The Car From The Car: Cold Start

Cs Thecar

It’s Halloween! The day when adorable children come to my door demanding candy but instead I ladle piping hot chili into their bags, straight from the bubbling cauldron and usually hot enough to melt right through the cheap plastic, sending chili-covered candy skittering across the porch like so many scalded cockroaches. Good times, good times.

There’s plenty of terrifying automotive Halloween references, but when it comes to cars, the car from The Car might just be the car.

The Car was a strange 1977 horror movie about a murderous car that was highly sensitive to being insulted and appeared to drive by itself.

In addition to seemingly being able to become offended, the car also appeared to be unable to drive onto hallowed ground, like a cemetery, allowing the people the car was tormenting an opportunity to taunt the machine:

The distinctive-looking sinister car was based on a 1971 Lincoln Continental and heavily customized by George Barris. The roof was chopped, the fenders increased in size and height significantly, new massive bumpers fitted, incredibly dark tint, and more.

Barris’ own site gives some interesting details about the car, especially the telephone pole bit at the end of the second paragraph there (emphasis mine):

Designed for the movie “The Car” starring James Brolin. Made from a 1971 Lincoln. Fenders were 20 gauge steel shaped over the original body. The grill was hand made from square steel tubing. Four bumpers made from heavy 18 gauge steel. Seven inch single headlights sunk behind the grill and fender. Body was raised to upper doorline. Four radius wheel wells around a six inch reverse deep chrome wheels and Goodrich tires.

Top was chopped 4 inches with all black transparent windows. Full body roll bars installed over and around stunt driver. A steel tube canon was installed on passenger side which had a telephone pole inside and steel cap which housed dynamite and black powder. When the stunt man rolled the car he would trigger the tube telephone pole by igniting the dynamite which drove the pole into the ground and roll the car 5 times. Finished with 20 coats of black pearl lacquer. A total of four were made.

There was a dynamite-charged telephone pole in there? I can’t quite picture in my head what’s being described here; was the pole used to somehow keep the car intact and rolling?

Anyway, this is one scary car, and I’m pretty sure I heard that it saw a picture of you online and figured out your address. Okay! Enjoy your day!

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37 Responses

  1. “was the pole used to somehow keep the car intact and rolling”

    I assume it’s all Newtonian physics. For every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. The force that blasts the mass of the pole downward also acts against the car in the opposite direction, causing it to roll.

    Presumably it wouldn’t work as well if the explosive was just pushing air.

      1. Brolin may have been better, actually, in my view. Far less to work with than Nicholson in The Shining, and still managed to make a memorable impression.

        Jack Nicholson overdid it at least a little, often a lot, in just about everything he did. He was able to get away with it because so many of the characters he played had a violent temper.

        Most actors of their generation over-do it because even after years of doing it, they’re not accustomed to well-directed cinema and the tight camera shots that go with it. They’re still doing stage acting. I think many of the directors they work with are still “stage minded”, too.

  2. When I first saw the ads for this movie (I was 6), it scared the holy Bejeebus out of me. I had nightmares about that thing. From the ads!

    After finally seeing the movie a few years back, I see it as mildly amusing, in an “I was scared of “THAT?!?” way.

    Now, the only cars that scare me are affordable used BMWs.

    1. Yeah as a kid Creature Feature and Jaws and Nightmare on Elm St scared me so bad I needed my girlfriend to spend the night and console me. Girls really get hot for a confident guy with a lame phobia.

  3. I worked in special effects for a few years, and while I never fabricated or installed a steel tube canon in a car, I worked with some guys who had. As far as I know, it was one of the more common methods used to flip a car. To answer your question, the (segment of a) telephone pole does not at all keep the car intact; it simply acts as the projectile that makes contact with the ground forcing the car to flip.

    1. Perhaps the most well-known example of this technique was in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the Army truck that was (supposedly) carrying Marion rolled before blowing up. If you look closely you can see the blast underneath the truck just before it rolls.

      1. The same technique was used to flip the motorcycle in “Last Crusade” when Indy jams a flagpole into its spokes, although I think the mortar was dug into the ground and the baton shot up into the bike instead of the other way around. The crew on those movies must have really liked that one.

        You do not have to look closely at all to see the cannon blast in that shot, or the limp mannequin dressed like a Nazi tied to the handlebars.

  4. I always enjoy this one when it appears on late-night. It works surprisingly well for such an insane (inane?) concept. The early tension builds nicely, though of course the finale unravels a bit.

    The western setup was key…to the extent it works, it wouldn’t at all if it were set in an urban area.

    1. This is one of those so bad it’s good classics. I think it works because it has decent actors who really put some effort into selling what is an incredibly silly concept. I do like how the film makers made no effort to explain the origins or motivations the Car. It’s just pure evil, now let’s get on with it. If they remade it today, the car would probably be a self-driver that got a virus or somehow became self aware – and that would be even worse.

      1. Totally agree re the mystery of the central thing. I feel movies these days tend to over-explain, which usually robs them of their wonder/horror, which is what we actually remember and enjoy most in retrospect.

        Like how the Star Wars movies got marred (the first time I mean) with the prequels’ crappy “scientific” explanation of Jedi powers. Unnecessary, clunky, and in the end, detracting from our enjoyment.

    1. I remember seeing this in the theater. It was years after it came out though. I don’t remember what my mom dropped me off at the theater to see, but I watched this instead. I remember the car and Kathleen Lloyd.
      I really enjoyed the animated remake (with Bender Bending Rodriguez) And the one with Grant Bowler really sucked.

    2. Definition of “canon” : a regulation or dogma decreed by a church council (Nope)

      Definition of “cannon” : any device for propelling a substance or object at high speeds (Yep)

  5. I want to say that on an episode of Restoration Garage, or another show, that someone comes in and commissions them to build a replica of this car… they advise the guy against it because his budget is about $30,000 or something, but he says to go ahead with it.

    The guy ends up blowing his whole budget, then going over, and the work is only about 1/4 of the way finished… the last time they show the car on the show they’re pushing it into long term storage.

    I wonder whatever happened to that car and that guys poor financial choices.

  6. I remember Levi’s ripped this off for a TV commercial in the ’90s, where a guy rides a demonic car into a rodeo ring and fights it like a bull, except with that, the car was really crudely built – certain panels were just strategically crushed to make it look from a distance like they had been reworked. I think that was a ’60s suicide door Continental with a lot of extra sheet metal tack welded the sides.

    Actually, come to think of it, they might have also been going for that scene in Americathon where Meat Loaf fights a car

  7. I love how in those old movies, every car that goes over a cliff bursts into flames. In the trailer, The Car pushes a deputy’s car off a cliff at 1 mph and after the first roll it bursts into flames (and then, in another 1970’s stereotype, a body is ejected from the car halfway down the hill).

  8. Quite possibly one of the best movie cars ever designed. I’ve never even seen the film, and I recognized it right away.

    It’s also nearly completely un-google-able. There was a brief moment where I wanted a model kit of it, but I realized it would be nigh impossible to search “the car model” and return halfway meaningful results.

    1. Heh. Reminds me of a college friend named John Smith. Someone once asked him, with a name like that, what name would you use to check in anonymously at a cheap motel? He said, “Squeaky Fromme.”

  9. Are we sure George Barris actually did the work? For all we know, it could be yet another case of Barris just taking all the credit à la Edison & Musk…

  10. The telephone pole was fired into the ground to facilitate a roll. C’mon Torch! Who among us HASN’T used a dynamite powered chunk of a telephone pole to flip a car?!?

    1. Yep, cannon rolls and pipe ramps are the two most common Hollywood methods of flipping a car. If you see a car slide sideways and then suddenly flip over, that’s usually a cannon. Sometimes you can see the ejected phone pole in the shot. Today, they typically use pressurized nitrogen instead of explosives.

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