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It turns out it wasn’t just the defense that was wrong, as Marisa Tomei so famously recites as spitfire car expert Mona Lisa Vito in “My Cousin Vinny.”
Vito is renowned in the movie world for her automotive knowledge (“my father was a mechanic, his father was a mechanic…”), but it turns out, one of her statements on the witness stand — the one that arguably clinched Tomei’s Oscar win — wasn’t entirely accurate.
In speaking with TheWrap for the 25th anniversary of the classic courtroom comedy, which also starred Joe Pesci, screenwriter Dale Launer explained that there were three cars made in the 1960s, not two, as Lisa says, that actually had independent rear suspension.
If you’re already as confused as Judge Haller was in the movie, let’s back up. Near the end of the film, defense lawyer Vinny Gambini (Pesci) is questioning his fiancée (Tomei) on the stand. He shows her an evidence photo of tire tracks, and she goes on to explain to the judge and jury that the car driven by the defense could not be the one that made the tracks shown in the photo. Here’s a chunk of Lisa’s testimony from the movie:
“When the left tire mark goes up on the curb and the right tire mark stays flat and even? Well, the ’64 Skylark had a solid rear axle, so when the left tire would go up on the curb, the right tire would tilt out and ride along its edge. But that didn’t happen here. The tire mark stayed flat and even. This car had an independent rear suspension. Now, in the ’60s, there were only two other cars made in America that had positraction, and independent rear suspension, and enough power to make these marks. One was the Corvette, which could never be confused with the Buick Skylark. The other had the same body length, height, width, weight, wheel base, and wheel track as the ’64 Skylark, and that was the 1963 Pontiac Tempest.”
But wait! There was a third car that could’ve made those marks! According to Launer, the third car was the Chevy Corvair.
“I thought, ‘Well, no one’s really going to know that,'” Launer told TheWrap about the script change. “I can think of one person I personally know who would know that. Oddly enough, I had not seen him since high school, and I saw him at the premiere. He said [laughs], ‘You know, there were actually three cars with independent rear suspension.'”
Launer said all of Lisa’s automotive expertise came straight from his own head.
“There was no research whatsoever. That’s what I would call misspent youth,” he said, explaining, “When I was in high school, there was a time I could give you the weight, engine displacement, horsepower options and suspension description of every car sold in America.”
There you have it. Case closed.