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Christine at 20 - the Famous 1958 Plymouth Fury

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Christine at 20 - the Famous 1958 Plymouth Fury

by Michael Morelli

A powerful but forgotten 1950s Mopar, the 1958 Plymouth Fury, gained notoriety in the movie Christine. You can still find it on TV throughout the year; it still draws an audience and is said to have a cult following.

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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 can rev its engine and flash its headlights. Mr. Ponton is a member of the Christine Car Club, with 200 members.

In 1982, Stephen King sent producer Richard Kobritz a copy of his soon-to-be-published novel Christine. Kobritz loved it, immediately choosing his friend and director John Carpenter, known for his hit Halloween. Bill Phillips turned the 471 page novel into a 150 to 200 page screenplay, and Stephen King gave his blessing.
Production began on April 25, 1983 and the movie opened shortly afterwards on December 9, 1983, described by Time as "John Carpenter's best film since Halloween."

Christine, the car

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.

The film-makers placed ads across the country to buy 23 1958 Plymouths, only sixteen were used for filming; seven were used for parts. They bought Belvederes and Savoys along with real Furys, painting them red and white; the gold trim was painted silver or made for the cars that did not have it, and interiors were changed as needed.

The opening shot of Christine 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, as the real cars do. The trim on the movie cars had already been painted silver.

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There 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; the stunt driver had no side or rear

During the scene when the car crashes inside
a garage, hitting the office wall, Arnie goes through the
windshield. The car was hooked up to cables, pulled
through the wall, and a stunt man dressed as Arnie did go through the (fake)
windshield. The engine sound was dubbed in later.

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

Christine the Book vs Reality and Christine the Movie

Mr. King was not entirely accurate; here are some errors about the 1958 Plymouth Fury:

Book: Christine is referred to as a four door.
Fact: The 1956-58 Furys only came as a two-door hardtop, with the four door arriving in 1959. This was fixed in the movie.

Book: Christine is red and white.
Fact: The 1958 Fury only came in buckskin beige with gold trim. However, it is mentioned that she was a special order.

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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.

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 said that he wrote the middle first, then a few years later, wrote the beginning and end. He needed to come up with a car and found Fury the most fitting name, as it denotes intense anger.

Changes made during the adaptation from paper to film included:

  • Christine was "fixed" to be a two door Fury; the red paint is explained by being a special order.
  • A rented honey dipper truck used in the final showdown became a bulldozer for the movie. (via Richard Henley)
  • Dennis' Plymouth Duster becomes a Dodge Charger for the movie. (via Richard Henley).
  • In the book, Christine's previous owner was Roland LeBay; and after his death, we meet his brother George. In the movie, Roland was changed to Ronald, and had already passed away, and George sold the car to Arnie. Instead of Roland possessing Arnie and his car, the car itself is born evil in the movie.
  • ... which is why, in the book, Arnie fights LeBay's evil spirit, which kills Arnie and his mother; while in the movie, Christine accidentally kills Arnie.
  • In the book, Arnie unknowingly runs drugs for Darnell; that becomes auto parts in the movie.
  • The book takes place in Pennsylvania, but 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: Arnie was arrested running cigarettes in the book, but this was changed to drugs in the movie. Christine kills Darnell to make the case against Arnie go away.]

Some of these changes may have been done due to time constraints.

An actual movie Christine 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. A car with rubber front end parts actually crushed herself into the area to get Moochie - 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; 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.

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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 this car was to be scrapped. My friend Al Newman from Classic Wheels out of Anaheim informed me that I may be able to save her.

The studio did not want the liability of selling cars to private parties, so 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 movie license plate in the trunk.

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

Running cars were labeled "Muscle one," "Muscle two," etc. My car had "Muscle two" on the underside of the hood (the non-runners were pulled on dollies). I was allowed to go into Bill and Ed's Auto Wrecking in Fontana California to get parts from the others

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 poured rubber cement 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.

Jim Benjaminson's Christine section from Plymouth 1946-1959
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