Historic Horror Cars

by: Tim Weadock

October 16, 2012

As the summer air cools and leaves turn from green to Technicolor shades of fall, many collector cars are tucked into hibernation for the winter. Car guys look for new ways to fill the void of leisure time left behind. But what do you do, if you’re not a fan of yard work or fall sports?

Well car guys, Hollywood has not forgotten you; just head down to your local theater or movie store, where a variety of frightening vehicles await to help kill some spare time. Here’s a few TV and film picks featuring some of history’s best-known “horror cars.”

Duel — 1955 Peterbilt 281 Tanker Truck

Duel is best known as young Steven Spielberg’s promising debut film. Before he began directing big-screen classics, Spielberg was frightening viewers with the televised (and, later, movie) tale of a dilapidated 1955 Peterbilt 281 Tanker chasing Average Joe salesman, David Mann’s (Dennis Weaver) 1970 Plymouth Valiant Signet down California highways.

Mad Max — Interceptor

This sci-fi classic introduced Mel Gibson and the Ford XB Falcon GT to American audiences. Producers needed an evil-looking, black police car for the film’s hero. Crew mechanic Murray Smith found the 1973 XB Falcon GT and with the help of Peter Arcadipane and Ray Beckerley, set to work adding a Concorde front end, roof and rear spoilers, wheel flares and a non-functional supercharger on top of the standard Ford 351/300 V8 engine.

Only one car was built for the original film, but a second was commissioned for the sequel. The second car had minor variations from the first, giving it better ground clearance and making it more suitable for driving scenes.

Death Race 2000 — The Monster

Of all the lists of cult classic/B-movies, Death Race 2000 is always among the top five. It’s probably not the kind of notoriety that the film’s producers hoped to achieve, but one thing is for sure: the cars are magnificent custom creations.

In the film, Frankenstein (David Carradine) pilots the alligator-inspired Monster through a killer transcontinental road race, with many crazy plot twists and turns.

Like many of today’s kit cars, The Monster began with a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle chassis. The fiberglass body of a Corvette Stingray was modified to fit over the top. Power supplied by a 6-cylinder Corvair engine, matted to a 4-speed manual transmission. The menacing look was completed by a spiked spine that would make a Stegosaurus jealous, sharp teeth for a grill, snake eye headlights and a reptile scale paint scheme.

The Munsters — The Munster Koach and DRAG-U-LA

In the 1960s, Barris Kustoms was Hollywood’s go-to shop. George Barris’s team of designers and customizers built some of the most beloved cars of television and film. Two such cars were created for one television series, The Munsters. The show featured a comical family of monsters living in modern suburbia and aired on CBS from 1964 to 1966. Had The Munsters been set in the 1990s or early 2000s, the family hauler may have been 4-wheel drive hearse, but in the ‘60s it was Model T-based Koach.

George Barris reportedly paid Tom Daniel to design the Koach and later the DRAG-U-LA. The cars were built in Barris’s shop. Three Model T chassis were used to support the Koach’s 133 inch frame. A Cobra 289 V8 bored to monstrous proportions, reportedly 425 cubic inches, propelled the Koach to a top speed of 150 M.P.H. “Blood red” velvet upholstery completed the gothic interior.

In the 1966 episode “Hot Rod Herman”, Grampa Munster builds a dragster to win back the Koach after Herman loses the car in an earlier drag race. The DRAG-U-LA’s body was built from an actual fiberglass coffin. As with the Koach, a Ford V8 provided the power. The rear wheels were equipped with 10½ [inch] racing slicks, while the front wheels used four-inch tires on wire wheels. In true Munsters style, Zoomie style organ pipes were used instead of traditional headers. In addition to the television series, the DRAG-U-LA appeared in the movie Musters, Go Home.

Christine — 1958 Plymouth Fury 

Having a list of the best and most scary movie cars without Christine is like having a list of the greatest rock albums without Sgt. Pepper.

Written by Stephen King and directed by John Carpenter, Christine is the story of a possessed car and Arnie, the awkward teen who restores her. As Christine’s condition improves, so does Arnie’s arrogance. Inevitably, Christine embarks on a murderous rampage taking out those around Arnie who try to come between them.

Christine is a 1958 Plymouth Fury Hardtop Coupe. Carpenter used 24 cars in the movie; 16 in filming, the others supplying spare parts. Carpenter also employed several Plymouth Belvederes and Savoys (modifying them to look like Furys) as “stunt doubles” for the film.

All of the stand-in cars were finished in red and white with matching interiors and gold trim. All but four cars were destroyed during filming. Three were later used as promotional vehicles by Columbia Pictures; the fourth was saved from demolition and sold to a private collector.

Ever had a car you thought was possessed? How about a restoration project that went horribly wrong? The Historic Vehicle Association would like to hear about it. Take a moment to comment below or head on over to the HVA’s Facebook page   to share and see what other members are saying.



  1. Steve Chenault Wellsville ohio

    My 58 Plymouth "Christine" is a movie car survivor but not having been on the big screen or at least not most of her. A very long story short ( yea right I can her wife if she was here..Lol ). My Christine was owned by a man who had bought her from a collector in Kansas who had sold Columbia Pictures a couple Plymouths, one of which was said to have been an actual Fury. Columbia Pictures set out to locate 1957 and 1958 plymouths for the filming Christine. This however was not as easy as it sounds. During the resession the steel quality was poor and Virgil Exners although beautiful design had some engineering oversights that also went against the servival of the 57 and 58 Plmouth. Under the eyebrow of the headlights inner structure is a shelf that catches all the road dirt and water causing this area to rot out in whithin a couple years depending on the location and use the weather conditions the car was exposed too. As the story goes, Columbia pictures searched dmv records and contacted owners to locate the cars that had taken some time to accuire. The man in Kansas who had a collection of cars robbed the car I now own of several parts to provide more complete units to sell to columbia pictures. The remains of a 58 belvedere were bought up by another man in Midland Pa in 1986 in which he proceeded to restore. all the work was performed by him except the transmission rebuild. In 1989 the car was completed. In 1990 she recieved an AAC award in Butler Pa. I rented the movie a few years back (Big Mistake.. Lol) having seen it years ago I vagly remembered the story line. I fell in love immediately and it sent me on my quest to find my own Christine. I'm trying to keep this short but it's not easy. I stubled across the car on my way to work, tracked it down and its owner. Bought parts off him to restore a 58 sedan that I had bought up as I couldn't find a hardtop for sale anywhere. He had gathered up anything and everything he could during his restoration and had a surplus of parts. He ran into troubling times ( and unknowingly to me at first ) he then started to part out His restored Plymouth to me piece by piece having bought up his overflow first. I ended up buying the remained of the car from him and proceeded to reassemble it over the course of several months. In 2008 we met Bill Gibson the owner of one of the surviving stunt cars known as the Camaro chase scene car at Chryslers of Carlisle in Pa We were able to take Our cars by escort to a local drive in theater to watch the movie "Christine" on the big screen 25 years from its release in 1983. Wow.. How cool is that ! I could send a picture if you like as I couldn't attach it to this email. Bill and Christine had also chosen Us for a Celebrity choice pick award. What a fun trip and we drove the 6hr trip down and back with her with no problemsand winning a bet with my daughter Emily as we made there and back with breakdowns. Of Course I knew we would seeing as how Christine Repairs herself anyway.. Lol Steve

  2. Craig Nangle Tennessee

    The Wraith was a decent horror car film. It starred a young Charlie Sheen as a vengeful spirit killing off a gang of drag racers in a Dodge concept car called a turbo interceptor.

  3. Craig Nangle Tennessee

    The Wraith was a decent horror car film. It starred a young Charlie Sheen as a vengeful spirit killing off a gang of drag racers in a Dodge concept car called a turbo interceptor.

  4. Steve Lutz WV

    What about "Vanishing Point" with the Dodge Challenger? Nice car, good chase scenes then boom.

  5. Garrett michigan

    About the "Vanishing Point" (1971 version of the film) if you look very closely at the end scene where Kowalski is racing towards the bulldozers, you will notice the actual car used in the end is not a Dodge Challenger at all, but in fact a 1967 Camaro body that was painted white and towed through the bulldozers with a long cable by trucks and loaded with explosives. I have an old Musclecar magazine which details the whole sequence. There are tons of other really cool cars in movies and TV shows; The 77 Sunset Strip "Kookie" T of Norm Grabowski comes to mind, the Mannix 71' Hemi Challenger and the later Nash Bridges 71' Hemi Challenger rag top are two that are obvious...not to mention a certain TV show featuring a Dodge Charger painted Hemi Orange with a rebel flag on the roof.