Many movies have cars that we love.  Famous cars with famous actors – it goes together.  Le Mans had a Porsche 917 and a Ferrari 512LM with Steve McQueen doing all of the driving in the 917.  It also had a Porsche 911 Carrera S that went for $1.75 Million dollars at auction last year.  The Ronin remake had Robert De Niro, a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, a BMW M5, and a nitrous-huffing Audi S8.  Vanishing Point had Barry Newman, a 440-powered Dodge Challenger R/T Magnum, and a Jaguar E-Type V12 Convertible.  Well, you get the idea.

While I know that last weekend was Oscars weekend, I still thought that the cars from famous movies deserve a proper recognition.  Enjoy my list.  I have also attached videos of the cars in the movies that they were in.  I hope you enjoy the list and the videos!

  1. 1968 Dodge Charger “Bullitt”:  While it’s a shame that I haven’t seen Bullitt yet (one of these days!), I’ve seen the epic car chase scene on YouTube countless times.  I know.  It’s not the same.  The 1968 Dodge Charger from Bullitt is undeniably one of the most iconic cars ever to be used in a movie.  Anybody, I repeat, ANYBODY, can watch the chase scene and then see a 1968 Charger in real life, and say, “I saw a car that looks similar to that one in Bullitt!”  The two cars that really defined the words “muscle car” tore up the streets of San Francisco for real (no CGI, just a couple of sped-up shots).  Both the Ford Mustang GT with the 390 cubic-inch V8 and the Dodge Charger R/T with the 440 cubic-inch V8 needed some modifications for the chase scene.  Ex race-car builder Max Balchowsky modified both cars for film use.  The Highland Green Mustang needed a TON of mods for the chase scene.  The Charger, however, only needed heavy-duty shocks and springs to cope with the jumps.  Both cars used prototype Firestone tires, but it’s possible to see different width tires multiple times on the Charger.  According to Balchowsky, the Charger with it’s big 375-horsepower 440 cubic-inch V8 outgunned the 325-horse 390 cubic-inch V8 Mustang (pun not intended) so much that it required the stunt driver to slow down the car so that McQueen’s ‘Stang could keep up.  Score for Mopar!  While (spoiler alert!) one of the cars met a fiery demise at the end of the movie and was subsequently scrapped, some say that the other Charger is still around…somewhere.  I’d sure like to think so!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Lbs_nYW3-o
  2. 1955 Chevrolet 150 “American Graffiti”:  Arguably one of the most iconic cars for hot rodding, let alone movies, the 1955 Chevrolet 150 from American Graffiti remains the benchmark for modified ’55 Chevy’s.  Three 1955 Chevrolet 150’s were used for the filming of the movie.  Two of said cars were used in 1971’s Two Lane Blacktop.  Transportation supervisor Henry Travers picked the two cars up from the Universal Studios lot and painted them black.  One car was a fiberglass shell, and it was used to film exterior shots and the actors inside the car.  The other car, the stunt car, was used for the climatic drag race crash.  Travers, who drove the car stunt Chevy for the Paradise Road finale couldn’t roll the car as directed by George Lucas – the car had to be heaved onto it’s roof by the crew.  A third, non-running 1955 Chevy was picked up, spray-painted black, and a fake B-pillar was welded on to resemble to other two cars.  It was burned to film the crash’s aftermath.  The burn car was returned to the junkyard – it would have been impossible to get the car in running condition!  Only the main camera car remains today.  It has traded hands a few times and some dubious modifications have been made to it.  In 2012, it was sold privately to a private buyer who plans to restore the car to it’s original American Graffiti appearance.  Prior to the deal, the buyer apparently barely avoided acquiring his own burn car, built by George Barris.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOgqUHk-zDY
  3. 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 “Ronin”:  While the chase scene from Bullitt deserves lots of ink, the multiple chase scenes from the 1998 remake of Ronin make the leaping American stallions chase scene look about as exciting as a segway tour of Los Angeles.  John Frankenheimer, the same speed junkie who directed the 1966 movie Grand Prix, directed Ronin.  He hired a gaggle of stunt drivers, including F1 champion Jean-Pierre Jarier and sports car champion Jean-Claude Lagniez, and let them loose throwing muscular German sedans around Paris, Monaco, and parts of Souther France at opposite lock drift angles and mind-blowing speeds – on closed-off public roads.  An Audi S8 and BMW rightfully grab a lot of attention in the movie, with Frankenheimer cleverly using right-hand-drive cars with fake left-side steering wheels so that the actors including Robert De Niro and Natascha McElhone could “drive” while one of the Frenchmen terrified them just a couple of feet away.  Not to be outdone are the guys from Mercedes-Benz who sent a 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, arguably the first German muscle car.  Robert De Niro “drives” for a while, while French actor Jean Reno actually drove.  The absolute mayhem begins with a Rockford pulled off in the Benz, and then De Niro and Reno chase down the bad boys who happen to be driving a Peugeot 406.  The Peugeot and and Benz hurtle through the French countryside at speeds well over 100 mph, and then De Niro stands up in the sunroof and blows the 406 to smithereens.  Post-explosion, the 450SEL 6.9 hurtles into the seaside village of Villefranche-sur-Mer, an outskirt of Monaco, where a good half of the movie was filmed, where it hurtles through tiny city streets trashing market stalls and cafe tables in search of whatever is locked inside of that mysterious locked case everybody wants.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMaG5WAmHvY
  4. 1980 Lamborghini Countach “The Cannonball Run”:  If you can, keep your eyes ON the car, not IN the car!  It sounds easy, but Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau are inside.  When Hal Needham and Brock Yates (arguably one of the most iconic auto journalists ever) thought up the plot for The Cannonball Run, a highly fictionalized version of the illegal cross-country Cannonball Run races of the 1970s, they knew that only one car could keep a teenager’s eyes off of Buckman and Barbeau – a 1980 Lamborghini Countach.  The entire opening sequence of the movie focuses entirely on the Countach.  The V12 shrieks up and down through the gearbox, and the two ladies stopping just long enough paint an “X” across a 55 mph speed limit sign before the car screams off onto the American prairie highway again.  The car taunts a police cruiser by coming up extremely close in the rear view mirror, pulling alongside, and then disappearing into the horizon.  No wonder this movie, which Yates himself calls “a pretty lousy picture!” grossed more than $72 million dollars – in the U.S. alone!  Of course, Burt Reynolds and Victor Prinzim are the official stars of the movie with their fake ambulance, but don’t tell that to any teenage boy who saw the movie in the 1980’s.  After filming, the car was used by Hawaiian Tropic as a promotional vehicle for 28 years.  Then, a private collector in Florida bought the car in 2009, and restored the car to factory condition.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh9L6LrpmTQ
  5. 1970 Porsche 911S “Le Mans”:  Most of Le Mans focuses on a frenzy of screaming prototypes, howling sports cars, furious air wrenches, and cheering crowds of adoring fans.  Not for the opening sequence, though.  Before reaching the Le Mans circuit, McQueen’s character, troubled racer Michael Delaney, gently pushes his 911S across the French countryside and a quiet village.  Soon, he will strap into a howling Porsche 917 for 24 hours of 240+ mph battle against a Ferrari 512LM.  But, for now, it’s just the man and his steed.  The Slate Gray 911S stands out in it’s timeless, understated elegance.  Kind of like McQueen himself.  It’s no wonder that he took the machine back with him to California to join his rapidly growing sports car and motorcycle collection.  Since he owned a nearly identical 1969 model, the 1970 911S was soon sold to a Los Angeles-based attorney who kept the car hidden away for the better part of 30 years.  The car changed hands two more times before going up for auction at RM Auctions Monterey, where it fetched a tidy $1.375 Million dollars, the most EVER paid for a 911 at auction.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JlyQsWXrqA
  6. 1966 Jaguar XKE V12 Convertible “Vanishing Point”:  Most people my age today probably wouldn’t understand the tagline from Vanishing Point: “Tighten your seatbelt.  You never had a trip like this before.”  But in 1971, the phrase fell on plenty of knowing ears and cars.  Enter Barry Newman as Kowalski, Congressional Medal of Honor Winner, ex-cop, ex-istentialist, as well as ex-race-driver.  His mission is the stuff of any Hollywood movie legend, or any car buff’s legend – drive the car from Denver to San Francisco in record time.  Hollywood being Hollywood, Kowalski encounters everything from rattlesnakes to sun-hardened old-timers, pre-“Bette Davis Eyes” Kim Carnes music, and deranged religious prophets.  But, his most memorable meeting was against a goggles-wearing, giggling desert rat hell-bent on some hoonage in his Jaguar XK-E V12 Convertible.  Said Jag driver literally begs for it – he even bangs his car into the Challenger to get Kowalski’s attention.  Since this is Hollywood, Kowalski takes the bait.  Big time.  It’s wire rims against mag wheels, Dover Sole versus Alaska Salmon, tea cakes versus beefcake.  A one-lane bridge looms ahead.  Kowalski gives the big 440 full throttle, fender swipes the Jag, and the Jag flies off the road in a splendid, um, horrifying fashion.  After several barrel rolls and a gigantic drop, the Jag ends up on it’s side in a mud-caked riverbed.  Since the driver of the Jag was a stunt driver, he’s OK.  Kowalski gives him a quick check, and is back on his way.  I can’t say the same for the Jag – it ended up as a total write-off.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBTup5WH0a0
  7. 1963 Apollo 3500 GT Thorndyke Special “The Love Bug”:  When was the last time you saw The Love Bug?  It’s a cute movie, and the support vehicles are, well, spectacular.  In any given racing scene, cute little Herbie the Love Bug is surrounded by all sorts of cars you’d expect to see at a period SCCA road race, from Triumph TR6’s to Shelby Cobra’s to MG TC’s.  The most memorable supporting vehicle is the black and yellow car driven by that crook Peter Thorndyke in the final El Dorado race.  Thorndyke drives everything from a Jaguar E-Type to a Ferrari 250GT (a replica car that long ago disappeared) Tour de France on his way to campaigning the Thorndyke Special.  The Thorndyke Special is, for all of it’s Italian looks, is an Apollo 3500GT.  It may have Italian styling, but it was made in Oakland California.  The Apollo cars started life in Italy, where the bodies and chassis’ were made by Intermeccanica.  They would then be shipped to Oakland, where the engines and transmissions would be installed.  Most of the engines were 350 cubic-inch Buick V8’s mated to either a Muncie M-22 “Rock Crusher” transmission or a Buick three-speed automatic.  42 cars were built between 1962 and 1964, when the company ran out of money and closed.  Max Balchowsky specifically modified two cars for the movie with their well-known paint scheme.  At least one car still exists today, with the restoration in Toronto, Canada started many years ago.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCmUQo2r33g
  8. 1969 Lamborghini Muira “The Italian Job (1969)”:  For us car lovers, the opening scene of the 1969 The Italian Job starring legendary British actor Michael Caine is beautiful and haunting.  An orange 1969 Lamborghini Muira P400 is making its way through the beautiful Swiss Alps with the actor Rossano Brazzi behind the wheel, cigarette dangling like they are in commercials.  He’s wearing driving gloves, a perfect suit, and designer sunglasses.  Matt Monro crooning “On Days Like These” accompanies the scream of the 3.9-liter V12 of the Muira.  What could go wrong?  Everything, as the Muira enters the tunnel at high speed, and comes out crumpled in the bucket of an earth mover at the other end.  A roadblock set up by the bad guys takes the blame.  And, the once-raging Muira is dropped over 100 feet into a river.  Was the orange Lambo actually destroyed?  Yes and no.  Two Muira’s were used for the scene.  The running and driving one was not wrecked, as it was a press car for Lamborghini; that honor goes to a crash-damaged frame of a Muira with new bodywork and no engine.  Rumor has it that when the crew came down to the river the next morning, not a single piece of the wrecked Muira was to be found.  Creepy.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQIRbV_noi8
  9. 1964.5 Ford Mustang GT Convertible “Goldfinger”:  While the Aston Martin DB5 seems to get all of the credit (rightfully so – it’s AWESOME!), the first Ford Mustang ever in a movie co-starred with the Brit.  Tilly Masterson’s gold 1964.5 Ford Mustang GT Convertible was a preproduction model, and was run off of a Swiss mountain after Bond’s tire slicing hubcap sticks out.  Ford REALLY wanted the Mustang to be part of Goldfinger, and had originally specified for a fastback to be used in the film.  Unfortunately, the fastback Mustang would start production too late in 1964 for filming purposes.  Ultimately, the Goldfinger Mustang fastback was built with special gold metallic paint, and it featured a roof panel with 007-inspired switches.  It was used as a promotional vehicle for both Bond and Ford for many years, and it still survives in private ownership.  As for the Mustang GT Convertible used in the film, it is believed but unknown by either Ford or anybody that it was sold after the film and repainted and currently with somebody.  Who that somebody is beats Ford and everybody else.  I’d sure like to know.  Other Ford vehicles were used in Goldfinger:  A 1957 Ford Thunderbird was used by Secret Service agents, a 1964 Lincoln Continental was driven to the junkyard and crushed by Oddjob, Goldfinger’s lethal assistant, and a 1964 Ford Ranchero was used for Oddjob to drive away from the junkyard with the crushed Continental in the bed.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLuNstLjP1c
  10. 1967 Ford Mustang GT500 “Gone in 60 Seconds”:  The menacing-looking 1967 silver-grey Ford Mustang GT500 from the 2005 remake of Gone in 60 Seconds is a 1967 Ford Mustang GT Fastback.  It has body panels and GT500 badges to make it look like a GT500.  It had a hopped-up 390 cubic-inch V8 made up to perform and sound like the 428 cubic inch Cobra Jet V8 found in the GT500.  Three cars were made for filming, and one was scrapped.  The other two survive in private ownership.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMv-X0tG2KQ

10 thoughts on “The Top Movie/TV Show Cars

  1. Glad to see, from the length of this article, that you’re feeling better, and in your vernacular, are up to speed. Good to see you back in action and on the track.

    1. The MINI Coopers from the the Italian Job were really cool! I have seen the new ad for Jaguar. I don’t know about you being bad, but you certainly drive a Jag. I think the Jag is bad!

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