Introduction: Building Christine (with Lights and Sound!)

About: Web developer by day. Gamer by night. Halloween fanatic and DIYer, all the time! My projects tend to combine pop culture, technology, and craftsmanship to produce something that's fun, unique, and more than l…

This Halloween we themed our party around Stephen King's stories and we decided that a full size Plymouth Fury from "Christine" would make a great focal point. The easy road might involve contacting a classic car club and renting a vehicle (to have parked) for a few hours, but that's certainly not in the DIY spirit! You could probably also try the junkyard route, looking for something close, and mod it from there (remains of the original Furys from the late 50s are apparently very hard to find), but that sounded expensive and unwieldy. If you hang around my instructables enough, you'll see that I believe there's almost nothing you can't build with pink rigid foam insulation panels, so this was no exception.

Later in the instructable I'll show you two ways to bring Christine to life, one using an Arduino with other components and one using an off-the-shelf controller. In the end, Christine was an amazing prop people immediately recognized. Be sure to check out the video above to see it in action!

Step 1: Getting a Good Reference

I started working on the project about 6 weeks before Halloween. The first step was finding some good reference photos. I was tempted to buy a scale model to aid getting dimensions, but I found some great reference photos and drawings online:

I printed out several of those, picked a reference dimension (I chose the tire diameter), measured the drawing size versus approximate actual size, and determined my scale factor. It turned out to be approximately 1/29. So, I used calipers to measure various features as I went along and multiplied those by 29 to get my real size.

I decided that I only really needed the front end of the car. I'd make it appear as though it was crashing through the wall, and I'd skew it an an angle to make the display more interesting. All this also helps it occupy less construction space, as well as less party space.

Step 2: Starting the Business End

I knew I was going to spent most of my time on the front face of the car since it's pretty iconic, and it'd be fairly scary if I got it right. The key with building a prop/decoration like this is simplifying some contours where you can get away with it, while getting enough details right so it looks authentic. The '58 Fury has some nice curves, but actually is close to flat in areas once you start to break it down.

I cut a starting piece of 1/2" foam for the main front face and located the headlights. Next I used two other thicknesses of foam (1" and 1.5") to build up the lower grill and bumper support areas. Everything was sanded, glued together, primed with white latex, and then sprayed with multiple coats of gloss red paint. Always make sure to thoroughly coat extruded polystyrene foam like this with water-based paint before spraying with a solvent-based paint. Between the priming and spray coats I blended some of the edges and smoothed other imperfections with latex caulk.

Step 3: Framing the Front

Before adding any more detail to the front I made a simple frame from 1x2 lumber. This frame was smaller than the front width to account for additional frame pieces to come later. It was glued to the back side and then screwed from the front using fender washers to keep the screws from sinking through the foam. These screws on the front will be covered by bumper and grill pieces coming up next.

Step 4: Adding Shiny Bits

Next I moved on to the front bumper and headlight bezel which were all mostly chrome.

The bumper was formed from more pieces of 1" and 1.5" thick foam. I used Bondo body filler to blend the areas with the curviest transition. The bumper took a lot of sanding, but it would be worth it to have some of those flowing lines from the 50s. The pieces were primed with grey latex and then masked off and painted chrome from a rattle can. The end result was even better than I expected with a pretty believable appearance of metal.

Step 5: Adding the Grill

After experimenting with random bits around my workshop I found I could piece together a convincing grill with wooden dowels and plastic strips from a home improvement store (for capping a sliding doorway or something). The dowels were glued down the center of the plastic strips, everything was painted chrome, and then black was painted on the strip on either side of the dowel. Several of there were cut to length, lined up next to each other, and glued to the front face with liquid nails.

For the smaller vertical bars in the grill I cut notches in some drinking straws (to fit over the dowels), painted them chrome, and glued them in place.

Step 6: More Framing

Additional 1x2 and 1x3 framing was added to lay the foundation for the sides and the hood. This took a fair amount of planning to get the lines right and account for the layers of foam to come. This structure doesn't have to support much weight so it is pretty minimal.

Next, I needed some framing to hold the whole thing off the ground at an appropriate height. A sturdy L-shaped support of 2x4's was constructed and screwed to other 2x2 pieces I added supporting the center. This stand section is heavy relative to everything else, so it keeps everything nice and stable. The lower pieces were painted flat black to avoid them being noticed.

I added a board in the center to hold the electronics and speakers and a shelf which would hold a fog machine. I also attached a piece of PVC pipe to the underside of the fogger shelf to support the tire on that side.

Step 7: Adding the Headlights

Next it was time to add the headlights. Early on I had decided on using outdoor floodlight bulbs - the outdoor variety have a heavier duty, headlamp appearance - and I'd use either compact florescent or LED bulbs so they would maintain a safe temperature next to the materials of the prop. CF bulbs are a lot cheaper but don't usually have much ability to dim, so I eventually decided to step up to dimmable LED bulbs.

I had 4 basic light bulb bases laying around the workshop that would work well, so I mounted them in pairs on pieces of 1x4, which in turn were mounted to the framing behind the front face. I needed to drill out a good size hole for each fixture in the board to clear its hookup terminals.

Typical Caution: This is running off AC mains (120v) where care is always needed. The light fixtures I've shown are mounted differently than intended and also certainly aren't outdoor safe. If you're not completely comfortable with line voltage, you could probably make a great display with low voltage LEDs.

I wired the lights together and tested them with a temporary plug and knew instantly this decoration was going to rock!

In the end you can wire the all the lights together, all independently, or the inner two together and the outer two together (for low beams and brights) depending on your automation later.

Step 8: Adding the Sides, Plus a Tire

Next I moved on to the side panels. The sides were mainly made from 1" foam, but the bumper wraps around to a large protrusion and that took layering up several pieces and a lot of sanding to create. Once the bumper side pieces were roughly shaped, I used Bondo to smooth out the biggest transitions and again sanded everything a whole bunch more. Then primer and paint, as usual.

Since my Christine would be emerging at an angle, only one tire would be seen. I thought about using a real tire here, but I opted to create a fake, super lightweight one anyway. After a couple well-sanded pieces of foam I had a basic sidewall and wheel. I added dimensional foam letters from a craft store to brand the tire with "Castle Rock Tire" (a nod to Stephen King, of course) and "Undead Tread", since Christine never dies. To give the tire thickness I used a piece of coarse foam intended for house gutters, wrapped it around the inside and glued it down. It worked surprisingly well for such an unexpected material. On the back/inside of the tire I coated the foam with some extra resin to add some strength and screwed a bottle cap to it (the resin keeps the short screw from tearing out of the foam). The cap fits over the piece of PVC pipe to hold the tire. (Yeah, the cap isn't in the center, but it's just where the pipe would line up).

Lastly for each side I added a strip of foam painted chrome and white for that classic 50's detail.

Step 9: The Hood and Other Details

The sides of the hood were built up with a couple layers of foam. A build up was done here so the corners could eventually be well rounded off. Two layers built things up to be even with the front edge above the headlights.

Next, the hood (center piece) was cut, rounded in front, sanded, painted and glued down.

Once the hood was down, the last pieces to go on were the sides which overhang the headlights, along with some extra pieces added for carving in some transition curves. I should repeat...there's a lot of sanding to this project!

One last detail was a Plymouth Fury grill ornament, which I of course carved from pink foam, primed, and painted gold.

Step 10: Breathing Life Into Christine: Arduino Method

I could certainly display Christine with the lights on constantly and some fog running on a timer and it'd be pretty cool, but to really make this come alive I wanted to tie the lights to changing engine sounds. The movie "Christine" conveniently opens with a full minute of the car revving and then idling with no other sound or music, and so I created an mp3 from that to use for the prop. To take it a step further I could trigger the sound and lights using a motion sensor, so from a distance it'd look like a dead car crashed through a wall, then upon approach...wham, lights, fog, and engine noise!

In all, I used these components:

  • PIR sensor from Radio Shack
  • Solid State 4 Relay board
  • a small breadboard
  • a terminal block
  • and a plastic storage case as a project box

The music shield handles playing the mp3(s) from a micro SD card and sends the audio to a line out jack which I connected to a set of computer speakers. That shield occupies a large chunk of the arduino pins, but the Mega gives you additional I/O pins (including 5V and ground pins) to handle the rest of the circuit.

The PIR was mounted to a breadboard along with an LED to display its state (for testing). Basically it detects changes in IR (it's tuned for body heat) in its field of view. There are lots of great tutorials for these sensors online, so I won't go into the hookup details, but it's pretty straightforward - power it with 5 volts and watch its output pin for HIGH/LOW. You may have to run longer wires to the PIR so it can be positioned and angled (underneath the prop) to detect people as desired.

The terminal block provided hookups between the relays and the lights and the fog machine trigger. The instructable "Control A Fog Machine With Your Microcontroller" by Jeff Haas ( is an excellent detailed description of how to use the trigger input found on most fog machines. Essentially it's just a matter or switching (closing with the relay) two of the three wires in the trigger cord. Once again, this side of things is AC line voltage so take care!

I've included a text file of one of my Arduino programs. It keeps one set of lights (the low-beams) on all the time. When the PIR detects motion, the other set of lights come on and the fog starts along with the a revving engine noise. After playing the engine rev, the fog is switched off when the motion stops, and there's a cool down period while the brights are turned off again. There are a ton of possibilities here, so have fun orchestrating something!

Step 11: Method 2: Off-the-shelf Controller

In case you're not into programming your own microcontroller, you can still sequence lights and sound by using a commercial controller. It'll likely cost more, but you can get something up and running in no time. One such controller I've used is the PicoFX unit from Fright Ideas: I don't have any affiliation with them; this is just another option for those not inclined to DIY microcontrollers.

WIth the PicoFX you can simply load an mp3 on a SD card (in this case the full engine rev and idle sound bite) and then automate 1 or 2 dimmers by recording a sequence of knob turns in real time. After recording, it'll just keep looping the mp3 and dimmers as programmed. The video I included actually shows a PicoFX recording in action rather than my Arduino board. The dimming effect is great if you coordinate it with the engine revving sound as to simulate the old alternators in cars. There's even a trigger input on the PicoFX if you want to setup an "ambient" loop with the engine idling, then a different "trigger" sequence with the revving sound - just like our Arduino design!

It's always great to know more than one solution to a problem depending on your budget, time, and expertise.

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