By on May 26, 2015

Jeep Cherokee

“Extras with cars! This way!”

A 20-something assistant to someone else’s assistant guides us to where the next shoot will take place.

“You! You! And You! We need you for wardrobe!”

Me? This can’t be good.

My wife and I were already dressed in early 80’s clothes for the upcoming scene since they emailed us the specifics on the night before the shoot.

Our outfits, pretty much a combination of earthly browns and worn out beige, weren’t too hard to find. Any thrift store will do. Here in the Deliverance country that is North Georgia, nobody pays any mind to what you wear, so long as you’re wearing something.

Unfortunately, for Hollywood standards, we’re both old now. She’s forty, and I’m forty-two. Or to put it another way, we’re both really 42 and climbing too damn fast.

Hollywood doesn’t want us. But they do want our Jeep.

Jeep Cherokee

You see this Jeep Cherokee? It’s apparently the Hollywood version of Michael Caine before he became famous. It’s old enough to play in a variety of movies without ever seeming out of place or out of fashion.

’80s, ’90s, or Y2K era, this Jeep even fits the modern day world of 2015. Even though it’s old enough to buy itself a six-pack and light up an unfiitered Camel at the back of my used car lot, it’s young enough to be appealing to those who enjoy all things that are truly American.

AMC and Chrysler made this Jeep forever and, bless em’, the look hit the bullseye of bullseyes – especially when it comes to show business.

Jack Horner on Jurassic Park 3 set

There are two things that make this Jeep such a workaholic when it comes to it’s booking as an extra car.

The first is the color. Forest green is pretty much the perfect color for blending a vehicle into the background of any given scene. Dark greens may be as unfashionable as MC Hammer pants when it comes to today’s new car market. But in movie scenes, forest green offers the right blend in the background without being too bright.

Red, white, black, and zonker yellow tend to be big rolling no-no nadirs when it comes to using cars for a given scene in the movie world. The director wants the actors and plot to take over, not a 40 year old van that looks like a rolling Cheech and Chong pinata. So it’s the blues, the dark greens, and the grays that usually win out.

94ba94e08bcd1db95b18790bc7e8fb55

The other big plus for this Cherokee is class. What movie studios want wherever they can find them is cars and trucks that were owned by middle-class Americans.

There must be 27 silver diesel Benzes within a 25 mile radius of every movie shoot. Nobody wants ’em anymore. Lincolns and Cadillacs? There are probably more of them running now than 10 years ago when old-school American bling wasn’t yet retro.

Movie studios aren’t looking for these high-end cars on a regular basis. What they do want are Cherokees, old Camrys, pre-sporty Maximas and Malaise era cars that were designed in the unholy automotive era that covered most of the ’70s and ’80s.

Cars more square than Lawrence Welk – the blander the better. That’s what sells in the movie world if you decide to become an extra who furnishes an extra car.

1980 Chrysler LeBaron

The pay for doing essentially nothing with an old car except parking it is surprisingly strong. $100 per day for the car. Sixty-eight dollars for eight hours, plus time and a half for overtime – just enough to make my wife a habitual extra with a thick reading book for the endless hours of waiting.

My wife was also in the movie business for years before settling down for full-time motherhood. Sadly enough, this ‘job’ represents the best combination of good pay and low stress in her entire show business career. The work is more steady as well.

Halt and Catch Fire

We’re now in the third season of Halt & Catch Fire, a popular show on AMC (the channel, not the defunct automaker) where I furnish old cars on a regular basis. Try to imagine the tech world back in the early ’80s, plots that are designed with intelligent souls in mind, and toss in some sci-fi special effects into the mix. It’s a perfect fit for hopelessly geeky folks like me and my wife.

“Hey Susan! Go ahead and park the Jeep over there.”

She does as told, walks back in the shade, and reads her thick book. For a mom with two pubescent kids, this is heaven.

For me, it’s a matter of making money and buying her happiness while selfishly finding a bit of my own. As many of you know, I have a love for old cars that just won’t quit. It may be the late models that pay my bills, but it’s the modern day classics, like the Jeep, that regularly capture my heart.

Jeep Cherokee

A lot of my writing work beyond TTAC now revolves around the idea of helping folks figure out older used cars. That career path has reached a mainstream audience but, in my soul, I’m still that strange guy who finds a deep sense of joy in reviving old beaters. What better way to do that than to cater to an industry that has the means to make that hobby worthwhile. A paid mini-vacation for my wife? I’ll take it!

Show business is now my side business thanks to Hollywood getting cheap and spreading out across the USA. These days, once I finish buying cars at the dealer auctions in the early afternoons, I like to take a break from what used to be a 16 hour work-day and hang out with my wife at a shoot. Sometimes, if it’s at a movie set like this one, we sit for a while underneath a shady tree, look at all the young people using their walkie-talkies, and watch them move props, cameras, and movie equipment for hours on end. We remember being just like them in our own tough jobs. Trying to get ‘established’, whatever the hell that meant, and just how chaotic and difficult our lives seemed to be.

In truth we really weren’t doing much of anything useful except moving things around, big and small, and following the orders of others. We live out our careers where everything is, “Hurry up… and wait!” Just like a movie set, but with people and papers instead of props.

It’s all chaos in slow motion. You solve a crisis that is hopefully suitable for a G-rated sitcom and then, if you’re really smart, you remember to have a shitload of fun before the next unwelcome episode takes place.

When you get older, you also realize careers don’t really matter. Not usually in this life at least. What does matter is that we nourish our souls in the things that bring us true joy and enough unique misery to open our eyes a bit. Kids. Spouses. Friends. Old cars. Whatever makes our boat float as we drift along this long journey.

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76 Comments on “Hammer Time: Halt and Catch Fire Jeep Cherokee...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Am I dreaming or did Steve Lang just post something?

  • avatar
    mikey

    Steve is back. .?. Whoo Hooo !

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Steve Lang, yay!!

  • avatar
    fincar1

    Well, all right! A nice reflective piece by Steve Lang to finish out this weekend, and I was glad to read it.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Steve what did you do with that 368 Seville?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      I sold it to a long time TTAC lurker. He flew in from Connecticut and drove the 35 year old vehicle all the way back with only a few stops for major repairs.

      I now have a $500 1979 Cadillac Deville that has rightfully taken it’s place.

      https://www.facebook.com/steven.lang.923/posts/10204511504571123?pnref=story

      I have also been pretty busy with other things…

      http://tradeinqualityindex.com/

  • avatar
    Patrick M

    Well, now I wish I drove my ’98 to work instead of cycling. Love that thing.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    years ago sydney harris wrote a column that was syndicated all over the world including the detroit free press which i read almost daily growing up. occaisionly he would write a column entitled “things i learned while looking up other things.” i loved reading those bizarre factoids. one day he had a slightly different take where he provided quotes he had run across while looking up other quotes. one i hope i will never forget went like this …..

    pleasure palls. joy refreshes.

    i’ve always taken it to mean that joy brings happiness not pleasure. learning the difference between the two and acting appropriately is taking a lifetime.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    If that Jeep has a manual transmission, mark it “SOLD” and I’ll be there in 3 weeks to pick it up :)

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Maybe there’s just a big blue ball out there that’s mostly covered with water and we’re just goin’ along for the ride.

  • avatar
    mcs

    I was on the set of a DeNiro/Lawrence/Cooper movie this spring and they had an early 80’s 4 door hatchback Chevy Citation and a bustle back Seville. The Citation even had an 80’s vintage child seat with plaid upholstery. It’s amazing they were able to find something like a Citation. The Citation wasn’t in pristine condition showing wear with dings and dents. I was fascinated to see one after so many years. Not something that will be found in museums in the future.

    • 0 avatar
      cpthaddock

      Often with rough looking examples, they’ll keep them at just the right distance to not matter. A friend of mine regularly for his Saab 900 convertible in movies as an extra in front ov Vegas casinos, despite it having no luster (before matte finish was trendy) and being a bucket of bolts.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Yay! Steve is back.

    It’s amazing what the right cars do for a show – the person who chose the cars for Breaking Bad is a genius.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      Never thought an Aztek could be made sexy. Heisenberg forever!!!

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      My favorite car in that show by far was Mike Ehrmantraut’s M-Body Chrysler New Yorker, Fifth Avenue Edition.

      It’s square old-school looks, faded paint, and worn but-still-broughamy interior fit in so well with the characters and the scenery.

      • 0 avatar
        VolandoBajo

        Fifth Avenue Edition: no half measures.

        As a side note, how did Gus Fring manage to detect the presence of a car bomb in the garage (dust disturbed under the car perhaps?) yet neither he nor his security noticed a weird looking device strapped to the spokes of Tio Salamanca’s wheelchair until it was too late?

        And why didn’t Gus reach out and stop him from ringing the bell, even if he didn’t see the bomb, since he was planning on giving Tio a hot shot, and didn’t need a nurse to come running in right then?

        To me that was the one big plot logic hole in an otherwise all time classic series. I know they needed Gus to fall at the hands of Tio, for plot purposes, but the way it was set up wasn’t plausible in the least.

        Was it just me or did anyone else wonder about that?

        Great story, Steve. I wasn’t a TTAC reader until recently, but am glad to see your writing. Keep it up. Glad to hear it will be weekly.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Im happy to see Steve back at TTAC too. Lately I’ve been playing catch up with “The Americans”. I love seeing the cars from the Reagan years, it sets the time for me even better than the (cheap way out) news clips on TV. It’s just a more palpable way to fix a scene in American history than showing a date or news reel. The period cars are just the ticket.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    There’s a 2-door Cherokee like that for sale in my neighborhood. I have no need for it whatsoever, but I really want to check it out. And this isn’t helping, Lang. Welcome back!

    • 0 avatar
      anti121hero

      I have three cherokees right now and my absolute favorite out of sny ive had is my 93 2 door. I will not get rid of it, I think it’s stuck for the long haul. It has some crazy options on it, when I got the build sheet from jeep it turns out it was special ordered with every mechanical and exterior upgrade but absolutely bare bones inside. Nothing puts a smile on my face quite like that old jeep.

  • avatar
    mr_mike

    Welcome back, Steve!!!

  • avatar
    70Cougar

    Welcome back, Steve. Keep ’em coming.

  • avatar

    Welcome Steve! Very nice philosophical piece. (And let me know when you get a Peugeot 404 wagon (4 on the tree). And, no, I’m not holding my breath.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    1) Steve’s back!!!!

    2) That is one beautiful Cherokee. Purposeful and taut, down to the tidy and handsome steel wheels. It is the antithesis to the current Cherokee, and bless it for that.

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      The death of the XJ Cherokee is to Chrysler as the death of the Panther platform is to Ford.

      My former ride and my current ride.

      Reminds me of an old Bruce Jay Friedman story in Esquire, about an older gentleman who discovers he is really getting old when he discovers that they no longer make the kind of collar stays he used to wear all the time, and was able to buy everywhere.

      My XJ went to a father and son who wanted to rebuild it (leaky engine seals), rather than to a Cash for Clunkers program or a junkyard, which I felt constituted good karma. And in return, a few years later, my Grand Marquis fell into my lap.

      It is bittersweet to realize that the car has the potential to last longer than I will.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    Having grown up in the 80s only that guy in the green Chrysler product looks like he’s from the time. Fix the rust and scratches, keep the patina and that car’s movie gold.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Very happy to see you back, Steve. This is an auspicious start to the Stevenson era at TTAC.

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    Great story, Steve. What a wonderful surprise to see your work back on TTAC. Welcome back! Like you and yours, my wife and I love to watch the show and have noticed several of the cars and thought they worked well to set the time and place of the story. Did you provide the 944?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      No, although my brother-in-law has one that used to be owned by his late father and was rescued only a few miles from where I live.

      By the way, Mark just gave me the right combo to my old handle. So sorry about the delay in writing back.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “Show business is now my side business thanks to Hollywood getting cheap and spreading out across the USA.”

    It’s not so much Hollywood getting cheap as it is Georgia (and most other states) getting generous. Why not film elsewhere when the govt handouts are so lavish?

    http://www.georgia.org/industries/entertainment/production-incentives/

  • avatar
    sirwired

    So Steve, where is your other work you’ve been doing lately? I suspect it’s somewhere buried in Yahoo Autos, but I can’t find a way to list articles by author there…

    Welcome back!

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Welcome back Steve, great read as all of yours are.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Welcome Home Steve ! .

    I’m glad your back .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “You see this Jeep Cherokee? It’s apparently the Hollywood version of Michael Caine before he became famous. It’s old enough to play in a variety of movies without ever seeming out of place or out of fashion.
    ’80s, ’90s, or Y2K era, this Jeep even fits the modern day world of 2015.”

    Exactly, I still drive my ’91 everyday.

    • 0 avatar
      anti121hero

      I’ve got a 93 2 door, a 98, and a 97 sport. The other day someone thought my 97 was a 2006 model year… I love these cherokees. Cheap and capable.

  • avatar
    qest

    So glad to have you back here. I don’t know why, but I prefer your articles here to those elsewhere.

    I have to say, I would have been upset and embarrassed had my father referred to me as “pubescent.”

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Glad you’re back, Steven.

    Not PLEASE quench my undying thirst for insider auction pieces!!!

  • avatar
    AJ

    Enjoyed the story, Steve!

    I have always wanted an XJ. About five years ago, I test drove at least eight different XJs in looking for a new DD over my lifted TJ Wrangler. Most of them were well used and abused. Two of the bunch were in decent shape, enough to consider.

    The first, I was most disappointed when I showed up to take a test drive to look under it, and no transfer case! Whoever bought a 4×2 Jeep, especially in the rust belt?! The XJ was pretty with no rust. Turns out that it was bought new by the elderly ladies’ deceased husband in Florida and garage kept. That was tough driving away from it as it was otherwise perfect.

    The second was a one owner ride and the owner was moving on before something got expensive, which I think was the rear diff as it had some noise to it. I figured I’d think it over, and probably make him an offer the next day for it. But on the way home I passed an XJ sitting on the side of the road and I think I was being warned.

    My best story was test driving an XJ at a small town used car dealer. The thing hardly stopped, and when I got back, the owner told me that it had just been through his garage and had everything serviced, including brakes. I told him, “That’s amazing as the thing doesn’t stop!” Above his desk was a picture of Jesus to remind his customers that they can trust him! Fast forward a few years and I noticed when driving by that he was out of business.

    I didn’t buy an XJ after all.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I wonder how expensive/difficult it would have been to buy the clean 2wd truck then add in a junkyard t-case, front driveshaft, and front axle… probably not worth it all said and done. Then again an XJ without rust is priceless.

      I too test drove one, a one owner 1996 4 door Sport 5spd (!!!) with the 4.0 and Selec-trac 4wd (with part and fulltime as I recall). Low mileage and a neat front brushguard with a warn winch. Otherwise stock, and never offroaded. I think they were asking $3500, this was in 2011. From afar, this sounded like the holy grail. I took it for a drive and kind of poked around and it became immediately clear that this was a bit of a project to get back to good mechanical shape. The body didn’t have any complete rot-through, but it had lived in CNY its whole life and the undercarriage showed it. Drove very sloppy with immense amount of free play in the steering and totally worn out shocks. Not hard or expensive to amend mind you, but I just cringed at the thought of dealing with all those rusty bolts. It also had a rear main seal leak, A/C needed work, and I think the brakes were pretty darn soft as well.

      I still regret passing it up as it would only have taken some weekends and maybe $500 in parts to get it right, and maybe a thorough POR-15 job on the underside. These are A LOT of fun to drive with the stick shift, I could see myself bombing around the dirt roads of rural central NY in one of these. My 4Runner is a much more civilized, quieter, roomier, and equally capable truck (probably more so in terms of clearance and having a rear locker), but in terms of fun factor the XJ’s got it beat by a mile.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    The best part of the story is you and your wife doing something together that you both enjoy, priceless. I have enjoyed all your auction articles over the years.

  • avatar
    night driver

    My first car was a 1986 two door AMC Jeep Cherokee just like in the picture. It was a stripper special – vinyl seats with a single fixed semi-reclined position, vinyl floor, AM radio (with the AMC logo!), 2.5 L iron 4 cylinder (slow but sufficiently torquey), no AC, crank windows, no differential for the 4WD, and class and character that a car purchased new for $11,500 (by the first owner) had no right to deserve. A true classic.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Welcome back Stave, may we never part ways again.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    Great to see you back at TTAC Steve. May I ask you a couple of questions about your Long Term Quality Index? Does the reliability score only take into account the powertrain engine and transmission issues or does it include any other issues like HVAC, power equipment electronics? The other thing that would be helpful is the average and median ages of each of models rated. If a model is over represented by older examples that would skew the reliability index down.

  • avatar
    ghillie

    Good story Steve. Reflective, whimsical and about cars. What more could you ask for?

    Have you sold your Insight? I’ve still got mine ( two actually). They’re great fun (and cheap to run!)

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    Welcome back, Steve….finally!

    Y’know, the wife & I binge-watched Breaking Bad recently on Netflix because we always seemed to miss it, and while admiring Mike’s New Yorker and Buick, I thought those are the type of cars that one would buy at a BHPH Lot….like yours! Very timely article and very cool to see what you’re currently up to. Now don’t go anywhere!

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Thanks! I’ll try not to. Buicks are always welcome at my so long as they have leather interiors. New Yorkers are unsellable cars that should only be owned by a true keeper. I see far too many sad old Chryslers at the auctions.

  • avatar
    Kavan

    Mr. Lang, welcome back. It’s good to read your articles again.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    First things first: Thanks for hitting us again with the Hammer, one more time, Steve! Good to see you back. And thanks to Mark for doing whatever was required to get Steve to return.
    My wife and I bought one of these, new, in 1984, the first year they were sold. We had the “wagoneer” version which was a little less butch in appearance than the Cherokee. Fortunately, we opted for the 2.5 liter AMC 4 and the 5-speed, which turned out to be a better choice than the GM 2.8 liter V-6, which turned out to be pretty troublesome, IIRC. We owned that car for 8 years with only minor issues, trading it for a Previa only when the 3rd child was on the way.

    Like yours, my wife does occasional acting and “extra” work on films shot in DC and environs. I think at least two of our cars have “starred” in these films: our 2008 Honda Pilot (burgundy) and our 2001 BMW Z3 (silver).

    Having just turned in my license to practice at my Social Security “full retirement age,” I am envious of anyone who is financially able to escape the rigors of the “9-5” sooner than that. Best wishes to both of you.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Thank you very much! Those 80s Cherokees can be incredibly tough to sort out. As for the escape from the 9 to 5 world, I thankfully jumped that ship way back in the Clinton era when I was still a twentysomething. I was arrogant enough to think that I could make a go of it, and lo and behold, I’m still swimming hard against the currents in my early-40s.

      My wife is the real talent when it comes to making it work. Without her helping me, I would be back in the corporate world with my egotistical tail between my legs.

      All the best!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I watched part of the first season of Halt and Catch Fire. But between the outdoor flashlight dance in the rain, and the “I’m gay, now I’m not but don’t judge me I’m mysterious” BS, I gave up on it. All too cliche.

  • avatar
    Balto

    A friend of mine has one of these, a ’98 model in blue-grey, known as “El Jeepo”. It is a beast, 300k+ miles, and has more character than any car I’ve ever known. He got it free from a wealthy neighbor who had it parked in Boston, only to have some hooligans drop a few cinderblocks off of a rooftop and crush the roof in. The neighbor brought it to VT with hopes of having my friend’s welder dad cut the roof off and make a summer cruiser, but the bill proved too expensive and he decided to give it away. We took it thorough mud, snow, and roads not fit for driving, completely stock. The windshield was caulked in, the roof was comically warped from hammering it back into shape in the backyard, the driver window wouldn’t shut and all of the gauges would stop working at random (which could be fixed by violently flipping on the right blinker and then punching the dashboard, I kid you not), but it took us everywhere we needed to go. It survived a road trip from Vermont to Miami and back at 250K, and still lives on to this day.

  • avatar
    Tomas De Torquematic

    Look, if Donnie Wahlberg’s character on ‘Blue Bloods’ won’t trade his Cherokee, thankyou very much, well, nice work, writers of said show. And; AND Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway’ got his HANDED BACK by a re-married-thought-you-were-dead-ex. And 220,000 miles, 19 years and counting on mine personal daily droner. Yup. S’good.

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