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Christine at 20 - the Famous 1958 Plymouth Fury

Christine, the movie (by Michael Morelli)

It has been 20 years since we got our first look at the forgotten 1950s Mopar, the 1958 Plymouth Fury, in Christine. You can still find it on TV quite often on various channels throughout the year. The movie still draws an audience and is said to have a cult following.

Christine - 1958 Plymouth Fury

Chaney Ponton’s car, above, won second place in the "Christine ('58 Plymouth)" class at the 2009 Chryslers at Carlisle show. Its remote self-starter will also rev its engine and flash its headlights, mimicking the demonic Christine. Ponton is a member of the Christine Car Club, which he says has 200 members worldwide.

In 1982, Stephen King sent Salem Lots movie producer Richard Kobritz a copy of his soon-to-be-published novel Christine. Kobritz loved it and wanted to make it into a movie. He had only one man in mind for the job, John Carpenter, known for his hit Halloween. They were friends and wanted to do a project together and thought the book was sensational. Screenwriter Bill Phillips was hired to take a 471 page novel and turn it into a 150 to 200 page screenplay. A screenplay was written for the movie and presented to Stephen King, who gave his OK. A casting call was made for the actors (Mr. Carpenter wanted mostly unknowns).

Due to time and money constraints there were several changes made for the adaptation from paper to film. Here are some major changes made from the book to movie:

  • Christine now became a two door Fury, like the factory car, with the exception of her color. There is no mention as to why she is “born” red, but the opening scene of her on the assembly line gives an indication she was a special order Fury.
  • In the book, Christine's previous owner is Ronald LeBay, who sells the car to Arnie, and after his death we meet his brother George. In the movie, Ronald the owner had already passed away and it's George who sells the car to Arnie and later tells the car's history to Dennis.
  • In the book Arnie unknowingly runs drugs for Darnell, which is why Christine kills him. In the movie, Arnie runs auto parts and Darnell is killed because he sees Christine in her "damaged state."
  • In the book it is Ronald LeBay who possesses Christine and Arnie. In the movie, it is Christine who is born possessed on the assembly line.
  • In the book, Arnie fights LeBay's evil spirit, which is inside him. While doing so, LeBay's evil spirit kills Arnie and his mother. In the movie, Christine accidentally kills Arnie as they are doing battle with Dennis and Leigh. (Arnie's mother does not die in the movie.)
  • The book takes place in Pennsylvania while the movie takes place in California [where else? — ed.].
  • The book has Dennis going for a ride with Arnie in Christine. During this ride Arnie starts to turn into LeBay, and Christine takes them back in time to 1958. In the movie, during this ride, neither happens.
  • [Dave in Seattle added: Ronald LeBay was Roland in the book; and while Arnie was arrested running cigarettes in the book, this was changed to drugs in the movie. Christine kills Darnell to make the case against Arnie go away.]

These are just some of the many differences between the book and movie; these may have been done due to time constraints.

The photos accompanying this story are Martin's Christine movie car (described below), my 1958 stock Belvedere that some may call a clone Christine, and a stock Fury in its factory color and trim.

Christine the Car (by Martin Sanchez)

My 1958 Plymouth Fury was one of over twenty cars used in the movie Christine. She was the actual stunt car from the alley scene, chasing Moochie and cornering him in the loading dock. Another car, with rubber front end parts was used where she actually crushes herself into the area to get Moochie, was pushed from behind by a bulldozer (edited out later) for the final part of the scene.

My car was the only 3 speed overdrive (manual transmission) in the bunch. I know this because the guys on the set forgot and when they went to start her up she was in gear and lunged forward almost taking out some equipment. "Bad Christine," they shouted.

I bought her 18 years ago (in 1984) from the back lot of a studio in L.A. She was going to be used for a movie called Cat's Eye, but they found a perfect red and white Belvedere and shot the footage they needed from the front and then the rear. Since the car was not used it was scheduled to be scrapped. My friend Al Newman from Classic Wheels out of Anaheim informed me that I may be able to save her.

Christine - 1958 Plymouth Fury - belongs to Martin SanchezBecause the studio did not want the liability of selling its cars to private parties, he picked her up for parts. I was able to buy her for $900 and flatbedded her home along with boxes of parts. I was also given a script, movie stills, press kit, rubber moldings, fenders, etc. I even found the "CQB-241" license plate in the trunk, that was on the car during the filming .

When I bought the car she had no interior, just a simple roll cage, 5 point harness, and one plastic racing type seat; the windows were all painted black on the inside with except for a small section covered only by a patch of black window tint, so that the stunt man could see. Most of the stainless moldings and trim were rubber or plastic. There were 4x4 wooden beams between the firewall and front core support and the radiator was mounted in the trunk so that in crash scenes the radiator fluid would not spill out.

The cars that were running were labeled "Muscle one," "Muscle two," etc. My car had "Muscle two" on the underside of the hood. The non-runners were pulled on rolling dollies. Al from Classic told me where all the wrecks were sent and I was allowed to go into Bill and Ed's Auto Wrecking in Fontana California. I quickly made friends with the owner there. I was told that possibly 27 Plymouths were used, sadly including a handful of actual (and rare) Plymouth Furys.

It took the film makers almost 2 1/2 years to locate the cars through DMV records and ads. Ironically, like Arnie, I was able to pull parts off the wrecked cars. Most of my front and rear stainless came from the burn car (they had used rubber cement and poured it all over the car and set it on fire). The sport line trim came from some of the ram cars, and out of the 1957 and 1958 Belvederes in the yard I was able to put the interior together. I was 20 years old when I found Christine and put her back together. I did not set out to build a show car, just a nice driver, and she is still running and looking good after 18 years.

Christine, the car (by Michael Morelli)

Ads were placed across the country to buy available 1958 Plymouths. A total of 23 1958 Plymouths were purchased and customized to look alike. Only 16 were used for filming, the others for parts. Belvederes and Savoys were used along with Furys for filming. All were painted red and white (as needed) and the gold trim was painted silver or made for the cars that did not have it as an option. The Fury interior was also changed to match the exterior.

The opening shot of Christine being assembled shows her as the only red Fury. This scene had to be filmed first so the other cars could be re-painted. If you look closely, the Furys do not have the gold trim or the word "Fury" on the fins. The trim on the movie cars had already been painted silver for the transformation that would take place after this scene was filmed.

Production began April 25, 1983; the movie opened fairly quickly afterwards, on December 9, 1983. It was described by Time as "John Carpenter's best film since Halloween."

Several people have turned their 1958 Plymouths into Christine clones. Some Furys have been painted red, while some stock Belvederes have had Fury engines put into them. It is hard to tell a Christine clone from a real red and white stock Belvedere unless you know the Fury well.

By the movie's wrap, only three pristine Christines were known to have remained. These three cars went on the road to promote the movie, and were later sold to collectors. A fourth was saved from the wrecker and purchased by Martin Sanchez.

Driving Christine (by Michael Morelli)

1958 Plymouth BelvedereThere was no remote control used in any of the 24 cars used in the movie Christine. When Christine became “evil,” her windows were painted black, except a small area covered with window tint so the stunt driver could see out. He had no side or rear vision. Night driving was very difficult, that's why these guys are pro drivers.

There was one scene at the end, when the car crashes inside the garage hitting the office wall and Arnie going through the windshield. For this scene, the car was hooked up to cables, and pulled through the wall. A stunt man dressed as Arnie went through the (fake) windshield after the crash. The engine sound was dubbed in after in post production.

A DVD Special Edition of Christine has over an hour of special effects, interviews, deleted scenes, and more.

Christine the Book (by Michael Morelli)

In 1982, Stephen King completed a new horror novel called Christine. In the book Mr. King makes several references to the 1958 Plymouth Fury that were not accurate. We have come up with some errors about the 1958 Plymouth Fury that appear in the book:

Book: Christine is referred to as a four door.
Fact: The 1956-58 Furys only came in a two-door hardtop. It was not until 1959 you could get a four door Fury.

Book: Christine is red and white.
Fact: The 1958 Fury only came in buckskin beige with gold trim. The 1958 Belvedere, the next model down, was available in toreador red and iceberg white, with silver trim. However, it is mentioned that she was a special order.

Book: The transmission is called hydramatic.
Fact: That was a GM transmission, Plymouth had the superior TorqueFlite.

Book: One line says, "I saw Christine's transmission lever suddenly drop into drive."
Fact: The 1958 Plymouths had push button drive.

Richard Henley added: In the book, a rented honey dipper truck is used in the final showdown; in the movie, it’s a bulldozer. In the book, Dennis drives a Plymouth Duster; in the movie, a Dodge Charger.

These are just a few errors we mention that are found inside the book. If you have a copy of the first issue hard cover with the dust jacket, you will find a picture of Mr. King sitting on the hood of a 1957 Plymouth, not a 1958.

In an interview Mr. King was asked, why all the errors? His response was that he wrote the middle first, then a few years later wrote the beginning and end. He needed to come up with a car brand name and found Fury the most fitting. Webster defines Fury as "Violent, intense anger." Need we say more?

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