The Munster Mash

Posted October 31, 2018

The Munsters family debuted on TV screens across the nation 54 years ago, in September 1964. Premiering on CBS, it quickly became a top-10 show. And while the characters themselves have become legendary, the cars from the show have also attracted attention.

In only the fourth episode of the 70-episode series, vampire wife Lily purchases a hot rod and a hearse from a used-car dealership. She combines the two into one deadly, custom rod for her husband, the Frankenstein’s-monster-styled Herman. The vehicle was called the Munster Koach. The car was 18 feet in length and cost nearly $20,000 to build back in 1964.

Designer Tom Daniel and customizer George Barris built the Koach on a lengthened 1926 Ford Model T chassis. Barris and his company, Barris Kustom Industries, became known as the premier designer and builder of movie cars, including vehicles from Starsky & Hutch, Knight Rider, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Beverly Hillbillies and even the 1966 Batmobile. However, the Munster Koach was Barris’ first car on television. He had previously designed for private collectors and movie stars, but this was his TV debut.

A second car was added to the Munster’s garage later in the first season, in episode 36 called “Hot Rod Herman.” In the episode, Herman lost the Koach in a drag race. And in response, vampire Grandpa Munster builds the DRAG-U-LA dragster to win the Koach back.

Grandpa built the car around a coffin, similar to the Koach, but he added his own special touches: The driver sat in the rear of the vehicle behind the engine, under a plastic bubble. The radiator was topped with a small golden casket. And the front of DRAG-U-LA was adorned with a marble tombstone, which Grandpa had brought over from “the old country.” The tombstone read "Born 1367, Died ?"

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DRAG-U-LA was also designed and built by Daniel and Barris using a real fiberglass coffin from a funeral home in North Hollywood, California. The coffin buyer, Richard “Korky” Korkes, said in an interview “It was illegal to sell a coffin without a death certificate. So we made a deal with the funeral director, paid in cash, and it was agreed the coffin would be left outside the rear door of the funeral parlor where the Barris crew would collect it after dark.”

DRAG-U-LA wasn’t just a show car. It had the guts to match. It featured a 350 hp, 289 ci Ford Mustang V8, with four-speed transmission. It had two four-barrel carburetors mounted on a Mickey Thompson Ram-Thrust manifold. The rear tires were 10.5-inch Firestone racing slicks, mounted on custom 10-inch Rader aluminum and steel wheels. Each hubcap was decorated with a large silver spider. The front tires were 4-inch Italian tires on Speedsport English buggy wire wheels. To extend the Gothic motif further, Barris installed four Zoomie-style organ pipes on each side of the car in lieu of a standard exhaust pipe, and mounted antique lamps on the front and rear.

The original DRAG-U-LA was kept at a Planet Hollywood restaurant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. When that location closed its doors, the car was moved to the Volo Auto Museum in the town of Volo, Illinois. The museum had the car completely restored in 2011.

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This summer, I got a chance to see former child actor, Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster, along with reproductions of both the Munster Koach and DRAG-U-LA at the 2018 Iola Car Show in Iola, Wisconsin. Patrick spent the day reminiscing about the show and the cars. He recalled driving the Koach around the show set as a youngster. And more recently, he claims to have reenacted the “Hot Rod Herman” episode at drag meets with his car buddies on several occasions. “I still tour around the U.S. But one of the reasons I do so well at these car shows is because everybody likes The Munsters, but they love the hot rods.”

Perhaps no show to date has put as much time and effort in creating custom, one-of-a-kind automobiles as The Munsters did. You certainly won’t find cars like these anywhere else.

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