On the day that Bill Gibson brought Christine home to Pensacola, FL, a neighbor’s house burned to the ground. When the 1958 Plymouth’s surprise restoration was revealed to previous owners Derek and Jim Garvie, a cat was crushed as Christine rolled out of her Oklahoma garage. These are both ominous events, but the scariest part of all is that there is more than one of these evil celebrities cruising the U.S.A.
Many of you remember the deathmobile Fury in John Carpenter’s 1983 horror flick Christine, based on the book by Stephen King. What you may not know is that there were an estimated 23 Plymouths purchased for use in the movie. Though many were heavily damaged or stripped for parts during filming, some actually lived through it, avoided a crusher fate, and are prowling the highways to this day; Gibson’s is one of those cars.
But we can’t tell Bill’s story without telling you about Martin Sanchez. Sanchez, of Riverside, CA, has owned a Christine movie car the longest of any of them, since the summer of 1983.
An argument in the parking lot of the Irvine (CA) Marriott parking lot brought Sanchez to his 2-door hardtop. He was a valet supervisor there in his late teens when a bunch of vintage cars were parked in the red zone. A valet got into an argument with an older gentleman, who ended up being Al Newman, owner of Classic Wheels in Anaheim, CA.
As the supervisor, Sanchez allowed Newman to keep his cars there, which he really appreciated. Newman invited Martin up to his shop as a way to thank him––and little did Sanchez know, but Classic Wheels provided film cars for movies.
At the shop, Martin told him, “I’m looking for a ’58 Plymouth.” Newman laughed and said, “We provided a couple of the cars for the movie Christine.” Martin half-jokingly responded, “Can I get one?”
A couple weeks later Al called and said “I’ve found you a ’58 2-door, it’s $900 if you want it sent to you.” When it showed up on a flatbed it was beat to hell, but it ran. The radiator was mounted in the trunk, there was no interior, and there was a roll cage with a sandrail seat and five-point harness. “I can’t make a real car out of this,” Sanchez thought.
“I called Al and said, ‘This is pretty messed up.’” He replied, “I know…but this is an actual movie car, the number 2 stunt car, from the movie Christine!” Naturally, Sanchez was excited.
Although his 3-speed manual (purportedly the only manual used during filming) needed a lot of work, Al told Sanchez about Bill & Ed’s in Fontana, CA, the scrapyard holding 15 movie cars from filming. They were all slated to get crushed––cars with the roof cut off, half cars on dolly wheels, etc.––so Sanchez got down there and was able to buy a bunch of good parts for pennies on the dollar before the Plymouths met their fates. Some of the treasures that Sanchez scored were the actual interior that gets destroyed in the movie, aluminum trim, the banged-up grille from when the car crashes through a fence, a damaged bumper, and an instrument panel that the Hollywood guys had rigged up to make the odometer run backwards!
Sanchez got it fixed up and started taking it to car shows, but the response was underwhelming. “Here I am, this young kid, and people were laughing at it. I’d tell them, ‘It’s actually the Christine car!’ And they said ‘Yeah, right!’”
But Martin didn’t listen: he was completely obsessed with the car, and in the following 25 years he made it as perfect as he could (new chrome, transmission, and interior were the biggies). It was even noticed by the band The Offspring, who filmed and shot it for use in their album Americana. Sanchez enjoyed putting lots of miles on it––and he also found time to take a young wife. Her name? Christine.
There was another Christine in the picture, though: a second stunt car, this one said to be from the Camaro scenes in the movie. It avoided the crusher and eventually took its third owner as one Bill Gibson.
The story goes that a gentleman got the car from a junkyard, then it got some damage in an earthquake. The second owners of the car, Jim and Derek Garvie from Grove, Oklahoma, had the car for several years. Derek suffers from Huntington’s Disease, and a neat sidebar to this story was that their town chipped in to restore the Plymouth as a surprise to them. Bill contacted them in late 2005 after he found a Christine clone and had some questions, and they happened to ask if Bill would be interested in buying their movie car. It was at this time that Gibson and Sanchez connected, as Bill asked Martin for his advice on the car (Sanchez actually passed on buying it before) and they became friends. An email from the Garvies came some weeks later stating that it was still for sale, Bill said “sold”, and then mortgaged the house and emptied out the bank account. “I own her, or she owns me, one of the two.
This Christine had a 325 Dodge engine and Torqueflite transmission, and has seen its share of restoration work. There is still some bondo, perhaps from the movie, that will need to be taken care of, and the wiring is in pretty rough shape.
“It’s pretty much Frankenstein,” Bill laughs. “These cars were pretty beat up. There’s a good chance that this one was used in the Camaro chase scenes, as it had some bad front end damage.”
It is here where both of these Christines begin to come together––thanks to Edwin Verdung and his restoration company, Memory Lane Classics in Chisholm, MN (www.memorylaneclassics.net). Edwin has had the shop for 10 years; it’s a father-son business with 22,000 square feet and 18 full-time employees. They do 30-50 cars a year, have an engine dyno, a full fabrication and paint shop, and the list goes on! Everything except alkaline dipping is done in-house. And any vehicle––musclecars and exotics from mid-70 all the way back––can be brought back to life here.
A chance encounter between Ed and Bill on the Christine Clone Owners Association web forum led to talk of taking the car to the Playboy Mansion “Mopars at the Mansion”, a hand-picked 30-car group, is a great honor (and sounds like a great party!). Memory Lane Classics handled the transport to Los Angeles: Edwin drove down to Florida, he and Bill drove the car around a bit, then they loaded it into the truck and Ed drove to the Playboy Mansion party. While I can definitely think of more scary locations for what transpired, the Mansion was where Ed, Martin, and Bill converged, with the two Christine stunt cars in attendance. Also there were some of the actors from the movie, who signed autographs and told war stories about the filming.
Afterwards, Ed took it back to Minnesota to begin the media blasting and full restoration. The paint is old, the interior has aged, it’s pretty rough under the hood and the 325 Dodge engine isn’t the correct L350 Golden Commando (Gibson found one though, and the correct mill is being rebuilt for installation). As Martin’s car is there for a paint-focused resto as well, Ed will be using all of his powers to bring the evil twin sisters back to life, both of them lurking in dark corners just waiting for their chance to shine again. I hope he has fire insurance…