When the Blues Brothers made their Saturday Night Live debut on April 22, 1978, it was clear immediately that the alter ego characters portrayed by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd on the sketch comedy series were destined for greatness. Several months later, the duo recorded an album with first-rate musicians like Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T. & the MG’s fame, along with Paul Shaffer, Tom Scott and others.
A movie was inevitable and on June 20, 1980, ‘The Blues Brothers’ premiered as a musical comedy. The movie was directed by John Landis of National Lampoon’s Animal House fame, and had guest appearances from such legends as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Cab Calloway and John Lee Hooker.
Blues vocalist and petty criminal “Joliet” Jake Blues is paroled on good behavior from the Joliet Correctional Center after serving three years of a five-year sentence, and is picked up by his blood brother Elwood in a battered and decommissioned police car. Jake asks what happened to the Cadillac, their former Bluesmobile. Elwood explains that he traded it for a microphone. He then tells Jake that he picked the car up at the Mount Prospect city police auction, that it was an old Mount Prospect police car, and that they were practically giving them away. After Jake says that he doesn’t like it, Elwood jumps an open draw bridge.
Afterward Elwood says, “It’s got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant. It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say, it it the new Bluesmobile or what?”
The brothers visit the Roman Catholic orphanage where they were raised, and learn from Sister Mary “the Penguin” Stigmata and old friend Curtis that it will be closed unless $5,000 in property taxes is collected. Jake offers to steal the money, but Sister Mary is offended. During a sermon by Reverend Cleophus James at the Triple Rock Baptist Church, Jake gets a vision to get the band back together, the Blues Brothers, which disbanded while Jake was in prison, and raise the money to save the orphanage.
The car used is a 1974 Dodge Monaco. Dan Aykroyd, co-writer of the film, stated that he chose the 440 Dodge Monaco because he considered it to be the hottest car used by police during the 1970s. In the movie, Elwood (Dan Akyroyd) tells Jake (John Belushi) that the car was an old Mount Prospect police car that he bought from the Mount Prospect police auction. Mount Prospect is a suburb of Chicago where the film is based.
Here is what a 1974 Dodge Monaco Mount Prospect police car looked like.
The car wasn’t actually an old Mount Prospect police car. The Bluesmobile was actually a former California Highway Patrol car.
The Chicago Sun-Times wrote in 2005 that there were 13 Bluesmobiles with 40 stunt drivers; five were used for regular filming. Three had one-gallon gas tanks for safer jumps; one was worked on for months to create the “falling apart” scene at the end. Over 60 retired police cars were purchased, reinforced with safety cages, and, often, patched up to be used again. The Chicago Police participated in some chase scenes, and shut down streets and highways for the movie.
The Lake Street drive (between the elevated subway supports) was actually filmed at over 100 mph, according to director John Landis (in the Sun-Times article). He said that he shot the film with stunt pedestrians so viewers could see that the cars were actually driving fast and not just sped up on film. The Lake Street pileup was aided by pipe ramps installed in the street; the Route 176 pileup was similarly rigged, so the normally-stable police cars would flip over.
Much of the film was shot on location in and around Chicago between July and October 1979, including Joliet Correctional Center in nearby Joliet, Illinois. The first traffic stop was in Park Ridge, Illinois.
The shopping mall car chase was filmed in the real, albeit shuttered, Dixie Square Mall, in Harvey, Illinois. The mall officially closed its doors in November 1978, with J. C. Penney closing in January 1979.
The bridge jump was filmed on an actual drawbridge, the 95th Street bridge over the Calumet River, on the southeast side of Chicago.
The other chase scenes included lower Wacker Drive, Lake Street, and Richard J. Daley Center.
The shot leading up to where the “Illinois Nazis” drive off a freeway ramp, was shot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, near the Hoan Bridge on Interstate 794. The Lake Freeway (North) was a planned but not completed six-lane freeway, and I-794 contained an unfinished ramp off which the Nazis drove. Several Milwaukee skyscrapers are visible in the background as the Bluesmobile flips over, notably the U.S. Bank Center.
The filming in downtown Chicago was conducted on Sundays during the summer of 1979, and much of the downtown was cordoned off from the public. Costs for filming the largest scene in the city’s history totaled $3.5 million. Permission was given after Belushi and Aykroyd offered to donate $50,000 to charity after filming. Although the Bluesmobile was allowed to be driven through the Daley Center lobby, special breakaway panes were temporarily substituted for the normal glass in the building. The speeding car caused $7,650 in damage to 35 granite paver stones and a bronze air grille in the building.
The Big Speaker:
It actuay seems a bit strange to me, but a lot of people that re-create the Bluesmobile like to re-create it with the huge speaker on the roof, even though it only had a small part in the movie.
According to Dan Aykroyd, the horn-shaped loudspeaker atop the Bluesmobile was actually a duplicate of a massive Cold War-era air raid siren installed in the schoolyard at “Our Lady of Annunciation” where Aykroyd attended elementary school while growing up in Ottawa, Canada. The siren was manufactured by a Canadian company called CLM Industries, and Aykroyd specifically requested the same CLM model be used in the movie to portray the loudspeaker on top of the Bluesmobile.
(an actual CLM Industries air raid siren)
The License Plate:
The Illinois license plate reading “BDR 529” is a tribute to the Black Diamond Riders motorcycle club of Toronto, Canada.
What Happened To The Cars After Filming?
The Bluesmobiles were reportedly shipped to California and crushed after filming.
It has been said that Dan Aykroyd received one of the cars from John Landis after filming; it was apparently the one that John Candy (Patrol Officer Burton Mercer) rode into the side of a semi-trailer in the movie (while wearing in Illinois State Police colors). In 1986, Dan Akyroyd allegedly gave this car to his brother-in-law Roy Dixon, who painted it as a Bluesmobile. There isn’t any evidence to support this, and it’s believed that all of the 13 vehicles used to portray the Bluesmobile in the movie are long gone. There have been some replicated for the House of Blues concert halls and restaurants.
Click the photos to enlarge – The Bluesmobiles in still shots are replicas.