Ecto 1 from the 1984 classic film, Ghostbusters.
(Photo by Alamy)

Ecto 1: The Actual Build Behind the Ghostbuster’s Ambulance/Hearse

Dan Akroyd wheeled the monster ’59 Caddy into the firehouse driveway like he’d done it every day of his life.  He jumped out:  “Everybody can relax, I found the car.  Needs some suspension work and shocks and brakes, brake pads, linings, steering box, transmission, rear-end – only $4,800 – maybe new rings, also mufflers.”  And with that, the world was introduced to the Ghostbusters’ legendary Ecto 1, aka, The Ectomobile.

Welcome The Ecto 1

The movie came out in 1984. The first drafts were the brainchild of Akroyd, but Director Ivan Reitman suggested bringing on the brilliant Harold Ramis, both as a writer and as an actor, ultimately becoming the Dr. Egon Spengler character.  Akroyd’s early drafts were decidedly dark, with lots of references to real occultists and metaphysics.  So, too, was the original Ecto 1 concept:  it was a sinister black, looking more like a hearse than an emergency response vehicle, with purple lights on it.  Well, one happy week in Martha’s Vineyard, Akroyd, Ramis and Reitman sat down and re-wrote the whole thing, with a real comedic focus, on an electric typewriter.  Check it out at below:

Someplace there, the Ecto 1 went from sinister to hilarious.  As they all note in retrospect:   really good call. 

The base model is the ’59 Caddy Fleetwood professional “end loader,” used primarily as ambulances and hearses.  They didn’t leave GM in finished form, though:  they went to a bunch of third-party fabricators, with this one going to an outfit called Miller-Meteor, which worked exclusively on the Caddy chassis.  By 1962, they dominated that market, so it’s no surprise that the Ecto 1 came from them. 

Who You Gonna Call?

To go from the original to Ecto 1, the production company sent it to a guy named Steve Dane.  Dane drew up sketches as to what he thought it should look like, right down to details on the roofrack.  After Reitman gave him the greenlight, he was off and running.  Prop and paint folks at the Burbank Studio went to work.  Within less than a month, the Ecto 1 emerged.  A sound designer, Richard Beggs, in a fit of crazed genius, decided to create the Ecto’s odd siren sound by taking a leopard snarl and playing it backwards. 

To promote the movie, the producers sent the car blazing around New York City.  To say it was an attention-getter is an understatement, particularly as the movie became well known.  It is said – perhaps apocryphally – that it ended up causing many traffic accidents while New Yorkers gawked.

Ecto 1, The Ghostbuster Ride is who you're gonna call!
(Photo by Richard C. Schultz, Volo Auto Museum)

So What Happens Now?

Well, after working through the rest of the sadly forgettable franchise sequels, the Sony Pictures left the original Ecto 1 to rot outdoors.   But, finally, someplace along the line, they decided to send the original to a magnificent outfit called “Cinema Vehicle Services.”   To quote Akroyd from another one of his movies, The Blues Brothers:  “This place has everything.”  And indeed they actually do.  You need a fleet of police cars from the mid-eighties?  Not a problem.  Got ‘em right here.  It goes and goes.

  They are the single largest supplier of vehicles for the movie and TV industries in the country.  But of course you can’t run an outfit like that without also being able to do fantastic-level work on cars, to include extensive custom fabrication.  They have a first-rate bunch of departments that can handle virtually anything.  For example, for Gone in Sixty Seconds, they built eleven Eleanor Mustangs.  Yeah, eleven.  Their resume is too long to repeat here, but add in various parts of these franchises:  Die Hard, American Sniper, The Avengers, Batman, Fast & Furious, Men in Black, The Italian Job, Transformers and Terminator, among a huge number of others.  Or in other words, they can make or restore anything

Cinema Vehicle Services took the miserably neglected original car and went to town.  Everything got looked at, fixed, replaced, restored, polished or taken for lunch in a place where you can’t get reservations.  The amount of cubic money has to have been staggering.  What they ended up with was no less than a brand new ’59 Caddy in perfect Ghostbusters livery.  

This logo became iconic with pop culture on the Ecto 1.
(Photo by Richard C. Schultz, Volo Auto Museum)

An Instant Icon

The way they knew they knocked it out of the park was that none other than Dr. Ray Stantz, aka Dan Akroyd, his own real self, came to their shops to review the restoration.  Akroyd was delighted.  He told some great stories, like taking it to go get cigarettes with Bill Murray, and taking on-set naps in one of the back seats.  With Akroyd himself in your shop, there really is only thing to do, and that was throw him the keys, which they did with some measure of alacrity.  

Despite the resto probably being worth far into the six figures, despite it being one-of-a-kind, despite of it weighing damn near 7,000 pounds, despite it being nearly 21 feet long, Akroyd stomped on it and went roaring out, tires squealing.  No doubt he was channeling Bill Murray:  “Why worry?  Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.”  For the record, Akroyd handled that huge rig perfectly. 

Egon:  “The private sector’s hell, Ray.  They expect results.”   Well, Brian’s car well and truly went private sector when it joined his collection in 2014.  It is indeed an original built by Hollywood, although this one was used for press and promo purposes and never ended up on the screen.   It’s actually a 1960 model, but it had the ends cut off, now being integrated with the front and rear from a ’59 sedan.  Hard to believe, but it started off fire-engine-red, with a Pink Floyd mural on the hood.  Right.  

Museum Worthy

We really want to meet the guy who thought THAT was a good idea.  Anyway and further crazy, the drip rails on the ’60 were pretty straight, but the ‘59’s arched up through them.  Yes, they went through the unbelievable workload of changing that.  It’s got the 390 cubic inch engine, with 325 horsepower which given what you are hauling around isn’t going to get you top dragstrip timeslip, but of course, it was plenty for the purpose.   It is signed by Akroyd and Ernie Hudson.  As is his standard operating procedure, Brian has been sharing its hilarity with events and visitors ever since.  So, the answer to “who you gonna call?” is Volo Auto Museum, (815) 385-3644. □

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