How Hollywood furthered our automotive obsession [w/videos]
The car enthusiast’s passion generally isn’t founded in any single experience. It is a result of many influences, coming from places like our parents, our surrounding area’s culture and, almost always, the media.
The automobile plays both major and minor roles in nearly every movie and TV show known to mankind. Today the editors at Autoblog and AOL Autos are paying homage to a few of these, acknowledging the ones that stand out in our minds as having played a profound part in forming our ardor for all things automotive.
Head on past the jump to see the cars from the big and small screen for which our staff still pines. And make sure to tell us about your favorite movie/TV cars, in Comments.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out a few years before I learned to drive, and I was enchanted. Not just by the car, but by Ferris’ seize-the-day attitude. As a fairly rule-bound kid who did most of her rebelling in secret, I was amazed to see how someone could flaunt expectations so bravely and with a giant smile on his face.
After Ferris talks Cameron into joyriding around in his father’s perfectly pristine 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, something clicked inside my brain. Rebelling might not be a totally scary thing – it looked like it might actually be fun. Ferris & Co. may or may not have inspired me to perhaps take a couple of joyrides of my own, albeit in my parents’ 1988 Honda Accord, which was admittedly a wee bit less entertaining than the Ferrari. Still, I felt like I was behind the wheel of that little red sexy machine, and with the Accord’s windows rolled down I could even for a minute imagine it was a convertible.
Turns out I wasn’t the only one relying on imagination and movie magic when it came to Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari. The car used in the driving scenes in the movie wasn’t actually a Ferrari, but a kit car built on a similarly sized wheelbase and a tube frame by Modena Design and Development in El Cajon, CA. Its engine was a 500-horsepower, 7.0-liter Ford V8, which is cool, but is certainly not a Ferrari. A real California was used for the still shots of the car (although, naturally, when Cameron kicks the heck out of the Ferrari, that one was a replica, too).
I fell in love with cars, and with the idea of skipping class, from watching that movie. I was craving freedom, and being behind the wheel of a car gave me exactly what I desired. Even if my reality was a boring old sedan.
PETE BIGELOW – Duel
Long before the term “road rage” was coined to describe the growing hostilities on Southern California highways, Hollywood gave us one of the most gripping stories of driver-versus-driver anger in Duel.
Dennis Weaver plays a mild-mannered businessman driving his ’71 Plymouth Valiant on a lengthy road trip. When he passes a worn-looking oil truck along a lonely highway, the trucker gets angry. What ensues is a hair-raising fight to the death that stretches across hundreds of miles of the American southwest.
There’s almost no dialogue during 90 minutes that are hair-raising from start to finish. All viewers hear is the quickening pace of Weaver’s breath, as the faceless trucker toys with him in a prolonged, terrorizing fight for survival.
The movie, incidentally Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut, is a fascinating portrait of a man under pressure, occupied by nothing but his own fears. As Weaver wrestles with his own sanity and tries to fend off outright panic, it’s hard not to ride that line right along with him.
In a vehicular sense, Duel is a classic David-versus-Goliath story. A dumpy, underpowered Valiant sedan is pitted against a rugged, weathered Peterbuilt oil truck. In a scene near the end of the movie, Weaver’s life hinges on the car, badly overheating, reaching the top of a remote mountain pass. When the fuel lines run dry, all that’s left in the tank is sheer willpower.
This is a disquieting story of a man and a car both pushed beyond their limits.
ANTONIO JAKES – Bad Boys
Bad Boys, a grungy and action-packed cop flick starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, is one of my favorite films (I grew up in the ’90s) in no small part due to the cars it features. Upon seeing it for the first time I instantly fell in love with the 1994 Porsche 911 Turbo 3.6. The design was unique and unlike anything I had seen before, and I found myself wishing more than anything that I was the one behind the wheel instead of Mike (Will Smith) and Marcus (Martin Lawrence). Just the sound of the 911 was enough to put an enormous grin on my face – something I experience to this day when I hear the unmistakable rumble of a really good exhaust note.
I recently watched Bad Boys again, and the scenes with the Porsche still stand out to me – notably the one where the 911 races against a Shelby Cobra near the end. Sure, it may not be the most practical thing (“$ 80,000 for this car and you ain’t got no damn cupholders?”), but the Porsche 911 Turbo is still on my list of cars that I hope to drive one day.
CHRIS PAUKERT – Gung Ho
I’ve been infatuated with cars since the first time I clapped my grubby little mitts on a Matchbox car, so I didn’t really need the big screen’s help to further that love affair. That said, there are a number of movies that helped evolve my appreciation for all things four-wheeled in countless ways, including, of all things, Gung Ho, a 1986 comedy film starring Michael Keaton from director Ron Howard.
The film centers on a small Pennsylvania town that’s left reeling after its auto plant closes. A deal is brokered that sees Japan’s (fictional) Assan Motors Corp. take over the idled facility. With it, the Asian executives bring Japanese business practices and cultural mores to bear on hard-working, beer-swilling Working Class America. Hilarity ensues.
Looking back now, Gung Ho is an often woeful movie that falls prey to most ’80s inspirational comedy clichés, but its irreverent look at automakers and manufacturing intrigued and amused me as a young boy who was already car-obsessed and fascinated with both small town America and Japanese culture. It’s not a particularly good film, but it’s an interesting and occasionally hilarious cultural snapshot from around the time that Honda opened a factory in Ohio and the Toyota/General Motors NUMMI joint venture got rolling in California.
STEVEN EWING – The Italian Job
I love the Mini Cooper. The awkward looks of the third-generation car are still growing on me, but the first- and second-generation versions of the reborn Mini brand are cars I’d happily drive every single day. But even before that, the original Mini has always had a huge place in my heart (I’d love to find a clean example for my personal fleet), and thus, their strong presence in both the original and remake of The Italian Job make me grin from ear to ear with delight.
The best attributes about the spunky Minis – handling, agility, and super-cuteness – are highlighted in these movies, and you can’t help but root for the plucky little hatches while they’re zooming around on the big screen. In fact, the last time I watched The Italian Job was on a Mini owners road rally at a drive-in theater, and during the big car scene, everyone honked their horns to cheer the Coopers along. Awesome.
ADAM MORATH – Back To The Future
I, like many children of the ’80s, mistakenly thought the DeLorean DMC-12 was the car of the future after being introduced to John Z’s stainless steel masterpiece in 1985’s Back To The Future. I still remember seeing Part III of the trilogy in theaters, which features the most souped-up version of the DeLorean time machine to go along with its ridiculous old western plot line.
It was easy to assume that the DeLorean might rival any Ferrari or Lamborghini of the day. After all, angular, modern design looked lightyears ahead of its time. Surely the car featured powerful specs to match its futuristic looks. It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the DMC-12 was widely viewed as a mechanical disappointment-woefully underpowered, with steering and brakes befitting a much less exotic-looking ride.
In my youthful ignorance, I recall chasing after the only DeLorean I ever saw in the wild (not counting my encounters at more recent car shows). I was probably around 10 years old, playing basketball in the driveway of my childhood home when a silver streak passed through my peripheral vision. I dropped the ball, not caring if it rolled into the street, and took flight down the street in hopes of getting a closer look at the louvered rear windshield and grid-patterned tail lamps. For me, it was a “pinch yourself” moment and one where I realized, “hey, I actually sort of care about these things everyone else in Detroit seems obsessed with: cars.”
Despite my revelation that the DeLorean was, in fact, a classic case of style over substance, my love for the iconic gull-winged sports car has not faded entirely. We’ve featured the DMC-12 in a number of Translogic episodes (including a Back To The Future replica and an all-electric version) and I have a Lego model of the car, complete with a Marty McFly minifig, displayed prominently on my desk at work.
MICHAEL ZAK – The Great Gatsby
I first saw the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby when I was a young lad in middle school. Though this film may be a bit outdated and has been overshadowed by the production value of the newer version by Baz Luhrmann, it is, to me, still the best. So much of it has remained ingrained in my memory since that initial viewing. The characters, the scenery, the violence and, in no small part, the vehicles.
The Great Gatsby isn’t known primarily for its rides, but it could be. The movie uses some wonderful examples of prohibition-era vehicles to illustrate the lavishness of Gatsby’s life. These include a 1927 Auburn 8-88, a 1929 Lincoln Model L, a 1924 Packard Single Eight and – my personal favorite – a stunning 1928 Rolls Royce Phantom I. Glossing over the fact that these are all actually egregious errors – the story is supposed to be set in 1922 – they’re a joy to take in.
The Phantom I makes a fairly big appearance in one scene, in which Gatsby (played by Robert Redford) brings his neighbor and friend Nick Carraway into a large barn situated on his extensive property. Inside sits the gorgeous Rolls-Royce, its gold paint illuminating the gloom of its housing. Nick can scarcely believe what he is seeing. Gatsby, in his classic manner of underhanded bragging about his nouveau-riche status, takes Nick for a spin, controlling the car from the left-hand side while its pushrod-OHV straight-6 engine purrs away and the scenery flies by.
This is not a notable scene in this movie for a lot of people, but it always has been for me. This may have been the first time that I realized cars could be works of art, possessing an ability to make a thunderous statement without needing any words.
Gatsby met a tragic end in the story, but the Phantom happily did not. It is still in existence and sold to a collector in 2009 for $ 238,000.
SEYTH MIERSMA – 1980s Television
The question at hand is really about automotively inspirational movies, but the truth of the matter is that my love of cars was pretty much cemented on the small screen before I remember seeing one in the theater that got me fired up. Why, you ask? Because the early 1980s was a pleasure palace for cars on the boob-tube, including three critically acclaimed(?) programs that set me on the path I’m still driving today: The A-Team, Knight Rider and those good ol’ boys on The Dukes of Hazzard. (To a lesser extent The Fall Guy deserves a spot here – Lee Majors did for GMC what Magnum P.I. did for Ferraris, and his job was a lot harder.)
In 1983, even a TV show about an ex-military special ops mercenary force was family friendly enough for my five-year-old eyes, meaning I was able to fall in love with bewinged GMC Vandura that was very rarely not smoking its rear tires. Mobile HQ, machine shop, gunnery platform and love nest, B.A. Baracus’ van made the impossible possible.
Knight Rider offered a similar formula in the way of Michael Knight’s autonomous and intelligent Pontiac Trans Am-based KITT. The razor wit of KITT, voiced by the velvet-tongued William Daniels, was just sharp enough for me to find hilarious, while the black Trans Am bodywork was more than enough to send me into allowance-burning overdrive. I had my picture taken in one of the stunt cars from Knight Rider at the Grand Rapids Boat Show in the mid ’80s, and I basically didn’t stop talking about it until high school (Yes, I still have the photo. Yes, I’m wearing a Thriller jacket in it. No, you may not see it.)
Even in this hallowed company though, The Dukes of Hazzard reigns supreme. Forget for a second about the star-turn for the 1969 Dodge Charger here; Dukes offered up something cool for just about every gearhead. Daisy’s “Dixie” Jeep CJ-7, Boss Hogg’s Caddilac DeVille, even Uncle Jesse’s white Ford F-100 was pretty killer. Could be that I’ve just got more redneck in me than most, but I loved the Dukes so much that it infiltrated every part of my young life; from getting my folks to buy me every General Lee model I could, to feathering my hair like Bo Duke’s own blond progeny. While I didn’t ever weld any doors shut, I did jump in the window of my Suzuki Samurai when I was 17. Some dreams die hard.
GREG MIGLIORE – Drive
The 1973 Chevelle in the Ryan Gosling flick Drive is one of my favorite movie cars. I took my now-wife to see the film, based solely on the fact that a Chevelle was in it. My family had a green ’73 Malibu when I was growing up, and it’s still in my Dad’s garage. I know there are faster, sportier and more historically significant Chevelles, but I’m partial to the ’73.
Okay, I realize this is not as muscle-bound or striking as any of its predecessors from the mid-to-late 1960s or the early ’70s, but it’s still an attractive car. The four circular taillights are classic, and I loved them as a kid. Plus, the colonnade roof adds presence, and the fenders are, well, big, if nothing else.
The movie itself was a disappointment. I saw far less of the car than I had hoped, and it was much gorier than I expected. It’s not a horrible flick, just a little dark. It does, however, have a decent cast that includes Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Carey Mulligan. I’m glad I saw the movie because of the car, though I probably wouldn’t sit through the entire thing again.