When the Car is the Star
In Cars and Cars 2 automobiles are the stars of the show. But they're not the first four-wheelers to command the spotlight. Here is our rundown of the most c(h)arismatic cars and the movies where they made their mark…
When the Car is the Star
1. Goldfinger (1964)
The Aston Martin DB5 became James Bond's ride of choice in 1964 and stayed that way for three decades give or take the odd Lotus Esprit. M’s modifications included bulletproof glass, revolving numberplates, radar, smokescreen, oil slick, machine guns, and of course an ejector seat. Meanwhile, Austin Powers preferred a 1961 Jaguar E-type decked out in the Union Jack.
2. The Love Bug (1968)
Almost certainly the best thing to come out of Germany in 1938, the VW Beetle would survive for sixty years and sell more than 21 million units. It is also the only car to get star billing in the titles of half a dozen movies, mostly under the "character" name, Herbie. (Other cars that made the title: Chitty Chitty Ban Bang; The Lincoln Lawyer; The Yellow Rolls Royce; Gran Torino.)
3. Death Proof (2007)
Although this wasn't a period film, Kurt Russell's Stuntman Mike drives a 1971 Chevy Nova (with the license plate JJZ 109 – which he shares with Steve McQueen in Bullitt) and a 1969 Dodge Charger, a car best known as General Lee in The Dukes of Hazzard TV series, and which also figured in Bullitt and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (it also has a rubber duck on the hood, a nod to Convoy). But cooler than both is the 1970 Dodge Challenger, itself surely hommage to the existential 1970 road movie, Vanishing Point. If you’re on that early 70s trip, you might also take a detour by way of Dennis Weaver’s Plymouth Valiant in Duel (1971) or the GTO driven by Warren Oates in Two-Lane Blacktop (1971).
4. Back to the Future (1985)
The DeLorean DMC-12 remains a grand one-off. Only about 9000 were manufactured before the company went bankrupt in 1982 after John DeLorean was accused of drug smuggling (he was acquitted). With its gull-wing doors this sporty seemed innovative and modern – even more so after Christopher Lloyd’s modifications in the Back to the Future movies. His variation travels through time when it hits 88mph. "Where we’re going, we don’t need roads…"
5. Batman (1966, 1989, 2005)
Adam West drove a 1966 Lincoln Futura Batmobile – its fins very much of its era. Twenty three years later, Michael Keaton got a unique, ergonomic model designed by Anton Furst built on the chassis of an old Chevrolet Impala. The taillights came from a Ferrari, the headlights from a Honda Civic (turned upside down and painted yellow). As for Christian Bale's version, that was designed from scratch over the course of a year and at a cost of several million dollars. The design suggests a military all terrain space tank.
6. The Italian Job (1969, 2004)
The ultimate Mini Cooper movie, especially in its original British incarnation. The US remake had to rely on bulkier BMW Minis of course, which may be why they switched the action to the wide streets of Los Angeles. The other patriotic choice might be Genevieve (1953) with its nostalgic run from London to Brighton… surprisingly though, Kenneth More drives a French 1904 Darracq in that film. I want to give a heads up to the bus in the first Italian Job though: a very handsome Bedford VAL 14, with four steerable wheels in the front.
7. Bullitt (1968)
You could certainly make a case that the movie always cited as the ultimate car chase flick has been overtaken – if not by Death Proof, then by Terminator 2, or The Matrix, The French Connection, or To Live and Die in LA, Gone in Sixty Seconds, sundry Fast and Furious efforts or Ronin (all those yummy Citroens and Peugots). But still, Bullitt was there first, and you know, it had Steve McQueen, which counts for a lot. The car was 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 CID Fastback, and let's not forget those leather driving gloves – an Alan Partridge wet dream.
9. Thelma and Louise (1991)
Few cars have enjoyed a better exit than the 1946 Ford Thunderbird that Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis drive over a cliff at the end of this feminist classic. (Though spare a thought for the 1936 Ford V8 Deluxe Sedan that's riddled with bullets at the climax of Bonnie and Clyde). Director Ridley Scott also deserves credit for the "Spinner", the cool flying car Syd Mead designed specifically for Blade Runner.
The Tucker 48 (or Tucker Torpedo) from Francis Coppola's Tucker… the 1914 Packard that goggles the mind of The Wild Bunch… Mad Max’s Ford Falcon XB GT Interceptor… the Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe that Toad cruises in American Graffiti… the 1974 Dodge Monaco Jake and Elwood dub The Bluesmobile… the Ecto-1 van from Ghostbusters… the Mach 5 invented for Speed Racer… and Tom Cruise's dad’s Porsche in Risky Business.
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