By on February 18, 2014

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You have to hand it to Lego: years after the patents on their plastic interlocking bricks expired, the company has become expert in parting kids of all ages from their cash. The Lego Movie, a concept that would have boggled the mind of any child of the ’80s, is a certified blockbuster. The Lego Harry Potter and Lego Star Wars video games – that’s a game of a toy of a movie, if you’re counting – are best-sellers across multiple platforms.

Now there’s this, an assemblage of beige-overalled 1980s misfits rendered in blocky, multi-part format, ready to do battle with spectres while making off-the-cuff quips. Talk about shut up and take my money: the Lego Ghostbusters set is relatively affordable, at just under fifty bucks, and is everything you were hoping for. By June, thousands of them should be parked proudly on the desks of all kinds of dudes who are far too old for this sort of thing. I’ve already cleared a space on mine.

The centrepiece of the set, aside from minifig versions of Venkman, Stantz, Zeddemore, and Spengler, is the gloriously recreated Ectomobile – Ecto 1. Thirty years ago this year, the white and red original burst on-screen, sirens blaring.

As a fit for the role, the Cadillac might have been an even better casting choice than Bill Murray as Venkman. When there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, you know who you’re gonna call.

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Before Hollywood got hold of it, Ecto-1 started life as a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Futura Duplex. The Futura designation indicates that it had limousine windows rather than a landau top, and the Duplex that the car could be used as both an ambulance and a hearse. Technically, I suppose the Ectomobile could be called a Triplex in that it could ferry you to hospital with a minor cough, take your corpse to the cemetery after some careless orderly put an air bubble in your IV, and then bust a proton-pack cap in yo’ ass after you returned from beyond the grave to haunt the intensive care ward.

Much like the Armoured Rolls-Royce’s underpinnings, Cadillac once supplied a bare chassis for custom coachwork, available through their commercial division. Essentially a strengthened Series 355 frame, the 390 V8-powered chassis was bare of bodywork except for the front clip, and might include optional extras like air-conditioning and air suspension. Most were considerably lower in the rear than the civilian versions, making for a lower load height.

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Companies such as Superior, Eureka, and the aforementioned Miller-Meteor took this bare frame and created ambulances, hearses, a very rare vehicle called a flower car (used for transporting floral arrangements), and stretch limousines. Quarter-panels and other signature Cadillac bodywork would often be supplied along with the bare essentials, but the coachwork usually involved customized doors, windshields, a heightened roof, and unique details like curved glass in the rear for a better view of the casket.

While a lucrative business for Caddy in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, these professional vehicles weren’t all that common. In 1959, just 2102 chassis were made, the lion’s share going to the Miller-Meteor company in Ohio. Divided again between ambulance, limousine, dual-purpose and the odd flower car or two, not many more than several hundred Futura Duplexes were made in total. Stringent EMS regulations introduced in the late 1970s would eventually force the change to van-based ambulances – the last Cadillac commercial chassis was delivered to Miller-Meteor in 1976.

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By comparison, the similarly iconic DeLorean DMC-12 of the Back To The Future trilogy is relatively commonplace, with somewhere in the neighbourhood of 9,000 cars made between 1983-84. The bullet-shaped tail-lights and the quad foglights of the ’59 Caddy are a one-year oddity.

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Thus, there was only ever one Ecto-1. Where the set designers got the car from isn’t clear, but the news that it was originally brown will certainly please Style Editor Sajeev Mehta to no end. While versions of the script as late as 1983 indicated the Ectomobile should be a 1975 Excelsior ambulance, drawings commissioned by Dan Ackroyd for his original screenplay seem to show a much earlier car.

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At any rate, the ’59 Miller-Meteor got the part, and was transformed into a screen legend first by concepts drawn up by John Daveikis, and then more properly realized by Steven Dane, credited as a hardware consultant. Dane also fabricated up early models of the proton packs you probably tried to make as part of your Hallowe’en costume in 1984.

Two cars were used in the film, the first an ex-fire-department ambulance that was rented by Sony Pictures to portray the black-primered “before” car that Ray Stantz so proudly pulls into the firehouse, “Everybody can relax, I found the car. Needs some suspension work and shocks. Brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission, rear-end…”

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All that for just $4800. Well, it did need rings, mufflers, a little wiring – point is, the fictional Ray Stantz got a heck of a deal on an extremely rare machine. Thanks to the work of the non-fictional Steven Dane, the slightly-beat Desert Rose Caddy ambulance that was actually purchased by Sony was transformed inside and out into an iconic bustin’ machine.

In the mind of Dan Ackroyd, Ecto-1 should have been more ghostly hearse than ambulance – painted a menacing all-black with purple underglow and sirens. Fortunately, since so much of the film was to be shot at night, the car donned the red and white livery we all know so well. The Ferno-Washington gurney held the proton-packs, and a series of avionics gauges were fabbed up into spirit containment devices and ghost detectors.

It was a hell of a machine. Nearly twenty-one feet long, eight feet high and nearly seven feet wide, Ecto-1 weighed nearly three and a half tonnes. Sure, the V8 cranked out 325hp, but the floaty suspension and mausoleum curb-weight blunted performance somewhat. Blunted? Sorry, I mean slimed.

After the movie, Sony ended up buying the primered car as well, and using it as a promotional vehicle. George Barris, famous for any number of other famous movie and TV cars, made another Ecto-1 out of it, and it eventually passed into private hands. Among other differences from the original, the promotional car has a red interior rather than black.

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Another car was used as a rolling feature at Universal Studios, and Ghostbusters II featured Ecto-1a, an “upgraded” version of the original. Any number of replicas have followed, many of them based off of Superior and Eureka ambulances.

The appeal of the Ecto-1 has been something of a double-edged sword in the view of Professional Car enthusiasts. While some far-gone ambulances and hearses have been pulled back from the brink by movie enthusiasts, the rarity of the standard cars might well have been increased by Ecto-1 replicas made out of hard-to-find ’59 Miller-Meteors.

It’s not like movie star status did anything for the original. Left outside for nearly two decades in the Sony Pictures backlot, Ecto-1 was weathered and brutalized by the years. Eventually, right around the 25th anniversary of Ghostbusters, the car would be sent to Cinema Vehicle Services of North Hollywood for a full restoration. The Ectomobile was stripped down to the bare bones and built up again. Even after the renovations, it spent another five years baking in the California sun on the backlot. Ecto-1a is a ruin after the same sort of shabby treatment.

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For those of us who remember Ghostbusters from the complete first picture, the idea that a trilogy might be on the horizon is both exciting and terrifying. Think of just how bad the fourth Indiana Jones movie was, as best represented by the car-chase that destroyed the warehouse seen at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark – a childhood memory sacrificed to CGI nonsense.

But Ecto-1 (apart from the siren) was never purely about movie magic. It’s an antiquated rolling piece of American automotive history given new life by a mortgaged-to-the-hilt gearhead Ghostbuster; an unlikely, outdated rescue vehicle suddenly imbued with silver screen immortality.

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It is, funnily enough, a dead car resurrected by a movie franchise that ran on putting down spirits who wouldn’t remain deceased. To end with a quote from Dr. Peter Venkman, “Generally, you don’t see that kind of behaviour in a major appliance.”

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27 Comments on “Ecto-1 and the Working Cadillac...”


  • avatar
    jjklongisland

    Awesome article!!! Ecto-1, Batmans Car, Back-to-the-future Delorean, and the General Lee have to be the most famous most recognizable autos ever. Gotta love movie cars!!!

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    My favorite lines of the franchise come from the second movie though:

    Dana: It’s late, I really ought to put him down.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: May I?
    Dana: Yeah, if you want to.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: [points in baby’s face] You’re short, your bellybutton sticks out too far, and you’re a terrible burden on your poor mother.

    Yes the Cadillac held my imagination, my teenage self tried modeling it out of Construx a few times (remember those building toys?)

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I had Construx, an Erector Set, and K’Nex. Now kids have Xbox. Get off my lawn!

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        You’re lucky – you had those toys all to yourself. Kids now have to fight their dads for the toys like this coming out. This is what happens when toy companies market not to the kids’, but their parents’ childhood.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          If I were to purchase legos for myself, I would want the sets I played with or wanted as a kid. I mean, who didn’t want the Lego airport shuttle? I don’t know anyone that ever owned one though. I’m assuming its because its cost somewhere around $237,546.12 adjusted for inflation.

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            There are sites that either sell used versions of all of your favorites or piece together the smaller sets. They are pretty reasonably priced unless they have particular demand. Blackseas Barracuda is a set I loved as a kid, couldn’t afford, Lego re-released when I was in college, and again couldn’t afford. It is on the order of 4x the original price on BrickLink now. In general, though, you can get them for reasonable prices if you aren’t looking for a mint set.

            I still collect Legos (mostly the 16+ city building sets) and have all the instructions for my sets as a kid. I was more of a free builder, though. I have all of my pieces separated by size and type in ~15 Ikea bins for when my daughter is old enough to play. We can build the sets I had per the instructions, but I’m going to encourage her to build what she wants. It was a great creative outlet that had a good amount of problem solving included by the fact I didn’t have every single piece I needed to build what I wanted. I give it a lot of credit for pushing me toward an engineering career.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            Ikea bins? Dang, I always kept everything in one giant pile. Probably helped my sorting skills, but made it a pain in the ass to find that one red rocket base I knew was in there somewhere.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Quentin-

            Did you get the Duplos out for your daughter yet? My daughter likes those quite a bit. My wife still doesn’t understand that Mega Bloks are NOT Legos, but she’ll have to learn.

            FYI- I had the Blackseas Barracuda, along with many other Pirate Legos (before this Pirates of the Caribbean nonsense). It took a few years of forced savings of Grandma money to buy it. While I was in the Army, my mother gave away all my Legos (Complete Blackseas Barracuda, Imperial Trading Post, Fobidden Island, and more, all with their original boxes). Thats what I get for taking a break from college to jump out of perfectly good airplanes.

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            bumpy – as a kid, it was one big pile. I have individual sets that have over 3k pieces each now, so that method simply isn’t practical. I was using the Lego Digital designer for a little while and having such a “library” of parts meant that I really needed some organization method to build my custom designs. It really works out awesome because I can very, very quickly find the parts I need. I also plan on rolling out certain bins to my daughter. The bins with standard parts first… we can explore the “special parts” when she has a good Lego building foundation.

            bball40dtw – She has been using Duplo since her first birthday. Mostly did the little animal/farm sets that came with books and the random part sets. I was a very proud papa when I noticed her silently putting the blocks together for the first time. I had deja vu of when my brothers and I would get in that “building trance”. My mother gave all of my toys away growing up (ninja turtles, hot wheels, tonkas, SNES, etc)… except the Legos. She somehow knew those were untouchable. I actually got all the pirate sets of that vintage except BSB from a guy that was selling all of his old sets. That era Pirate sets are still some of the best sets ever made, IMO. Perfect balance of normal parts used creatively and special parts used otherwise. Like many things, they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Every time I go through BrickLink and look at the late 80s-mid 90s sets, I feel like I could spend thousands. haha

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I could spend so much money on vintage Legos.

            I agree with you about kids putting Legos together. They get so focused in thought. I like Duplos because its the only thing besides books that gets my daughter to sit still for a few minutes. I don’t even mind the mess.

            FWIW: I know Thomas & Friends will stop her in her tracks, make her dance to the theme, and then turn her into a zombie. However, Thomas creeps me out.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I had tupperware bins full of them. I think they are still in the garage at home-home actually.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I wanted K’Nex. Quote my mom.

        “There are too many little metal pieces. You would leave them all over the carpet, and then I’d suck em up with the vacuum!”

        Me, age 10: “Nooooooooooo!”

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    I’m tempted to order the individual Lego parts to build the black primer version.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    That wacky zig-zag exhaust couldn’t have done anything for the horsepower rating.

  • avatar
    FuzzyPlushroom

    As much as I enjoyed Ghostbusters, I’m mostly excited by the ability to have a nearly-original Miller-Meteor-bodied ’59 on my desk with only a few omissions and substitutions.

    Actually, what racer-esq. said above is an even better idea…

  • avatar

    Great article! Even though I’d heard of Miller-Meteor, I had no idea those cars were so rare.

    Sadly, I still quote lines from the original movie. “So my girlfriend sleeps above the covers–Four Feet above the covers!” And, “Yep. It’s the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man.”

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Great story!

    I wish there were more detail about where the car is NOW, and if it’s still sitting somewhere. Why let it go to rot, restore it for a quickie promotion, and then let it rot again!? Surely storing it could be on someone’s priority list – wouldn’t cost that much, and there are plenty of car guys who would happily do it.

    • 0 avatar
      Brendan McAleer

      It’s sitting on the Sony pictures backlot, supposedly parked next to the car from the Green Hornet. Apparently there’s a picture of the brown, un-ecto’d Miller-Meteor sitting beside one of the General Lees.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Here’s the car as it sits now.

      news.moviefone.com/2013/10/15/ghostbusters-car-photo/

      Not so much rot, but more like vandalism. Just sitting in some lot without even a fence/security, it appears.

      It’s just business to them. It maybe special to us, but to Sony, it’s just a prop. If it was a Godzilla prop, different story…

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Also, I wonder how all designers/architects/engineers who are drawing blueprints or plans end up with the same type of all caps printing.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I’m waiting for the Lego Top Gear stage set collection, Stig included! Now if Lego would just make a Doctor Who set (there is a company that makes something that looks kind of similar). I would love to have Clarkson standing next to the TARDIS. Yeah, I’m that kind of geek…:)


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