrible news all around.

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
10 months ago

Parts were overbuilt back then because they didn’t the modern ability to make things with tight tolerances, and they were used for starting big, heavy V8s.

Last edited 10 months ago by Tristan Hixon
Scoutdude
Scoutdude
10 months ago

Dom Perignon 71 at $120 a bottle.

A. Barth
A. Barth
10 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

That’ll be fine, pal.

Usernametaken
Usernametaken
10 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Wrong glass, sir

A. Barth
A. Barth
10 months ago
Reply to  Usernametaken

*gestures w wrong glass at UsernameTaken*

RataTejas
RataTejas
10 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Ze women. How much for ze women?

A. Barth
A. Barth
10 months ago

Tell ’em LARGE MARGE sent ya!

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
10 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

My mother’s name was Marge, so of course she loved Large Marge.

Voeltzwagen
Voeltzwagen
10 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

My first school bus driver’s name was Marge. She needed 2x4s attached to the pedals of a manual transmission bus so she could drive it.

She was mean as hell and had a striking resemblance to Large Marge.

Last edited 10 months ago by Voeltzwagen
Dr Toboggan
Dr Toboggan
10 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

I still get worried on the rare occasion I see an old Ford 9000 cabover…

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
10 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Ha ha yeah, that’s the line I always remember!

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