19 April 2011

Green Hornet - A Tale Of Two Black Beauties

 The Original Black Beauty

In 1965 William Dozier, a successful TV prouducer called Dean Jeffries to build the Batmobile for the upcoming TV show. Jeffries agreed and set to work on a '59 Cadillac. Two weeks later Dozier called and said they moved up the timetable and they needed the car in 3 weeks and Jeffries, knowing that he would not be able to do a job he was proud of, declined the task of making the Batmobile. Desperate, Dozier contacted George Barris and in roughly 3 weeks the Batmobile was born out of the 1955 Lincoln Futura show car.

It was 1966 when Batman the TV series aired and trying to duplicate that success, producers at 20th Century Fox created The Green Hornet, starring Van Williams as Britt Reid and Bruce Lee as Kato. Many a young child got their first exposure to martial arts with the introduction to this show, but ask any well-read petrolhead what was their favourite aspect of the show and they will remember The Black Beauty, the Green Hornet's trusty steed.

Dozier was unhappy with the job Barris did so, Dean Jeffries was contacted by the studio and asked to create a car to rival the Batmobile but be a little more realistic. Jeffries chose a 1966 Chrysler Crown Imperial for the task. He created only two cars for the show, one is currently in the Petersen Museum Collection and the other is currently in South Carolina. The Petersen Museum purchased the Black Beauty in December of 2003 for a little over $192,000. Adding to some confusion, George Barris created 3 replicas for touring at car shows but without Jeffries or the studios approval.

Jeffries created 2 cars that were fully functional - after all there were no digital effects in the 60's. The cars have front and rear facing rocket banks, front and rear gas, oil, water, smoke cannons. Rotating headlights, four green and two white, and rotating number plates. A closed circuit TV system, front and rear cell phones (a real big deal in the 60's), brooms that sweep up its tyre tracks and a host of other crime fighting gadgets switches and lights.
During the early 1990's Black Beauty 1 was restored and Black Beauty 2 was restored in late 2008.

Article from a Mexican magazine; it unfortunately makes a basic error and states the car is based on both 1959 and 1966 Cadillacs!

Black Beauty 2, during restoration in 2006:

This is what a standard 1964 Imperial looked like (Black Beauty was based on the '64-'66 model). No prizes for guessing the Lincoln Continental was it's main rival. the irony was that Elwood Engel designed the iconic '61-'63 Continental before jumping ship to Chrysler and penning this beauty.

Another two mere mortal 1964 Imperials, yesterday:

From here and here and especially here.

The new Black Beauty

We'll quickly move on from mentioning the awful film remake to concentrate on the car:

Script co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg thought that for the film, they would be forced to use a new car. "None of the versions that companies pitched were as cool as the original," says Rogen, who stars as Britt Reid/Green Hornet. To persuade director Michel Gondry to use a '65 Crown Imperial, car co-ordinator Dennis McCarthy bought and modified one of the vehicles. Low to the ground, with tinted windows, green headlight covers and hot-rod wheels, it garnered Gondry's seal of approval.

McCarthy then had to find 28 more '64 to '66 Imperial Crowns for the production's needs. "We had two hero cars that were basically pristine, with a fully functioning interior, and they weren't used by the stunt department," he says. "Then we had cars that had no motor in it for some kind of gag. What really ate the cars up the most, though, was final chase sequence - the car just goes through various degrees of destruction, and we had to have multiple cars for each degree of damage." The hunt took him from San Diego to eastern Canada. Most of the cars were in terrible shape - more rust than steel - so the crew stripped them to the frames and added Chevrolet ZZ454 V8 engines, Race Trans Turbo 400 transmissions, Ford diffs and four-wheel disc brakes. Body parts for the 1965 Crown Imperial are no longer manufactured, so McCarthy got the pieces from an unlikely source. "We found a very eccentric 80-year-old guy in Washington who had a whole collection of these imperials," McCarthy says. "And the guy would not part with them. He would not sell us a complete car under any circumstances. He would only sell us parts."

I'll give you one clue who the real star of that film was...

When the cars were complete, it was time for the stunt department to add the weapons: machine guns, missiles and a flamethrower. McCarthy estimates that his team fully rebuilt 15 cars. "Black Beauty is just an Imperial on the outside," he says. "Under the skin, it's a race car." By the end of production, 26 cars were wrecked; only three survived in pristine shape. "We definitely took a big chunk out of the remaining Imperials on the planet," McCarthy says. "If there's a sequel, it's going to be hard to find 25 more cars."

Thank god then the film itself bombed...


  1. Very cool Photos of the number one hero car that Dean Jeffries created the Black Beauty!
    A nice compact history of the 2 cars. But tyres is european not spelled correctly. tires

  2. I too, remember this car from my youth. I was only 4 years old back in 1966. And the black beauty was number two on my list of really cool customized cars. The other one of course was the Barris TV Series Batmobile built & designed by George Barris for the Batman Tv show in 1966.