When I was a small boy, money was tight, and I often found myself envious of my best friend's toy cars. It was an age when boy's toys were quite sparse compared to today, and the model car ruled. If only I'd known how collectable they were to become.
While my friend had a Corgi Beatles Yellow Submarine, Batmobile, Monkeemobile and Thunderbird 2, I had Captain Scarlet's SPV vehicle and The Green Hornet's Black Beauty. I still treasure the Black Beauty, although it's now a battered, vintage toy car.
This year the comic, radio and TV series from the forties, fifties and sixties respectively, has been converted into a film with Jay Chou replacing the enigmatic Bruce Lee in the role as Kato. Also starring Cameron Diaz and Seth Rogen, the film has inspired me to investigate the car once again.
For the 2011 film, 29 vintage 1964 – 1966 Chrysler Imperial Crown sedans were used. Sadly, 26 of these cars were wrecked during the making of the film, leaving only 3 of these vintage automobiles in decent condition.
Dennis McCarthy was the car coordinator on the movie given the almost unenviable task of finding nearly 30 of these vintage old motors for this ambitious project. In fact, much in keeping with many of the superhero movies of recent years, modern car manufacturers were originally invited to pitch for the opportunity of supplying The Black Beauty. Though luckily scriptwriter and star, Seth Rogen clearly has taste, being quoted as saying that none of these modern vehicles came close to the cool of the original vehicle. So the 065 Chrysler Imperial Crown was the chosen model.
McCarthy searched from California to Canada to find original vehicles, which were generally in poor condition as one might expect. These cars were stripped, rebuilt and kitted out with Chevrolet ZZ454 V8 engines, before being passed to the stunt department who added an arsenal of weapons to the cars that might make James Bond blush.
My Corgi model has a rear boot that opens and fires a bright orange radar disc into the air and a front grille that drops to fire a rocket – but that is nothing compared to the real thing. The wheels had retractable spikes - much like Boudica's chariot – 30-calibre machine guns on either side of the bonnet, a flame thrower in the front grille and 4 'stinger' missiles under each of the green tinted headlights.
I feel excited just writing about it – I've loved this car for over 30 years and it still generates the same feelings that I had as a small boy just looking at the new pictures of this magnificent vehicle. This isn't just a prop, this is a working Imperial on the outside, but nearer to being a race car on the inside with it's powerful V8 engine. The pimping is timeless, much as any good customisation job is. A deep black paint job, with tinted black windows, a lowered ride all round, tinted green headlights, and wide, chrome and matte black wheels with that fantastic logo on the centre caps that just oozes class.
The homage to the original Black Beauty from the sixties TV series is pretty faithful. I mean, why change something so good? And once you find out that the original vintage auto was designed by the famous Californian custom car man, Dean Jeffries, it becomes clear why it's remained so timeless. Left to rot after the series ended, the one remaining vehicle eventually found it's way back to it's rightful owner, Jeffries some 30 years after he'd last seen it. Naturally, he restored it to it's former glory. This classic car had very few changes compared to the new version due to budget restraints. Electric switches replaced the door handles, the rear lights were given a sleek, custom look and the gas tank filler cap was moved to be replaced by a gun. The green headlights that flipped from the usual white when called into action were a practical addition in the series. These would aid Kato's 'infra-green' night vision thanks to a flip down green view through panel attached to the sun visor.
This old car will hopefully never be left to rot again, as it now resides in the Hollywood Gallery in The Peterson Museum, where I'm sure McCarthy and Seth Rogers must have got much of their inspiration for their slightly updated classic take on this near perfect car.
Rumours of sequels mean McCarthy might need to find another 30 of these rare vintage cars, so why not grab yourself some classic car insurance from Performance Direct, seek out a Chrylser Imperial and wait for the phone call..