Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
June 13, 2013

Everybody knows Gone in 60 Seconds, the movie that starred "Eleanor" as a customized '67 Mustang fastback and major league actors Nicholas Cage, Angelina Jolie, and Robert Duvall. But what some don't know—and many have forgotten—is that the 2000 film was a remake of H.B. "Toby" Halicki's independently-made movie with the same name, filmed in 1973 and released in 1974. It featured the original Eleanor, a yellow '73 Mustang SportsRoof (although astute Mustangers know that it had a '71 or '72 front valance and hood) that Halicki drove himself in one of the most memorable and longest car-crash scenes in movie history.

Made without the help of a major studio, the first Gone in 60 Seconds was an unlikely box-office hit, raking in $40 million as car-crash fans flocked to theatres to see 93 cars wrecked and rolled during the 40-minute chase scene, which the Los Angeles Free Press described as "the most incredible auto-chase ever." The plot involves a scheme to steal 48 cars, each one with a female name, but Eleanor steals the show as the Mustang eludes police while banging and crashing through Long Beach and other southern LA communities. The formula was later copied for The Blues Brothers and Dukes of Hazzard.

Even with its cult following, many Mustang fans knew little about the movie's background and its creator until Halicki's widow, Denice Shakarian Halicki, released the newly restored film in high-definition last Christmas as a DVD/Blu-Ray Combo Pack with interviews and cameraman commentary. As H.B. Halicki's first venture into movie-making, it was filmed on a budget with Halicki serving as producer, writer, director, actor, stunt-driver, and even promoter as afterwards he hauled Eleanor—with "Gone in 60 Seconds" emblazoned across the bashed-in doors—around the country to display in front of theatres.

After the movie's financial success, Halicki built the H.B. Halicki Junkyard and Mercantile Company, a private get-away where he stashed his collection of cars, guns, and what became known as the world's largest antique toy and automobile collection. He also continued with film-making, releasing The Junkman in 1982 and Deadline Auto Theft in 1983. Just three months after marrying Denice, a former model and his fiancé for the previous six years, Halicki was killed in 1989 in a freak accident on the set of Gone in 60 Seconds 2.

Denice was determined to keep her husband's legacy alive by completing the unfinished film. But with Gone in 60 Seconds 2 tied up in probate court, fate intervened when Michael Lynton, president of Disney/Hollywood Pictures and a big fan of the original Gone in 60 Seconds, approached Denice about a remake of the 1974 movie. Denice agreed and, as the executive producer, she worked with writer Scott Rosenberg and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Released in 2000, the modern Gone in 60 Seconds grossed $237 million worldwide and triggered unprecedented popularity for the new pewter and black Eleanor.

At the same time, Denice began work with producer and business partner Michael Leone under her Halicki Films banner to restore all four of H.B. Halicki's films, including the original Gone in 60 Seconds. Reformatted for wide screens and digitally remastered for surround sound, the films look and sound remarkably modern, other than the 1970s clothing and 52.9 cents-per-gallon gas station signs in the background.

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Unfortunately, in Mustang circles, Denice is probably more well-known for her legal struggle with Carroll Shelby. When Unique Performance, with Shelby as a partner, began rebuilding '67-'68 Mustang fastbacks in the likeness of the movie character Eleanor, Denice felt she had to protect her rights and sued for copyright and trademark infringement. The four-year dispute ended in 2008 when the Ninth Circuit court agreed with Halicki that "Eleanor" is a copyrighted character that belongs to Halicki. In fact, Halicki's case was recently used by Warner Brothers/DC Comics to establish exclusive ownership rights to the 1966 and 1989 Batmobiles as copyrighted characters.

Besides the movies, Denice was one of the partners in the Iacocca 45th Anniversary Mustang along with Leone, who designed Iacocca's 2009 Mustang. In fact, Denice maintains a close relationship with Iacocca, who allowed a rare interview for the Gone in 60 Seconds DVD.

The original Halicki films are now available in stores and at The Gone in 60 Seconds DVD/Blu-Ray also includes interviews, extra footage, and commentary. A SPEED TV documentary, The Life and High Times of H.B. Halicki, is part of the "Trilogy" DVD with Halicki's second and third movies.

Intrigued by the information revealed in interviews, documentary, and commentary, we chatted with Denice and Michael about the original Gone in 60 Seconds and its Mustang star, Eleanor. During a trip to Southern California, we were also able to visit Denice and choose photos for this story from the movie's original stills.

MM: How did you meet Toby Halicki?

Denice: We were formally introduced at his office in 1983. Toby was sitting at his desk and the gentleman who introduced us said to Toby, "This is the dream girl that I told you about." Then he looked at me and said, "This is the dream man I told you about." And that's how it started. Toby told me that it was love at first sight.

MM: What led Toby to making films with car crashes?

Denice: He had been a car guy since he was a little boy. His family was in the tow truck business so he learned about car wrecks early on. He had such a fascination and knowledge of cars and what he could do with them.

During a break in the action, Halicki discusses an upcoming scene. Eleanor has already taken a beating.