By Robert Short, Owner
When I first saw the car on the U.N.C.L.E. shows, I knew I would have to have one just like it. Little did I know I would end up with the very one that I was watching on TV. I had always been a fan of the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." series and as I grew older I began collecting on the show as a hobby along with several close friends. Over the years, I amassed a large selection of props used on the show and had on occasion visited the set during it's production. I remember coming across the car in the MGM transportation garage and having my picture taken with it. Much to my surprise it was identical to the AMT model, right down to the buttons on the control consoles.
It would be a few years later that I would meet Gene Winfield by accident while driving home from school. I was taking a short cut through an alley in Santa Monica, CA when I realized there was a stack of Piranha bodies sitting in back of an industrial shop space. I went in to inquire about the bodies outside and found myself next to Maxwell Smart's red Alpine Sunbeam. Much to my surprise, I was greeted by the shops proprietor, Gene Winfield. Having moved from Arizona, the new AMT shop was less than a mile from my high school. It was great to meet the gentleman who had built my favorite car of all time, unfortunately I learned from Gene that the car in question had been sold after the U.N.C.L.E. series ended and the paperwork had been lost or destroyed. As it turned out, nobody knew where the car had gone, not even Gene.
Over the years, as I began working in the film industry, Gene and I stayed in touch and would eventually work on the same film "Blade Runner." For years I let it be known to everyone I knew that I was still looking for the U.N.C.L.E. car, but it remained elusive until out of the blue, in the early 80's, I got a call from Gene. He told me that a woman in Colorado had just called to ask him what the original color of the U.N.C.L.E. car was because she owned it and was going to restore it. Gene gave me her number and I called her immediately. Much to my surprise I found out that she was willing to listen to my offer to buy the car. Over the years I had found out the fate of the Star Trek Shuttle Craft, the Black Beauty, the Batmobile, the Mannix Tornado, T.H.E. Cat's Corvette, Bond's Aston Martin, and a slew of other custom vehicles during my search and to now have the U.N.C.L.E. car within my grasp was unimaginable.
Within the week I had purchased a plane ticket to Colorado and was being driven up into the snow capped mountains by the current owner. As we drove into the small track house community nestled in the mountains, it was impossible to imagine that THE U.N.C.L.E. car had been here all these many years. We pulled into the driveway of a unassuming beige one-story home and I was led to the garage. The door opened and much to my horror the sight before me looked more like a full-size model kit that had been taken out of it's box than the car I remembered so fondly from the U.N.C.L.E. adventures. It had been stripped and taken apart for restoration. The body was now primer gray, it's windows scarred by pneumatic sanders, it's chrome parts twisted, bent and shoved into boxes, the dash and gadget control panels oversprayed with primer and the engine cylinders filled with water and rust. Needless to say, I was not going to be driving it home that night.
I modified my offer on the car and after coming to a final price, I arranged for a flatbed truck, loaded the parts into the body shell, and transported it to California. There, I spent the next six months, along with some of the film industries top prop makers, reassembling and refurbishing the mess. With assistance from Gene and his extensive photo coverage of the car from the original show, the U.N.C.L.E. car slowly began to regain it's former glory.
The engine was rebuilt by replacing the cylinders while retaining the original block. This was an interesting challenge because the engine had been installed first, and the body was built around it. Another detail that had surprised me was that I had always thought that the car had mag wheels, but in reality they were simply plastic wheel covers made to look like mags. I acquired a wiring diagram from Gene and made sure that every gadget was put back in operation, including the parachute, hidden in a secret compartment behind the rear license plate (on the AMT model, the parachute is placed over the license plate). The gadgets work off a separate battery independent of the engine.
When the restoration was completed and the state registration was finalized, I hit the road. The car handles superbly and has great acceleration. Of course, the grim reality of driving such an exotic automobile made itself very apparent in no time. First, you can't park it anywhere for fear of it being hit, scratched, or stolen. The car has no locks and you have to raise the bullet shield to seal the back window area because there is no back window. Then there is the fact that the sun pounds down on you mercilessly through the plexiglass windows, and the car has no sunvisors. You don't realize how much you count on the little amenities in a car until you don't have them. There is no defroster, heater, or air conditioning, and the only ventilation there is comes from the absence of the rear window.
After studying the research material carefully, I decided to restore the car to what it last looked like on the show. For the fourth season, a new racing steering wheel and a wood gearshift knob had been added, as well as bubbled windows for more head room. Along with these new additions, a new paint job was added. Originally the car had been all blue (a stock 1966 Chevy Impala color), but for the fourth season the area below the black impact trim had been painted silver and finished with a black stripe along the bottom.
Obviously the gawk factor was to be expected, but after a while the "fun" of being pulled over by the police wears a little thin. No, not for tickets, but to be asked if the car was indeed the real U.N.C.L.E. car. I am still surprised as to how many people recognize the car. It's fame lives on! After coming to the conclusion that it was only a matter of time before the car would be rear-ended at a stop sign or my nerves would give out, I cut back on driving the car on the city streets. For a while I took it to special meetings, displayed it at conventions and arranged for it to appear in the "Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E." TV movie in flashback scenes (which were never shot due to time limitations). Today the car is garaged and kept in pristine condition and is only driven on very rare occations.
NOTE: Special THANKS to Mr. Short for sharing his story with us. All photos on this page provided by Robert Short unless otherwise noted.
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