It’s the spookiest time of year! Yes, Halloween is upon us, Linus is camped out waiting for the Great Pumpkin, kids are clad in whimsical costumes, and parents are simultaneously trying to convince their kids not to eat all the candy while trying to keep their own hands off.
Steeped in Celtic tradition, the formerly pagan ritual has spawned a holiday that has become lighthearted while maintaining an atmosphere of scary substance.
Whether you believe in goblins or not, there’s no denying that some vehicles seem possessed or at least vexed.
Stories and movies have been written about such phenomena and real-life examples exist, if you subscribe to that sort of thing.
Local scary author Stephen King’s novel and movie, “Christine” is the story of one such 1958 Plymouth Fury that, as it’s restored, transforms itself and its new, young owner into victims of its violent past.
The story goes that the car was purchased from an angry, feared man whose young daughter had died in the car after choking on some food in the back seat. Her distraught mother later killed herself in the car from carbon monoxide poisoning. As the evil car grows stronger, it goes on a vengeful killing spree.
I don’t know how believable Christine's story is, but I’ve definitely driven some cars that have that “I don’t like you driving me” vibe.
“Duel,” Steven Spielberg’s breakout directing debut, concerns a salesman getting chased through the desert by a relentless tractor-trailer truck. It doesn’t sound too terrifying, but like any good story, the delivery enhances the tone. In this case, a traveling salesman, played by Dennis Weaver, is pursued in his red Plymouth Valiant by a long-nosed Peterbilt tanker covered with dirt and dust, looking as sinister as any good antagonist.
Presumably, the truck is driven by a road-raged mad man; however, the driver is never shown throughout the movie, leading the viewer to personify the truck itself as the evildoer. The movie was nominated for a Golden Globe and launched Spielberg’s directing career.
Haunted cars aren’t just a thing of fiction. The infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were finally stopped when the stolen 1934 Ford Model 730 Deluxe Sedan they were driving was riddled with 160 bullets. Their lifeless bodies were eventually removed from the car, but the interior, still stained from their blood, and the bullet holes remain.
Since 1934, the Bonnie and Clyde “death car,” as it’s become known, has passed through many hands and has been displayed as a macabre attraction. It is said many people feel the presence of the deceased couple in and around the car while photos of the car have revealed unexplained anomalies. The “death car” now resides at a casino in Nevada, available for public viewing.
In a case of life imitating art or maybe the other way around, depending on how much of this urban legend you believe, a 1964 Dodge 330 Limited Edition, originally used by police in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, is responsible for the deaths of 14 people under mysterious circumstances. A cousin of “Christine” perhaps?
These facts are conveyed by the car’s owner, Wendy Allen, who identifies herself, among other things, as the Sea Witch of Old Orchard Beach. While they are unsubstantiated, a vivid imagination can make legends come alive.
In a mind-stretching history of the strangely named “Golden Eagle,” as the car is known, three separate police officers supposedly killed themselves and their families after driving the car — though it never harmed the Allen family, despite randomly opening doors and jamming the steering while underway.
The legend continues that members of local churches vandalized the car in an attempt to stop its marauding streak, but one by one, the vandals died in bizarre accidents of their own. Eventually, the car was dismantled by a few brave crusaders and major parts distributed to various junkyards, but Ms. Allen has reassembled most of her beloved car that she claims is simply the target of folklore.
Hearses are the mass transit of the spirit world. If any car has a right to be haunted, certainly the big, black hearse claims that automotive honor. Maybe it’s too cliche, or maybe people are too attuned to creepy vibes around these funeral coaches, but seldom does the legend of any spooky happening center around a hearse. It seems that spirits prefer to hang around vintage rides adorned with years of patina rather than a shiny, new Caddy.
Most of us know that the scariest thing on a modern car is the check engine light, followed by a gas gauge that reads empty.
And even though we’ve all driven cars that feel possessed at times, a clear head and good diagnostics usually dispel that notion.
For those more superstitious, perhaps during Halloween, a good jaunt on foot, doling out tricks or treats might help. And for the rest, a good scan tool and a skilled tech can usually exorcise the ghost in the machine.
Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 299 Main St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.