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Article – Cool for School: 6 Iconic Film Cars


Posted September 6, 2017 by

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6 Iconic Film Cars

As for a lot of people my age, I grew up in an era of mythic, fairy-tale movie cars. Stumbling on them was a treat. They road-mapped the imagination. They opened up a whole delicious furrow of make-believe, along with the word “Corgi” and an outrageous tapestry of homebred scenarios.

It occurred to me that the cars we label “iconic” are among life’s benchmarks, just as the films are themselves.  Looking at pictures of The Dukes of Hazzard’s General Lee always hurtles me back to a dim corner of the early eighties and my mother’s choice for me a pair of unflattering brown corduroy flares and a Superman t-shirt.

A car that is pivotal to a film’s plot – humanized or designed beyond the bounds of imagination – informs our understanding of the art, and the artists.  The trouble is, it’s a hard one to get right. The forging of a superstar that ticks all the boxes is a clenchy one; elusive, perhaps, and seemingly less than a glint in the eye of the modern day inventor. After all it’s been 27 years since Mr. Fusion…and kudos to whoever came up with that.

Actually, the story of the iconic car has not been told in modern cinema since 1990 (the final instalment of Back to the Future was released in that year). So, with the exception of some animations, the Batman franchise and a reworking of The Italian Job (2003) we can be excused for thinking the days of the special car have been spun off a cliff like a Pinto. To date, none has the same epic ring about it.

Looking for answers, one may find reason in the slightly chilly air still overhanging Hollywood. The industry’s relationship with the future lacks nourishment and ambition, and stands alongside an overly-cautious philosophy lingering from the 2000s.  If I were being profound I could plausibly argue that this is What It’s All About: cars these days are just cars.

Anyway, would that my task was as simple as it seems. In truth there are at least another 30 vehicles that could have made it into this list (Bumblebee, 2017?) but in terms of iconography, memorability, and a thing regarded as representative of the movie, these six are here offered.

Goldfinger (1964)

goldfinger james bond

 As far as long-running movie cars go, the Aston Martin DB5 is spinning wheels thanks to its unbreakable link with the 007 franchise. Modified by SFX expert John Stears for the film Goldfinger in 1964, the same car (BMT 216A) made its latest reappearance outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change in the 2015 film Spectre. Bondophiles will surely know that the Q-factory-fitted optional extras included revolving number plates, front wing machine guns and, of course, an ejector seat (cue:  audience micro-dread on M’s journey to Scotland in Skyfall).

The Love Bug (1968)

the love bug

Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi humanized a Model 117 Volkswagen Beetle by writing a film about its relationship with racing driver Jim Douglas (Dean Jones). The film focusses on Herbie who, we find, has been mistreated by a previous owner. The anthropomorphic pearl-white Beetle then “thanks” Jim by winning successive races despite the villain of the piece Peter Thorndyke (David Tomlinson) doing his best to scupper the ambitions of Herbie and Jim. Based on the 1961 book “Car, Boy, Girl” by Gordon Buford, The Love Bug was the last live action film produced with Mr. Walt Disney’s involvement. Herbie returned in the decidedly average Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005).

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

chitty chitty bang bang

Thanks to trend-led Christmas television appearances and a successful stage musical adaptation, the customized Paragon Panther – with no sense of style – continues to be one of the most recognisable vehicles in movie history. The car was designed by production designer Ken Adam (set designer for James Bond 1960/70s and Dr Strangelove) and cartoonist and whimsical sculptor Frederick Rowland Emett. It was then built by Alan Mann Racing in Hertfordshire in 1967, properly fitted with a Ford V6 engine and automatic transmission, and even given the genuine UK registration of GEN 11.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

spy who loved me

The Lotus Esprit S1 was a sports car built by Lotus in the UK between 1976 and 1978. From the moment it was launched it was a pin-up car typical of the flashiness and spivvery that grated on the have-nots of the brown era (and there were many, and it was very brown). It was featured in The Spy Who Loved Me on a long Sardinian car chase for which Lotus’s own engineer Roger Becker sat in for the designated stunt driver and gave a far better show of its handling. If we’re being honest though, the S1 is probably better known for its ability to convert to submarine mode – a childhood dream on a global scale.

Ghostbusters (1984)

ghostbusters car

According to Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), all Ecto-1 needed was some work on its “suspension, shocks, brakes…also new rings, mufflers, a little wiring.” In the end, the 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor turned out all the more remarkable for its overhaul and became instantly recognisable around the world. Director Ivan Reitman asked designer Stephen Dane to draft plans and oversee the development of Ecto-1 – a hugely pressurised concept. Dane is also credited with work on accessories such as the Proton Pack, Particle Thrower and Slime Blower all of which were completed within two weeks of the start of shooting. The remake in 2016 featured a 1980s Cadillac Fleetwood Station Wagon.

Back to the Future (1985)

back to the future

Arguably one of the most iconic cars in the history of film is the DeLorean DMC-12. It was both a real-life and metaphorical vehicle for the franchise. Director Robert Zemeckis remarked in a DVD commentary for Back to the Future that, “the DeLorean DMC-12 [was chosen] for the purposes of it looking like an alien spaceship due to its characteristic gullwing doors”. Its popular “homemade” appearance was achieved through the work of designers Andrew Probert and Ron Cobb. The pair vividly created the car of the screenplay in a thousand telling details.


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Written by:

Nick Whittle
Freelance Contributor

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