THE HALICKI vs. Shelby lawsuit
© Wallace Wyss,  - March 4th 2008


Wallace Wyss is a native of Detroit. His family name sounds german because his father was born in Alchenstorf, Switzerland, near Bern. He grew up in Detroit, attended Wayne State University where he earned a BA in journalism and then went into advertising. During the mid-Sixties he was creating muscle car ads for Chevrolet, for cars like the Nova SS and Camaro Z/28. He then moved to California in 1969 to work for CAR LIFE magazine and later for Motor Trend.

In 1973 he began free lance writing and in 1977 wrote Shelby's Wildlife: The Cobras and the Mustangs. He currently contributes to the magazine Car and Driver, and has recently published a new Shelby (non-authorized) biography, and a Ford GT40 and the New Ford GT with Al Axelrod and Brian Winer as co-authors.


“The lawsuit that won’t go away.”

by Wallace Wyss

That’s what you could call the lawsuit from Mrs. Denise Halicki, a dead movie producer's wife who continues to sue Shelby over the year 2000 re-make of her husband’s film . the  1974 classic “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

The movie was about a car thief who steals a Mustang called “Eleanor”.

Martin Zimmerman,a Los Angeles Times Staff Writer in the , March 1, 2008 Sunday edition talks about how the “crudely crafted in the flick found a cult audience and inspired a 2000 big-budget sequel starring Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie and, of course, a vintage Mustang named Eleanor.”

He also goes into how Denice Shakarian Halicki, widow of the original "Gone in 60 Seconds" director H.B. "Toby" Halicki, feels that Shelby owes her money since after the re-make Shelby made a deal with a Texas firm to make copies of the movie car, calling them “Eleanor”.

Her attorney was quoted by Zimmerman as saying;"We believe there are many millions of dollars at stake here,"Shelby, according to the article, counterclaims that he obtained the trademark rights to use the Eleanor name on cars in a 2002 filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

But the real irony of the lawsuit is that if you look at the 1974 movie, the car named “Eleanor” is not a Shelby Mustang but 1971 Mustang fastback painted yellow. The only reason car fans love the movie is for the crashes, which Zimmerman said number over 90. Halicki was a junkyard owner so he could get the cars cheap.

The original movie, says Zimmerman, pulled in a claimed $40 million – which he says would be $150 million in today's dollars.

H.B. "Toby" Halicki ironically died making the sequel in 1989 when he conceived a stunt where a car would hit a water tank. The car hit the tank, the water came out but in such volume Halicki drowned.

In 1995, his widow sold Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Pictures the right to make the remake of "Gone in 60 Seconds," which Zimmerman said grossed $237 million worldwide.

Iornically the art director of the movie chose to make the star car a Shelby, maybe because it was a lot more desirable than a 1971 yellow Mustang Mach I. That move might save Shelby from that part of the lawsuit since the only resemblance between the two cars is that they are both Mustangs.

Shelby probably regrets he ever decided to make “restored” versions of the car because the firm he chose to make them Unique Performance, of Farmers Branch Texas has seen been visited by the FBI who confiscated 60 or more unfinished cars. It turns out Unique Performance was collecting a lot of money but not delivering many cars. The FBI’s beef was also that there was some shenanigans with serial numbers.

A Dallas County grand jury will be considering the criminal case in a few weeks.

Shelby has been named as a defendant in some of the civil suits filed by Unique Performance's customers, even though he terminated his licensing agreement with the company in 2008.

Ironically again, it may turn out that, if she gets awarded a royalty per car and few were delivered, a royalty could be pitifully small.

Zimmerman said a judge threw Halicki's lawsuit out the first time she went to court, “ruling that because Disney held the rights to the car used in the sequel, it was the only party that could sue to protect them.”

According to Zimmerman, Halicki, unphased, “ filed another lawsuit in federal court against Shelby and Unique Performance” complaining that Unique’s financial and legal woes has caused the sacred name of Eleanor “to be associated in the public mind ‘with potential criminals.’ "

She cut Disney out of the picture by getting from them an agreement , says Zimmerman that they won’t contest merchandising rights to the Eleanor Mustang. She looks at that, says Zimmerman, as giving her “exclusive rights to vehicles named Eleanor -- no matter what they look like.”

It will all come to head in November at a trial. According to Zimmerman, Mrs. Halicki “is pursuing her own Eleanor business venture, partnering with an Oklahoma company to custom build Mustangs resembling the 1967 car from the sequel. It will come in two versions: a 535-horsepower model priced at $139,000 and a 770-horsepower model priced at $189,000.”

Gee, doesn’t that mean Shelby can sue her for copying the style of the 1967 Shelby?

This case gets curiouser and curiouser, don’t it?

Wallace Wyss


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