Welcome to the most in-depth look behind the scenes of the Winchester ride you'll likely find anywhere. Most articles regurgitate and recycle the tired information you've probably already heard over and over. Continue reading for a REAL insider peek behind the legendary '67 Impala!
Supernatural has become a staple in the sci-fi genre. It seemed to fill a void we all had but didn’t realize; a GOOD demon slayer show. Sure we’ve had Buffy stake driving vampire hearts from 1996-2003, but am I the only one who had a problem with a 5’4,” 121lb cute little blonde chick stomping out vampires with a size seven shoe? Had she been a nappy headed, snaggletooth redneck with a pitchfork you wouldn’t have made it past the pilot’s first commercial break.
Enter the Winchesters; with a twisted background, dark family secrets and a lot of repressed emotional baggage, these outlaw renegades turn the heat up on the baddies. When fraudulent credit cards and fake IDs can’t get them out of a bind, a trunk-mounted armory of sawed-off shotguns, semi-automatic pistols and machetes are the go-to. These grave-digging slayers were born to hunt. These are some characters I can get behind! The two brothers are the ideal selection of heroes if the world were at stake; which it is. With all the ingredients of a legendary joyride of a series, the only question is; when you’re as bad as Sam and Dean, what do you drive?
That answer was easy for writer/producer Eric Kripke – you need one bad ride; something iconic; something legendary – you need something up to the task of carrying the weight of the world on its suspension. The obvious answer to this is, of course, a muscle car.
18 Offscreen It's Called "Hero 1"
The Superstar (in my book) of the Supernatural series is seen here somewhere near the small town of Ashcroft, B.C. Supernatural was actually not filmed in the United States, unbeknownst to many. The wide open areas and gravel roads make for a fun playground for the big block to romp. The screaming pipes of the aluminized dual exhaust can be heard thousands of feet away. Perhaps more impressive though, is not when the car is screaming at wide open throttle and 4,000 rmp with full timing advance, but when she sits idling with her aggressive cam profile giving the rumbling cough to her purr. It is nowhere near smooth, rather chugs with a unique resonance in the pipes that is distinctive of the big block design. McAleer, a Driver author, has perhaps best described this sound akin to a bowling ball trapped inside an industrial washing machine. Indeed, is it a sound unlike any you’ll ever unless you spend a lot of time around 550 horsepower big blocks.
Hero 1 was found in Colorado by the picture coordinator Jeff Budnick who’s responsible for offset management of the Baby fleet. It was the only of the Supernatural Impalas that did not require a paint job on acquisition, and therefore it can be deduced that Hero 1 looked just about the same for who knows how long before the image of a black ‘67 four door, hardtop Impala became an icon. Hero 1 was cool before being a four door muscle car ever was. (driver.ca)
17 Dean Was Originally Supposed To Drive A '65 Mustang
Eric Kripke, writer/producer of the show had a vision in his mind of the persona of our protagonists from early on. He knew it had to be a muscle car. However, not being much of a car guy, he didn’t know much about the weight of his decision. (A cast member recalls once at a cast outing, Kripke was approached by someone with questions about the Impala’s engine specifications. Kripke stuttered and fumbled his words for a moment before Jensen Ackles [Dean] stepped in and started spouting off a list of engine specs and performance features. Yes, it appears he really is a car guy!) So with his inexperience and unfamiliarity with cars, there were a few flaws in his thought process that he had failed to address when contemplating the usage of the Mustang.
Kripke was discussing his thoughts with his neighbor one day about the car selection when his logic was tested on a few points. You need to have trunk space for multiple bodies (and an armory) at the same time! The role the Winchester had to be able to fill was not only that of fast, good looking transportation; it had to transport their whole lives across the country repeatedly in a never ending pursuit of evil. Everything from demon hunting gear to daily necessities needed to be essentially contained within the car. “My neighbor said it has to be a ’67 Impala…you can put a body in the trunk,” Kripke. (dailytelegraph.com)
16 There's More Than One Impala
Although the ’67 (affectionately called “Baby” by Dean throughout the show) is a capable automobile, it can’t do everything. Nor would you want it to. The beautiful ’67 that you are used to seeing in all those close-up shots and driving around casually is definitely not the same car that gets plowed into by semi-trucks, stomped on by demons and smashed up by Dean with a crowbar; nor is it the one you see doing all those fancy power slides and reverse 180s in chase scenes. The car is just too big and heavy, and the amount of wear and tear on it would be tremendous. The main star Impala is dubbed “Hero 1.” This is the 550 horsepower big block that represents who Baby really is.
But in order to do all of her custom stunts and antics, she needs a team of doppelgangers to take the beating for her; essentially, she is a movie star herself with a bunch of stunt doubles.
There are conflicting answers to the total number of Impalas used on the show ranging from six circa season three, to a high of up to nine total ‘67s being used for special shots. In 2014, an article featured in Driving from an onsite interview cited seven being used at that time which appears to be the most reliable source. (driving.ca)
15 One Has Its Windshield Removed
Every job has a tool. On a job the scope and scale of the Supernatural production, one needs many tools. Over the course of the 241 episodes the two brothers have been killed and resurrected more times that you can count with a crowd of fingers; their friends die, and sometimes even come back to life too. Why then, should the third most important star of the show be any exception? Dean is constantly seen with a wrench hunched over the pointed grill adjusting the carburetor, checking belts, hoses, keeping an eye on "that" leak; general muscle car guy stuff (some of you know the drill). In reality, none of this would have ever been possible. The stunts you see the Impala doing wreak havoc on the entire car from front to back, and it’s constantly in the shop where a dedicated mechanic keeps the cars moving. Hero 1 is kept far from the action, being saved for the gravy work.
As for the stunt doubles, the same could not be said of their work. Note the damage on the hood and the misalignment of the fender seam and door seam on the picture above? This car is a camera car, with the windshield removed, for driving shots. Most of the other backup Impalas are only powered by a small block 350 cubic inch motor, and do not have the tuned Hotchkis custom suspension Hero 1 has. (ew.com)
14 The Car Can Really Jump
The above picture is from approximately 5:30 seconds into Season 1, Episode 3: Magnificent Seven. Sam is waiting outside of the hotel room in Baby while Dean is inside with a girl and can be seen happily pouncing on her from the shadows in the window. Sam gets a call and they have to head out. A reluctant Sam walks in on Dean in the middle of his midnight romp to tell him it’s time to leave and immediately after that scene is this one; it lasts a total of fewer than five seconds and looks like the Impala jumped over a ramp the size of a curb. It’s really not an impressing scene.
Blame that on the bad camera angles and crappy planning of the crew, because in reality the Impala jumped 52 inches through the air before landing hard on the ground and seemingly continued to drive on.
The scene cuts next to the Impala driving off the road up into a steep dirt driveway where it motors up the hill on its own power. That was not the same Impala. During the five second shot of the 52 inch jump, the engine was completely destroyed on landing and had to be torn down and totally reworked. That is possibly why the scene was so short. I’m guessing they cut it right before you can tell something is wrong and moved on to the next scene, scrapping the idea of the camera following the Impala from the jump all the way up into the foreground.
13 The Car Is Often Replicated By Fans
Pop Quiz: What set Supernatural Impala are you currently looking at? If you said Hero 1, you are incorrect. If you said any of the other six to eight variants, you are also incorrect. This actually is an example of the Supernatural car culture hard at work to pay tribute to the baddest slayers in history. There is a whole following of car enthusiasts who restore four door ‘67s to a near exact replica of Baby. Some are just aesthetic renditions that would fool you in a parking lot, but leave you grossly disappointed when you hear it crank over and fire. Some guys install big motors, although I’d guess it’s a very small percentage of the Supernatural clones out there running the kind of power Hero 1 does; they do exist though.
Undoubtedly, one of the favorite fan features of the Impala is the weapons cache under the trunk, and is a highlight at conventions. Amidst the costume-clad kids walking around as their favorite monster or character, you’ll see a few guys in normal clothes that drove their costume to the show. Whenever you see a trunk open, you can guarantee he has his own little weapon locker and it’s a must to go check out how detailed his hardware is.
12 The Four Door Is Now A Very Desirable Impala Model
Traditionally, car culture frowns on cars with more than two doors. Not necessarily your mom, per se; she probably likes her four doors as they serve a purpose. In the automotive enthusiast world however, four door sedans are typically considered much less aesthetically appealing; and the reduced desire to own one of these models directly correlates the price point. I’ve literally been at car shows where I’ll come across two identical models (whether they are a Nova, Chevelle, etc.) side by side; a four door and a coupe. I almost always think the coupe is cooler, even when the four door may be in a much nicer condition. Coupes are just cool!
Supernatural changed that over the course of a decade, and now the most desirable model is completely up for debate.
I remember when I first saw the black Impala, the first words through my head were, ‘Why couldn’t they have gotten a coupe?” I was actually disappointed at the two extra doors hanging off the back of the cabin. Gradually those feelings subsided as the old black Impala grew on me; me and the rest of the Supernatural watching world that is. The widespread popularity of the show has created a demand for 4th generation four door Impalas that has jacked up prices of these cars all over the place.
11 It Costs Around $40,000 To Build A New Baby
The extreme popularity of the show has embedded the Impala into the hearts and minds of demon hating car lovers around the nation. All of a sudden, everybody had to have one; even those who didn’t know what type of car it was in the first place. Since Budnick (the picture car coordinator) is in charge of most non-set related vehicle stuff, he follows up on leads for more Babies. The producer likes to keep a healthy seven on hand at any time, but sometimes cars get wrecked and accidents happen, dropping the Baby count by one. Not to mention parts are always good to have on hand; as a result, they buy up as many Impalas as they can practically get their hands on.
Fear not, there are still good barn finds out there for those willing to ‘hunt’ (get it?). Many people have the same question for replica builders (yes there are viable careers as part time replica builders out there); how much does it cost to build my own Supernatural Impala? The answer is impossible to deliver in a straight forward, cookie cutter response as every car will require different levels of restoration and every builder will have a different tolerance for quality. Total cost varies between $30-40,000 including the car. Consider paint and body work your biggest variable cost at an average of $7,000. Interesting note; builders actually will sometimes include the little green army man in the ashtray of the left rear passenger door. (youtube.com/projectthx)
10 The Car Was Inspired By Nightrider
Eric Kripke is somewhat of a sci-fi nerd, as can be ascertained by his creation of a show about werewolves, vampires, demons and other supernatural powers. He was the creator and day-to-day operator of the show for the first five seasons before deciding to step down in favor of letting some fresh talent take over the vessel (no, not his meat suit). Supernatural was originally slated to run five seasons and end. Over a decade later we’ve finished season 13 and new things just keep coming. A concern of fans after season five was the same as their concerns when ol’ yellow eyes was killed in season two. Everybody thought that couldn’t be topped. Many who try to keep the momentum of a large train such as Supernatural eventually lose steam after a while, but the show seems to continue strong, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats with fresh new angles and adventures.
As stated, Kripke stepped down after five years of running the show to turn the reins over to longtime EP Sera Gamble. Kripke hoped at the time she would keep the freshness rolling and evolve the show in her own way. Before he left the wheelhouse however, he made sure to pay tribute to a major inspiration in the creation of baby; Night Rider! Sam was turned into a Night Rider version of Baby complete with the scanner thingy up front. Not Hero 1’s best look, but the best night rider I’ve seen to date.
9 The Stunt Cars Have Special Mods
The stunt cars for supernatural take a beating; a big beating! They get jumped, slid, smashed and bashed, crashed and blown through countless objects throughout the seasons. Although they may not have the tuned 502 cubic inch big block and race suspension, they have to be built to handle whatever the evils of heaven and hell can throw at them. These cars are specially designed to do this with modifications and reinforcements aimed at controlling the risk to the stunt driver first and foremost; secondly to be able to achieve the shots required by the script repeatedly and reliably.
The stunt cars are all equipped with high performance small block 350s with the exception of the 550 horsepower Hero 1. Some of the cars are outfitted with special equipment to assist with special shots that otherwise would be very difficult or impossible to achieve. For example; when you see a scene where the car is sitting still but Dean is spinning the tires, there is actually a column mounted switch to active only the front brakes so the rear wheels will spin freely in place. When you see the 3,500lb car fish-tale around corners on dry pavement, what you don’t know is there is a separate brake pedal that activates only the rear wheel brakes for that exact purpose. It’s harder than you think to get that much metal to do those things you see it do so effortlessly.
8 Hero 1 Gets Special Treatment
Hero 1 gets special treatment no doubt. She is the spokesperson of the legendary Supernatural car fleet, and a character all in herself (notice how I continually refer to the car as a"‘her"). She always needs her best foot forward, and maintaining her in top condition is a top priority for Jeff Budnick (Picture Coordinator) and John Lange (Picture Car Wrangler). Although the other cars are of a slightly lower priority, it is still important to maintain them as well as possible and keep a highly uniform build between each of them to keep visual consistency throughout the show.
Nonetheless, this is not always feasible or possible. Subtle differences do exist between the different stunt cars as well as with Hero 1. Typically the stunt cars are equipped with custom door locks while Hero 1 has the stock Caprice style installed.
The Hero windshield and windows are clear; some of the stunt cars have window tint on the glass and a stripe across the top of the windshield (the Impala smashing through the sign has tinted windows, visible on the left rear window). Speakers on the package tray of Hero 1 are close together on high quality carpet while the stunt doubles have their non-operational speakers spaced further apart on different carpet. The Hero 1 exhaust is aluminized 2 ½” exhaust while the stunt cars are equipped with 2 ¼” exhaust and chrome tips. The window knob cranks fluctuate between black and the buckskin brown depending on the car.
7 The Original Baby Was Totaled
The larger than life Supernatural cast is just about as invincible as invincible gets. Dean, Sam and their friends have all died and come back to life through clever script writing and a winding plot. No amount of plot writing and clever scripts can save sheet metal, however. In the Season 1 finale Devil's Trap, the clever script writing needed a hook. The hook at the end of the show was to throw the Impala in front of a semi possessed by a demon truck driver with the three boys inside the car. The truck t-bones the Impala on the passenger side and the episode promptly ends.
This sent fans into a flurry of letter writing and concern over the Impala’s wellbeing. Everyone could have assumed that the Winchester boys were going to make it, and if they had to kill off John he was more of a side character anyway, but what everyone was worried about was the resurrection of Baby, and whether she would make it back for season two. The answer is yes and no. The Impala is a cornerstone of the show and will go nowhere; the famed ’67 is just as much a character as the Winchesters. However that scene did not come without sacrifice. The Impala that was hit by the truck was totaled and Jensen (Dean) is seen here posing inside of it after 10 years of rotting away. Note that this car seems to have been equipped with front drum brakes.
6 The Trunk Armory Is Also Expensive To Make
For those reproducing the Supernatural Impala, perhaps one of the most important key details is the trunk mounted weapons cache. Armed with everything from shotguns, handguns rifles, holy water, gasoline and even a shovel; this detail is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the build. Any convention you go to where there are folks with clone cars invariably have the trunk open; as soon as you see an open truck you know exactly what you’re going to find; their armory. Fake of course (hopefully). It’s probably the most creative part of the build as re-creators are free to customize the load out as they see fit.
Throughout the many seasons of the show, the armory changes significantly depending on what Sam and Dean need to take on. This leaves the creative doorway open for a vast array of different options regarding what the owner decides he wants to portray.
The construction of this weapon compartment is a feat in and of itself. Complete with padded felt and carpet glued securely to a tightly jointed wooden construction, some of these boxes feature a metal brace across the rear of the trunk while others are wooden. Hero 1 has the metal style brace and enclosed corners in the quarter panels whereas the stunt cars have open ends and a wooden brace. The Hero 1 style will cost around $2,000 to fabricate while the stunt car version will save you $500 off the cost of the build.
5 There Are A Lot Of Miles On That Car
Sam and Dean have been hunting demons, chasing haunted lore, bargaining for each other’s souls and staying in the same style crappy hotel room (oddly all with the same style decorative metal partition near the doorway) for over a decade now. Has anyone ever stopped to wonder how many miles Sam and Dean have actually put on their trusty steed? Someone actually wondered so much he took the time to re-watch the series and calculate the data to date, with the best information he had available.
If fuel cost $2.95/gal, Dean would have fraudulently spent $78,994.44 on fuel.
Granted, his analysis of the Winchester’s travels is outdated by 5 years, so we only really have a somewhat accurate collection of data from previous seasons, up to season seven. His calculations project that, in total, the Supernatural superheroes have circumnavigated the United States to the tune of 120,709miles up to season seven. 17,957mi in season one; 26,830mi in season two; 14,877mi in season three; 14,774mi in season four; 22,513mi in season five; 14,897mi in season six; and 8,864mi in season seven (at the time of his research). It would almost be safe to double that number for a current estimate of nearly 241,000miles. If the Impala is so equipped with the 327 small block and a four barrel carburetor that Dean asserted to his father in one episode (we know better though), given his driving habits, I’d estimate he’d get around 9mpg. Those estimations would put total fuel consumption at 26,777gal.
4 Hero 1 Usually Has Cameras All Over It
There are many different considerations that go into the production of car scenes and there’s an arsenal of tools required to get the shot right. According to Aputure, there are six essential shots to make any good car scene. The primary angle from the front windshield captures action from over the hood. Variable zoom levels will give each shot a different feel and sometimes the shot is done without window glass. The over the shoulder shot is at an angle where the side-mirror would be, looking over one actor to the one in the far seat. This allows for specific shots where focus can either be softened on the foreground or background actor. The close up P.O.V. (point of view) takes place of the other actor in the car either by removing the driver or passenger and replacing them with a camera operator. The back seat (French over) is an over the shoulder from behind shot with camera and operator in the back seat looking over the actor’s shoulders. Shots from the mirrors also add a dynamic mood.
All of these are painstakingly planned and carefully combined to make the fluid car scenes that take us along on the hunt. Ankles (Dean) was nervous driving the camera rigs around at times when his focus was required to be on the co-actor, rather than the road where an already impeded view was mostly blocked by a hood mount camera rig.
3 There Were Real Bodies In The Impala's Trunk
When you’re trying to get audio in a car scene as a filmmaker, it’s not always easy. Compound that with the fact that this isn’t just any car you’re trying to film and the problem becomes a Rubix Cube. Even the smallest engines on the Impala fleet employ small block 350s and dual exhaust with Flowmaster 40 series. That particular engine/exhaust setup is not known for its stealth, in fact, the 40 series are advertised as being Flowmaster’s loudest muffler in their lineup. That’s exactly why guys buy them (I have two on my Nova).
In order to compensate for this, film crews had to go above and beyond to try to try and capture audio for the scenes. Just as there were multiple stunt cars, a plethora of microphones in strategic locations (usually just of view of the frame) are set up to capture the dialogue the first time.
The goal is to try and avoid a technique known as ADR (automated dialogue replacement) which requires the insertion of dialog into the shot after the fact when voices cannot be clearly recorded. The Supernatural crew went to great lengths to get the best audio they could, including outfitting one stunt car with a seat and audio equipment in the trunk where a sound tech would sit as the car drove around filming. So, there actually was a real live body in the trunk of Baby, many times during the show.
2 Everything Had To Be Replaced
The ’67 Impala was arguably the perfect 3rd main character the show could have ever could have chosen. Class and character exemplify the definition of Baby. The Impala was actually marketed as a classy car for the working man. Clearly, the marketing worked; according to The New York Times, sales of the 1965 Impala and Super Sport models in that year totaled 1,074,925 units, a record yet to be eclipsed. It’s no wonder then, that such a popular car from an iconic era in history would invoke so much love decades later on an appearance as a road pounding warrior chasing down evil.
Despite all the accolades, the GM B body design is still a monstrous platform; no matter how many ponies you pack into the engine bay, keeping that power glued to the asphalt is the difference between something that sounds super cool until you wrap it around a telephone pole and something that hunts demons. To keep a car this size going where they wanted it to a Hotchkis performance suspension was installed to pick up the slack where the factory left a lot to be desired. It’s not clear what exact line was used to modify the Impala’s running gear, but without a doubt the front upper and lower control arms were replaced with sturdy tubular ones reinforced to the frame, coil springs, tie rod ends, shocks, bushings, modified sway bar; pretty much anything that could wear out and plenty other parts that were just crappy.
1 Not All Impalas Are Created Equal
Season 10 episode 5 sports a totally different kind of Impala. One that doesn’t need a big block 502; one that doesn’t need a fleet of stunt cars or team of support crew; but could probably definitely use a headlight alignment. As the writers of the show are always on the grind to come up with creative new content to keep the show original, the realm of fan fiction seems like a perfect platform from which to shoot off on a tangent and create an oddball little allegory to address fan beliefs of what the show can or cannot be. What better place than the 200th celebratory episode to do such a thing?
After years of the first episode there was enough rapport and speculation within the fan community that the writers thought it would be fun to do a cameo of the Winchesters on their own show. The official synopsis for season 10 episode 5 – Fan Fiction: When Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) investigate the disappearance of a teacher they are stunned to see the school is putting on a musical based on their lives. Familiar faces abound in this milestone episode. As fun as it may be when they dive into an abstract idea for an episode, the driving part just isn’t the same.
Sources: tvfanatic.com, ew.com, automobile-catalog.com