Editorial – The Eleanor Defense: How Greed, Arrogance and Ignorance Tainted a Masterpiece’s Legacy

1967-Ford-Mustang-Eleanor-14-2000x1125
Credit: Mecum Auctions

For  a long, long time now – in fact, pretty much since I started Automotive Views almost a decade ago – I’ve been meaning to write a piece about a car which defined a very significant part of my little auto obsession. Don’t get me wrong, I was a car guy long before I ever saw this thing and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a lot of other stuff since…but this was different, a love at first sight kind of situation. Hell, call it the proverbial “one”.

So naturally, over the past 20 years it hasn’t been fun to watch this car being unfairly misjudged, caught up in ludicrous legal battles and just generally beat on mercilessly simply because it became the trendy thing to do. The title being a dead giveaway, by now you’ll have certainly realized that I’m talking about the (at this point, infamous) Mustang which starred in the 2000 remake of the 1974 movie Gone in 60 Seconds: the lovingly nicknamed Eleanor. The fact that the remake turned twenty years old last month – when this article was supposed to have been posted – gave me the perfect excuse to finally dive into the fascinating, complex and sometimes downright ridiculous subject of what Eleanor is, what it isn’t and just how on earth we got to a point in which there’s so much hate for something so extraordinary. Essentially, what I’m saying is buckle up because it’s gonna be a long one: we’re taking a hard look at Eleanor’s bad reputation and setting some things straight in the process.

You’ll notice that I made sure to designate this piece as an editorial because there is about a metric ton of opinion in the next few paragraphs, but I do have to say that it is exclusively my own personal, salty rant on the subject, meaning it does not reflect the views of AV as institution/website. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s start at the beginning.

 

Part 1. The “Original is Best” Argument

And when I say the beginning, I really do mean it. 1974 to be exact when a gentleman by the name of H. B. Halicki decided to do a movie about a crew which sets out to steal 48 cars for a drug lord, the most difficult of the boosts being a 1973 yellow Mustang code named Eleanor. We can’t talk about the remake version of Eleanor without first taking a moment to consider the original car and movie. Now, if you ever heard or read any discussions whatsoever about the Gone in 60 Seconds 1974 original VS the 2000 remake, you’ll probably have realized that people tend to lean heavily towards supporting the original version. This seemingly innocuous claim of a simple preference is actually the cornerstone for the foundation of 2000’s Eleanor undeserved bad rep.

Why? Because we have to admit that calling the 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds a movie in the first place is being a bit kind. Every – single – thing about what was done back then is…not great. The vague resemblance of a plot is a mere formality which kind of pops up every now and then before immediately vanishing again. And perhaps that on its own could be bearable if many other aspects of Gone in 60 Seconds’ production weren’t an assault on your senses. The choices which were made rarely make sense and the fact that the editing might as well have been done by a toddler on crack certainly doesn’t help. I’ve watched this movie twice in my life, once because I was genuinely stoked to see it and then again just to make sure I hadn’t blacked out at some point during.

So not only is the 1974 finished product unsuccessful, but the production itself was also downright dangerous, filled with stupid risks which caused very real accidents and even some serious injuries. And look, I can respect Mr. Halicki’s will to do a movie and the fact that he took the initiative to run the whole thing, even getting badly hurt himself in the process, but in the end Gone in 60 Seconds boils down to pretty much just a bumper car fest. The production’s claim to fame is a 40ish minute car chase which holds no significance because it keeps being cut with boring, unnecessary interludes so even the most diehard gearhead will struggle to stay engaged. And the pièce de résistance at the end, the big jump is ruined by both the editing which is at best, nonsensical and the staging which doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Now, you may think “but it was the 70’s, nothing was perfect” and that’s true, but Gone in 60 Seconds just misses the mark, even by any kind of old movie standards. Vanishing Point (1971) for instance is thin plotted an yet extremely engaging, filled with meaning and pretty well shot. The Italian Job (1969) despite being all over the place, is still somewhat charming beyond its unforgettable Mini chase. Even stuff like The Cannonball Run (1981) and Death Race 2000 (1975) can be pretty fun in their campy, very over the top ways.

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Eleanor from Gone in Sixty Seconds (1974). Credit: Hagerty.com

And besides being a rough production, 1974’s Gone in 60 Seconds also has the issue of having a fairly bland hero car. At the time, the first generation Mustang was at the end of its life; Eleanor being a (1971 dressed as a) 1973 model was the last hurrah before the oil embargo consequences went into full swing, reshaping the American auto-landscape for decades to come. The “73′” Mustang used in the movie is – in my opinion and yours may very well differ wildly – a bit of a forgettable car in a bland color scheme. It lacks any of the panache that the Mach 1 trim nicely managed to inject in that body style (and yes, people will argue till they’re blue in the face about if the original 71′ 351 Cleveland used was a Mach 1 or not , but that’s certainly not what we’re here for). Very long story short, a preference for the original movie and original car is possible, but dubious at best. So what gives?

Well, let’s skip to 2000 when Gone in 60 Seconds gets a Bruckheimer makeover, with all that entails…A lot of folks were not happy with this revival and it has its ups and downs, that’s a fact, but when compared to the original, the remake is a freaking polished jewel. Yes, it features some dumb humor and the dialogue is silly at times, but it is a complete and most importantly, surprisingly gripping progression of events. The stakes are clear as day, the story moves along  well, the majority of the rides featured are gorgeous and unlike most modern car movies, the editing isn’t seizure inducing with needless cuts every half a second. In fact, I rewatched Gone in 60 Seconds in its entirety (I usually skip straight to the final chase) before writing this piece and mainly, it holds up. The theft scenes are fun, the soundtrack sets the right mood, there’s decent acting at times and the big chase at the end with Eleanor versus the police, is a thrill. Now, it’s not a perfect sequence due to a couple of continuity errors which are a bit of shame, but overall and minus the final jump, it’s extremely successful at displaying actual driving instead of being a bland, dull CGI fest like current car movies tend to be and of course, the whole thing is the ultimate showcase for the then new and much improved Eleanor.

But alas, the fact that a Bruckheimer production starring Nic Cage of all people brought us a new Eleanor is the seeding factor towards her undeserved bad rep. Whenever Gone in 60 Seconds is referenced, it’s not as “the remake”, or “the 2000 one”, but always “Nicholas Cage’s Gone in 60 Seconds”. The movie became so utterly intertwined with our weird collective obsession towards the leading man’s…quirks that the two things somehow became synonymous with each other. It’s a bizarre situation, especially taking into account that on the Cage scale of 0 to a WTF, his performance in Gone in 60 Seconds is actually subdued.

Still, despite some fairly inexplicable appreciation for the original and the (let’s call it) Cage factor suspicion, Gone in 60 Seconds comfortably more than doubled its budged in box office revenue and the leading Lady became a bona fide phenomenon. You see, many such as myself took one look at the car and thought it was the prettiest damn thing we had ever seen. Eventually a lot of people wanted one and this became the second problem to plague Eleanor’s existence.

 

Part 2. Originals, Clones, Replicas, Recreations and Everything in Between

Foose

The original concept for 2000’s Eleanor came from noted hot rod designer Steve Stanford. The build was carried out by the legendary Chip Foose who mocked the new body parts out of clay and wood. Not only was Standford’s vision of as high a quality as you’d expect from him, but Foose’s influence was also pretty determinant throughout the whole car. And yet, despite their clear mark on the final product, neither of them overpowered the character of the original GT500, the project’s inspiration. What we now know as Eleanor is an astonishing difficult balancing act carried out to near perfection. Everyone knows that revamping a classic design is a very, very risky move which will fail miserably 99% of the times. It’s extremely easy to go overboard and just end up with a complete mess, a fact which makes Stanford and Foose’s accomplishment all the more impressive.

It’s already difficult enough to make something last from less momentous designs, let alone starting by seemingly shooting yourself in both feet by building up from something as distinctive as the GT500’s look. Think of The Fast and the Furious for instance, which came out the very next year and stuff like Eddie Paul’s orange Supra. Without a doubt, a fantastic landmark in automotive pop culture, but could it have been made today? Would it make sense? Obviously not at all because it and the other early F&F cars are such pure, superb representations of a very specific moment in time for an equally specific subset of car culture. But that’s it as far as their aesthetic gravitas. These and plenty of other tuned cars which popped up in movies over the years weren’t meant to be a lasting…anything, really. They were meant to look good and be cool in that specific moment. And back then, they were. Hell, as famous creations, they still are. But as automotive designs of a timeless nature though…not so much. And this is where Eleanor differs and remains relevant. Her creators’ apparent massive challenge became an asset, since the GT500’s already striking style ended up updated just enough to be distinctive, yet not tied down to any late 90’s or early 2000’s dubious trend to became passé. Let me put it this way, if Eleanor was made and presented this year for the first time ever, very few people would feel that her looks were dated. This is the advantage of not getting too caught up on automotive trends and the reason a lot of restomod and protouring style projects from the last decade are aging as gracefully as cottage cheese.

But focusing back on the main subject,  at this stage it’s probably relevant to point out that reportedly, 12 Eleanors were originally made: one prototype and 11 others which were used in the movie for different tasks. 2 were destroyed in the Vincent Thomas Bridge jump and 7 reportedly returned, in several states of disrepair, to the company which assembled them in the first place, a place called CVS – Cinema Vehicle Services out of North Hollywood. The 3 hero cars were, also reportedly, the surviving ones (although this is a murky point and we’ll touch on it on the fallow up to the article) and an extra 13th Eleanor was made afterwards for Bruckheimer himself by CVS based on an actual GT500. Funny enough, the only Eleanor which didn’t show up in the movie, Bruckheimer’s, is the closest one to the actual concept presented in the film because it is  a legitimate Shelby; the side exhausts were fully functional from the start (they initially weren’t in the movie cars), so was the C-pillar fuel filler (same situation as the exhausts) and the automatic box was swapped by a manual one.

As mentioned, I of course wasn’t the only one to fall head over heels over Eleanor and very quickly, the demand for replicas grew. This turned real problematic, real fast on many, many levels. The first one to make a move on the Eleanor market was CVS itself. It only made sense, since the people who built the screen used cars had everything they needed to get the parts out there. And so they did, by selling a kit with every exterior body element you’d need to create your very one movie star. Reportedly, 150 of these kits were made and sold. There is a lot of debate over what are Eleanor replicas, clones, recreations, knockoffs and such, but generally the CVS kit based Eleanors are considered to be the only proper replicas, since the body kits were molded from the originals. Now, the fact that a CVS kit Eleanor was the basis for a replica, it doesn’t mean it successfully resulted in one. And even if it did, there’s no guarantee it’s a screen accurate car. But we’ll get to open that particular can of worms later on.

Off course there were a bunch of manufacturers making better or worse knockoffs and copies of Eleanor body kits; the FSI E kit and the Maier kit were pretty popular and the now defunct MustangDepot seems to have moved a fair number of those, but for now we’ll focus on Eleanor “recreations” and the crazy mess that was (is) Eleanor licensing, as well as one of the dumbest lawsuits in existence with a truly baffling ruling. This has been a long, complex, boring and oh so dumb process, so we’re just gonna skim-through the whole thing real quick. In the 2000 remake, Eleanor is portrayed as a 1967 Shelby GT500. Naturally, that wasn’t the case as the movie’s production wasn’t about to go around smashing real, extremely valuable and rare classic GT500s to bits. So Eleanors were built on regular 67/68 fastback Mustangs while still wearing Shelby badges and presented as such. Now, why 2000’s Eleanor was chosen to be portrayed as a GT500 and not just a regular one-off modified Mustang with a GT500 look I honestly couldn’t tell you but it would have saved a hell of a lot of trouble down the line. Maybe a regular 67′ or  68′ fastback would just seem like too much of an incursion into Bullitt territory? Whatever the case, with the 1967 GT500 being indeed one of the definitive muscle cars of its era, it does translate into feeling as special on screen as the movie’s plot makes it out to be, even despite – at the time – the production team still feeling it needed zhuzhing up to compete for the audience’s attention…Ah the 2000’s, when everything absolutely needed to be dialed to 11, because of reasons. But to be honest, I kind of get where they were coming from back then, wanting something extra memorable especially since initially they were gunning for the GT40, particularly production designer Jeff Mann who had already passed on the Shelby Series 1 as a possible hero car because it was “maybe a little girly” (Car and Driver, July 2000). Not gonna touch that one now cause it ain’t what we’re here for, but some day Mr. Mann. Some day…

The option to keep Eleanor, well, “Eleanor” was also a problematic one because Denise Halicki, H. B. Halicki’s widow, holds the rights to Gone in 60 Seconds and surprisingly, to Eleanor itself too. So technically, every single time I say “Eleanor” in this article, it should probably have a little registered trade mark logo next to it, which is a bit bonkers. Anyway, reportedly, in 1995 Mrs. Halicki entered into a licensing agreement with Hollywood Pictures in order for the 2000 remake to be shot. The deal included the Gone in 60 Seconds name and general premise, but Eleanor (as far as likeness and merchandising) was supposed to be a non-transferable asset. However, in a 2008 decision from a federal appeals court in California, the judges ruled that Mrs. Halicki had the rights to the 1974 movie version of Eleanor, but not to the 2000’s. Disney (Hollywood Picture’s parent company) actually held the rights to new Eleanor in that scenario because obviously it was quite ridiculous to extend rights of the 1974 movie car to a completely different thing…or so one would think because, you know, basic logic and reason.

Unique
GT500E by Unique Performance. Credit: Mecum Auctions

Previously, Carroll Shelby had obtained a trademark in 2001 for the name Eleanor to be used in toy versions of the remake’s car and in 2002, a company called Unique Performance which had partnered up with Shelby, applied for a trademark to build what would be known as the GT500E, a more or less accurate (exterior-wise anyway) recreation of Eleanor. The union between the two companies started well but would end up being an unmitigated debacle. Unique Performance was a Farmers Branch (Texas) based company which was supposed to build the aforementioned GT500Es and their more powerful “Super Snake” versions to the tune of 120 to 200+ grand each with Shelby’s blessing. Carroll Shelby felt that since Disney had neglected to clear the use of the terms “Shelby” and “GT500” for the movie, then he should be able to use what was essentially the likeness to something which was a product of his company as he saw fit. It’s a fact that Stanford and Foose reworked the concept nicely, but it’s obvious that 2000’s Eleanor is still, in a lot of ways, quite similar to the original 1967 GT500. So in a pretty contested grey area Unique Performance started production, but things went sideways FAST. First, in 2004, Mrs. Halicki reportedly sued Shelby for copyright infringement (despite Shelby having been awarded the trademark “Eleanor” for use in cars that same year) and then, accusations against Unique Performance by clients who had handed over thousands of dollars and got nothing in return started to pop up; supposedly, Unique gathered up around 15 million in deposits. Eventually, the police raided the company in 2007 over suspicion of VIN tampering/title washing. Unsurprisingly, shortly after that, the company filed for bankruptcy. Allegations flew between Unique Performance and Shelby and reports that the Farmers Branch company was using Texas prisoners as unskilled labor, as well as news of a number of other less than ideal practices began to flood the auto media in the U.S. Eventually, more than 100 Mustangs in various states of disassemble and completion went up for auction. Shelby got sued despite having pulled his licensing agreement with Unique Performance after clients complained about the company’s practices and another bizarre chapter was written in Eleanor’s troubled history.

Also in 2007, Mrs. Halicki created Eleanor Licensing LLC and with this new entity, assigned Eleanor builds to a company called Classic Recreations based in Yukon, Oklahoma. This is how we got the so called GT500CRs, cars then ranging from about 140 to 190 grand. Unsurprisingly, things didn’t work out well again. Shelby sued Classic Recreations in 2008 and adding to what was already a hell of a mess, at some point that same year the, a previous court decision was reversed under some (let’s go with) creative terms based heavily on derivative work argumentation, establishing that yes, new Eleanor has absolutely no resemblance to old Eleanor, but they’re still the same thing because they have the same nickname which gained recognition from the late H. B. Halicki’s work. Things got to a point in which it was argued by Mrs. Halicki’s legal representative that any car with “Eleanor” for a name, even “if it was a bus” (actual quote), would fall under her claim. Now, I’m no fancy big city lawyer, but this makes about as much sense to me as the parents of a girl named Amelia with an inclination towards aviation getting a cease and desist letter from Amelia Earhart’s family. The sheer Springfield Gorge-sized leap in logic taken by this argument and ultimately, by the court’s decision to recognize it as valid is…baffling, to put it mildly. In 2009 Shelby settled and Mrs. Halicki retained the rights to the Eleanor…name? Brand? Concept? Still trying to grasp that one.

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GT500CR by Classic Recreations. Credit: Classic Recreations

Focusing back on Classic Recreations, I cannot in any way shape or form speak about it as a company because I’ve never had contact with their products, but as far as Eleanor “reimaginings”, they inadvertently made a really strong case for the fact that the original style was spot on and not to be messed with. The GT500CRs were updated and modified in a number of aspects; changes were mainly subtle, but they were more than enough to result in a huge overall difference to the original product. The CRs cannot, in my view and despite having the legal right to, be considered Eleanor replicas. Despite the previous lawsuit issues, they were even Shelby licensed along with some other continuation stuff, but Eleanors they were not. And don’t get me wrong, modifying the original style in some way wasn’t a new trend, even in Unique Performance’s (short) days they were already doing color changes and inversions and the Super Snakes had these big ass hoods…and that’s where you start to lose the whole point of these builds. I mean, what’s the purpose of wanting a very specific car if you’re just gonna change it? And this wasn’t either company’s fault per se because they were answering a demand, but I guess it boils down to some type of arrogance by self indulgent wieners with too much bloody money? I’m gonna catch heat for that one…

Anyway, still in 2010, Classic Recreations was briefly under the ghost of Unique Performance’s past when accusations of VIN swapping floated around. After being raided and having cars seized, the company was allowed to resume operations shortly after but eventually, the Eleanor licensing was gone. And again, in 2018, another lawsuit by Mrs. Halicki threw the Eleanor name back in court because it was claimed that Classic Recreations had breached contract by not delivering vehicle number one of 2000’s Eleanor new batch of supposedly, 1000 cars. The court ruled against Classic Recreations.

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Eleanor Legacy by Fusion Motor Company. Credit: Fusion Motor Company

Currently, Eleanor’s rights – through Mrs. Halicki, naturally – sit with Fusion Motor Company in California and apparently also Brand New Muscle Car (BNMC) out of Oklahoma. Only time will tell if this has the chance to be a more fortuitous chapter in Eleanor licensing history. As with Classic Recreations, I have no direct experience with Fusion’s or BNMC’s finished product but I will say this: they do look better. Substantially better. Although not screen accurate for practical reasons which I’m sure will become apparent in a second part of the article, in their basic spec, both are aesthetically respectful of the original concept and especially in Fusion’s case, the engineering behind the whole thing seems a lot more substantial and durable than with past recreations. Fusion’s Eleanors are set up as drivers and that’s a really good thing; what’s the point of having a great looking powerful car if you can’t put the power down without either immediately breaking something or throwing it in a ditch? BNMC builds have great, classic looking interiors with – at least in press pics – several screen accurate details, so that’s fantastic.

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Eleanor by BNMC. Credit: Motor Authority

Unfortunately, clients can still spec them in all sorts of different ways and that’s the business I guess, but my past opinion on the subject stands. I’m here honestly wishing the best for these two places. If there’s an aspect of Eleanor’s history which needs redeeming, it’s the recreation market.

But recreations aren’t always official and as we’ve seen before, the legally awarded Eleanor…whatever it is, gets ferociously defended. So again for all the wrong reasons, Eleanor was back in the media very recently. B is for Build, a popular Youtube channel was working on an interesting restomod project, putting a 67′ body on 2015 Mustang platform. The problem is that the 67 shell was being revamped with an Eleanor body kit. Long story short, the unfinished project was seized due to complaint by Mrs. Halicki company’s team and the Eleanor name became once again synonymous with debacle. Even moving past the fact that, again, the court decision which settled 2000’s Eleanor licensing is pretty daft, taking the option of going after B for Build, despite perfectly legal, shows a fundamental lack of understanding of PR, of the value of optics within the car community and, in a way, just a failing to value your own product. Honestly, it just comes across as money driven. Don’t get me wrong, intellectual property has every right to be defended and it should be. For instance, if I were to find this precise article copy/pasted somewhere tomorrow without attribution, I’d insist on that information being added to it. However, in this case it’s such a bizarre move. Why not go into a partnership for instance? Now instead of really bad publicity, it would be a great PR move. I’ll give you a current and very successful example on how this kind of thing should be handled: W Motors and Genius garage. A while back, VINwiki’s Ed Bolian acquired a Lykan Hypersport fiberglass shell used in the now defunct Fast and Furious live show; you’ll remember that the Lykan was one of the main car attractions in Fast 7. Bolian then passed the shell along to Casey Putsch of Genius Garage so that it could be turned into a real, working car; the project is super interesting and the “Lykan” is being built on a Porsche platform by young students. If you have some time to spare, the build is certainly well worth keeping up with. Now, only 7 Lykan Hypersports were ever made to the tune of almost 3.5 million dollars each, so we can agree it’s not a cheap thing and for sure a property worth defending. So what did W Motors do when they found out about the project? They got in touch with Genius Garage and said it was an awesome idea and that in their headquarters in Dubai, they still had the Lykan prototype and a stunt car from the movie, so if Genius Garage needed any help during the build they’d be more than happy to help. Not only that, they invited the students involved in the project over, perhaps there’s even job opportunities for them in the future. You see how easy it is to turn a possible infringement lawsuit into fantastic PR for your company? Imagine if instead of having the car seized and thrown in a warehouse somewhere to rot, B is for Build had been told “hey, we know you guys are doing this project, how about we get you in touch with the current licensed builders and turn your project into a cooperative, fully fledged, mechanically one off official replica?”. There were some choice words from the channel to Mrs. Halicki’s team. I can’t speak for the attitude of either part during the dispute because obviously, I wasn’t involved, but it does seem like something which could have been easily and successfully settled without the licensing LLC setting the Eleanor name ablaze again.

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B is for Build project. Credit: Autoevolution.com

 

Part 3. It’s Not Real!

Another one of the major troubles with Eleanor’s reputation is the “not real” argument, meaning the car is portrayed as a GT500 without actually being a Shelby. Previously we’ve already explored the reasons of why this is, so now we’ll be focusing on why Eleanor became the lightning rod for the movie car accuracy squad. There are lots of famous cars in film and television and all of them get a certain leeway in terms of their portrayal and abilities because we understand they’re a part of works of fiction. We know the Knight Industries Two Thousand isn’t actually an AI wonder that can jump on demand, it’s just an awesomely dressed up Firebird. We get that DeLoreans don’t actually time travel, it’s just a car with a coffee grinder and some other random random parts stuck to it to make it look sick. Ferris Bueller’s Ferrari was a replica and nobody cares, so was the Miami Vice Daytona. Even really problematic cars get a pass because they became popular; take The Dukes of Hazzard for instance, the show absolutely decimated the 69′ Charger availability forever and hardly anyone has said a peep about it negatively. In fact, not only that but very few people had an issue with the whole concept of the car until very recently, a thing which is named after a traitor and with looks defined by a huge slavery lovers flag across the roof.

So in the grand scheme of things, a regular Mustang portraying a Shelby Mustang in a movie is hardly a capital offense. Ideal? No. Bad enough to be a veritable lightning rod for hate? Again, no. When I think of the concept of Eleanor in terms of realness, I don’t necessarily tie it to being a Shelby platform, but much more to accurateness. I feel that a lot of the ill feelings towards the car aren’t actually directed at the original product, but the many, many, MANY bad reproductions which popped up over the years. The fact is, most people don’t even recall Eleanor correctly anymore; we’ve been so inundated less than stellar rip-offs over the years that the genius of the original concept has just been diluted in people’s minds. To me, the contrast of good Eleanor builds versus bad ones is much more of an issue than the Shelby angle. Look, as we’ve seen before some reproductions had Shelby’s blessing, signature, went on the Shelby registry…and does that make them more special? Are those builds magically better afterwards? Did they get to stick a little “verified” on the Shelby badges? I mean…the relativity of it all is such that it loses meaning.

Eleanor builds, like everything else about the car, get a terrible rep and some of it does have merit. Again, poorly executed projects do a lot more to hurt Eleanor’s reputation than a group of people repeating “it wasn’t a real Shelby, you know?” for the past 20 years; this is why you always get the “kit car”, “ricer” comments as well. For instance, as was the case with Dukes (only this time, people actually complained…), some pointed out that a lot of Fastbacks were being lost to conversions. This problem stopped being as pressing with the introduction of the Ford licensed Dynacorn bodies which are absolutely ideal for this sort of build but still, some folks and even the reproduction companies do prefer to go with 67/68 bodies. The repos are a good option, it maintains the originality of a few hundred cars (during 67 and 68 well over 100 thousand fastbacks rolled off the assembly line). Personally I don’t feel Eleanor replicas have taken a bite out of the surviving fastback population as big as some detractors make it out to be, but as far as an Eleanor build goes, it doesn’t make a lick of difference when one gets to the finished product if it’s a classic Ford or a new body. The real issue here is and will continue to be what exactly is a “real” Eleanor.

The obvious and easy solution for all this is, of course, a comprehensive Eleanor registry. I truly believe that much more relevant than being in a Shelby registry or being a licensed replica, it would be imperative that these cars had a self-regulating, engaged community. Think of that kind of possibility as a sort of owners club with factory support. It’s painfully shortsighted to go after every weekend mechanic who spends like 5 or 6 years putting together an Eleanor lookalike and seize their build; if there was a company cranking out these things willy-nilly, sure. But the occasional wrencher or Youtuber, no. The true money is in licensing out the builds and that’s already guaranteed, there is, should be, and always will be room for companies like Fusion to make the very best Eleanors that they possibly can with the means and the professionals to do them, so why create other problems for the brand? Why not just let the rest be gravy?

What the Eleanor concept desperately needs is to protect itself through cooperation. Picture a committee which would review and qualify Eleanor builds as proper, privately constructed reproductions; there would be a sort of list of requirements your car would need to meet in order to be approved (for instance, a good body kit, the correct colors and rims, working side exhausts, etc.), you’d pay a fee which would include the review process cost, the registry entry and a certificate that would allow you to designate your build as “Eleanor” and that would be that. Throw in a club option with yearly meetups, activities and awards for different categories (most screen accurate cars, best mechanical restomods, etc.), a couple of charity drives and such and in no time, you’d have an engaged community which would fight tooth and nail for the rehabilitation of the Eleanor’s public image within the car community. Damn, something like that could even enforce the cornering of the kit market with official, correct, numbered kits for sale. None of this is challenging to go after, it just takes a mindset of letting go of the cent right now and wait a minute for the dollar.

 

The Defense Summary

So why hasn’t Eleanor gotten a fair shake over the past two decades? Well, personally I’d summarize that it had to deal with bad options to begin with, followed by bad options as far as licensing and finally, bad options regarding the enforcement of licensing infringements. No matter how good looking and accomplished it is as a piece of automotive design – and goddamn it, it really, really is – everything else around it let it down and if there’s one thing the car community simply adores is to have something to absolutely whale on, and as far as movie/TV cars go, Eleanor has been that thing. You’ll never meet a deader horse.

If you’re so inclined, currently you can think of Eleanor as sitting, metaphorically, on four slashed tires; the first cut came from being a remake’s car. As such, it was immediately perceived as not original long before it ever showed up on screen. Afterwards, it drew comparisons to something which truly wasn’t good at all, just seen through coke bottle thick nostalgia glasses; but because the remake was by a certain producer and with a certain actor, many people never even gave it or the car a fair chance.

The second slash came with the decision to unnecessarily tie the car down to previously established properties. Yes, 2000’s Gone in 60 Seconds was a remake and naming the car Eleanor was a fun callback to the original, but it spelled disaster for the future. Had the car been named Shalissa or whatever, we’d have been fine and nobody would have cared, but here we are. Then, making it a “GT500” was another big mistake. It would have been much, much better for the creators to still have given us an updated GT500 look but say it was a fastback “special” or “custom” or whatever other meaningless word one could throw in there for decorative and/or legal purposes.

The third slash has been repeatedly delivered by all the drama surrounding licensing. I do hope that’s over and done with now but then again I’m a history student so I’m always woeful of repeating patterns. Again, I’m genuinely wishing the best for Fusion and I’d love to give one of their recreations a try someday.

And the fourth and final cut came from the car community at large, both the lovers and the haters. Some people made truly atrocious Eleanor “””tributes”””, some hideous lookalikes and folks just kind of grew up over the past 20 years looking at bad versions of something which is incredibly difficult to get right. As such, the original car(s) became unimportant as the trendy thing to do was simply say it’s all crap, right from the start. The name Eleanor became synonym with bad quality, cheap copies of something. If you go on any major classic car site right now with a classifieds page, you’ll find several Eleanorish things, not a single one of which will be right (screen accurate), no two will be alike and probably none will be any good. At all. Yet, in those descriptions, the words Eleanor clone or recreation or tribute will for sure be in there somewhere.

Eleanor, the original concept of it, absolutely deserves an image rehabilitation but for that to be possible, some pretty substantial shifts would need to happen, actions only a group of real, dedicated car people with a true love for this particular creation would be able to plan out and accomplish and from what has gone down so far, I don’t think the trademark holders will ever let it progress in that direction. Don’t get me wrong, I’d gladly eat those words and would love to be proved wrong, truly. But I feel like I won’t. I’m however positive that people will continue to pay the 120, 150, 200 grand for the recreations and if they can afford it that’s great, they’ll end up with a well made product if they chose the right one. But it’s likely that most of those kinds of builds will go to people who get another car for their collection because…well, they can easily pay for it and think it looks cool. Most diehard enthusiasts, the dudes who’ve been aching for an Eleanor lookalike for a couple of decades now, they’re probably priced out of that option and with the situation as is, they’ll likely no have another.

So this is Eleanor, a brilliant concept let down by every decision made about it since inception. Everyone tried to make a buck off of Eleanor but nobody really bothered to take care of our girl and if that’s not an Hollywood story, I don’t know what is. Here’s to hoping to a happy ending at some point.

[For a follow up of this article where we discuss the original Eleanors and exactly what it would take to make a screen accurate build, if one could legally do so (one CANNOT), click here]

 

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