ST. LOUIS — You may have seen it around town the past couple of weeks. At first glance, the old Impala is outfitted to look like the Ectomobile from the 1984 hit film “Ghostbusters.”
Indeed, that’s how Walt Timpe, 70, entertained people for years with the vehicle at birthday parties, parades and ’80s-themed trivia nights for those still enamored with the classic comedy about the four ghost catchers.
Then came the coronavirus.
Upon a closer look, one can see the ghost inside a red “no” symbol on the car’s side doors has been replaced with a green prickly pathogen.
Timpe, of St. Louis, has more transformation plans: Label the roof’s proton cannons and ghost catchers as sanitizers and disinfectants, change the ECTO-1 license plate to COVI-1 and trade his Ghostbuster coveralls costume for scrubs and a face mask.
His coronamobile has already gotten lots of attention, though, as he drives it around his St. Louis Hills neighborhood and parks it at Francis Park while working part time across the street at St. Gabriel the Archangel church.
“When we are at traffic lights, people give a thumbs-up and are laughing and honking,” Timpe said. “People will slam on their brakes and make a U-turn to get back to it and take pictures. Wherever it is, people will stop and take pictures.”
That’s why he’s creating COVI-1.
Spirits and specters are scary, and so is the coronavirus, Timpe said. Decorating the car is his way to remind people that there are things you can do to stay safe — like washing hands, disinfecting and staying home. And you can still have fun.
“The corona thing is a serious thing, but I kind of wanted to put a little lightheartedness into it,” he said. “It’s supposed to remind you about what you can do and make you smile about what you are supposed to be doing.”
Timpe, a retired truck driver, bought the white 1965 Chevrolet Impala about 15 years ago. It was covered in rust. He rebuilt the motor, put in disc brakes and gave it a new paint job.
He has six cars — each with their own purpose. The pickup is good for the maintenance work he does while the others are good for road trips or grocery shopping. The Impala is all about fun.
“It was old. It was pretty solid, and it made me smile,” said the father of five and grandfather to eight. “1965 was the year I got my driver’s license. Those cars were all over when I was a kid.”
A few years after he bought it, his daughter remarked how the car looked like the one in “Ghostbusters.” It sparked an idea that he has slowly built on, adding a moving spirit-detecting radar, tanks to hold captured ghosts and sirens to the roof. It has a speaker to play the movie’s theme song and a spare battery to run all the lights.
“Over the years, I added more and more, and it became an expensive hobby,” Timpe joked.
His plan is to switch the magnet “no” symbol decals and other details so it can be easily converted between a spirit-booster during a pandemic or a spirit-catcher during a birthday party.
But Timpe got a call this week. A body shop he’s been waiting to get into has an opening. He stripped down the car Wednesday so it can go in for a new paint job, tailgate and other body work.
He’s not sure how long it will take to fix, since the owner is cutting him a deal and plans to work on it in between jobs.
But, be on the lookout. It will be back to cheer people up as Ecto-1 and Covi-1.
He said. “That’s what it’s for.”