August 6, 2008

Yukon Car Builder Creates Film’s Dream Car

By Gene Triplett, The Oklahoman

Aug. 6--YUKON -- In a Yukon garage just off old Route 66, movie stars are being born -- and they're all named Eleanor.

Custom car craftsman Jason Engel is the star maker, commissioned to build full-scale, bored and stroked, supercharged replicas of the modified 1967 Mustang fastback that stole scenes from Nicolas Cage in the 2000 remake of "Gone in 60 Seconds" and roared into the hearts of auto enthusiasts everywhere.

"I'm a huge fan of the original movie," Engel said. "Of course I'm only 33 years old, but around 8 years old I saw the original movie and have been a big fan of Eleanor since then."

That would be the 1974 version of "Gone," a high-octane, low-budget, car-crazy drive-in thriller financed, written, produced and directed by its star, H.B. "Toby" Halicki, a California junkyard tycoon turned independent filmmaker.

In that film, Halicki's "leading lady" was a souped-up 1973 Mach 1 Ford Mustang -- code-named "Eleanor" -- that turned in a stellar performance in a knuckle-biting, metal-shredding, 40-minute car chase and a now-famous 128-foot jump that's made the movie a cult classic.

"When the remake came out in 2000, I was the first at the theater to watch it," Engel said. "I just loved the car, it was gorgeous."

About 'Eleanor' The new-millennium Eleanor is a customized pepper-gray beauty of '67 vintage that was put through even more harrowing paces in the high-tech, big-budget, Jerry Bruckheimer-produced version of the cops-and-car-thieves destruction derby, with Cage behind the wheel.

Engel got to thinking others might like a turn in that driver's seat.

"I have always been into building custom cars," said the owner of Classic Recreations in Yukon. "So I basically started contacting Ms. Denice Halicki."

Denice Halicki is the widow of Toby Halicki, who was killed while performing a stunt on the set of "Gone in 60 Seconds II" in 1989. She owns all rights, title and interest in the original film.

"There's a lot of clones out there," Engel said. "There's a lot of people who were cloning this car. Nobody had the true licensed 'Gone in 60 Seconds' Eleanor."

Denice Halicki began waging a legal battle for exclusive rights to the name in October 2004 when she filed suit against automotive designer and former star racing driver Carroll Shelby for allegedly manufacturing and selling "Eleanor"-styled cars without right or license. Shelby claims he secured trademark rights to the Eleanor nickname on Mustangs from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2002. The litigation is ongoing.

Meanwhile, in response to Engel's queries, Halicki Films Co. representatives paid numerous visits to Classic Recreations' Yukon fabrication site and conducted extensive background and criteria checks on the operation.

"They came out and viewed our shop, saw the kind of quality you can see here," Engel said. "We build the entire car under one roof. We don't sub anything out to anybody and that was impressive to them."

Halicki Films granted Engel exclusive rights to build and sell collectible copies of the "Gone in 60 Seconds" Eleanor Mustang. Classic Recreations is now devoted solely to that purpose.

What are the car's features? The first completed automobile awaited inspection in the assembly building of Engel's Yukon compound, its exclusive metallic paint job gleaming under the lights, sporting twin black racing stripes running fore to aft. This was the 535-horsepower FI Model, capable of an estimated top speed of 171 miles per hour and a 4.90-second 0-to-60 mph quarter-mile time.

Price: $139,000.

If that's not enough muscle, there also will be a supercharged 770-horsepower FIS Model with a modified rear suspension going for a mere $50,000 more.

Eleanor is built on a classic muscle car frame but with all-new, high-tech materials and technology, featuring a coil-over suspension, sequential fuel injection, and oversized slotted and cross-drilled Baer brakes.

Tucked under the hood of the FI model is a Keith Craft Racing engine, bored and stroked to 410 cubic inches from a 351 cubic-inch Ford Windsor base motor.

Eleanor's other attributes include a five-speed Tremec TKO manual transmission (automatic is available, too), positraction, Concept One serpentine drive belt system, braided stainless fuel lines, a custom sound system and five-point Simpson harnesses.

Upgrades include leather interior, keyless entry, and custom in-dash DVD and satellite navigation and entertainment systems. And if the customer doesn't like pepper-gray, there's red with white racing stripes, black with silver stripes, yellow with black and blue with white.


To see more of The Oklahoman, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2008, The Oklahoman

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.