QOTD: Why Would They Do That? Weird Movie-Car Mods

“The Incredible Shrinking Woman” is a Lily Tomlin movie released most of forty years ago in February 1981. Having learnt of its existence, I had to see for myself whether the reports are true. And the answer, obvious within the first few minutes, is yes; it’s dangerously cheesy. As there would clearly be no higher merits, I adopted the curbivore’s version of I-only-read-it-for-the-articles and settled in to spot cars.

Early on, a white ’78-’79 Chev Monte Carlo belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Main Character made a brief frontal appearance in the background. Something about its headlamps seemed a little off (believe it or don’t, I tend to notice such things). Later the car appeared again, still inconsequentially, but this time in the foreground—that’s the pic you see above; click for larger. Yep, thought so: someone removed the original large rectangular sealed beams and installed small rectangular H4 lamps—whaddya mean you can’t tell what brand? Take a look; they’re obviously Cibié units! Like, duh!—carefully centred in the original location.

Um…what? Why?

The white Monte Carlo was an incidental anymobile. It barely had a cameo role, and could have just as easily been a Volaré or a Fairmont or an Eagle or pretty much anything else. So this was not a modification intended to alter the car in some way relevant to the film. Not like the Wagon Queen Family Truckster’s oct-headlamp system installed for outlandish comic effect in 1983’s “National Lampoon’s Vacation”…

…or the, um, the, uh, the modified station wagons from 1980’s “The Apple”:

Those cars, notably their lights, were clearly modified for purposes of LOOKIT MEEE in their respective movies. That’s not so with the Monte Carlo (or any of the other cars) in TISW, so why?

The only explanations I could come up with are far-fetched from pretty damn deep into the world of vehicle lighting minutiæ: the 2-per-side small rectangular headlamps, 165mm wide × 100mm tall (about 6.5″ × 4″) were first permitted on 1 January 1974, but the 1-per-side large rectangular lamps, 200mm wide × 142mm tall (about 8″ × 5.5″) weren’t allowed until 1 November 1976. Okeh, well, was the movie filmed somewhere in Europe? If so, it’s (barely) plausible that an early-production ’78 Monte Carlo could have been exported before European-type headlamps were available in the new large rectangular size. And Cibié supplied most of the headlamps GM put on European exports of US cars. And exactly this headlamp swap, small in place of large, was factory-done on certain YJ (’87-’95) Jeep Wranglers sent to Europe. But nope, IMDB quashes that idea; the movie was filmed in California.

So maybe the car belonged to some Californian with such a rabid preference for European headlamps that they did this bodge-job rather than wait for large rectangular H4 conversion lamps to sneak their way into the United States? No, that really can’t be it, either. A movie released in early ’81 would’ve been filmed in ’79-’80, when the roads and car lots were awash in ’78-’79 Monte Carlos—no need to pluck some headlamp-fixated owner’s modified unit or accept a not-quite-stock example for a picture car. And besides, the California Highway Patrol took a dim view of nonstandard headlamps at that time; such a car would’ve been a ticket magnet.

So as far as technically-based explanations, I got nothin’ that’ll hold any water or weight. I’m left to guess that The Incredible Shrinking Headlamps were a quiet little contextual joke, an easter egg waiting to be found four decades later by one of the approximately three people in the world who might ever notice and care enough to pick at the thread.

Alright, your turn: what have you seen in the way of unexplained modifications to cars incidentally appearing in movies? While you’re thinking about it, here’s a clearer pic of one of the very-not-incidental Boogelow wagons in “The Apple”: