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Once Upon a Lust: The Cars of Storybrooke

We've done a few "famous cars" posts before -- James Garner's Firebird(s) on The Rockford Files, among others -- but how about some not-so-famous cars? You know the ones, the automotive equivalents of Star Trek's 'Redshirts', anonymous Security personnel who frequently end up dying horrible deaths so the main stars won't have to. Actually, a better analogy might be Hot Ad Girls, "unknown actresses or models. . .in various television commercials" who grace our TV screens, largely anonymously, offering up everything from cellular phone service to credit cards (a truly addictive, and largely SFW, site even if your hormones don't run in that particular direction). Oh sure, we all know about the Batmobile, or the Munsters Coach, both of Once-Upon-a-Time-Posterwhich had near-starring roles of their own. But what about all of those background cars, only ever seen cruising in the background or in some anonymous taxi garb dropping a character off before driving away, or even the true automotive equivalent of the Redshirts: those that show up on-set only to be gloriously wrecked? Who would even notice such things?

Well, dweebs who write about mostly forgotten and anonymous cars, that's who. Well, and the fan-geeks who follow certain shows with near-religious fervor.

And in keeping with that tradition, I present to you a truly odd and interesting collection of cars from the ABC show Once Upon a Time. "Huh?" I hear you thinking, "What could a show about fairy tale characters possibly have to do with cars?" Well, not much really, but when one writes about odd collections of cars for an avocation one tends to notice such things. I'm not sure why I noticed these in particular, but the show seems to have a lot of different -- and usually older -- cars in the background, most of which are more or less typical Car Lust-type cars. Maybe the producers designed it that way for some internal storyline reason (which is what I suspect, so keep reading) or maybe I'm just imagining things. At any rate, I'd like to take some time to have a look at some of them and let you, gentle readers, decide for yourselves whether I'm blowing smoke or am really on to something.

I should note that I'm not the only one to notice this; I've done some minor searching and found it commented on tangentially in various show-related fora, but probably not to this extent.

First, for those unacquainted with the show, a bit of background, courtesy of Wikipedia (edited somewhat for brevity):

The series takes place in the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, in which the residents are actually characters from various fairy tales that were transported to the "real world" town and robbed of their real memories by the Evil Queen, Regina, using a powerful curse obtained from Rumplestiltskin. The residents of Storybrooke have lived an unchanging existence for 28 years, unaware of their own lack of aging. The town's only hope lies with a bail bondswoman, Emma Swan, the daughter of Snow White  and Prince Charming, who was transported from the fairy tale world before she could be cursed. As such, she is the only person who can break the curse and restore the characters' lost memories, aided by her son, Henry, with whom she has recently reunited (after giving him up for adoption upon his birth), and his book of fairy tales that holds the key to ending the curse.

Each episode focuses on a character backstory. One segment details the character's past life that, when serialized, adds a piece to the puzzle about the primary and/or secondary characters and their connection to the events that preceded the curse and its consequences. The other, set in the present day, follows a similar pattern with a different outcome but also offers similar insights. In addition, another storyline follows the results of what had happened after the curse took place and after it was broken by Emma.

So the main portion of the show takes place in a somewhat modern-day American town where one would expect to find a collection of mostly modern-day cars running around. But you don't. What you find is a rather eclectic assortment of makes and models that seems to be weighted to the 1980s and early 1990s with a few older and younger cars thrown in. This may be explained by the fact that the fairy-tale characters came into our world 'round about 1983, but I think one would still expect the bulk of the model years to be more recent simply because people don't normally hang onto their cars for 25+ years. And there are quite a few older ones as well. A host of questions follows from this, which I shall leave to the end of this somewhat OCD-inspired essay.

What follows are some examples drawn from the ever-helpful pages of The Internet Movie Cars Database pages for Once Upon a Time.

We'll start with Emma who shows up in town driving what, according to IMCDB, is a 1972 Super Beetle:

What an odd car for a late-20-something street-smart woman to be driving. It remains an outlier for me, although its presence is explained at one point: she stole a car that was handy and for various emotional reasons -- having to do with the late-20-something male owner she stole it from -- hung onto it through thick and thin thereafter. Then again, it sort of begs the question of what a late-20-something guy was doing with a 1972 Super Beetle.

Next, we have what is listed as a 1985 Saab 9000CC:


We here at Car Lust are well-acquainted with 1980s Saabs, so this one's presence is sure not to escape our notice. Frankly, not being much of a Saab fan, I just noted it and moved on (I don't even remember what character was driving it); probably a good thing since the photograph shows how it met its end in true Redshirt fashion.

In the background to this shot:

is a 1981 Mercury Grand Marquis, also a car beloved of Car Lust in all its various forms. Since we've covered this car, and many like it, extensively here, that one jumped out at me.The Grand Marquis was ultimately derived from the Mercury Monterey, and this one is from near the end of its first generation as a Grand Marquis.

Next up, a 1987 Golf II:

We haven't waded too much into Golf/Rabbit territory here, except for one outstanding homage to the GTI Mk. I and one of its descendants. I have a couple of posts in mind for this thing, once I finally get around to working something up about them, but this one stuck out to me like a sore thumb.

Still another Car Lust favorite, the Jeep Wagoneer:


Hard to tell the exact year on this one (IMCDB doesn't say), but it seems to be another late 1980s or up to 1991 model, wonderfully highlighted here at Car Lust. In yet another odd pairing, this Wagoneer belongs to Snow White/Mary Margaret, an otherwise mild-mannered school teacher in the show. On the other hand, as Snow White she's kind of an outdoorsy swashbuckler, so perhaps this vehicle was chosen for her character to highlight that perhaps she hadn't altogether forgotten her fairy-tale life?

Another car sure to warm the heart of Car Lusters everywhere is this one:

Can it possibly be that we've never covered the Allante? Strange as that may seem, I can only find a couple of side references to it in a couple of open threads. Once again, it's from the late 1980s to early 1990s, so it fits into the overall time frame again, and was another model that leapt off the screen at me. The other one in the background -- behind the Beetle -- is hard to make out, but looks to me like a 1980s Toyota Tercel or maybe a Mazda 323?

So far we've been stuck in the 1980s and early 1990s, but some earlier ones do make an appearance:

That is listed as a 1973 Ford F-series pickup. That is the right time frame although I can't say whether it's definitely a '73 or not. A couple of other older pickups make an appearance including a 1969 and a 1981 Chevrolet K-series. Another one that jumped out at me was this one:


Described as a 1970 Buick Electra (or possibly a LeSabre; check the comments at IMCDB). This one has also escaped our notice, but my family once owned a related Buick Wildcat so at some future date a post on that will eventually appear.

Finally, one of my favorites:


Sadly, this almost literal Redshirt came to an unfortunate end: a 1975 Camaro which I have argued is one of the nicest-looking cars ever made. Not surprisingly, this vehicle belongs to Ruby who is Red Riding Hood in fairy tale land. This was an excellent choice for the character, IMO, not only for the red color, but Ruby is something of a rebel with an inordinate (though very welcome, IMO) fondness for high heels, hot pants, and corsets. They've apparently put some thought into the cars other characters drive as well: Regina/The Evil Queen drives a Mercedes SL (1980s vintage again), and Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin apparently has a 1990-1992 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham d'Elegance (screen-cap here).

I should admit before I continue that, while I watch the show regularly, I'm not obsessive about it, apart from taking a couple of hours out to write this little essay; for obsessiveness I follow this one.



I spent a little time trolling around various fan sites and fora to get some trivia and background, but other than that I figure the comments stand a fair chance of degenerating into numerous long-winded treatises analyzing every minute aspect of the show by altogether far too interested fans. And maybe drilling down into the cars as well. Be that as it may, I shall now offer my humble musings on the possible significance of the automotive aspects of the Once Upon a Time world. 

First, we have to remember who the creators of this show are, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, both alumni of Lost, another show that was rich in symbolism and seemingly trivial details that may (or may not) mean something. So the years of these cars -- heck, maybe even the specific makes and models -- may mean something. . . .or maybe not.

As I noted above, the time the characters apparently entered our world was around 1983. None of them age, btw, and don't really seem to be aware of the passage of time, with the exceptions of the aforementioned Regina and Mr. Gold who created the curse that sent all of them here, and Henry. While it is clear (or is it?) that the story takes place in the present, there are clues spread throughout that they do, in fact, inhabit a time warp. For example, note the Tron lunchbox Henry is holding:

That is probably also a nod from Kitsis and Horowitz, who wrote the 2010 movie Tron: Legacy. Other items strewn throughout seem to suggest the place has a dated feel to it: old (1980s) comic books, record players, dial telephones, older computers, etc. (see here for more). On the other hand, there are some vehicles in town dating to at least the early 2000s, and some going much farther back in time, so one can't really say they were totally stuck in the 1980s or that the town itself didn't exist until 1983 either. How'd the newer cars get there anyway? Someone from outside had to have delivered them to a dealership, ya? So why'd they stop in 2002 or thereabouts?

I suppose the most obvious explanation is that, much like the people, the cars (and everything else) don't really wear out so the only time they need replacing is when there's an accident or something. That would account for the glut of vehicles from the mid-late 1980s and fewer newer models: newer ones would only be needed when one of the earlier ones was damaged beyond repair. Then again, they don't seem to have a yen for obtaining the newest models either, so one must further assume there is some sort of 'bubble' around the town cutting them off from television, radio, etc. Might be they just keep fixing their old rides because they're not really aware that newer models exist (despite the fact that later ones keep popping up).

Just imagine that, fellow Car Lusters: A world where your Quattro, your Saab 900, your Fiero, or your glorious 928 just never gets old and you're not tempted by the latest Japanese super-coupe! That might be, dare I say, magical?

On the other hand, the series is filmed up in British Columbia where, much like the northwest in general, automobiles age rather well, so maybe those are the cars just sitting around town and we're all making something out of nothing.

Or maybe. . . .that's just what they want us to think!

All photos come from the Once Upon a Time page, except for the top graphic and Henry's Tron lunchbox which are found in numerous locations.


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There's one more Golf/Rabbit post on Car Lust ( ). That one got me a paid trip to the West Coast.

My wife loves this show. She goes out of her way to watch it. But even interesting cars couldn't get me to tune in every week.

Well, you should anyway. Score points for some quality time with the Spousal Unit and do some carspotting to boot!

I'm loving The Americans on FX - lots of malaisey goodness.

@Jeff: "The Americans" does a phenominal job of re-creating period detail. So far, I haven't seen a vehicle in the show that doesn't belong in 1981. I may try to do a post on the show if I can find enough screenshots.

In the pilot episode, the fact that the KGB deep cover agents drive a '77 Olds Ninety Eight was what puts the FBI agent onto them. Car Lust meets Tom Clancy!

Regarding the sixth pic, yes, appears to be a 3rd gen Tercel (87-90) behind the beetle.

Allante assembly line:

This post makes me wanna write about this specimen, focal point of just one episode of a series that I almost never watch, except that one that I caught by chance:

"Car Lust meets Tom Clancy!"


You're right, they do a phenomenal job - not a single car, even in the deep background is newer than 1981. I've tried to pick 'em out and haven't found one yet. Of course, I may have missed it - the show is so good you just get swept away in the story.

As soon as I wrote that, I found one - the K-car the security guard was driving in last night's episode. It's an '84 or newer by the grill and corner lights, not an 81-83. Busted!

First year for the Saab 9000 was 1986, so I highly doubt that's a 1985 model.

Also, the wheels are not original. They're from the Griffin edition, which was available in ... I want to say it was 1991, as a 1992 model, and only as a sedan. Only 400 of them (the car, not the wheel) were made. (I had Griffin rims on my 1991 9000 Turbo. Fun fact: I got the last NOS Griffin wheel left in the WORLD after a tire shop bent one of mine and had to replace it.)

The car is obviously a first gen 5-door. It has the optional decor panel on the hatch, bridging the gap between the taillights. This was only available for a couple years (can't remember which ones) but it looks irrelevant in this case - it doesn't appear to have been applied when the car was new. It's aged more than the tail lights.

Looks like it got an Erebuni body kit at some point ... I think it's an Erebuni, at least. It's definitely not stock, though.

Looks like it's probably a 9000 or 9000S, too. The exhaust looks too small to be a Turbo.

I am a background performer on Once Upon A Time and my car has been used many times. The producers try to secure vehicles from the '80s and early '90s, especially those models which remained virtually the same for many years. For example my car, a '92 Dynasty looks the same as it did when introduced in '88.

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