Elvira's Spooky '58 Thunderbird

Mistress of the Dark shows off her George Barris-customized Macabre Mobile
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For those who aren't familiar with this "Mistress of the Dark," where have you been? Locked in a casket? After all, her Goth, sex-kitten character has not only appeared on the TV series Movie Macabre and numerous cult hit-movies, but also on every imaginable type of merchandise.

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Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Her seductive shape has graced Bally's best-selling pinball machines of all time, along with countless calendars and comic books around the world. Her popularity in turn spawned licensing deals for models of the Macabre Mobile, a '58 Ford Thunderbird customized by the legendary George Barris.

It wasn't always so, and she didn't always have a tricked-out T-bird to prowl around town in during the midnight hour. After stints as a Vegas showgirl and singer in an Italian rock band, not until the fall of 1981 did Cassandra Peterson really hit her stride with the birth of the vampish Elvira character.

How did she come up with the character? A local Los Angeles TV station was looking for someone to host a show called Fright Night, which would later become Movie Macabre. Her low-cut slinky gown, sensual poses and bawdy wisecracks were an instant sensation. George Barris sums up her character as a "Seesaw . sexy, with those big breasts and cleavage, but a Mistress of the Dark."

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Elvira's George Barris Kustom '58 Thunderbird

From there, Elvira crossed over into movies. For her first film, the namesake Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Elvira needed a spooky ride in keeping with her ominous yet alluring image. She spotted a black '58 Ford Thunderbird on Melrose Avenue. "That's it!" she cried.

But it was a hardtop, and she wanted a convertible, so Barris and his "kustomizing" crew used a chainsaw to chop off the top. (Sounds like the makings of a massacre movie!) Then they added all sorts of ghoulish embellishments: a spider web in the grille, batwing nose emblem, eyeballs on the fenders, skull-and-crossbones hubcaps, leopard-print velour upholstery, mini-caskets on the center console and trunk lid, skeleton hands, and a chain-link steering wheel with a skull in the center. The one item that Cassandra supplied was a metal hood ornament, a crouching, winged banshee sculpted with her profile.

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Signature Cassandra

Once filming was done, the movie's producers offered this mechanically plagued movie prop to her, and she sold it to a photographer, Lynn Goldsmith, who fixed it up and drove it for several years. About 10 years later, Cassandra bought it back, "real cheap" and keeps it at her house in Ojai, California, to this day.

Now here's the kinda creepy part: While there's only one Elvira, the killer queen of pop kulture, there's actually more than one Macabre Mobile. It was reproduced like one of those seedpods from the horror classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Kevin McCarthy.

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Haunting Interior

When we pressed Mr. Barris about the second Macabre Mobile, he notes that there was a need for another one to promote her. Given Elvira's enormous popularity, just one car was not enough. (Consider, too, that there are numerous copies of the Batmobile, plus several Dukes of Hazzard General Lee Chargers and Nash Bridges' Hemi Cuda convertibles).

While the Thunderbird at the Petersen Automotive museum is a knockoff and based on a '59 model instead (the '58 and '59 are very similar, except for a few trim items), it's still legit, since Barris built it, and newspaper photos attest to the fact that Elvira did appear with the car at a Halloween show she did at Knotts' Berry (Scary) Farm. So think of the second car as a genuine tribute to her enduring popularity.

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Custom Cobweb Grille

While she's known for skewering B-grade monster movies with a rapier wit on her TV shows, what's her most hated film? Surprise: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! "It drives me crazy," Cassandra complains. "It's already a parody, so I couldn't poke fun at it."

How about her automotive interests? Another surprise: She actually once dreamed of becoming a racecar driver. (Imagine her in an Indy car instead of Danica Patrick!) But she settled for owning an odd mix of cars over the years, such as a VW Beetle, '69 Firebird, and BMW 740i. Today, she pilots a Prius, and loves it, being the environmentally conscious type in her private life.

More TV shows and movies are in the works, and she's still drawing big crowds at public appearances, where she breezes along in a badass Barris T-bird while the wolves howl at the full moon and she disappears into the night. Now that's one smokin', spooky ride.

Petersen Automotive Museum http://www.petersen.org/

Photos Courtesy of Cassandra Peterson, Lynn Goldsmith, Chris Amareuso, and Petersen Automotive Museum

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