BLUES BROTHERS ON A MISSION
Classic American|January 2021
We couldn’t let the year-end (technically this issue goes on sale mid-December!) without celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Blues Brothers, because it’s not every day you get to drive a Dodge Monaco through a shopping mall…
Mike Renaut

You might be wondering why we’ve parked an old police car inside a shopping centre. If so, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the cult 1980 musical comedy movie The Blues Brothers for any of this to make sense. Dan Aykroyd wrote the script and plays Elwood Blues, who with brother Jake (John Belushi) needs to raise $5000 to pay the annual taxes on the orphanage where they grew up. So they reassemble their estranged rhythm and blues band for a concert and in the process upset two police forces, some cowboys and even the Illinois Nazi party.

Throughout the film, Elwood drives The Bluesmobile, a six-year-old 1974 Dodge Monaco police car that’s retired from service. Early on, when the Illinois State police are chasing the Bluesmobile, Elwood escapes by driving right through the centre of a crowded shopping mall with two 1977 Dodge Royal Monaco cop cars close behind. Hence, why we really wanted to take our Bluesmobile shopping.

In the opening scenes, Elwood upsets Jake by collecting him on the day of his release from prison in the police car. Elwood explains he had to swap their previous Bluesmobile, a black 1968 Cadillac Fleetwood, for a microphone. The Monaco was ‘a bargain’ from a Mount Prospect City Police auction. Elwood paid $800 for the Dodge, and he’s no fool; the Bluesmobile is a 440cu in V8 car with uprated police suspension and, being a pre-catalytic converter car, faster than the newer police Dodges. He’s beating them at their own game.

In reality, the Mount Prospect police used mainly 360cu in V8 Monacos, not requiring the extra power of the 440 engine, but they were indeed painted black and white. Chrysler offered the A38 police packages on several of their Dodge and Plymouth models, generally including forged engine internals with baffled oil pan, uprated camshaft and stiffer valve springs, high-flow exhaust manifolds and a dual-snorkel air cleaner. While a civilian 440 Monaco had about 230bhp, the cop cars were closer to 275bhp. They didn’t build many. For 1974, the total for Monaco Specials – which is police and taxi models combined – was just 4874 and all were V8s. The build figure for 1977 Royal Monaco police sedans was 2206.

Cop motor, cop shocks

Dan Aykroyd recalled in interviews that they bought 70 recently decommissioned 1975-1977 Monaco police cars for $400-$700 each, and another 13 or so 1974 Monacos to portray the Bluesmobile. Five Bluesmobiles were camera rigged for filming Jake and Elwood driving about, two were built specifically for high-speed driving, while another three had one-gallon fuel tanks and were used for jumps. These jump cars were 440-powered, virtually all the others were 360cu in small-blocks. Snow tyres helped some cars to slide, although at least one had separate rear brakes controlled from the passenger side for the 180-degree spin to park outside the restaurant. Finally, another was rigged to fall apart with the pull of a lever. That car alone took several months to construct.

The cops helped by supplying authentic police decals for the chase cars. Some Dodges were reinforced with steel cages and the production ran a 24-hour body shop on Chicago’s Near West Side repairing cars for re-use. At the end of filming most of what was left was destroyed at a local wrecking yard, although at least one genuine Bluesmobile has survived. The mall chase was filmed at the 800,000sq ft Harvey Dixie Square Mall in Chicago. Opened in 1966, it had recently been closed down so the film crew created 32 fake storefronts and filled them with several million dollars’ worth of borrowed goods. They paid $12,500 for the rights to film inside, then supplied their own vehicles along with 700 brand new ones from local dealerships, to make the parking lot outside look busy. The building was torn down in 2013.

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