If you’re going to build a time machine…
The man who dreamt up the Pontiac GTO muscle car, the Pontiac Firebird, Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevrolet Vega, and the Chevrolet Chevelle in 1973 went on to establish possibly the most infamous car company in the world. Why include the less than impressive Chevrolet Chevelle? Well, that’s the car Ryan Gosling teased through the streets of L.A. in Drive. And the connection with Marty McFly? The Chevelle was the last car John Z. DeLorean, father of the DeLorean DMC-12, created before leaving Chevrolet. The iconic, stainless steel, door-stopping time machine from Back to the Future was built in Dunmurry, near Belfast.
The DeLorean made the grade as a time machine because it looked most like a spaceship. It was picked to replace a laser-driven refrigerator in the first draft of the screenplay, which the director swapped when he decided he didn’t want to encourage kids to climb into fridges. The rest is movie history.
Licence to thrill
The DeLorean often battles for the top spot as most iconic Hollywood car with James Bond’s DB5. The sultry Silver Birch Aston Martin has a mysterious history of its own. Holding 13 minutes screen time in 1964’s classic Bond film, Goldfinger, was enough to catapult the ejector-seated spymobile to the top of everyone’s want list. One criminal wanted it so much, in fact, that in 1997 they spirited the original DB5, stuffed with movie spy gadgets, from an aircraft hanger in Boca Raton. Never to be seen again, the insurance company forked out a casino-busting $4.2 million to the owner.
Nevertheless, The DB5 is a recurring prop in the franchise, but not always without a glitch. During the filming of a high-speed chase in Goldeneye, between Brosnan’s Bond in the DB and Famke Janssen’s Onatopp in a car borrowed from Ferrari, they crashed. Both cars sustained thousands of Euro in damage. It’s believed Ferrari agreed to pay for the damage to their car if Onatopp won the race. The rest is Bond history.
Bond racks up a serious number of iconic Hollywood cars. You can take your pick from the submersible Lotus Esprit S1 in the Spy Who Loves Me, the bridge defying Ford Mustang Mach 1 in Diamonds are Forever, Toyota 2000GT Roadster in You Only Love Twice, or the Lotus Esprit Turbo in For Your Eyes Only. George Lazenby got to drive the Mercury Cougar XR-7 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with BMWs taking staring roles in The World is Not Enough (BMW Z8) and Tomorrow Never Dies (BMW 750iL). The Astons put in appearances in The Living Daylights (ice-breaking Aston Martin V8 Vantage), DBS V12 in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and DB10 in Spectre.
The DBS V12 took a spill into Lake Garda on its way to the Casino Royale set. Driving one of five duplicate cars, a technician from the Aston Martin skidded off the road, piled through an iron railing and into the Italian lake. The £134,000 car was written off, but the driver, thankfully, made it to shore. Shaken, but not stirred.
Ten minutes and fifty-three seconds
That’s how long Frank Bullitt's (Steve McQueen's) 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback battled the 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum through the streets of San Francisco in the exhilarating Bullitt. During the chase, the cars – and camera cars - hit over 110 mph. It took three weeks to shoot, and Steve McQueen shared driving duties with stuntman, Bud Ekins. McQueen hoped to drive the whole chase himself, but after a crash, his wife, Neile Adams convinced Yates to use Ekins for at least some of the driving. You can tell when McQueen’s behind the wheel because the rearview mirror is positioned to reflect his face.
One of two Mustangs used was destroyed during production, and a Warner Brothers employee picked up the other one. Finding it languishing in New Jersey a few years later, Steve McQueen offered to buy it, but was refused.
All make and models
There are plenty of street cars that make the list of classic movie cars proving one doesn’t need to be iconic to become an iconic movie car. There are of course the Austin Mk1 Mini Cooper S’s driven by the Self Preservation Society boys in the Italian Job. Planes, Trains and Automobiles had John Candy chauffer Steve Martin in a dilapidated Chrysler Labaron Town and Country. Herbie, too, was a mild-mannered Modell 117 Volkswagen Type 1. Ghostbusters Ecto 1, while not technically a street car, was a Miller-Meteor Future ambulance. The Blues Brothers mission from God was in a 1974 Dodge Monaco with cop kit. And the Griswald’s National Lampoon’s Vacation took place in a 1983 Wagon Queen Family Truckster. Jurassic Park gave the Ford Explorer XLT the T-Rex treatment. While Little Miss Sunshine went cross-country in a 1973 Volkswagen Transporter (Type 2). But the winner will always be the 1976 AMC Pacer full of rockers head-banging to Bohemian Rhapsody in Wayne’s World.
The Sci-fi’s the limit
Hollywood isn’t shy with creating it’s own cars to become movie icons. Science Fiction has given us some greats, like, the Modified Ford Falcon CB GT Coupe in the dystopian Mad Max or Tim Burton’s Batmobile – a customised body on a Chevy Impala Chassis and The Dark Knight’s Lamborghini Tank. Minority Report gazed into the future with the Lexus 2054 Concept car, and the Transformers retrofitted Bumblebee as a 1977 Chevrolet Camaro then a 2006 Camaro Concept. Robocop served and protected the wonderfully entitled 6000 SUX. Bruce Willis manoeuvred his futuristic yellow cab under Milla Jovovich in Luc Besson, Fifth Element, while Harrison Ford took to the skies in a Blade Runner Spinner.
Hollywood doesn’t just look to the future for iconic vehicles. Over the years, we’ve had the likes of the Darracq 10/12 Type O that is Genevieve (that gave us 1953’s ground-breaking use of car footage filmed entirely outdoors). Ferris Bueller took off in a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder SWB. While Bonnie and Clyde bought it in a V8 Ford. Christine chilled as a 1957 Plymouth Fury (although the Belvedere and the Savoy models were also used.) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang brings us back to Ian Fleming with his customised Paragon Panther and Withnail and I shared bon mots in a 1961 Jaguar MK II. Greased Lightening ‘go faster flames’ adorned a 1948 Ford De Luxe, and Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon went over the top in a classic Thunderbird in Thelma and Louise. Popeye Doyle cruised the mean streets (without a film permit) in a 1971 Pontiac Lemans. Dustin Hoffman visited Mrs Robinson in his 1966 Alfa Romeo 1600 Spider Duetto, and Sonny Carleone bought it at the tollbooth just outside his 1941 Lincoln Continental.
Hollywood reignited an interest in road racing with American Graffiti’s 1932 Ford Coupe. Austin Powers tickled out fancy in his Union Jack bedazzled Jaguar E-Type Roadster. Rain Man took the passenger seat in 1949 Buick Roadmaster Convertible, and Miss Daisy took a backseat in a Hudson Commodore Custom Eight sedan from the same year. The Dude and Clint Eastwood both shared an interest in the Gran Torino whereas John Wick kicked it in a 1969 Mustang.
The future for cars
The Fast and Furious franchise gives us hope or dread for the future of car movies, depending on your point of view. Pick a classic car from the last decade and it likely appeared in one of the movies. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver introduced us to music loving, tinnitus suffering, Baby, who maintained supernatural control over his Subaru WRX. What’s next? Self-drive cars are sure to inspire Hollywood, with the Tesla X rumoured to be appearing in the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s Origin.
One final twist of the wheel
Burt Reynolds owned the 70s and 80s, and will always be remembered behind the wheel of the 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit. By the time they shot the final scene in the first film, they’d killed three out of the four Trans Ams they’d been given for the shoot. The 4th wouldn't start, so they used another car to push it into shot.