Crime-Fighting Beauty

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The 1960s cult classic TV series The Green Hornet may be responsible for the success of Bruce Lee’s career stateside, but the show also spawned a passionate following of a different kind: fans of the masked vigilante’s Black Beauty, a weapons-enhanced 1966 Chrysler Imperial.

Darren Monteverde first spotted the famed vehicle in 1992, when he caught a re-run of the show.

“Bruce Lee is one of my heroes,” Monteverde says. “I’ve basically wanted the car ever since.”

So, he started the search for a 1966 Chrysler Imperial and in January of 2003, he found the perfect vehicle, which had been sitting idle in the previous owner’s backyard for 15 years. Monteverde, an auto service industry consultant, bought it for $6,000.

Putting it mildly, the car wasn’t in top condition. With the help of a friend, who happened to be a mechanic with experience in building “star cars,” Monteverde began with a hefty mechanical and structural restoration. But after two years, Monteverde still wasn’t satisfied with the accuracy of the vehicle.

To help, he brought in Larry Bushwalter, owner of Extra Care Auto in San Bruno, Calif., and a former production studio union member who had recently finished another Black Beauty for the Bruce Lee Museum in Hong Kong. Monteverde serves as a consultant for Bushwalter’s shop.

SECOND TIME AROUND: After two restorations totalling $60,000, Darren Monteverde had his own Black Beauty, faux cannons and all. Photo courtesy Darren Monteverde

For the next phase of the restoration, Bushwalter and his staff first took the adapters off the wheels and drilled them to the correct bolt pattern. Next, they worked on the car’s most interesting feature: its faux weapons. They remade the rear oil cannon, revamped the rocket doors, and redesigned the rotating license plate. Bushwalter drew upon his background in movie props and special effects to fabricate all of the parts by hand. He was also able to source the rotating headlights and infer-green paint color from England, using the same ones the original customizer used to build the car for the TV show.

One of the only parts of the car Bushwalter didn’t have to touch was the original 440ci stock engine that turns out 350 horsepower. The original jet-black paint job was also spotless, though Bushwalter did repaint the trim and fender skirts to match.

After a year in Bushwalter’s hands, the restoration was finally complete. Over the course of the two restorations, Monteverde invested more than $60,000 in the work, including paying Bushwalter’s team for the labor.

“I’m really happy with it,” Monteverde says. “The most important part is to get it as accurate as I would like it to be. I told Larry what I wanted the car to look like, and he was able to pull it off.”

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