The Omega Man: Charlton Heston’s Safari Jacket and Ford Convertibles

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Vitals

Charlton Heston as Colonel Robert Neville, MD, former military scientist and resourceful survivor

Los Angeles, August 1977

Film: The Omega Man
Release Date: August 1, 1971
Director: Boris Sagal
Costumers: Margo Baxley & Bucky Rous
Tailor: Albert Mariani

Background

As #CarWeek continues, let’s check out the pair of Ford convertibles that a safari-clad Colonel Robert Neville commandeers as one of the last men in the world at the heart of The Omega Man, released 50 years ago in the summer of 1971.

“Nothing to live for but his memories,” describes Jonathan Matthias (Anthony Zerbe), the leader of The Family, a luddite cult of nocturnal mutants that attack Neville on a nightly basis.

More than two years after Neville administered an experimental vaccine to immunize himself against a deadly virus overtaking the Earth, Neville has expanded beyond memories to find some relative pleasure in cars, guns, music, and movies, driving around an abandoned City of Angels in open-top Fords that allow him to quickly perch and take aim at members of The Family, entertained by an instrumental of “A Summer Place” (rather than the Sinatra 8-track we see him pop in) or catching reruns of a Woodstock documentary at the local cineplex.

That’s all by day, of course. By night, Neville returns in his latest ride to his fortified apartment—well-stocked in supplies, artillery, and booze—to defend himself against the perils one might expect of a solitary life in a city seemingly inhabited only by angry cultists.

What’d He Wear?

What would you wear if you were one of the last people in the world?

As Bond Suits comprehensively detailed in a recent article, safari clothing—even when far from the jungle—was at its most fashionable for men during this period, from the late 1960s through the early ’80s. Had the world still been inhabited in the 1977 of The Omega Man, Colonel Neville would have hardly been out of place in his safari-inspired kit, even amidst the freeways and skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles.

Form fortunately intersected with function in this instance, as our urban adventurer benefits from the utilitarian aspects of his safari jacket, from the quartet of bellows pockets to the easy movement allowed from the inverted box-pleat on the back.

Made from a lightweight khaki gabardine, the four-button safari jacket is detailed in a military tradition that would have been familiar to Colonel Neville, including the buttoned-down shoulder straps (epaulettes) that add some structure to the shoulders and the four neatly arranged pockets, all with inverted box pleats and rectangular flaps that close through a single button. The jacket also has a revere collar and horizontal yoke across the chest that align with the top of each upper pocket flap and are positioned just above the top button. The set-in sleeves are finished with two-button cuffs, similar to a shirt, and the back is split with a single vent.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Robert Neville, dressed for an urban safari.

Neville loads up a russet brown leather utility belt, worn over the outside of his safari jacket for quick access when in danger and buckled through a squared gold-finished single-prong buckle. On the right side of the belt, Neville carries his M1911A1 service pistol in a flapped holster with a scabbard for his combat knife just behind it. On the left side, he holsters one of the long magazines for his Smith & Wesson M76 submachine gun with his silver flashlight rigged in a long loop just behind it.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Supplies in hand, Neville treks in search of a replacement Ford.

Neville layers the safari jacket over a casual shirt with the sporty curved “Cooper collar”, so named for its early 20th century associations with Gary Cooper but alternately known as the “Hollywood collar” as some of Coop’s cinematic colleagues also worked to popularize the look. Made from a red and white woven cloth that finishes with a rosy pink semi-solid appearance, the shirt buttons up a plain “French placket” front that—due to the nature of the Cooper collar—stops short a few inches below the neck. When he removes the safari jacket at home, we also see the shirt’s low-slung breast pocket and that he has the long sleeves rolled up over his elbows.

Neville also channels his military experience into his eyewear, peering from behind the windshield in a pair of timeless gold-framed aviator sunglasses with dark lenses. These appear to be the same shades Neville wore with his Army uniform in flashbacks to two years prior, which would make sense given that Bausch & Lomb had originally developed their now-iconic Ray-Ban Aviator frames in the 1930s for U.S. Army Air Corps pilots.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Neville’s full-fitting flat front trousers are a shade of tan twill that coordinates with while contrasting against the lighter safari jacket. Like other pieces of his wardrobe, they’re aligned with prevailing fashions of the ’70s with Western-inspired details like the pointed ranch-style belt loops and slanted “frogmouth” front pockets with a short slit where it meets the side. There are two patch pockets on the back, and the bottoms are plain-hemmed.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Did Heston have a no-shirt clause in his contract?

Through those fancy belt loops, Neville wears a brown coated leather belt with a large, rounded gold-finished single-prong buckle. The belt leather coordinates with his shoes, which appear to be a pair of brown leather cap-toe derbies, though much of them are covered by the full break of his trouser bottoms.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Robert Neville may be “the Omega man”, but that appellation applies only to his survivorship and not necessarily the brand of his all-gold watch. That said, Neville’s likely military-informed practice of wearing the dial on the inside of his wrist makes it harder to identify the exact brand, though we do catch some glances as he works the lock of his fortified apartment after returning home from a full day of battling The Family.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

The Guns

As he’s played by Charlton Heston, there’s little surprise in seeing Robert Neville armed to the proverbial teeth whether at home or in his car. (Of course, the former Army colonel would also have some reasonable experience with and access to a variety of firearms.)

In addition to the likely Army-issued M1911A1 pistol he carries on the right side of his belt, Neville’s choice for urban warfare against The Family is the fast-firing Smith & Wesson M76 submachine gun, often wielded from his perch atop the driver’s seat of his convertibles.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

One suspects the Family would have to pry Neville’s Smith & Wesson M76 from his cold, dead hands.

According to IMFDB, The Omega Man marked the Smith & Wesson M76’s premiere appearance in a major production. The weapon had only been developed four years prior in response to the Swedish arms embargo that prevented importation of the Carl Gustaf m/45, which had found favor among Navy SEALs for its ability to be effectively fired shortly after emerging from water. (Neville may have appreciated this aspect during the final gunfight… if only he hadn’t been armed with an MP40 instead!)

Once this Swedish “K-rifle” was no longer an option, the U.S. Navy tapped Smith & Wesson in the spring of 1966 to produce a copy that could be used by the SEALs in Vietnam. Based on the stated importance of the weapon, Smith & Wesson fast-tracked production and had a battle-ready in just nine months… but Navy interest had all but evaporated, resulting in only limited combat use before production ended in 1974.

Like its reliable Swedish predecessor, the blowback-operated M76 fired 9x19mm Parabellum ammunition, fed from a 36-round box magazine and fired at a rate of over 600 rounds per minute when in fully automatic mode.

The Cars

We meet Robert Neville behind the wheel of a bright red 1970 Ford XL convertible, a trim option for the Ford Galaxie identifiable by the chrome “XL” at the center point of the hood.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

That’s one way of taking out the trash.

In 1959, Ford introduced the Galaxie, so named to cash in on the growing excitement around the Space Race. The sporty “XL” trim was introduced for 1962, reportedly standing in for “Xtra Lively” as the Galaxie was already part of Ford’s full-size lineup.

A decade after the Galaxie was introduced, the world was changing now that Americans had landed on the moon—almost immediately extinguishing Space Race interest—and the automotive muscle era was reaching its height with the last stand of the great muscle cars. 1970 would be the final year for the Ford XL, which had already dropped the “Galaxie” prefix for three years. (The Galaxie itself wouldn’t last much longer, with Ford retiring the marque after the 1974 model year.)

The ’70 XL could be powered by three different V8 engine sizes—351, 390, or 429 cubic inches—all mated to Ford’s three-speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission, while a three-speed manual was also an option for only the 351 or 390. (According to Automobile Catalog, one of my favorite resources.) We see that Neville’s XL has a column-mounted shifter, suggesting an automatic transmission, which wouldn’t narrow down the options. Neville’s XL is also devoid of any indicative badging that could help us narrow it down, but I’m incline to believe we see Heston behind the wheel of a 351 cubic-inch V8, still a plenty powerful mill from this apex of the automotive muscle era.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

1970 Ford XL Convertible

Body Style: 2-door convertible

Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)

Engine: 351 ci (5.8 L) Ford Windsor V8 with Motorcraft 2-barrel carburetor

Power: 250 hp (186.5 kW; 254 PS) @ 4600 RPM (SAE)

Torque: 355 lb·ft (482 N·m) @ 2600 RPM

Transmission: 3-speed Crusie-O-Matic automatic

Wheelbase: 121 inches (3073 mm)

Length: 216 inches (5486 mm)

Width: 79.7 inches (2024 mm)

Height: 53.8 inches (1367 mm)

After Neville crashes the XL, he treks to a dealership—abandoned, of course—and helps himself to a baby blue 1970 Ford Mustang… another convertible, of course. (Based on Ford’s color codes for 1970, this may be the shade known as “Dresden blue”.)

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Who says it’s hard to find good parking in L.A.?

One of the most famous and recognizable cars int he world, Ford’s venerable Mustang needs little introduction. After that iconic first pony car rolled off the production line in April 1964, the first-generation Mustang had evolved through a series of redesigns before emerging for 1969 as a beefed-up competitor against its fellow straight-outta-Detroit muscle.

Two single-barrel carburetor straight-six engine options were still available for the 1970 model year, but the focus was on V8 performance from the two-barrel 302 and 351 cubic-inch engines to the four-barrel 302 Boss and 351 Cleveland up to the beastly 428 Cobra Jet or 429 Boss, depending on how much horsepower the driver could handle.

We can likely rule out some of the higher performance options, and an IMCDB user suggested that “if this had a 351, it would have a badge on each fender,” only noting the Sport Wheel Covers from the Mach 1 as any indicator. Again, given what we know, I propose that Neville’s Mustang is a base model V8, powered by a small-block 302 and mated to the same Cruise-O-Matic transmission.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

1970 Ford Mustang

Body Style: 2-door convertible

Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)

Engine: 302 ci (4.9 L) Ford Windsor V8 with Motorcraft 2-barrel carburetor

Power: 220 hp (164 kW; 223 PS) @ 4600 RPM (SAE)

Torque: 300 lb·ft (407 N·m) @ 2600 RPM

Transmission: 3-speed Crusie-O-Matic automatic

Wheelbase: 108 inches (2743 mm)

Length: 187.4 inches (4760 mm)

Width: 71.3 inches (1811 mm)

Height: 51.3 inches (1303 mm)

What to Imbibe

Robert Neville keeps a fully stocked bar at home, likely liberated from two years’ worth of abandoned liquor stores. Despite the collection, he gravitates almost exclusively to his bottles of blended Scotch, such as the Cutty Sark he swigs straight from the bottle upon returning home before pouring himself a dram over ice.

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Named for the Scottish clipper ship that adorns the recognizable yellow label, Cutty Sark is a relatively new brand against the prolific heritage of many Scotch whiskies. The brand was introduced in 1923, not even a half-century old by the time Neville drowned his lonely sorrows in it during The Omega Man.

How to Get the Look

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in The Omega Man (1971)

Once a respected U.S. Army scientist, Colonel Robert Neville incorporates his military past into his survivalist attire as he’s initially presented in The Omega Man, the khaki safari jacket, loaded gun belt, and aviators creating a martial appearance with the pink open-neck shirt delivering a reminder that we’re seeing a civilian on his own mission.

  • Khaki gabardine four-button safari jacket with revere collar, shoulder straps/epaulettes, four inverted box-pleat bellows pockets (with rectangular single-button flaps), 2-button cuffs, and inverted box-pleat back with single vent
  • Pink semi-solid long-sleeved sport shirt with curved “Cooper” collar, plain/French front, and breast pocket
  • Tan twill flat front trousers with pointed ranch-style belt loops, slanted frogmouth front pockets, patch back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Brown leather belt with curved gold single-prong buckle
  • Brown leather cap-toe derby shoes
  • Russet brown leather utility belt with tapered strap through a squared gold single-prong buckle
  • Gold-framed aviator sunglasses
  • Gold wristwatch with gold dial on gold bracelet

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

While looking for information about Neville’s safari jacket, I came across a marvelous review at the blog Alex on Film, which doles out some deserved criticism toward The Omega Man while also highlighting an aspect that caught my attention as well:

As so often in cases of the apocalypse, one envies the survivors, at least a bit. Humanity has had a good cull, leaving Neville tearing about L.A. in his choice of sports cars, cracking wise to himself, and hiding out at night in a mansion powered by an electric generator. Not perhaps the most obvious (or safest) place to hole up in the event of a zombie apocalypse, but it’s stylish in an early ’70s Playboy-pad kind of way. With Lisa by his side, I can imagine Neville comfortably spending the rest of his days lounging about in a monogrammed housecoat, smoking a pipe and reading military histories in between domestic chores.

The Quote

There’s never a cop around when you need one.

One comment

  1. Alex Good

    Thanks for the link! Your analysis is remarkably thorough. Do you do many SF posts? I’m thinking the futuristic styles of Logan’s Run or whatever Sean Connery was wearing in Zardoz would be fun, though maybe not of as much use in dressing for work.

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