Automotive news channels have recently been reporting on the outcome of a court case, where the Shelby Trust (acting for Shelby American) took on the widow of a Hollywood director over the use of the name Eleanor. Like all good stories, this is an odd tale featuring a wild cast of characters locked into a years-long battle, with the values of classic Shelby Mustangs (particularly the mid-60s GT500s) at risk. Try to keep up, this might get a bit weird!
Most moviegoers who stumbled into cinemas in 2000 to watch Nic Cage boost 50 exotic cars in one night wouldn’t have known the film they were smashing choc-tops through was actually a remake. Way back in 1974, a stuntman and budding Hollywood mogul by the name of H.B “Toby” Halicki wrote, produced, directed and starred in a film called Gone in 60 Seconds.
This tale of a man having to steal a laundry list of cars in a super-tight timeframe had almost no script and less budget. However, while it was no Citizen Kane the 40-minute-long chase through L.A. at the film’s climax made it a cult classic B-movie, as a yellow-and-black ’73 Mustang called Eleanor caused the destruction of 93 cars as it and Halicki ran from Johnny Law.
He later made two more B-movies featuring plenty of chases and fast-paced action, 1982’s The Junkman and 1983’s Deadline Auto Theft but he is best known for Gone In 60 Seconds as it has one of the craziest car chase sequences put to film. As with Gone in 60 Seconds both later films feature many of Halicki’s own cars that he’d collected while running a successful impound and towing business in Los Angeles, including Eleanor!
In August 1989, while filming Gone In 60 Seconds 2, Halicki was killed by a falling power pole. Only three months earlier he’d married his girlfriend of six years, Denice Shakarian Halicki. Some six years after Toby’s death, Denice approached Jerry Bruckheimer to do a remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, which is where Mr Cage’s version from 2000 comes to be.
While H.B Halicki’s original films used a yellow ’73 Mustang the later film changed Eleanor to a modified ’67 Shelby GT500, and demand for replicas was sparked almost instantly. With a snarling 7-litre big-block Ford V8 huffing nitrous oxide (remember the “go, baby, go” button?), smoothed out aftermarket bodykit and plus-size alloy wheels that riff on the Halibrand wheels used on Shelby’s iconic Cobra sports cars, the 2000-era Eleanor is a damn good looking slice of American pie.
The legal bunfight began after Carroll Shelby, the bloke who built the original GT500 Mustangs, licenced the Eleanor name and entered an agreement with a Texan workshop to build replicas of the movie car, now known as GT500Es. You could get them done in several trim levels, right up to a twin-supercharged “Super Snake” spec!
Denice Halicki and her company, Eleanor Licensing LLC sued Shelby and, in 2008, won the IP claiming “Eleanor Mustang” is a character who could be trademarked. She then aggressively pursued anyone who tried to build or sell “Eleanor Mustang” replicas, with YouTube channel B is for Build even having to hand over the replica he was building for himself, as well as licencing all manner of merchandise using the Eleanor name.
The Shelby Trust, the parent company representing the car-building and licencing sides of Carroll Shelby’s famous operation, kicked off a lawsuit against Halicki and her company in 2008. This was, they claim, to protect their clients who’d purchased Eleanor replica Mustangs in good faith, and to stop Denice Halicki from seizing these cars.
However, in early December 2022 the US District Court for the Central District of California sided with Shelby and reversed the earlier decision to award Halicki IP over the Eleanor name. The court said vehicles using the name “Eleanor” don’t have copyright protection, especially as the car used in the 2000 remake wasn’t a “derivative work” of the car from the 1974 original, and nobody has been selling replicas of the ’74 movie car.
The upshot of this case means people are free to build replicas of the Eleanor from the 2000 Gone In 60 Seconds. However, with spiralling values of both original Shelby GT500s and base ’67 Fastback Mustangs, it takes a very deep set of pockets to contemplate undertaking such a build!
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