Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 11, 2012

What’s The General’s Car in THE WILD BUNCH ?

A scene from the 1969 movie “The Wild Bunch” (Warner Bros.)

Sam Peckinpah‘s masterpiece, “The Wild Bunch“, was on a cable channel the other night. I haven’t seen it since it came out in the theater in 1969. Back then, it was hacked up and shortened for U.S. release by Warner Brothers, who fought with the director throughout the production. The cable version, I suspect, was the 1994 version, which restored the director’s cut.

One of the elements of the movie that I had forgotten, or perhaps was mostly on the cutting room floor at that time I first saw it, was the red car that General Mapache was driving around in for awhile. Production notes and movie buffs have long identified the car as a 1910 Stanley Steamer.

Actually, I think the script mentioned something about it not being a steamer.

A mid-1910s steamer

But what was it? It’s certainly not a Stanley. The Stanley Steamer had a boiler compartment up front, and not a normal engine compartment. The movie car clearly has a standard radiator.

The movie was supposedly set in 1913, but the car is not a 1913 model either.

I think I solved the mystery while perusing “Setting the Pace”, a wonderful book by Helen Jones Early and James R. Walkinshaw about the “First 100 Years of Oldsmobile”. On page 70, there’s a great profile shot of a 1914 Oldsmobile Model 54 Touring car. I also found an old Olds ad (shown at right) that shows the car pretty well. See if you agree with my conclusion.

Oldsmobile buffs point out the main difference between the 1913 models and the otherwise nearly identical 1914s was the re-location of the steering wheel from the right hand side of the cockpit to the left hand side. The movie car has the driver seated on the left.

That was not the first time a 1914 Oldsmobile 54 had appeared in a Hollywood film. There was also an old black one featured in 1925’s “Go West”.

David Gooding, founder of Gooding & Co., the classic car auctioneer, weighed in on this topic: “1913-ish Packard.” That’s a possibility, although the cowl and doors look different than the movie car shown above.

1913 Packard

It is probably neither here nor there what the car in “The Wild Bunch” was. But I hope this can set the record straight – if indeed this does. It’s no Stanley Steamer.

The one thing that may make this subject a bit relevant again is that apparently Warner Bros. decided in the past year or so to commission a re-make of “The Wild Bunch”. I imagine anyone topping Peckinpah’s version; it’s already rated one of the top movies of all time, and No. 6 on a list of the best cowboy movies.

But if they re-make it, this time maybe the production crew will find the correct vehicle.

Jerry Garrett

September 11, 2012

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