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The Ectomobile from the Ghostbusters movies

Posted on July 18, 2008


Often films with iconic cars are action-packed, adrenaline-fuelled, thrill-rides. They have high-speed chases, death-defying stunts and fearless drivers that are just too cool to worry about air-bags. That is not the case with Ghostbusters. Oh no, these lads are nerdy parapsychology professors who get excited by ectoplasmic residue and wear ugly jumpsuits. But they do have their uses, after all, “if there’s something strange in your neighbourhood – who you gonna call?”

As the ghostbusters, Peter Venkman, Ray Stanz, Egon Spengler and Winston Zeddmore save New York City not once, but twice from spooky other-worldly forces and do so by driving about in their Ectomobile – a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Sentinel ambulance.

Much controversy surrounds this cinematic set of wheels, with fans debating in online forums what car was used in the 1984 film. A replica was even on the market for a whopping $150,000, despite not starring in any of the movies. Well, let’s try to put this one to rest, shall we? More than one car was used for Ghostbusters and its 1989 sequel. Two were used in the original, with a third introduced in the second installment after its predecessors had both given up the ghost (no pun intended).

The original one was black and rented, so only featured in one scene, while a second was eventually purchased. Later, the first one was snapped up by the film’s makers and used for promotional touring purposes. This pair has now happily retired to a sleepy Sony back lot, where they enjoy lots of early bird suppers and games of backgammon.

In the context of the film, the car is bought by Dan Aykroyd’s Ray for $4,800. Considered by his colleagues as the ‘heart’ of the ghostbusters team, Ray admits that the beaten-up old car needs some work including “suspension work and shocks, brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission, rear-end, new rings, mufflers, and a little wiring…” The list would probably have continued on, though is halted by the close of the scene.

The required elbow grease is applied and modifications made, such as a pull-out rack at the back where the team’s proton packs are carried. The gadgets on the car’s top are never explained but add to the crazy look and feel of the ambulance, though there were more imaginative ideas that failed to make it onscreen. These include the Ectomobile’s ability to travel through time – a design feature nixed during early drafts and the helpful talent of burning parking tickets. It was originally described as a black vehicle with purple and white strobes that created a “purple aura,” but black didn’t translate well onscreen, especially during night scenes, and so it was changed to white. Looking back, it’s hard to conceive of it being so dark and high-tech.

The Ectomobile did try to keep up with the times in the film’s sequel, having undergone some modernisation. These changes include digital screen boards on each side of the roof which display the ghostbusters’s phone number among other announcements and an updating of the famous logo.

Interestingly, the Ectomobile is never actually named onscreen, with the word only used during one of the movie’s soundtrack songs, “Cleaning up the Town” by the Bus Boys – “so they revved up the Ectomobile”. It does, of course, feature the now iconic number plate ECTO1, listed on our top ten movie license plate numbers.

Like the film it came from, the Ectomobile has gone on to become a celebrated slice of movie magic. It spawned numerous best-selling toys, model-kits and collector’s items. It has even been re-invented and modernised through various Ghostbusters spin-offs, be they the children’s cartoon series or video games, and other Ecto vehicles have also joined the family such as an Ecto airplane bomber and motorised unicycle.

However, despite the changes and growth of the Ecto brand, it is the Ectomobile that remains THE vehicle for all budding ghostbusters. Just don’t forget your proton packs.


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