For appearing in one episode of a 50-year-old television show, Grampa Munster’s Dragula has gone on to inspire a disproportionate following, both before and after Rob Zombie sang his paean to the coffin-bodied dragster. Now it appears the original has risen from the dead to head to auction along with several other automotive-related pieces of Hollywood history.
One of dozens, if not hundreds, of prop vehicles that emerged from George Barris’s North Hollywood shop, the Dragula – built specifically for a May 1965 episode of the Munsters that tried to glom onto the rising popularity of drag racing – originated with a Tom Daniel design and an actual coffin. As the story goes, Richard “Korky” Korkes, then working for Barris, convinced a North Hollywood funeral home director to sell the fiberglass coffin to him – paid in cash and left outside of the funeral home’s back door at night – even though it was illegal to sell a coffin without a death certificate.
Korkes, Dick Dean, and other Barris employees then proceeded to place the coffin atop a tube-steel front-engine dragster chassis powered by a Ford 289-cu.in. V-8 topped by a Mickey Thompson dual-quad intake. Over the cutout in the lid of the coffin the Barris crew then fitted a plexiglass bubbletop and added a number of ghoulish touches, from the headstone and the spider-topped carriage lamps to the zoomies reminiscent of a pipe organ.
After that episode aired, the Dragula then returned to Barris’s shop, where it was modified for the 1966 movie “Munsters, Go Home!” Specifically, the Barris crew removed the bubbletop and installed a rollbar so Herman Munster actor Fred Gwynne could fit into it.
The Dragula eventually made its way to Jerome Bornstein’s Chicago Historical Antique Automobile Museum, which went defunct in the mid- to late Eighties, and after that to the Planet Hollywood in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where it hung from the ceiling, engineless, collecting dust for a decade or so.
Plenty of replicas – possibly including one or two that traveled the drag strip circuit in the Sixties for exhibition races – exist, among them a batch that Dick and Keith Dean built to replicate the original bubbletop version and a homebuilt replica that John Masters of East Canton, Ohio, built from measurements and photos of the original taken when it hung in the Planet Hollywood.
Curiously, Rob Zombie didn’t use the original or any of the replicas in his “Dragula” video, instead opting for a Munsters Koach.
According to Profiles in History, the Dragula going up for auction in September is the car that appeared on screen, though it currently wears some replacement items and its Ford V-8 is not installed. Its pre-auction estimate ranges from $80,000 to $120,000.
Along with the Dragula, Profiles in History will auction off the moon buggy from the 1971 James Bond movie “Diamonds Are Forever,” one of the futuristic cars from the 1973 Woody Allen movie “Sleeper,” the Clampett truck from the 1993 “Beverly Hillbillies” movie, the 1968 Dodge Charger from the 1998 Marvel film “Blade,” and a number of motorcycles, including the Lawmaster from the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie “Judge Dredd” and the sidecar-equipped BMW from the 1989 movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
The Profiles in History Icons and Legends of Hollywood auction will take place September 25-26. For more information, visit ProfilesInHistory.com.