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Ode to Eddie Paul

Words & Photos: Paul Garson

Eddie Paul was a true Renaissance man and, though he’s sadly gone now, his unique legacy lives on. Self-educated, he found inspiration from the world around him as well as from his complete library of books about Einstein. He was an adventurer, inventor, innovator, artist, author, gearhead, fabricator, designer, family man and all around great guy. From his huge shop in El Segundo, he built among other things over 300 specialty vehicles and special effects for TV and Hollywood, including cars for the “Fast and Furious” films, hotrods for Stallone and Vin Diesel, giant mechanical White Sharks that swam with Jacques Cousteau and special ops projects for the U.S. military. His was a mind free to imagine all things possible, and matched to hands that could fashion it into reality.

 

Nearly Fatal First Test

The year is 1974. The place: the base of the 100-foot hill overlooking Southern California’s Torrance Beach, a popular hang-glider jumping off point. Eddie Paul is there, just 18. He’s feeling the sun hot enough to melt the wax from Icarus’ feathered wings. Kneeling in the warm sand, he begins assembling his Porta-Wing, a new design in hang gliding that has been criticized by the competition mainly because it was 40-60 pounds lighter, easier to assemble, simpler, produced more lift and sold for less. The plan: one quick test flight, then back to terra firma to catch dinner and a movie. At least, that was the plan.

Five minutes later he had climbed to the crest of Torrance Hill, the ocean far below. Stepping over the edge, a wind gust rocketed him upwards, faster and farther than he thought possible. Within seconds he was looking down from 360 feet, the height of a 36 story building, and with 60 mph gusts battering the hang glider. Then Eddie heard a chilling “snap.”

As he later recalled, “I was about to learn the meaning of terminal velocity.” The sound he heard was the snapping of the cross-spar to which his swing seat was attached. Dumped from the seat, he was free-falling at 120 mph. There was no parachute.

“I was dead, it was just a matter of seconds, and there was no way I was going to get out of this one. All I was asking of God at this point was, for the sake of my family, to not make me look too bad when I hit. I decided landing feet first would at least keep my upper body and head in recognizable shape.”

Several hundred spectators who had gathered to watch the hang gliders later agreed on one point. All could hear the sound of breaking bones as Eddie impacted the ground. Then the hang glider debris landed on top of him. His father, Paul Whitney, somehow scaled the nearby 8-foot chain link fence to get to his son. Pulling away the shattered hang glider, he found Eddie not only awake but also alert and talking.

“There was no pain at all, and I was a little embarrassed at the crowd I had drawn, and even said, ‘You are all wondering why I called you together,’ which drew mixed reactions. At one point, I looked up at my dad and asked, ‘How bad is it?’ and he responded, 'That fall would have killed a human.’”

A short time later while in a hospital x-ray room, Eddie decided to close his eyes for the first time since falling to earth. It would be two weeks before he opened them again. And yes, he had managed to land feet first, and in so doing, he saved his head, but broke his pelvis in over 30 places, ruptured his stomach, spleen, liver, diaphragm and a few other organs in the process. The falling glider struck him in the head, giving him a concussion. He heard several doctors and nurses call him a dead man by night’s end. They were also worried about the insurance coverage. This managed to piss Eddie off to the point that six months later he left the hospital, and six months after that he was back to work at something supposedly safer than testing hang gliders.

Eddie embarked on a 30-year long career as a Hollywood stuntman, beginning in the late 1970s when special effects were really special sans computers. One of his earliest assignments was on the set of a new TV show called “The Dukes of Hazard.” Eventually Eddie would crash about anything that had wheels and also went on to “wrangle” other stuntmen and stuntwomen for dozens of movies, including the 1974 epicrusher “Gone in Sixty Seconds” that featured some 300 car crashes. Eddie was the stunt director and principal stuntman.

His talents extended beyond high impact encounters to encompass designing and building specialty movie cars, including 36 in two weeks for the original “Grease,” special vehicles seen in “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial,” Ponch’s Firebird in “ChiPs,” Stallone’s custom Merc in “Cobra” and Vin Diesel’s ’67 GTO for “Triple X,” as well as all the vehicles in the first “The Fast and Furious.” He was also responsible for the creation of real-life vehicles based on the Disney-Pixar animated movie “Cars.”

 

One of Eddie’s Earliest Celebrity Customs

Back in the ‘70s, when Alice Cooper wanted something on the edgy side for transportation, he called Eddie to outfit his ’57 Chevy with some extra armament to deal with L.A. traffic. Not to worry - they were only replicas.

 

Eddie built “Sly” Stallone’s “Awesome ’50” Merc that appeared in the film “Cobra.”

It took Eddie two weeks to build the car, then two seconds to destroy. Describing the original construction for the movie, Eddie reported, “We added a 10-point full roll cage, Positraction and Linelock brakes so you could do all the burn-outs and skids. Under the hood was a Holley supercharged 350 Chevy.”

The car ended up in spectacular crash stunt. Eddie actually built four of the cars for the movie, Sly keeping one. Eddie picked up the pieces of the one totaled for the movie stunt, then spent two years completely restoring it.

 

Triple X GTO

The other “star” of the 2002 Vin Diesel film “XXX” was a 1967 GTO that boasts some optional equipment, including a trunk full of machineguns. Eddie modified 12 of the cars in 12 weeks, adding remote control electric doors, side-pipes and beefed up suspensions with disc brakes, while the Pontiac engines were transplanted with Chevy small blocks since Bowtie parts were easier to find in Prague, where the film was shot.

He kept one GTO for a daily driver, this one boosted by a Chevy Big Block 502. As a critique of the movie, Eddie diplomatically once offered, “I like anything with cars.”

 

FF Movie Car

In addition to building several of the high performance, star-power cars for the famous movie franchises, he also worked on the Pixel film cartoon cars.

 

Bringing Smiles to Movie Fans

Eddie and fellow builder Brian Hatano “perform” with one of the Pixar cars, bringing the car-toons to life.

 

Mustang Repeat Resto

Readers of the last issue for 1978 of Hot Rod Magazine found a feature following Eddie’s custom build of this 1965 Mustang 2+2. Then the car disappeared for three decades before being rediscovered, and in bad shape. Its new owner decided the only way to go was to ship the car back to Eddie to do the build all over again… and he did just that.

 

Concept Vehicles

Eddie was constantly designing vehicles for both Hollywood and real world applications. For instance, the multi-wheeled planet crawler and the hyper-police Mustang were created by one of Eddie’s computer simulations.

 

Full Mock-up

Eddie came up with a flying car/motorcycle/drone hybrid, this one complete with running lights.

 

Grin and Bear It!

Eddie built three “robosharks,” including two that swam with real Great Whites for the Cousteau TV specials and a 1000-pound version that housed a diver who controlled its movements.

“I have dove with Great White Sharks at night, driven a motorcycle 286 miles without using my hands, and I have changed my daughter’s diaper not once, but twice. So I have to say as far as excitement goes, stunt work is like nothing I have ever done before; it is a thrill second to none.”

Eddie’s output verged on the supernatural. For the follow-up “2 Fast 2 Furious” film he built over 200 custom “tuner” cars in two months. While specialty vehicles were his bread and butter, you could also say they were just the tip of the Magic Mountain. It’s not a far stretch to have described him as “Mad Max Meets DaVinci.” But there was no secret code to decipher. Eddie was, in simplest terms, an inventor; just, rather than doodling around looking for something to invent, he took a different approach.

“Present me with a something you need, and I’ll work it out from there.” Case in point: Eddie’s involvement with sharks, real and otherwise. It seems that a life-size mechanical Great White Shark was requested by the Cousteau people, with whom he would work for seven years. To create a replica shark good enough to fool the real thing, Eddie used fiberglass and Lexan and cast the skin from Skin Flex, a relatively new product, then added micro balloons to help it float.

 

Just When You Thought It was Safe to Go Back into the Pool

During ocean filming, Eddie’s remote controlled 10-foot shark became a snack for a real 20-foot Great White. Eddie “tagged along” during the filming, a skilled underwater diver and photographer who many times had been “up close and personal” with Tigers, Great Whites, Hammerheads, Blues and Oceanic White Tips. He also built other “animatronic” animals, including two-full sized horses for the “Zorro” movie. The life-like horses jumped off a high bridge and landed in water.

 

Underwater Stuntwork was Part of Eddie’s Repertoire

In one diving project, Eddie sustained a broken bone, but he recovered as he had from numerous injuries over the years sustained during his film stuntwork.

 

Eddie’s “jobs” for the military received more than positive reviews.

Eddie had earned a “secret clearance” status with the U.S. Department of Defense. His projects included a deuterium laser he developed to help clear mines in Iraq.

And then there was his prototype 100 lb. “super motor,” an internal combustion engine with only seven moving parts that produced 300 HP. Its “simple is better” design was based on the CEM pump Eddie had developed for use in firefighting and decontamination work - literally a suitcase-sized device that can pump out as much water as a full-sized fire department pumper truck. Hundreds of the devices were sold to fire departments around the world as well as to the DOD, Department of Forestry and others, in the process saving lives and property.

 

“He’s the Go-to Guy!”

Among various TV and film celebrities who hob-knobbed with Eddie was Jay Leno, who has a nice garage of his own full of bikes and cars. This was a passion the two shared; Eddie was also a major motorcyclist.

 

Eddie tests one of the 1920s vintage Indian replica sidecar outfits he built for actor George Clooney’s 2008 “Leatherheads” film. In this case they were electric powered.

Eddie’s company, E.P. Industries, also designed and fabricated a wide assortment of specialty automotive fabrication tools for the Eastwood Co. and a number of other major distributors. In conjunction with his design, developing and prototyping services he worked with such companies as Porsche, Snap-on Tools, Goodyear and 3M, among others. Eddie’s creations also appeared in a wide spectrum of commercials including American Express, Nike, Levi Straus, McDonald’s, Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Coca-Cola, Coors and Budweiser.

A prolific writer, he penned some a small library of “how-to” books and videos that included custom paint and bodywork, building extreme choppers, working with fiberglass and, of course, making movie cars. On the other side of the camera he produced an Internet series, “DeadlineTV,” wherein viewers watched him work on a variety of projects, from customizing cars to explaining the mysteries of metal working.

Eddie focused on a unique perspective for his work, once saying, “I read a lot about inventors and have noticed a common thread among them, and that is that they all tend to ignore critics that constantly barrage them with negatives. Think of where we would be today if Edison, Tesla or Bell had been talked into quitting their wacky ideas and conforming to the status quo.”

His workshop for years was located a few minutes from the L.A. airport in El Segundo, CA, a cavernous 25,000 sq. ft. building that housed a small forest of CNC work stations, plasma-cutters and 3-D digitizing equipment as well as a metal fab and welding shop and plastic and woodworking machines. The only sign out front read “E.P. Industries.” All in all, it qualified as a discreetly run skunkworks.

It may have been back in 1984, while doing stuntwork on the movie “Mask,” starring Cher, that Eddie first heard what would become one of his personal Golden Rules.

“The director, Peter Bogdonavich, had his own style of shooting. This was a one camera shoot, while everyone else was using a whole bunch of cameras to get a single scene. I even asked Peter about why he only used one camera, and his answer was, ‘There is only one perfect angle for each shot. I just find that angle and shoot from there.’ I have never forgotten this. It figures into my approach to all my projects.”

Perhaps an explanation of Eddie’s complex “Mad Max Meets DaVinci” persona was best expressed by a birthday card sent to Eddie by his sister with a note that read, “This explains everything.” The card’s illustration shows a UFO hovering over a house and a baby descending in a beam of light. It echoes the words of his father more than 30 years ago after Eddie and his hang-glider fell to Earth… “The fall would have killed a human.”

You could say Eddie had a habit of bouncing back big time, always taking on new challenges. But in the end, Time did win out. Eddie passed away at age 69 on July 12, 2016, leaving a unique legacy of creativity and vision that, like himself for all who met him, left an indelible impression.