Human actors aren’t the only stars when it comes to movies and TV-series. Sometimes they can be overshadowed by machines – not androids or robots, but heart-warming, engine-revving automobiles with beauty and style and flair. So here are some of my favourite ‘caractors’. . .
My first favourite is the 1963 Ford Ecoline Van, which doesn’t sound very exciting, but is also called The Mystery Machine – which sounds much more exciting. Yes, the psychedelic blue and green van from Scooby Doo is one of the most famous film/TV vehicles around and if you ever see one, tell the girl in the orange jersey and glasses that it was probably the theme park owner who did it.
Another famous storage container on wheels is the Chevy Van, driven by the angriest man in the world – Bosco “B.A” Baracus. It is of course the A-Team van with its iconic red stripe running along the side. It is awesome and usually my go-to paintjob for any van I own in racing games.
Probably the most famous station-wagon in the film world is the 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor, also known as the ECTO-1. If you don’t recognise the name – it’s the car from Ghostbusters (the original two movies, not the 2016 remake). It is set to appear in the new Ghostbusters film, which will apparently ignore the last movie, if movie leaks can be trusted.
Charger and Gran Torino
Another awesome movie car is the 1969 Dodge Charger R/T (the General Lee) from The Dukes of Hazzard. It is one of the coolest muscle cars ever and the stunts done with it were just ridiculous! The stunt team totalled quite a few Chargers. Speaking of muscle cars – what about the Ford Gran Torino from Starsky & Hutch? Much like with the General Lee, its iconic paintjob makes it instantly recognisable with movie fans.
One of the most expensive cars to star in a movie is the 1962 Ferrari 250 GT California from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I had a miniature petrolhead panic attack when it went through the garage window and plummeted the few meters towards the ground. Luckily, it was a fake built for the movie, but it sold for nearly $400k! It’s still a few million short of the price for the real thing, but coughing up that much for a fake is quite preposterous.
Another famous Ferrari is that of the Hawaii-based ex-navy-veteran-turned-private investigator, Magnum PI, played by Tom Selleck. The series ran for eight seasons and each season saw a new version of the Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS. It is an awesome car and one of my favourite Ferraris with its manual V8 and Targa top roof.
Who can forget the sheer awesomeness that was Mad Max? The movies forever immortalised the Aussie Ford Falcon XB GT as the ‘Pursuit Special’. It was modified to look post-apocalyptic-y with its faded black paint and fake supercharger on the front. (The supercharger was functional for Mad Max 2 and Fury Road.)
For the 2015 film, as many practical effects as possible were used, meaning that most of the vehicles seen in the movie are real – from the War Rig driven by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, to the Doof Wagon with all the speakers, and the man with a guitar-flamethrower-thingy hanging from a stretchy rope, to my favourite vehicle in the movie – The Gigahorse. It’s essentially a Cadillac El Dorado sandwich with two V8s as the cheese and some plumbing as the mayonnaise. I love it!
Fast & Furious
I will not be able to name all the various Fast & Furious cars, but I’ll give it a try: Brian’s Toyota Supra, Dom’s Dodge Charger (any of them), Han’s Mazda RX-7, Letty’s Jensen Interceptor, Jesse’s VW Jetta, Brian’s R34 Skyline GT-R, Brian’s Mitsubishi Eclipse, Letty’s Dodge Challenger, a Lamborghini Murcielago SV, a Honda S2000, the Koenigsegg CCX, the heist Dodge Chargers with the scaffolding on the back, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII, the Ford F150 SVT Lightning, the three Honda Civics, those two weird ramp cars, the Plymouth Superbird/Dodge Charger Daytona, the Ford Escort RS1800, the Ford Mustang Boss 429, the Aston Martin DB9, a Lexus LFA and many, many more.
Quite honestly, I have given up on the Fast & Furious franchise, because it had become less about the cars and more about doing increasingly outrageous and far-fetched stunts from badly written storylines – and it has become less enjoyable over time. I enjoyed the movies up until the runway scene in FF6. After that, it just got silly – and not Leslie Nielsen-silly either.
When I saw Dom “The most important thing is family” Toretto Spidermanning a Ford Mustang GT500 between some cliffs in the F9 trailer, I decided that I’m done with the franchise. Jumping a W Motors Lykan Hypersport between buildings (which has been proven to be impossible) was silly enough, but this was just stupid. I will watch F9 though, because Helen Mirren power sliding a purple Noble M600 is one of the coolest things I have ever seen.
Whilst not entirely a real car, Lady Penelope’s FAB-1 from Thunderbirds also makes this list, because I was in love and obsessed with it after I saw the 2004 movie. It used a Ford Thunderbird (wink-wink) as inspiration, but it also had wings, a jet engine and hydrofoils. It was the coolest car of my childhood and I even liked it in pink. I used to draw the FAB-1 with various extra modifications to make it even cooler. Plus Parker was an awesome valet. Ah, the nostalgia…
The Italian Job
Probably the most famous cinematic use of the Mini Cooper, occurs in The Italian Job movies and are enjoyable to watch. The 1969 movie is incredibly long-drawn-out, as movies were in those days, but it is still makes for good entertainment. The 2003 version was just used to drive up sales of the new Mini Cooper, but it was still a good movie with lots of car chases, explosions and funny quips.
Then we get to the world of Gotham City. Bruce Wayne has had quite a few awesome cars throughout the years. The coolest being the 1989 Batmobile with Michael Keaton at the wheel – the beautiful curves and jet exhaust protruding out the back and the bat wings on the rear haunches like a 1950s Cadillac. It’s such a cool car! Another favourite is the Tumbler from 2005’s Batman Begins. It is literally a tank with a motorbike coming out the front. How cool is that?!
I’m not a fan of the Justice League Batmobile as it’s too fantasy-like and too physics-ignoring. I am, however, excited for the new one with Robert Pattinson, because the new Batmobile reminds me of the Quadra Type-66 ‘Cthulhu’ muscle car from Cyberpunk 2077.
Herbie – everyone’s favourite (slightly disturbing) sentient Beetle! Yes, this racing liveried VW Beetle is probably the most famous ‘Bug’ in cinema. From doing rally stages in the 1970s and going bananas to NASCAR racing with Lindsey Lohan at the wheel, it has had quite a colourful film history. I just have a few questions though: Why is Herbie the only sentient car in his universe? Why does he make noises? WHY IS HE A BEETLE?! I NEED ANSWERS!
There are very few animation films that I wholeheartedly enjoy. The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2, Finding Nemo, Finding Dory, Shrek 2, WALL-E… That’s about it. However, in the not too long ago year of 2006, an animation movie was released that spoke to my inner petrolhead heart. That movie was Cars. I mean, come on. CARS! I watched that movie over and over and over and over. It is my favourite animated movie and will probably forever be.
The story, the characters and the setting are just perfect. I still love it! And apart from Mater, my favourite caractor is Doc Hudson, the legendary Fabulous Hudson Hornet, a car with a brilliant racing history, with its revolutionary low centre of mass. It is one of the most famous race cars in the motoring world.
Then Cars 2 came out, and it was about Mater and had spies in it! Even better! James Bond in animated car form! How utterly cool and petrolheady is that?! And there was even a big Navy boat in it! My only question still is: Why are taxis and busses a thing? Who rides in them in a car world? Trains and plains, sure – you can get in them if you are a car, but not taxis or busses. The physics of the Cars dimension still elude me.
When Cars 3 came out, I wasn’t all that impressed with either the movie or the cars featuring in it, except for one of the new caractors, which is an almost BMW CS Vintage Concept look alike. The storyline is boring, the ending you could see from a mile away and characters have about as much emotion as actual cars. It had child-friendly moonshiners and a tedious NASCAR history lesson in it. (As if NASCAR isn’t monotonous enough with everyone just continuously turning left for 500 laps.)
The Ford Mustang has been a staple of American Muscle since its introduction in 1964. In 1968, it became immortalised by Steve McQueen in his action movie Bullitt, where a dark green Fastback has a chase scene with a Dodge Charger R/T. It is such a famous car that people have tried to recreate it with each generation of Mustang – so much so that Ford themselves decided to make an anniversary edition with the 2020 version, the Mustang Bullitt, that I lust after. Plus, it is the only newish Mustang you can get in South Africa, which comes with a manual transmission, other than the new Mach 1.
Another ‘Stang that people keep trying to recreate is one known as Eleanor and is from the newer Gone in 60 Seconds, released in 2000. It was designed by the famous Chip Foose and, I must say, whilst it is a cool car – I have become bored with it. In every car game people try to replicate it with varying success and it is just annoying.
However, my favourite movie Mustang is the green/grey one from the first John Wick. It is a Mach 1 rebadged as a Boss 429 for the movie. It is an awesome car and the 1969 Mustang is without a doubt the best looking Mustang ever created (plus, a red ’69 Mach 1 lives a town away from me and I get to ogle it every now and then).
The Great Gatsby
I watched The Great Gatsby (2013) with intrigue as the whole setting is magnificent to behold. The art-deco setting of the movie with the 1920s high-life style is just brilliant! But I was even more intrigued when I saw the cars – more specifically the yellow 1932 Duesenberg Model J, which Jay Gatsby drives. (I just got that. J Gatsby drives a Model J. Funny.)
This is all wrong of course, as the movie takes place in 1922 and most of the cars in the film were produced after the movie’s setting – like the blue 1933 Auburn that Tobey Maguire’s character drives.
One of the most beautiful cars ever produced is a certain red Duesenberg Model SJ LaGrande Dual-Cowl Phaeton which, in 1932 when it was built, was the most powerful production car in the world for three years – until it was surpassed by the 1935 Duesenberg Model SSJ. The model SJ Phaeton was also the fastest car in the world in 1932, with its supercharged straight-8 and non-syncro-mesh 3-speed manual. It’s sad then that by 1937, Duesenberg had gone bankrupt and ceased to exist, leaving one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in its wake – the curious case of the ‘missing’ Duesenberg Coupé Simone…
Ah, Austin Powers. What wonderfully weird movies – with an awesome Union Jack-themed Jaguar – sorry, Shaguar. Yes, just like James Bond has his Aston, Austin Powers has his E-Type. In the second movie, his American counterpart has a Stars & Stripes-themed Chevrolet Corvette C2, which is equally awesome!
Unfortunately, in the second movie, his spy car is a be-flowered VW ‘New Beetle’ time-machine in which he travels back in time from 1999 to 1969 – and in the final movie, the spy car is a Union Jack Mini Cooper which could swim and attach itself to Dr. Evil-shaped submarines. Yes, the whole thing spiralled out of control a bit, but it was still funny.
Who can forget all of James Bond’s marvellous spy cars? From the Sunbeam Alpine in Dr. No (1962), to (what looks like) the Aston Martin Valhalla in No Time to Die (postponed to October 2021, but who knows when we’ll actually be able to finally see it? Grumble-grumble). All these cars were excellent in their movies, except maybe the Aston Martin DBS V12 in Casino Royale which chased the baddie’s Jaguar XJ for all of two minutes before getting totally… totalled. Luckily, it got the chase scene it deserved in the prologue to Quantum of Solace.
The best and most famous Bond car – and definitely one of the most famous and most beautiful cars in the world, is the 1964 Aston Martin DB5. It made its debut in Goldfinger (1964), which is one of my favourite Bond-movies, and went on to star in Thunderball (1965), GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Casino Royale (2006), Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015). It is also set to appear in No Time to Die (please be October, dammit!) where it is again doing some stunts in an Italian village. In an interview with the stunt driver, it wasn’t explicitly said, but was implied that underneath the body it was an E46 BMW M3 with various stunt modifications.
It is difficult choosing a favourite Bond car, so I have rounded it down to three – the Aston Martin DB5, the Lotus Espirit and the Toyota 2000GT. I chose the DB5 because it is a film icon and because it is utterly beautiful in every way – from the styling and the contour lines to the wire wheels and the classic Aston Martin grille. It’s just brilliant! The reasoning behind the Espirit is because of the sheer silliness that it is. One of my favourite bits of all Bond films, is Sir Roger Moore’s smug face as he drives the Espirit out of the water and onto a French beach. It’s hilarious!
I chose the 2000GT (one of very few Toyotas I actually like) as a favourite because it has a cool story behind it. Apparently, Toyota said that it’s okay if they want to use their car as a Bond car, but when Sean Connery got to Japan to begin filming, they realised that he was way too tall to fit in it. (Standing at 1,95m myself, I can certainly relate.) So within two weeks, they cut the roofs off of two 2000GTs and strapped some covers on to make it look like a convertible – even though neither of them have functional convertible roofs. And thus, those are the only two 2000GT ‘roadsters’ in existence.
My favourite movie car is the DeLorean DMC-12 from the Back to the Future franchise. It looks like a concept car that was actually put into production, much like the modern BMW i8. Yes, apparently it is terrible to drive and the engine is pitifully underpowered, but it is an awesome car nonetheless. I mean, the gullwing-like doors make it unquestionably cool already, but then it was chosen to be a time machine in one of the most loved sci-fi movies franchises of all time. I love it!
The cool thing is that there is still a huge following for the DeLorean and thus parts and upgrades are available – not only in the USA, but in Great Britain as well. Many DeLorean owners swop the puny 2.85L V6 out for Chevy V8s and even convert them to EVs, which is splendid!
My choices may not be the ones you like, but they’re mine and they may change as new caractors are being cast in future movies. Not everyone might like cars (speaking of you, Greta) or think of them as a terribly exciting subject, but they are a part of our everyday lives and they will continue to be for the foreseeable future – in one way or another. So, why not continue celebrating them in everyday entertainment?
Watch this space for a sequel…
…whenever it’s eventually done.
Help stop the hate – adopt a V8!
©2021 Michael De Kock
Michael de Kock is a blogger, because he likes it, a Psychology graduate, because he thought it’d be interesting (so many essays) and is busy doing a National Certificate in Motor Mechanics to get more skilled, as he struggles to get a job in this day and age in this country.
In the meantime, why not help him with paying the bills by buying his new book?
125 Writing Prompts for Petrolheads. Now available on Amazon Kindle – https://amzn.to/3lwaUPh.