History of The Wraith Car
There is a lot to tell about the project. I have several pieces of memorabilia from the film. The car changed hands a few times after production wrapped up on set, and it lost a few pieces along the way. There were two stunt cars used for the racing scenes, and I have one of them. The drivable props had a modified tube frame and little more than a seat, steering wheel, and a few instruments for the driver.
At the time, Dodge was rolling out the M4S Turbo concept as an Indy series pace car. The concept car reportedly cost Dodge and PPG around $1.5 million; it was powered by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers (Garrett T25) and a twin-cam 16-valve cylinder head worked on by Cosworth. The car was designated M4S (Mid-engine 4-cylinder sports car).
Ultimately, and Dodge agreed to ship the M4S and a special team to the movie set for a couple of weeks, along with molds to make six exact copies of the M4S body for stunt cars and dummy cars. Four shells were made and placed on a towable frame for all the crash and explosion scenes; two drivable stunt cars were made for race scenes. These were built over a tube frame and had little more than a seat, a few instruments for the driver, steering, and engine for power.
The now-restored M4S sat on the set for weeks before it was used in close up scenes. In the movie, there is a scene where one of the gang members instructs the Wraith to open its hood so he can attach a device to its engine (Rughead). When the rear engine bay opens, he finds a bizarre looking engine rocking back and forth as the car idles.That shot was mostly movie magic, but the overlying shot of the car itself was the actual M4S, as you can tell by the construction of the frame around the imposed engine. This may have been the only scene where you could see the M4S for what it was in the film.
After the movie was completed, the two drivable props were sold off the set. The location of one is unknown, but the other went to Gene Winfield, who had built them. Gene is well known in the custom car world; he has built many movie props over the years, and he used Chrysler’s molds to build the six props. In time, Gene Winfield sold to Bob Butts of the Fantasy Car Ranch in California, who later sold it to John Watson. John was active in the kit car industry and planned to make a modified kit called the Wraith II. The Wraith II was pulled from molds made off the movie car; at some point, the Wraith prop had its original frame discarded and replaced with a custom chassis to fit the body. We believe that Watson had this frame built to make the Wraith more practical as a street-legal car. However, his plans fell through. Ultimately the car found its way to McPherson College in Kansas, which has an auto restoration program Lyle Suhr made his way to McPherson to see what was left of the car in person and made an offer to the school to take the car back with him. They settled with him. and the rest is history.
After working on the frame and engine, I later stripped the paint from the body and worked hard to find all of the imperfections while I straightened it out over the restored frame. From there I decided to add an interior, something simple but sporty, to give the car more of an identity. I added electric and hydraulic actuators to the doors and engine bay. Restoration of the movie prop has taken several years. In early 2010, the car was essentially completed on the outside. I’ve decided to keep the replacement frame and build around it.
I made more calls to people involved with the film and people involved with the M4S itself. I caught the attention of Bob Ackerman, who was excited about my project and was willing to drop by from time to time to help give some pointers on how the car was built. I have been relying on a lot of trial and error over the years, so the help from its designer was welcome.
Another perk that Bob offered was to meet with me in Detroit and got me into the Chrysler Museum to see the original car up close and personal. This was like giving a kid the key to a candy store. I was given permission to crawl around the car to inspect it and take photos. Chrysler also allowed me access to a few of the original engines built for the M4S. After much consideration, and several offers, Dodge parted with a 2.2 (which apparently was never fired) and I planned to install it into The Wraith.
The prop cars had Volkswagen engines, but the existing engine was missing pieces and in poor shape. I replaced it with a Pontiac V6 and built around that. I made it my mission to restore the car to how it appeared in the movie but wanted to keep the paint a bit lighter as a throwback to the original paint scheme of the M4S, to tip my hat to both Hollywood and Dodge.