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Car of the Week: 1958 Plymouth Fury 'Christine'

When you ask car lovers what car comes to mind when you mention horror, they more than likely will refer to Christine. For one man the connection goes even deeper.
Car of the Week 2020
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Story by Angelo Van Bogart; photos by Ted Allison

She’s bloodthirsty, jealous and vindictive — everything you don’t want in a woman — but her beautiful “Silver Dart” styling from Plymouth’s Forward Look era made her irresistible to Arnie Cunningham, her co-star in John Carpenter’s 1983 horror film “Christine.”

She, of course, is Christine, the 1958 Plymouth Fury in the starring role. In the film, based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, young Arnie instantly takes an otherworldly liking to the dilapidated Plymouth. Arnie’s passion for Christine leads him to restoring her and in the process, Christine develops a reciprocal obsession with Arnie to the point that she kills to protect their bond. Christine’s powers even allow her to repair herself back to the condition in which she left the assembly line which, coincidentally, is the scene of her first kill.

Although not greatly successful upon its initial theatrical release, the film and Christine herself have since developed a cult following. Today, a red-and-white 1958 Plymouth and “Christine” are synonymous with one another. And for a few people and Plymouths, that Christine-and-Arnie bond is alive and well, perhaps nowhere so strongly as between Bill Gibson and his Christine.

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“She sort of picked me up,” Gibson says of his relationship with his “Christine” 1958 Plymouth. “That is how it sort of works. We have been a couple now for going on 13 years, since back in 2005.”
Gibson is as serious as a heart attack when he says he and his “Christine” are a couple; in 2016, Gibson and “Christine” wed in Bangor, Maine, the home of “Christine” author Stephen King.
“I was dressed as the clown from ‘It’ and the University of Maine hosted the wedding. We were officially married off. It was absolutely hilarious. The cast got into it. Of course, I can’t tell her [it was in fun].”

Creating a monster

Although Gibson’s Christine is not one of the original movie cars, she’s many of the movie cars rolled into one. She was created when Eddie Sandlin Jr., whose father worked in the sound department for the 1983 Columbia Pictures film, tried to buy an original movie car shortly after filming, but was told the surviving cars used for the film’s beauty shots were all spoken for. He then hit up classified ad readers in California, placing a wanted ad for a red-and-white 1958 Plymouth “Christine” two-door hardtop. All the replies he received were for red-and-white 1958 cars, but they were Pontiacs and other makes of cars — not Plymouths. He changed his approach and placed a second ad, this time for a 1958 Plymouth, and received a call from a B-level studio that had a red-and-white 1958 Plymouth Belvedere two-door hardtop on its movie lot (although the Fury in the movie “Christine” was red-and-white, all 1956-1958 Furys were painted off-white). When he checked it over, Sandlin found added braces and brackets on the damaged chassis that indicated that the Plymouth found on the movie studio lot had clearly completed some rough film duty, but its casting past had been lost to history. Since it was the only 1958 Plymouth he had been able to find — perhaps because so many had been eaten up in the destructive scenes of “Christine” — Sandlin bought the car and began the task of building his own Christine.

Where Arnie had the luxury of restoring his Christine with help from Darnell’s Auto Wrecking, Sandlin was assisted by the knowledge of where the wrecked “Christine” movie cars had been scrapped.

“There were 23 (Plymouths) used in the film back then and basically, most of them were all smashed up and (the studio) said, no, we can’t sell them, they are all contracted to go to a junkyard at the end of the film,” Gibson learned from Sandlin, the builder of his Christine. “So he and his best friend took to the junkyard and it was a field day for parts. There were just ’58 Plymouths [from the film] stacked up for parts. There were a whole bunch of parts, but they didn’t think they could put them together. So he basically Frankensteined everything he could to build this car.”

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Apparently the junkyard housed five recognizable “Christine” cars and piles of parts from the movie cars. The main movie car that Sandlin pulled parts from was the weathered “for sale” car that movie character Arnie first fell in love with upon spotting it on an overgrown lot outside a dilapidated house.

“He said he pulled the majority of the parts off that car, which was an actual Fury,” Gibson said. Other movie cars that provided parts were the Plymouth with bulldozer damage, the burned Plymouth that was used in scenes when Christine was on fire, the Christine car that had been fitted with hydraulic jacks to make it look like it could rebuild itself (the hydraulics crushed a mint-looking car and filmmakers reversed the filming to make it look as though it was being rebuilt) and a Christine that had its roof removed for interior filming shots. Most of the parts that Sandlin retrieved from the junkyard were trim and exterior pieces, but he still needed a red Fury-type interior exclusive to those cars used in the film.

“The big thing he said he was so desperate for was an interior,” Gibson said. “He desperately needed one and there was only one interior and evidently it was on hold. He was told that if the guy didn’t come by the end of the day, he could have it, so he stayed there pretty much the whole day and he grabbed the only interior that was in the junkyard. Because they only made a few in the red — they sort of copied it off the Fury model — he was on ‘Cloud 9’ just to get that interior.”

Once Sandlin had the pieces, he got into full-blown “Arnie” mode and resurrected those original “Christine” movie car parts into a new and improved Christine. When Sandlin was finished, he drove the Plymouth to work on the studio lot where folks would turn and yell, “There’s Christine!”

Christine continues her reign of fury

Sandlin enjoyed his Christine Plymouth for several years, then eventually sold it to Jim and Derek Garvie, a father-son team with a strong appreciation for Christine. Derek had been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease and when care for Christine became difficult, she found a new home with Gibson. He now uses Christine to raise funds for Huntington’s Disease research and the Make a Wish Foundation.

Gibson has done much to research and document his Christine and those used in the film. In his research, he learned much about his bride’s birth.

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“The most interesting fact that I found out just a few years ago was when I wrote Chrysler historical services,” Gibson said. “They dug up the old ’50s computer cards with the punches in them and I found out that this car was built in Los Angeles on October 31, 1957 (Halloween day) — Stephen King, eat your heart out!”

In researching all the Christine movie cars and his own Christine, Gibson has even befriended “Christine” director John Carpenter. Since 2005, when Gibson and Christine met, Gibson has kept her screen-ready by facelifting her with a new paint job and additional restoration by Earl Shiflett of Classic Car Creations in Cocoa, Fla. Since then, she’s appeared in the ex-Duke of Hazzard John Schneider’s film “Smothered” and the film “Jacob,” among others. She also inspired original “Christine” movie director John Carpenter to create a music video with original music.

“There are several stories [of weird things happening], and people ask if she is possessed,” Gibson said. “Some people won’t go near the car; some ghost hunters won’t go near the car because of the bad vibes.

“The first day the car got unloaded, I put her in the garage and locked up so I could drive downtown to the auto parts store to get some cleaners and wax. I was going down my road and all I see is this huge plume of smoke from the general area of my house about a mile away. I was in mass panic and I parked the car and it was the house two houses down from me. Their garage had caught fire and I tell you, my heart was going. My next-door neighbor said, ‘It’s that car you brought here.’”

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On another occasion, Christine was also not happy when a budget overage caused her appearance to be canceled at the 2007 “Tulsarama!” unearthing of the buried 1957 Plymouth in Tulsa, Okla.

“I patted her on the dash and I said, ‘Sorry, we can’t take you out to Tulsa,’ and two seconds after that, the brake pedal jumps up and down.”

Gibson learned the surface had separated from the brake shoe, but sometimes he can’t figure out why she just won’t start and chalks her behavior up to stubbornness.

Even if Christine doesn’t display some of her bloodthirsty and jealous tendencies at Iola, Gibson and Christine are prepared to delight the crowds.

“She is pretty much alive,” Gibson said. “She can remote start and rev her motor.” Gibson can also remotely activate the power windows, power door locks, power seat and an internal fog machine — all to help passengers reenact frightening scenes from the original “Christine” film.

“If you’re claustrophobic, it can really cause a scare,” Gibson said. “We even ‘punked’ John Schneider that way one time.”

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