Speed's fueling our auto affections.
It’s no secret that Hollywood has a love affair with cars, but on-screen auto ardor has accelerated recently with the release of the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer. Adapted from the ultra-cool Japanese anime series from the 1960s, Speed Racer will no doubt be responsible for many an American kid to become not only an anime fan, but a gearhead as well. Comics and cars? Perfect. The live-action, big-screen antics of fearless Speed (Emile Hirsch) as he attempts to win the cross -country race the Casa Cristo 5000 against rival Racer X (Matthew Fox), has only (ahem) fueled our fire for the automobile writ large.
And we (that is, us car fanatics) love these revved-up frames. Uber-glamorous versions of the cars we drive to work in, movie cars become characters we know or things we want to possess. From beautiful visions of envy (check the Vanishing Point white 1970 Dodge Challenger from Death Proof) or demonic wheels of doom (like Christine’s apt make and model—a 1958 Plymouth Fury), cars elicit an exciting, sometimes emotional response. Come on, who didn’t feel Kenickie’s pain when Crater Face makes fun of his soon-to-be “Greased Lightning” wheels in Grease? And weren’t we so excited when it became, as John Travolta sang, “Hydr-o-matic”?
Cars sometimes hold more “It” factor than the stars who drive them. So to honor all our fine four-fendered friends, we’re listing (in no particular order) our favorite car stars in film. And amping things up, this list goes to…twelve.
Car: 1968 Mustang GT 390
Driver: Lt. Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen)
Key to Cool: Well, there’s the vision of McQueen, perhaps one of the coolest actors to grace cinema, simply driving this Mustang beauty (which McQueen helped revamp himself). And then there’s his pursuit up and down the streets of San Francisco, one of film’s greatest car chase scenes bar none.
Car: 1964 Aston Martin DB5
Driver: James Bond (Sean Connery)
Key to Cool: First seen in Goldfinger, we have to go with the “optional extras” that tricked out this swanky vehicle beyond a simple spiking of nitrous. Ejector seats? Rockets? This would be a nice little addition in gridlocked LA for sure.
Batman: The Movie (1966)
Car: The Batmobile
Driver: Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West)
Key to Cool: This 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car was created by “The King of Kustomizers” George Barris (who worked on many movie and TV cars—including The Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit and the gothed out ride on The Munsters) and was super-powered by a 429 Ford Full Race engine. Who wouldn’t slide down the bat pole to jump into it? Really, why did crimes even have to be happening for Batman to slither into that beast? We’d drive it cross country.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Car: 1977 Pontiac Trans Am
Driver: 'Bandit'/Bo Darville (Burt Reynolds)
Key to Cool: Between destroying that Masarati in The Longest Yard to stock car racing in Stoker Ace, Burt always looked cool in cars. But the great Smokey and the Bandit is his auto-pinnacle. The black Trans Am (given a nod in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2 with the leggy Daryl Hannah behind the wheel) is sweet, but we love the CB action—especially between Smokey and Sheriff Buford Justice (Jackie Gleason): “Breaker Breaker to the Bandit..." And who can forget Jerry Reid’s theme song—“We got a long way to go and a short time to get there, I’m East bound, just watch ole’ Bandit run!”
Two Lane Blacktop (1971)
Car(s): 1955 Chevy and 1970 Pontiac GTO
Driver(s): Driver (James Taylor), GTO (Warren Oates)
Key to Cool: There’s not a single frame in Monte Hellman’s quintessential car film that doesn’t revel in the primer painted grandeur of Taylor’s ’55 Chevy and the shocking yellow of Oates' off-the-line GTO. And you gotta love a movie where the cars have better communication skills than the protagonists.
The Love Bug (1968)
Car: Herbie—a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle Ragtop Sedan
Driver: Jim Douglas/Van Hippy (Dean Jones)
Key to Cool: Sure, Herbie’s cute, but we love him for his independent mind. We just hope he’s good to Lindsay Lohan when he’s Herbie: Fully Loaded.
Mad Max (1979)
Car: The Interceptor
Driver: “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson)
Key to Cool: Quite simply, The Interceptor was one baaaad car. Modified from the exclusively Australian car, a 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT, it included a kick-butt 351 Cleveland, 4-speed manual transmission, and a 9" rear end. And it had that blower switch—the one that caused nitro-like acceleration. Sure, every gearhead knows you don’t just click on a blower switch and go, but it looked so darn cool, no one cared.
Car: 1958 Plymouth Fury
Driver: Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon)
Keys to Cool: Any car that can re-generate itself— no mechanic required is cool. Even if it’s possessed by its former owner and has to kill people in the process. And we always dug how nerdy Arnie suddenly becomes major stud, albeit creepy major stud, when driving the beast. Some people say they resemble their pets, others turn into their cars.
Starsky and Hutch (2005)
Car: 1976 Ford Torino
Driver: Always Starsky (Ben Stiller in the movie)—always.
Key to Cool: Like Starsky’s hyperactive running style, he drove that red and white striped dream too fast—way too fast. Did he ever consider innocent bystanders? This was sent up with much hilarity during the closing credits of Todd Phillip’s film during which the car is shown in stages of super ridiculous speed.
Car: 1967 Pontiac GTO
Driver: Super agent Xander Cage (Vin Diesel)
Key to Cool: It’s pimped out all over the place, but the extra touch for a movie this ridiculously over the top was that his GTO had to be purple. As Diesel says “Welcome to the Xander Zone.”
The Dukes of Hazard (2005)
Car: The General Lee—1969 Dodge Charger
Driver(s): Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) Duke
Key to Cool: For the Duke Boys, doors are useless. So much so, that they solder those pesky things shut making their cowboy entrance of jumping through the windows the envy of every kid attempting this at home. But, it’s just not the same in your mom’s station wagon.
Death Proof (2007)
Car: 1970 Dodge Challenger
Driver(s): Kim Mathis (Tracie Thomas) and Zoe Bell (playing herself and hanging on the hood)
Key to Cool: A car so tempting that two women take it out for a daring spin just to experience its pure muscle power? The same car Kowalski (Barry Newman) drives in Vanishing Point? The very car that kick-butt stuntwoman Zoe Bell plays “Ship’s Mast” on (as in, she actually ties herself to the hood and hangs on while the driver zooms to ultimate speed)? And finally, the car that defeats demented Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) and his 1970 Chevy Nova? There’s nothing about this car that isn’t cool.
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