One of the great petrolhead debates revolves around which movie car is the greatest. I’ve put together the following list of 15 to show where I stand on this issue. They’re in no particular order as I suspect I’m going to get enough complaints as it is, so simply enjoy them as they come..
1932 Ford Coupe, ‘American Graffiti’
There are some great cars in this film but the star of the show has to be John Milner’s bright yellow ’32 Ford Coupe, built in true hot rod style with a roof chop, open engine bay and no fenders. Next to the other vehicles in the film which were all typical of the time, the Coupe stood out as an outsider, a rebel, and arguably brought hot-rodding back into the public consciousness. If you’re not sure about the looks and still need to be convinced, just watch the film and listen to how it sounds.
1968 Ford Mustang GT390, ‘Bullitt’
Possibly one of the most copied cars of all time, the GT390 that starred in the film had all sorts of subtle adjustments made to enable it to be driven as the famous chase scene required including race cams and revised suspension. In order to make one for yourself you’ll not only have to track down a good condition ‘68 fastback but also pay attention to such tiny details as adding 15” Torq Thrust wheels, debadging the grille, removing most of the shiny trim, and making sure the interior is all black with a wood trimmed dashboard. The visual impact of the car on screen is undeniable, but unfortunately the sounds it makes are actually taken from a race tuned Ford GT40 – shame really, as the real thing sounds great. When the movie brought together Steve McQueen, one of the coolest men who ever lived, with such an iconic car, the results were bound to last.
1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe, ‘Mad Max’
Part of the appeal of the Interceptor, as the car was known in the film, is the sense that it’s been thrown together from bits. It’s not a good looking car but it does have bucketloads of attitude, helped along by a huge scooped supercharger. The second film saw the ground clearance being increased to help with the offroad driving scenes set in the outback, and a pair of huge fuel tanks fitted where the rear window would normally be. The Interceptor is a brutal, snarling monster that loves to eat tyres and gargles four-star for breakfast, and who can argue with that?
Mini Coopers, ‘The Italian Job’
You could argue that the three Mini Coopers in the Italian Job are the most iconic film cars of all time, and you’d probably not meet a lot of opposition. The classic tale of a gold heist through the gridlocked streets of Turin at rush hour takes the Minis through sewers, across rooftops and over rivers in an amazing display of coordinated driving. During the course of the filming, The team assembled by stunt coordinator and driver Remy Julienne totalled around 25 cars, and its rumoured that six were left in a lock-up in Italy and then forgotten about! The film presented some stiff competition in the car desirability stakes, in the form of a Lamborghini Miura, Jaguar E-Type, Aston Martin DB4, Alfa Guilia and a Fiat Dino, but the cheeky little Minis won out. At this point it’d be worth trying to forget that Marky Mark’s pointless remake ever existed.
1970 Dodge Challenger R/T, ‘Vanishing Point’
The original version of this film is considered a surrealist cult classic, not so the recent remake. It’s a simple story about Kowalski, an ex-racing driver who takes a drug-fuelled bet on how long it’ll take him to drive a Dodge Challenger across the US to San Francisco. There’s lots of other subtext, but essentially it’s driver + car + desert with little inbetween, and verges on hypnotic. This particular white Challenger was built at the end of the glory year of muscle cars, just as the designs were starting to become bloated and overpowering. It’s not the greatest looking among its peers, but it has a sense of aggression and focus that makes it stand out.
Toyota Trueno AE86, ‘Initial D’
The Trueno AE86 is most definitely not a cool car – it’s a pokey, boxy uninspiring Japanese shopping cart. It does have a couple of tricks up its sleeve though – it’s light, it’s rear wheel drive, and it’s favoured by the guy who pretty much invented the formalised sport of drifting, Keiichi Tsuchiya. As a result, the Hachi-Roku as it’s come to be known (eight-six in Japanese) was the natural choice as the star car in the anime series Initial D, and also in the film based on that series. The reason the little Toyota is so cool is because it’s not only a tofu delivery car in the day, but the driver uses it to effortlessly stuff all challengers in Touge races on Mount Akina at night – Imprezas, GT-Rs and RX-7s all fall prey as the driver takes the majority of the mountain sideways and disappears in a blaze of fading tail lights. Who can resist an underdog, especially one as terrier-like as this?
1970 Dodge Charger, ‘The Fast and the Furious’
The cars of The Fast and The Furious are all interesting in their own ways, but while they display technical excellence, they often lack in character. This monstrous supercharged Dodge Charger only drives for a few minutes of the film and ends up in a pile of bits by a railway line, but it makes a huge impact on the viewer, leaping away from the lights on its back wheels in an explosion of smoke and noise. The appeal might be because the only times you see the car moving are when the driver is past his breaking point and driving it at 10/10ths, which is how it should be. It’s short lived, but glorious.
1967 Shelby Mustang GT500, ‘Gone In 60 Seconds’ (2000)
The Eleanor in the 1974 original of Gone in 60 Seconds was a 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1, not the prettiest shape or the most loved of the breed, so for the 2000 remake they decided to go for a very rare 1967 Shelby GT500. The car in the film was designed and made by the legendary car builder Chip Foose and has a lot of modern features which would make most Mustang enthusiasts choke, but the overall effect is a good one. Ray Claridge, the guy at CVS responsible for making the car happen said it was a major challenge to make Eleanor desirable because she’d be going head to head with Ferraris, Porsches and other exotica, but I think they did a good job.
Audi A8 W12, ‘The Transporter 2’
Jason Statham’s character in the Transporter films has a taste for hypersaloons; he drove a very cool BMW 735 in the first one (which was actually a 750 with a one-off manual gearbox) but moved up to the ice cold Audi A8 W12for the second film. This car is not only huge, slick and luxurious, but is powered by a looneytune W12 engine which is actually two V6s joined together, and pumps out 450 horsepower and 430lb-ft of torque. That’s enough to blast it to 60mph in just over 5 seconds, which is not bad for a luxury limo. There’s something very satisfying about watching a car of this size being thrown around as much as it is in The Transporter 2.
Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R, ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’
The Skyline is an essential part of Japanese car modding culture, and the R34 GT-R was the last of its generation and the most hardcore version up to that point. The character of Brian Spilner, an ex-cop on the run for choosing to let a criminal get away, chose this car to make some money from street racing and the first time we see it up close it’s creeping through the crowds to a race, blasting nitrous oxide out through a purge system like an angry, snorting bull. In most situations the silver and blue paint and blue glowing ground effects would just be tacky, but in this context they work perfectly. The final icing on the cake comes from the very mechanical sounds of the gearshift and the screaming turbos and induction whine.
1955 Chevy One-Fifty, ‘Two Lane Blacktop’
The One-Fifty featured here was both the home and main means of income for the film’s two drifters, known simply as The Driver and The Mechanic – a couple of drag racers who earned a living by driving between states and taking on other cars for bets. They take a bet with another driver to race cross-country to Washington DC for ‘pinks’ (car ownership documents), putting everything they own on the line. The One-Fifty is rough and doesn’t look particularly special, but that’s part of the charm – it’s a working car and undergoes tweaks and fiddles throughout the journey at the hands of The mechanic. The bond between car and driver is very clear, and that gives it soul.. not to mention an absolutely awesome exhaust note.
1971 Porsche 917, ‘Le Mans’
Another entry for Steve McQueen, but I think this one is worth it. I would argue that the Porsche 917 is not only one of the greatest, but also the coolest racing cars of all time. It was known for its ferocity and outright speed – Derek Bell once got one up to 246mph at 8100 revs, and found that not only did his foot get trapped on the throttle because the bodywork had bent inwards from the pressure, but that if he’d have added an extra 100 revs the engine would have exploded. The 917 used a flat 12 boxer engine, which had opposed cylinders much like a Subaru Impreza, and screamed like a banshee. This was evident in McQueens’s film Le Mans where the sound of his Gulf liveried No.20 car tearing down the Mulsanne Straight sends tingles right down your spine and into your boots. So we have a supercool driver, an amazing soundtrack, the best racing livery ever, and truly terrifying speeds. Good enough for me.
Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, ‘Ronin’
This car is so cool that most people won’t have realised it. The star car in Ronin is really the Audi S8, but the big Mercedes (which makes an appearance halfway through) has a lot of presence but just doesn’t shout about it. Once you get past the retro looks and the 70s colour scheme, you’ll find a very rare luxury stretched limo (17.5 feet long!) based on the Mercedes-Benz S class and built into a W116 body. This monster Merc had a very clever and nearly bombproof dry sumped 6.9l V8, and trick suspension which gave it astonishing handling for its size. At one point, director Claude Lelouche strapped a camera to one and tore around Paris at illegal speeds for his film ‘C’était un rendez-vous’; The resulting footage simply had a Ferrari engine noice dubbed over it, and nobody was any the wiser for quite some time! Take a rare car like this, put it through hell and add the unbearably cool Jean Reno into the mix as the driver and you have a potent recipe for car stardom.
Jaguar MK2, ‘Withnail & I’
Let’s be honest, this car is an absolute nail. The Jaguar Mk2 is a great vehicle but the one owned by Marwood in this film looks like it’s been dragged through a hedge backwards.. while the hedge was being dragged through a wood chipper. The reason this is big cat so cool is twofold – firstly, the car is perfectly matched to Withnail’s hopelessly caddish character and the advanced state of disrepair also sums him up perfectly, but secondly because people are very precious about old Jaguars and so it’s rare to see one in such a bad state being given a starring role. The sight of the thing lurching and swerving down the M1, driven by an exceptionally drunk WIthnail who insists that he’s ‘making time’ and backed by Jimi Hendrix is a very entertaining one, and a poke in the eye for the high gloss of Hollywood.
There are also a couple of honourable mentions, that I didn’t include in the list above because they’re not actually real cars. The Tumbler from ‘Batman Begins’ is an awesome piece of design, and is actually driveable because of the 5 litre V8 tucked away somewhere inside. They could have taken the easy route with this car, but insisted on such details as the axle-less steering and stealth bomber looks, and the end result is nothing short of awesome. The Audi RSQ from ‘I, Robot’ is an interesting proposition with its bizarre spherical wheels, but also because it gave us a glimpse of the design direction at Audi that would lead to the brilliant R8.
There is one final car I want to mention that is noticeably absent from the list above, and not for the reasons you might think. I’d like to give a special round of applause to the Delorean DMC-12 from the ‘Back to the Future’ series for being one of the most useless, overrated buckets of bolts ever to disgrace the silver screen. The real car was so bad that it needed a fantasy workover in order to make it look good. It was poorly built, had a wheezy and unreliable Renault V6 that would have struggled to get to 88mph within that car park, and couldn’t be relied upon to continue working for any decent amount of time. The only notable feature are the gullwing doors, which didn’t fit very well and tended to sag, and the stainless steel body panels, which all look different because of the nature of the material so the car appears patchy. I’ve seen a few of these in real life and can report that the interior is just as horrible, and if you ever consider buying one you should lock yourself in a small dark room until the feeling goes away.