Did You Know?
Almost everyone can remember seeing or hearing about the 2000 film Gone in 60 Seconds, starring Nicolas Cage and a blonde Angelina Jolie. Few people know that Cage did a lot of his own driving in the ’67 Ford Mustang, Eleanor. That’s why you see so many great interior shots of Cage sawing at the wheel. No green screen required, so respect to Mr. Cage for smoking his own tires.
However, this story is not about Nicolas Cage, it’s about the self-made Renaissance man who lived his life by the quote, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”
I’m talking about the Car Crash King himself, H. B. “Toby” Halicki.
I never understood why Halicki isn’t a more popular name in the auto and film communities. A lot of people don’t know who he is, nor the incredible life he lived. Halicki is/was my inspiration during my year of film production in college. We were required to produce 4-5 short films throughout the year and given the necessary equipment. We were also required to work in teams of 4-6 people to divide the work evenly but I was the only one who requested to work alone. Why? Because I was the only car nut in the class and I had a strong suspicion that whichever group I worked with wouldn’t be too excited about filming cars and doing their own stunts.
I made a total of 7 films on my own, and even won an award for one of them. I have since buried them in the ocean of YouTube, because I am my own worst critic and seeing my amateur films in hindsight makes my brain cringe. I did some pretty risky stunts for the sake of “getting the shot”, like driving my truck from the passenger seat at 50 mph to make it seem like the truck was driving itself.
I did it twice. Once in daylight and once at night. As well as traveling at triple digit speeds with one hand on the wheel and the other on a camera. Filming blindly as I kept my eyes on the road. Most college kids feel invincible by bench drinking every night, I got my kicks by filming amateur car stunts. Different strokes I guess.
The reason why I developed an interest in filming is due to H. B. Halicki’s Hollywood story.
H. B. Halicki – The Renaissance Man
In 1940, Henry Blight Halicki was born in Dunkirk, New York. Halicki was one of 13 children, and was given the nickname “Toby” which stuck with him throughout his life. Born into a family of car people, Halicki started working for the family towing business and became a regular Google for automobiles. He owned his own auto shop by age 17!
He started his own impound and towing company when he moved to California, the H. B. Halicki Junkyard and Mercantile Company. Quickly building am empire when he got involved in real estate, but he did not get interested in the movie business until 1973 when he produced a film titled Love Me Deadly (not a car film).
Gone in 60 Seconds – The Underrated Original
In 1974, Halicki started his first big project by producing, writing, directing, starring, and driving for his own movie titled Gone in 60 Seconds. His style of filming is something that is unheard of today. Filming the longest car chase in film history (40 minutes) with almost no permission making it one of the most realistic scenes as well.
The plot is similar to the 2000 remake. A group of car thieves have to steal 48 cars for a drug lord and it ends with Halicki’s character driving Eleanor in a fantastic chase through Long Beach, CA. The movie did not have an official script. Just notes to direct dialog, but most of the dialog was improvised and you can clearly tell when watching it. Its B-movie gold. Bad acting and vague plot doesn’t matter because the real star are the cars.
Most people know Eleanor as the sexy ’67 Shelby Mustang GT500 that Chip Foose built in record time and spawned a wave of copycat clones. Before that Eleanor was a 1971 Mustang dressed up to look like a 1973 Mach 1 and had over 250 man hours invested to make her the T1000 Terminator of cars.
The car was stripped of its body panels in order to install a NASCAR roll cage to protect Halicki in crashes. The transmission was chained to the body so it wouldn’t fall out. Top notch safety harness and adjustable camera was installed inside the car. It also has individual locking rear brakes and three inch thick steel plates fitted to the undercarriage to protect the drive-train. Rumor has it that the engine was secretly modified by Halicki himself. They had built a tank of a muscle car and they only built 1 car for the whole chase scene. Imagine using only 1 Dodge Charger for an entire Fast and Furious movie.
Maverick Film Director
During the intro to Gone in 60 Seconds you see a Cadillac flying down a two lane blacktop at well over 100 mph. An interior shot of a man driving the S.S. Caddy with the confidence of someone driving at 25 mph.
My favorite part is the line of sunglasses on the dash. The scene ends with the main character arriving at the scene of an accident, a freight train that had derailed. That scene is real. An actual train had derailed and upon hearing about it Halicki decided to film it. Talk about seizing an opportunity.
The chase itself also had a lot of improv moments, unplanned accidents, and general sense of chaos because Halicki filmed scenes without notifying the public. Throughout the chase the people you see on the streets or in the background are not extras, they are real people who think they are witnessing a dramatic police pursuit before their very eyes.
Halicki risked his life for the thrill and the shot. Doing all his own driving behind the wheel of Eleanor. One famous scene where Halicki is traveling at 90 mph and dives across four lanes of traffic to catch an exit ramp and is clipped in the rear bumper by a Cadillac that wasn’t supposed to be there. The hit sends Eleanor and Halicki into a 360 spin and wraps a fender around a street lamp.
Halicki was injured and Eleanor needed first-aid as well, but within hours they were back screeching through LA traffic. When they hauled Eleanor to get patched up they took the street lamp too in order to film Eleanor driving away from the wreck later. Looks great on film.
One of the actors was nearly crushed during filming. At the midpoint of chase, Halicki runs into a police roadblock at a car dealership. The Mustang couldn’t slow down fast enough and T-bones a light blue Plymouth patrol car. It’s one of those things you wouldn’t notice unless someone pointed it out to you. The actor probably noticed the Mustang was coming in too fast and dove behind the Plymouth. You can see in the top right of the scene when the actor jumps for his life as the Plymouth gets shunted and he nearly becomes an insurance write off.
One scene ended with Halicki buying brand new, totaled, Cadillacs when a stunt car hit a red convertible so hard that it was shunted sideways into a domino effect collision with 3 other cars parked next to it. Supposedly they had poured oil underneath the red Caddy to make it slide on impact and make it look more dramatic, and it worked…too well.
2000’s Gone in 60 Seconds may have a respectable car chase, but the terrible CGI jump at the very end is what keeps it in shadows of top 10 articles and videos. The final jump in the 1974 film shows Eleanor going airborne for 130 feet and crash landing to the earth. Halicki compressed 10 vertebrate in his spine during this stunt. Friends and family say that he never walked the same after this jump. All this proves how motivated and devoted Halicki was to anything he set his mind to.
The Junkman – Record Holder
In 1982, Halicki made another film The Junkman. The plot was a fictional adaptation of himself. He played the “actor” who starred and directed Gone in 60 Seconds and gets caught up in a murder mystery as he tries to avoid being killed by professional assassins. It still holds the Guinness World Record for destroying over 250 cars, trucks, motorcycles, and planes throughout the 98 minute film. Again, you see Halicki making insurance companies cry by piloting a tank built Cadillac El Dorado Biarritz. The chase scene has him running while being fired at by assassins and avoiding grenades being tossed out of a plane that is also chasing him. Great driving, great action. There’s an added sense of satisfaction knowing that what you are watching is real. In one scene Halickl jumps his Cadillac over a plane!
Gone in 60 Seconds 2
Some of you may disagree, but I like to think of H.B. Halicki as the Bruce Lee of the automotive community. Think about it. Both came to the film industry and turned it on its head by doing things that had never been done. Both were entrepreneurs and made cult classic films. Both have an affiliation with the colors yellow and black. And unfortunately, both men died in tragic accidents before finishing their latest masterpiece.
H.B. Halicki died in August, 1989, on the set of his latest project, Gone in 60 Seconds 2. They were planning an extremely dangerous stunt that involved a 161 foot tall water tower falling over after being rammed into by a semi-truck. One of the legs for the tower had been removed and replaced with bull-dozers holding the tower in place with steel cables. One of the cables snapped prematurely, slicing through a telephone pole which fell on Halicki. He died of massive trauma on the way to the hospital.
The movie was not finished but a film was released using the footage they had titled Deadline Auto Theft in 1983. The movie is mostly action and cements Halicki legacy as the Car Crash King with almost none stop scenes of cars being demolished in the most gruesome of ways. You can see Halicki plowing through crowded parking lots with a semi truck, and throwing police cars around like Tonka trucks in a sand box when he drives the Slicer. It’s like a car based Saw movie.
Life At the Redline
What I admire most about H. B. Halicki is that although he died at a young age, 48, he lived life to the redline. He lived by his own rules and found a way to make money playing with cars in ways most of us can only do in video games. His death did not go in vain as stricter safety rules and restrictions were set in motion by the film industry to prevent another tragic loss when it came to huge stunts.
As for Eleanor, she is still alive and well. She proudly wears the battle scars she acquired during her big breakout role, and yes it still runs! H. B. Halicki wife, Denice Halicki was later engaged to Robert Kardashian in 1991, but they never got married. Denice is CEO of Halicki Films and was an executive producer in the 2000 remake.
If my career path gives me an opportunity to get into the film industry you better believe I’m going to try my hand at stunt driving in my own movies.
Here are the video links to all his best work. Including the full chase scene from Gone in 60 Seconds WITH its original soundtrack! That means all the sound effects you hear are authentic. You can actually here Eleanor’s engine run rougher and start knocking the more damage she takes through the chase.