Packard® Motor Car
Providing for the Future
Movie "Johnny Dark" scenes filmed at Proving Grounds.
Universal International studios leased the Packard Proving Grounds to film scenes for the 1954 released movie, "Johnny Dark" starring Tony Curtis, Piper Laurie, and Dan Taylor. Thanks to Geoff Hacker of ForgottenFiberglass.com for letting us know about the film and for loaning us original still photos from his collection.
The story includes some new "Fielding Motors" automobiles being tested at the company's testing facility (actually The Packard Proving Grounds). The studio needed some cars made up that would represent new "Fieldings." The car they chose to use was a modified Aero Willys sedan. It was not as well known to viewers as other makes in 1954 and it was hoped it would not be recognized for what it was. The major changes were a different front grille, hood ornament, and some trim on the trunk lid. In the opening scene below, two of these cars are on the test track racing past the Timing Stand. It is interesting that Packard must have insisted on some "Product Placement" in the lease terms, since a new Packard is seen parked to the left by the gasoline pumps area.
In this same scene, below, the two cars are seen racing around the track, passing one of the original "Timing Balls" used for stop-watch timing.
The cars are filmed, below, being driven through the Packard water test area; famous for splashy Packard photos down through the years.
The filming continues in the Packard back-forty with a shot in the dirt area that gives us a good look at the modified grille design.
In close-up scenes by the Timing Stand, below, the sharp-eyed observer notices a mountain range in the distance. There are no mountain ranges in the distance at the Packard Proving Grounds. Closer observation shows that there is no glass in the Timing Stand windows, and the boards on the sides are single boards, not shingles as found on the original.
The studio still-photo below tells the story. They went to the trouble of building an exact replica of the Timing Stand in California, but without the top structure. Filming crews were careful to avoid showing the top in the California-filmed scenes, but it was much more convenient to shoot the scenes, as needed, with actors based in California. Note eucalyptus trees and mountain range in background.
The car in the above photo needs some explaining. It is a Woodill Wildfire, a fiberglass-bodied car made in California, with Willys running gear. These cars are, in their own right, quite collectible these days and a number have survived. In the movie, Fielding Motors creates this car in their secret experimental department, to use, and hopefully, win in local racing. In the photo below, from a Woodill Wildfire catalog, Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie are shown with one of the Wildfires used in the film.
The press-release photo below shows a casual scene during the shooting of the movie with the Woodill Wildfire set up as a race car, one of the converted Aero Willys in the background, and a variety of contemporary cars here and there. (Last 3 photos courtesy of Geoff Hacker.)
In the movie, one of the "Fielding" cars is filmed at the Packard Proving Grounds racing along, and supposedly crashes into a tree. The next scene, below, spliced in, was obviously staged and shot in California; mountains in the background tell the story.
Crews and actors went on location to the Willys plant in Toledo, Ohio for scenes that required authentic car-production facilities. The scene below shows workers leaving at the end of the day from the "Fielding Motors" plant. Note the Aero Willys driving by and what appears to be a 1948 or 49 Oldsmobile 98 sedan parked on the street.
We close this page with the scene, below, showing the Timing Stand at the Packard Proving Grounds with one of the converted Aero Willys. The Packard Proving Grounds lives on in many ways. The film is not in release for home video and only bits and pieces are found online.
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