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Friday, March 2, 2012

Cult of Tacky: Perfectly Good GTOs Destroyed for Monkee Business

("Monkee Mobile," designed, crafted, and butchered from a perfectly good Ponitiac GTO) 

The sadness, tragedy, and untimely death of pop icon Davy Jones aside, we inevitably must get back on track, look forward, and come around to thinking about cars again. Whereas the 1960s television series The Monkees had its host of hip characters and props, the standout item of interest clearly points to the Monkeemobile: A tacky, tasteless, and generally ridicuolous looking cartoon car that "won," as perfectly good Pontiac GTOs were destroyed for the sake of Monkee business, with business emphasized. Hence, in context of the time and the cultural aesthetic established within the show, cult of celebrity and branding trumped good design. As in the case of the Batmobile, a mascot car for the Monkees made sense and seemed to fit, the massive success of the franchise being self-evident. 

Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith found fame in the 1960s with their eponymous television show The Monkees, and went on to sell more than 50 million records. The band split up in 1971 but has reformed several times since. Their popular TV show ran from Sept. 12, 1966, to March 25, 1968, with 58 episodes. The show, inspired by the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night, won two Emmy Awards.

(The Monkees in their heyday: Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith)

Whatever one's opinion of The Monkees may be, including the car, at their peak in  popularity, in 1967, they were outselling the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined in the United StatesI’m a Believer, written by Neil Diamond, remained at No. 1 on the Billboard charts for seven weeks. Diamond also wrote A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You, which reached No. 2. The Monkees had six top-10 hits, including three No. 1 hits: Last Train to Clarksville, I’m a Believer and Daydream Believer.

After the Monkees, Mr. Nesmith became the creator and chief executive officer of Pacific Arts, a successful video production company that made some of the first music videos. Nesmith pitched the idea of a 24-hour music-video channel and sold the idea to Warner, which developed it into MTV. His video Cruisin’ was one of the first MTV played. Nesmith often is called the “inventor” or “stepfather” of MTV.

With such innovation, perhaps the "Last Train to Destroying GTO-ville" was for the good. Although not a particularly rare car for the time, the GTO was clearly at the forefront of American design aesthetic and a leader in the muscle car revolution, a child of the 1960s. So, too, the Monkees became a major influence in the fabric of 1960s American pop culture, undoubtedly helped along, in part, by the implementation of the Monkeemobile as an integral element in many of the television episodes. At the leading edge, television, the Pontiac GTO, the American muscle car, and the British Invasion all clashed in harmonious tastelessness and fun. Some forty years on, The Monkees, today, are forever carved in stone and guaranteed a place in history, in memoriam.

The Monkeemobile's origins began when Dean Jeffries, and his sidekick Dick Dean, were asked to design and build a car for a new TV show called "The Monkees". Dean, who was under contract with Model Products Corporation (MPC), told CEO George Toteff about the project. A make of vehicle had not yet been chosen for the project. Mr. Toteff then told his friend Jim Wangers of these developments. 

(Jim Wangers, the man most closely associated with the advertising and promotion of Pontiac during the glory days of the 60s and 70s, the man affectionately termed, the "Godfather of the GTO")

Mr. Wangers was working with Pontiac promotion and advertising at the time and saw the show as a huge promotional opportunity for Pontiac. After making the deal, Mr. Wangers supplied two base 389 4-barrel 1966 GTO convertibles with automatic-transmissions to be converted into Monkeemobiles. MPC was in turn given exclusive rights to market a model kit of the Monkeemobile. They would end up selling over 7 million copies of these kits.

Two cars were built for the NBC TV show The Monkees in the span of 4 weeks: Car #1 to be used mostly for the TV show, and Car #2 to be used as a stunt car but used on the promo/touring circuit. Both cars were base-engine 389 four-barrels with automatic transmissions, were originally silver/blue metalic in color, and each would end up being used in the TV series (as an example; Car #1 in episode 33 and #2 in episode 39).

Car #1 has a larger door logo, different color blower flaps (blacked out) and different belt cover than the #2 which has the smaller logo and red colored flaps, the belt cover ribs farther apart. Both measure around 20 feet long. Stewart Warner gauges fill up the dash. Permanent hardtop was built to resemble a convertible top and covered in tan orlon to match the tan vinyl upholstry. Two people could unbolt the top and lift it off the car. Outside the car, all chrome was removed including door handles. Front and rear sheet metal was hand formed by Dean Jeffries and Dick Dean. No fiberglass was used. 

Square CIBIE headlights brought over from France were used in front. Taillight covers frabricated especially for the car were used over factory assembly. Thirty coats of Candy Wine Burgundy paint were laid on and hand rubbed. The car rests on Goodyear 900x15 tires in the rear and Goodyear 650x15's in the front. Crager SS wheels with center knock-off caps lay inside the tires. Power comes from a 389 cubic inch Pontiac engine. Dummy blower set up is used to cover carbs. Rear axle is solidly mounted.

(Monkeemobile, early concept drawing for modified GTO)

Factory windshield was cut and tilted forward and a chrome piece was added to the center to give the illusion of a taller split windshield. The aft portion of the front wheel wells were lengthened to allow the non-functional chrome exhaust trumpets to protrude. Functional exhaust exits are located just ahead of the rear wheels. 

A trailer hitch was added to the car with the intention of pulling a trailer that would open up so that the band could perform on it. Even though the trailer was built, it was never used in the show. The hitch was later removed. Car #1 was taken to Australia to help with promotions on the 1968 Monkees concert tour. For some reason, the car did not travel on with the tour and was left there. Dean Jeffries made the attempt to retrieve the car but was unsuccessful.

The car would later appear in Puerto Rico as a hotel courtesy car. It is still a mystery on how it ended up there. In 1992, it would sell at government auction for $5,000 when the hotel went out of business. Car #1 is now in the safe hands of a private collector on the East coast. Car #1 can be seen from time to time at collector shows. Car #1 was used for the 1/18 scale diecast (note the use of the door logo which is reversed on the right door). Car #1 was used in 1997 for the Monkees TV special and on display in 2001 for the Petersen Automotive Museum "Cars And Guitars Of Rock & Roll" exhibit. 

(George Barris and adoring fan with the Monkeemobile)

Car #2 was acquired by George Barris at end of The Monkees TV series after Dean Jeffries declined to purchase the cars back from NBC. Car #2 was auctioned off in September of 1983 for $26,000. The winning bidder never appeared to pay for the car. Car #2 was used as part of the TV Land display. Car #2 was seen in the "She's gotta have it" episode of the TV show Wings along with Peter Tork. Car #2 was fully restored & modernized by Mike Gray and his team in 2006 for the 40th Anniversary of The Monkees.

Car #2 was auctioned off by George Barris through Barrett-Jackson on January 19, 2008 for the winning bid of $360,000. This car is now owned by a private individual in southeast Michigan. Of course these Pontiac GTOs, #1 and #2, were at once destroyed but consequently immortalized, catapulted to a fame and exposure never to be seen had they remained unmolested. Alas, "The Monkees" were a cartoon and parody/marketing force directly drawing from the Beatles phenomenon. As the Monkees were selling more records than the Beatles, seemingly impossible, so, too, can public tastes often mirror such illogic; hence, the butchered cartoon car Monkeemobile --where tasteless, tacky, timing, and opportunity trump good design. Jim Wangers couldn't agree more.    


  1. Thank God they didn't want the other kind of GTO...

  2. GR-RRReat story. I am lucky to handle all of the licensing for Jim Wangers, the "Godfather of the GTO" and have met Barris on many occasions. I once asked him about the Monkee mobile, knowing full well about its history, and he told me that he had to "fix it and make it right" and that is why it was "his".

    Jim Wangers was responsible for Pontiac's involvement with the Monkees TV Show and in providing Dean Jeffries with the two GTO convertibles that were modified into the Monkee mobiles. The original render, as provided by Pontiac, is a far cry from what Jeffries created.

    The REAL story is fully documented in Jim Wangers best selling book, GLORY DAYS, When horsepower and passion ruled Detroit. It is available on Jim Wangers GeeTO Tiger website [].

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    1. Chief Instigator, many thanks for your comments and readership. Further insights into the interrelationship between Pontiac and the television production side are much appreciated.

  4. Chad this is LA pop culture on overload. The fuel for the car was ripped off from the bands creative fuel tank. Everything about the Monkees seemed over the top. I Built a model of the Monkeemobile as a kid and thought I was so cool. It was a different time ...

    1. Thank you for your reply indeed. By the way, there isn't anywhere on your photography site to post any comments :( Some awesome stuff there.