June 7, 1999
Art Rasmussen Design & Fabrication in Woodinville is working to restore Michael Armstrong's Wehrmacht staff car to better-than-original condition.
by Marshall Haley, staff reporter
Michael Armstrong of Bothell saw the ad in Car and Driver when he lived in England. The native Brit answered the ad at Classic Cars of Coventry, a shop in Leicestershire, England, that specializes in restoring classic Jaguars to original condition.
They had been hired in 1980 by film corporation E.M.I. to make two copies of a 1936 Mercedes Type 320 Wehrmacht (Nazi) staff car, for use in Stephen Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark. One they got back after the movie, the other one E.M.I. kept.
"I actually went to buy another car, but he (owner Craig Hinton) talked me into buying it," said Armstrong.
What does he plan to do with the Raiders car? "I'm just gonna drive it around. I want a usable street and highway car for summertime. I might drive it to California, where I might be able to rent it to Hollywood studios. Maybe I can recover some of the restoration costs that way."
Before Armstrong could drive the Mercedes/Jaguar, it needed a lot of structural work, which was done by Art Rasmussen Design & Fabrication in Woodinville. Rasmussen and his crew have been busy converting the frame and running gear from the original 1960 Jaguar MK IX design to accomodate a Chevrolet 350 engine and transmission, a Mustang II front suspension, and a Camaro rear axle. Armstrong, an auto mechanic himself, will install the engine and transmission and will rewire the car. Old Jaguar parts prices are so prohibitive, he opted for the "Americanization."
"This car was basically a movie prop," said Rasmussen. "It was put together in about 10 days, because shops don't have much time once they get word that a movie production has received studio approval to start filming. They didn't put a lot of work into the running gear, because it only needed to go straight ahead. If you've seen the movie, you might remember that the car was only used on straightaways in the Tunisian desert. Movie cars are almost always what we call '50-foot' cars. They look good from 50 feet, but if you get too close, you see the flaws.
"When we got the car, it had some rust in the body. We're moving the motor mounts and brackets, putting in new brake lines, new suspension, and redrilling the axles to match the stock Jag wheels, which are narrow 16-inchers. It will still have the Mercedes hubcaps and body. But a Mercedes that was originally designed to go 35 miles-per-hour will now be able to go 70 on the freeway. A classic car that's not driveable is just a sculpture."
Will Armstrong paint the car candy apple red or canary yellow?
"I want to keep it as close to its movie condition as possible, especially if I rent it out," said Armstrong. "They would probably expect a car of that period and model to be black."
Rasmussen's shop has customized cars for people all over the country, including one for actor Eddie Murphy.