The 12 Most Famous Cars of Film and Television29
By Dan Berry
A car becomes a classic not merely because of its age. A car earns the esteemed title of “classic” by its uncanny ability to define a generation by capturing people’s hearts and compelling them to restore and resurrect these icons – no matter the cost or time involved.
Some cars achieve the distinction of a classic by being limited editions or by showing extraordinary performance. Others, however, have gained iconic celebrity status thanks, in part, to their association with famous TV shows and movies. Whether powered by demons or Tom Selleck, these cars are not just beloved models, but characters themselves.
12. Christine — 1958 Plymouth Fury
Christine (adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name) is a 1983 horror film about a supernaturally malevolent automobile and its effects on the teenager who owns it. Legendary B-movie master John Carpenter directed the film, which was set in 1978. It features Keith Gordon as Arnie, John Stockwell as Dennis, and Alexandra Paul as Leigh.
Needless to say, the true star of the fright flick is the car, Christine – a red-and-white 1958 Plymouth Fury. Once the weak sister of sports-car companies, Plymouth jumped into the performance field in 1956 with its limited edition Plymouth Fury that did nothing but get better in 1957 and 1958. The first Furys were the plushest and most potent Plymouths of the decade. Today, they’re coveted for their high style, low production, and great go.
The 1958 Plymouth Fury is known for more than just its titanic tailfin. A repeat of the 1957, except for the newly legalized quad headlamps, a tube grille with matching under-bumper stone shield, and smaller “lollipop” taillights, the ’58 Fury again had the distinctive gold/white color scheme (obviously, paintjobs can be altered), with the sweepspear slightly modified at the rear, but wheel covers were now stock issue. Base price for the 1958 model was $3,067.
The V-800 returned at its previous 290 horsepower, but it was now the standard V-8 across the board, rated at 225 horsepower with a quarter-point drop in compression (to 9.00:1) and minus the 290 version’s hop-up goodies. As before, the Fury’s “power pack” engine was available for any 1958 Plymouth.
Optional for all models, including Fury, was a new 350-cid wedge-head V-8. Called “Golden Commando.” It pumped out 305 or 315 horsepower – the latter via fuel injection – making this the fastest Fury yet. The typical 315-horsepower example would clock 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds and turn the standing quarter-mile in 16 seconds flat at close to 90 mph.
Unfortunately for those who had come to love this unique driver’s Plymouth, 1958 was the last year for the limited edition Plymouth Fury. The national economic recession that occurred that year was severe, and Plymouth suffered like most every other make. Model year sales dropped by about 300,000 units, of which only 5,303 were Furys.
Although the 1958 Plymouth Fury is identified as the car in John Carpenter’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel Christine, two other Plymouth models, the Belvedere and the Savoy, were also used to portray the malevolent automobile in the film. Total production for the 1958 Plymouth Fury was 3,018. Several Fury models were destroyed during filming, but most of the cars were Savoy and Belvedere models dressed to look like the Fury.
Several statements about the car in the book version had discrepancies from the actual 1958 Fury, referring to features that were found on the Belvedere model and not on the Fury. Some of these include:
- Rear Doors – Christine is referred to as a four-door, but the Fury was only available in a two-door model until 1959
- Automatic Transmission (called a Hydramatic in the book) is a GM transmission. Chrysler Corporation transmissions were called TorqueFlite
- Gearshift Lever – Refers to the transmission shifter. All 1958 Chrysler automobiles with automatic transmissions used push-button drive.
- Door Lock Button – Another slight inaccuracy was shown in the film version of Christine: In the scene where Leigh chokes on a hamburger, Arnie is locked out of the car and can’t help her. The door lock button clearly goes down by itself, yet these cars did not have lock buttons. They required the door handle to be pushed forward to lock them, pulling rearward opens the door.
Regardless, the author did note that Christine was “a special order,” which could explain these inconsistencies. Also, since the car is possessed by a supernatural force (the previous owner in the book and an unknown force in the movie), it is possible that the car could do just about anything it wanted. Another possibility to explain the inconsistencies could be the fact that the novel takes place in one of King’s universes for the “Dark Tower” multi-verse, in which other objects based on real world items have some details that are inaccurate in comparison.
Four “survivors” of the many red-and-white 1958 Plymouth Fury stunt cars used in Christine now reside in private hands: one in California, one in Florida, one at the Volo Car Museum, Volo, Illinois, and one in England.
11. Magnum, P.I. — Ferrari 308 GTS
Vote mustache! Vote Magnum! Vote American!
Magnum P.I. was an action adventure television show that ran between 1980-88 on the CBS television network. It featured Tom Selleck playing the role of Thomas Sullivan Magnum III, an ex-Vietnam vet (Navy Seal and Naval Intel), now working as a private investigator and head of security for the Hawaiian estate of the wealthy Robin Masters. (Tom Selleck actually turned down the role of Indiana Jones to portray Magnum.)
Created by Donald P. Bellisario and Glen A. Larson, the show also starred John Hillerman as Jonathan Quale Higgins III (major domo at Robin’s Nest, the estate of reclusive author Robin Masters – voiced by the legendary, and literally larger than life, Orson Welles, up until his death in 1985), Roger E. Mosley as Theodore “TC” Calvin (Magnum’s friend and chopper pilot in Vietnam), and Larry Manetti as Orville “Rick” Wright (a Vietnam War comrade of Magnum and TC – he was TC’s gunner – who manages the exclusive King Kamehameha Club, of which Higgins is a board member).
Magnum was best known for his sweet ‘stache, short shorts, hairy chest, Hawaiian shirts, Detroit Tigers baseball cap (which currently resides in the Smithsonian) and, of course, his ridiculously awesome ride. Serving as head of security and living in the guesthouse at Robin’s Nest definitely had its perks – the greatest being that Magnum got to drive the red Ferrari 308 GTS belonging to the never-seen Mr. Masters. Up to five of the red targa-topped 308 GTS Ferraris were used for filming, with the best models used for close-ups and static shots. It is also believed that the studios may have constructed special “kit” cars for the stunts. The show featured Ferraris from the 1979, 1981 and 1984 model years. At the end of every season the Ferraris were apparently sold at auction.
Magnum, P.I. had such a profound impact on the Ferrari 308 GTS series that these cars are often referred to as the “Magnum P.I. Ferrari.” In fact, the huge popularity of the show, coupled with the gorgeous, amazing performance of the 255-hp GTS, started a tidal wave of sales for Ferrari in the 80′s.
Ferrari 308 GTS Details
Years: 1979, 1981 and 1984
Make and Model: Ferrari 308 GTS (1979), 308 GTSi (1981), 308 GTS QV (1984)
Engine: 3.0 liter DOHC (2 and 4 valve) mid-engined V-8 rated at 214-255 hp
Carburetor: Weber Carb (1979) and BOSCH K-Jetronic fuel injection (1981, 1984)
Transmission: 5 Speed Synchomesh Transmission
Wheels: Ferrari Cast Alloys with Michelin performance tires
Color: Red (Rosso)
Other Notables: Two-seater, limited slip differential, racing clutch, targa top, air conditioning, leather interior, front airdam and rear airfoil.
On a side note, I personally consider Magnum, P.I. to be the greatest program in television history. If you don’t agree with me, just watch this clip and you will see why.
10. The Love Bug — 1964 Volkswagen 1200 Beetle
Who knew Hitler could help create something so cute?
The Love Bug (1968) was the first in a series of movies made by Walt Disney Productions that starred a white 1964 Volkswagen racing Beetle named Herbie.
While Herbie couldn’t speak, he definitely had personality. He was a moody little car that had a bunch of gadgets and could do everything but wag his tail. He’d even piss oil on your leg if you looked at him funny. And sometimes if you didn’t.
Based on the 1961 book Car, Boy, Girl by Gordon Buford, the movie (which was the highest grossing film of 1969) follows the adventures of Herbie, his driver Jim Douglas (Dean Jones), and Jim’s love interest, Carole Bennett (Michele Lee). It also features legendary comedian Buddy Hackett as Jim’s friend, Tennessee Steinmetz, and English actor David Tomlinson as the devilishly evil Peter Thorndyke, the owner of the auto showroom and a SCCA national champion who sells Herbie to Jim and eventually becomes his racing rival.
Four theatrical sequels followed: Herbie Rides Again, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Herbie Goes Bananas, and Herbie: Fully Loaded. A five-episode TV series, Herbie the Matchmaker, aired on the CBS network in 1982; and in 1997, there was a made-for-television sequel which included a Dean Jones cameo, tying it to the previous films.
The latest entry, Herbie: Fully Loaded, was released on June 22, 2005, by Walt Disney Pictures, and featured Herbie and Lindsay Lohan.
Herbie’s family history is an interesting one. In 1933, Adolf Hitler gave the order to Ferdinand Porsche to develop a Volkswagen (literally, “people’s car” in German). Erwin Komenda, Porsche’s chief designer, was responsible for the design and style of the car. But production only became worthwhile when the Third Reich backed finance. Initially called the Porsche Type 60 by Ferdinand Porsche, the car was officially named the KdF-Wagen by Hitler when the project was launched. However, war began before large-scale production of the Volkswagen started, and manufacturing shifted to producing military vehicles. Production of civilian VW automobiles did not start until post-war occupation.
Following the war, the Volkswagen factory was handed over by the Americans to British control in 1945. The re-opening of the factory is largely accredited to British Army officer Major Ivan Hirst (1916–2000). Hirst was ordered to take control of the heavily bombed factory, which the Americans had captured. His first task was to remove an unexploded bomb, which had fallen through the roof and lodged itself between some pieces of irreplaceable production equipment. Needless to say, if the bomb had exploded, the Beetle’s fate would have been sealed. But it didn’t, and Hirst persuaded the British military to order 20,000 of the cars, and by March 1946 the factory was producing 1,000 cars a month. During this period, the car reverted to its original name of Volkswagen, and the town was renamed Wolfsburg. The first 1,785 Volkswagen Type 1′s or “Beetles” were made in 1945, thus, paving the way for dirty, peace-loving hippies to cruise around in cars originally conceived of by a bloodthirsty dictator. Ah… history!
9. Batman (TV Series) — The Batmobile: 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura
Batman (1966) is an American television series, based on the DC comic book character of the same name, which starred Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, two crime-fighting heroes who defended Gotham City. The show aired on the ABC network for two and a half seasons from January 12, 1966 to March 14, 1968. Despite its short run, the show had a total of 120 episodes, having two weekly installments for most of its tenure.
The ludicrously straight-laced Caped Crusader battled evil in what can only be described as an insulting parody of the classic comics. In fact, I happened upon a rerun recently and, upon realizing that it was Burgess Meredith (Mickey from Rocky) who played the Penguin, I actually watched the entire episode simply to see if he’d turn to Batman and say, “Get up, ya son-of-a-bitch… ’cause Mickey loves ya!”
While it would be best to forget how bad the show was, no one should ever forget the true star of the show – the Batmobile. The 1955 Lincoln Futura Concept Car was nothing short of sweeeeeeet! Conceived, designed and named by William M. Schmidt (whose design inspirations came from a Manta Ray and a Mako Shark), the mean crime-fighting machine cost $250,000 to build and was unveiled to the public on January 8, 1955 at the Chicago Auto Show.
Engine Type: Overhead valve V-8 with a 4 barrel carburetor
Drivetrain layout: Front Engine, RWD
Body construction: Steel
Horsepower: 330 H.P.
Transmission: Turbo Drive Automatic Transmission
Suspension: Standard Lincoln ball-joint front suspension
Tires: 15×8 Firestone gum-dipped tubeless
Exhaust: Dual exhaust mounted within the chrome rear bumper
With the tailfins and wacky windshields, it’s too bad the 1955 Lincoln Futura Concept Car didn’t undergo mass production. We could’ve seen more people wearing their underwear outside their pants!
8. Bullitt — 1968 Mustang GT 390 CID Fastback
Its tire-smoking, engine-roaring duel is still the one by which all cinematic car chases are measured, and the “Highland Green” 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 CID Fastback was at the heart of the action. Steve McQueen’s dark green fastback, subtly tweaked to fit his personification of cool, is part of automotive lore and central to the Mustang myth.
The movie was Bullitt, released by Warner Brothers/Seven Arts on October 17, 1968, and based on the novel titled Mute Witness (1963) by Robert L. Fish (aka Robert L. Pike). Directed by Peter Yates from a screenplay by Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner, the film starred Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, and Robert Vaughn. Actor/Stuntman Carey Loftin designed the epic car chase.
The film’s plot unfolds as follows: All guts, no glory San Francisco police Lt. Frank Bullitt becomes determined to find the underworld kingpin that killed the witness in his protection. The opportunity for professional redemption arises when he spies the bad guys’ black 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum in slow-moving San Francisco traffic.
For three and a half minutes, Bullitt’s Mustang tags behind the big Dodge. While paused at a light, the Charger’s driver fastens his lap belt with sober deliberateness. The light flips, the driver stands on the Dodge’s accelerator, and two celebrated American muscle cars show what they’re made of. The chase – seven glorious minutes’ worth – is on!
Two identical Mustangs and two matching Chargers were used in the Bullitt chase sequence. So that the four-speed Mustang could run more easily with the brawnier four-speed 440 Magnum Charger, Hollywood engineer Max Balchowsky installed a racing cam on both Fords, milled the heads, and modified the ignition and carburetion systems. Balchowsky also bulked up the suspensions of all four cars for improved strength, handling, and control. Additionally, one Mustang and one Charger were fitted with a full roll cage.
The chase was shot at normal film speed; there would be no cranked-up footage to jazz audiences. The byword was reality.
Bullitt captures legendary star McQueen at the apex of his popularity and puts him in a milieu he loved in his private life: auto racing. He owned many fast cars and had a particular fondness for his barely street-legal XKSS Jaguar, which he liked to pilot at breakneck speeds along Sunset and serpentine Mulholland Drive high above Los Angeles. He participated in Sports Car Club of America events, and was an enthusiastic motorcyclist, as well.
McQueen (who is without a doubt the coolest dude who ever lived) insisted on driving the Mustang during the carefully choreographed pursuit, but when he failed to make a turn after locking up his wheels, he sealed the deal for pro driver Bud Ekins, who handled the Mustang during the jouncy maneuvers along San Francisco’s famously hilly streets. Stunt driver/actor Bill Hickman piloted the Charger.
The sequence did wonders for the Mustang mythos, of course, and didn’t do the Charger any harm, either. Ford offered a limited edition anniversary Mustang “Bullitt” in 2001.
The chase altered the tone of cop films and upped the ante for writers and directors who felt obliged to attempt to surpass it. Some gems came later, notably in The French Connection and The Seven-Ups (Bill Hickman did the driving in both). Although the Bullitt chase is no longer the most kinetic in movie history, it’s almost certainly is still the best.
7. Ghostbusters (1984) — The Ectomobile (Ecto-1): 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Ambulance
Who ya gonna call?
Ghostbusters is a supernatural comedy released on June 8, 1984 by Columbia Pictures. Written by co-stars Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis, the movie centered around a group of eccentric New York City parapsychologists who, after losing their jobs at Columbia University, decide to investigate and capture ghosts for a living. It was produced and directed by Ivan Reitman and stars Bill Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, and Ernie Hudson. The film made $291,632,124 in the United States alone, the equivalent of $538,260,000 in 2010 prices, ranking the film as the 32nd biggest grossing in U.S. box office history after adjustment for inflation.
The concept of the film was inspired by Dan Aykroyd’s own fascination with the paranormal, and was conceived by Aykroyd as a vehicle for himself and friend (and fellow Saturday Night Live alum) John Belushi.
The original story, as written by Aykroyd, was much more ambitious—and unfocused—than what would be eventually filmed. Aykroyd pitched his story to director / producer Ivan Reitman, who liked the basic idea but, he immediately saw the budgetary impossibilities demanded by Aykroyd’s first draft. At Reitman’s suggestion, the story was given a major overhaul, eventually evolving into the final screenplay, which Aykroyd and Harold Ramis hammered out over the course of a few months in a Martha’s Vineyard bomb shelter (according to Ramis on the DVD Commentary Track for the movie). Aykroyd and Ramis initially wrote the script with roles written especially for Belushi, Eddie Murphy and John Candy. However, Belushi died due to a drug overdose during the writing of the screenplay, and neither Murphy nor Candy could commit to the movie due to prior engagements (Beverly Hills Cop and Splash, respectively). Enter Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray. (Ironically, Murray ended up being named comedic performer of the year as a result of his performance.)
Now that the “human” cast was complete, there was only one thing missing: their ride.
In terms of manufacturing status, the 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor was considered middle of the pack. Sayers & Scovill coaches were considered to be for the more well to do funeral homes. And Superior Coach Corporation, with their Crown Royale model, was regarded as the most desirable of all 1959 models. But still, the Miller-Meteor coach company of Bellefontaine, Ohio manufactured the most famous of all professional cars, and this was even before the Ectomobile, or Ecto-1, became the first car to respond to the question: “Who ya gonna call?” Because seriously, how many cars do you know of that can store ghosts in gas tanks? (That’s a rhetorical question.)
The Ectomobile, a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor limo-style end-loader combination car (ambulance/hearse conversion), is named, on-screen, through the introduction of its finished form with the license plate shown reading “Ecto-1.” The word “Ectomobile” was only used in the song “Cleaning Up The Town” from the film’s soundtrack.
Originally the filmmakers planned to have the Ecto-1 be painted black. The color of the vehicle was later changed to white when it was decided a black car would be too difficult to see during night scenes. The Ectomobile was originally going to be a much more high tech vehicle, with an almost artificial intelligence.
Three cars have played the vehicle in the movies; the third 1959 Miller-Meteor was purchased after the second died during shooting of Ghostbusters II. The black Miller-Meteor seen at the beginning of the first movie was leased and used only for that scene and never converted for filming, though it was later purchased by the studio and completely converted to a full Ecto-1 for touring.
The Ecto-1A, an upgraded version of the Ecto-1, is seen only in Ghostbusters II, and included more technical equipment placed on the roof. Most noticeably, this upgrade included digital announcement boards on each side of the vehicle’s roof broadcasting Ghostbusters advertisements, specials, and their phone number. Also, the logo was updated on the doors and back entrance of the ambulance. In addition, unlike its previous incarnation, this updated logo was placed on the hood of the vehicle. The vehicle also sported strips of yellow and black along either side. Ecto-1A was originally scripted as the Ecto-2, and one reference to this remains in the movie. When Bill Murray, as Dr. Peter Venkman, is standing outside of his apartment and the car pulls up, “Ecto-2” is visible on the license plate.
6. The A-Team — 1983 GMC Vandura G-Series [G-1500]
“In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… The A-Team!” (Unless, of course, you need someone shot, and not simply startled by the sound of bullets being fired wildly in the air.)
The A-Team was an action adventure television series that ran for five seasons on the NBC television network, from January 23, 1983 to December 30, 1986 (with one additional, previously un-broadcast episode shown on March 8, 1987), for a total of 98 episodes.
The show, created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell, at the behest of Brandon Tartikoff, NBC’s Entertainment president, centered on a group of ex-United States Army Special Forces personnel who work as soldiers of fortune while on the run from the Army after being wrongly branded as war criminals.
The A-Team remains a popular culture fixture (20th Century Fox released a feature film based on the series on June 11, 2010 and a comic book series, A-Team: Shotgun Wedding, was launched on March 9, 2010) for its cartoon-like use of over-the-top violence (again, no one ever gets shot), formulaic episodes, their ridiculously uncanny ability to form weaponry and vehicles out of old parts, and its distinctive theme song. (It really is pretty friggin’ addictive. Sing it with me now: Dun…dun dun dunnnnn, dun dun dun!) Many of the show’s catchphrases, such as “I love it when a plan comes together,” “Hannibal’s on the jazz,” and “I ain’t gettin’ on no plane!” have also made their way onto T-shirts and other merchandise.
The show featured the legendary George Peppard as Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, Dwight Schultz as Captain “Howling Mad” Murdock, and Dirk Benedict of Battlestar Gallactica fame as Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Tim Dunigan appeared as Peck in the pilot). Additional cast members included reporter Amy Amanda Allen (Melinda Culea), who was ultimately replaced by fellow reporter Tawnia Baker (Marla Heasley). The character of Tia (Tia Carrere), a Vietnam War orphan now living in the United States, was meant to join the Team in the fifth season, but she was replaced by Frankie Santana (Eddie Velez), who served as the team’s special effects expert. Furthermore, the army man in charge of tracking down the A-Team was Colonel Decker, played by Lance LeGault. (LeGault, oddly enough also frequently played the foil to Thomas Sullivan Magnum III on Magnum, P.I. – see #6.) And then there was B.A. Baracus (Laurence Tureaud, aka Mr. T). The A-Team served to further boost the career of Mr. T (he and Hulk Hogan, who actually made a guest appearance on the show, had just made names for themselves in the classic film Rocky III), as he portrayed the character of Sergeant First Class Bosco Albert “B. A.” or “Bad Attitude” Baracus, and around whom the program was initially conceived.
But Mr. T aside, the true star of the show was The A-Team’s 1983 GMC Vandura G-1500 van. Definitely not for soccer moms, the 350 c.i. V8 van… err… war-wagon came stocked with a Ruger AC556 fully automatic rifle with folding stock and flash hider firing 5.56x45mm NATO rounds, you know, for personal protection. (But with Mr. T behind the wheel, it was impossible not to “pity the fool” who tried to steal that badass battlewagon.) A number of other “devices” were also seen in the back of the van in different episodes, including a mini printing press, an audio surveillance-recording device and Hannibal’s disguise kits.
The A-Team’s black and metallic grey GMC Vandura G-1500, with its characteristic red stripe, black and red turbine mag wheels, and rooftop spoiler, has become an enduring pop culture icon. One of the original six vans used for the show is displayed in the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Keswick, Northern England. The GMC Vandura used on the A-Team movie was also on display at the 2010 New York International Auto Show.
Early examples of the van had a red GMC logo on the front grill, and an additional GMC logo on the rear left door; but early in the second season, these logos were blacked out, although GMC continued to supply vans and receive a credit on the closing credits of each episode. Additionally, the angle of the rear spoiler can also be seen to vary on different examples of the van within the series and, moreover, some versions of the van have a sunroof, whereas others, typically those used for stunts (and including the one displayed in the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum) do not. This led to continuity errors in some episodes (not that anyone ever noticed because they were too busy wondering why The A-Team even bothered buying bullets when they couldn’t hit sand if they fell off a camel). Also, in many stunts where the van would surely be totaled, other makes were used, such as a black Ford Econoline with red hubcaps painted to simulate the original red turbine mag wheels.
5. Back to the Future — 1981-1982 DeLorean DMC-12
Marty McFly: “Wait a minute, Doc. Ah… Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?”
Dr. Emmett Brown: “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”
Back to the Future is a 1985 American science-fiction comedy film directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and produced by Steven Spielberg. The film tells the story of Marty McFly, a teenager who is accidentally sent back in time from 1985 to 1955. He meets his parents in high school, accidentally ruining their chance to meet. Marty must repair the damage to history by causing his parents to fall in love, while finding a way to return to 1985.
The film, a pop culture classic, featured Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson. But the real star of the movie was Doc Brown’s 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 time machine.
Initiated in 1974 as an “ethical sports car,” the 1981-1982 DeLorean DMC-12 was designed by Bill Collins, a one-time Pontiac engineer. Lotus of England eventually reworked the entire concept, which emerged as a $25,000 rear-engine two-seat coupe with gullwing doors, steel X-member backbone chassis, all-independent suspension, and fiberglass inner body with stainless-steel outer panels.
The car features many proprietary components – notably French “PRV” V-6 and five-speed transaxle. It was assembled at a new purpose-built factory in Northern Ireland. The DMC-12 was promoted to the skies, but sales never met estimates. Numerous assembly problems forced costly fixes, and the firm’s finances were both complex and evidently shady.
The 1981-1982 DeLorean DMC-12 is quite possibly the most notorious car of all time, not so much for its abundant faults as the scandal involving its creator: another former Pontiac engineer, Pontiac/Chevrolet chief John Z. DeLorean.
The coup de grâce was DeLorean’s 1982 indictment on drug charges. The drug trafficking was an apparent attempt to raise funds for his struggling company, which declared bankruptcy that same year. He successfully defended himself against the drug trafficking charges, showing that his alleged involvement was a result of entrapment by federal agents. He was also later cleared of allegations that he bilked some of his investors, including the British government, which had bankrolled the plant. DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt in late 1982, forcing some 1200 late-production cars to be sold at some $6,000 off list by a Columbus, Ohio liquidator. A planned sedan and turbo conversion were left stillborn.
Today, the DMC-12 seems an honest if flawed car. Still, the model remains a classic case of a swinger’s ego overpowering common sense. Plus, it goes back… to the future!
Great Scott! In Back to the Future, Doc Brown’s DeLorean DMC-12 was modified into a time machine using a flux capacitor with a plutonium-fueled nuclear reactor generating the required 1.21 gigawatts of power. The car travels to a programmed date upon reaching 88 miles per hour, sending you back to 1955 without breaking a sweat.
Piece of cake. Ain’t that right, McFly? Hello? Hello? Anybody home?
Production of the 1981-1982 DeLorean DMC-12: Approximately 8,500
Specifications of the 1981-1982 DeLorean DMC-12:
Wheelbase, inches: 94.8
Length, inches: 168.0
Weight, pounds: 2840
Price, new: $25,000 (U.S.)
Engines for the 1981-1982 DeLorean DMC-12:
Type: ohv V-6
Size: 174 cc
4. Knight Rider — 1982 Pontiac Trans Am
Knight Rider is a television series that originally ran from September 26, 1982, to August 8, 1986. Broadcast on NBC, it featured David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight, a high-tech modern-day knight fighting crime with the help of KITT, a sapient talking car with artificial intelligence.
Conceived and produced by Glen A. Larson, the show was an instant hit. I mean, c’mon, who could resist KITT? David Hasselhoff? Nah, he’s forgettable – except of course, for THIS. But a classic car with flamethrowers, an intelligent AI, bomb sniffer, sleep gas, tear gas launcher, and tons of other gizmos is undeniably etched in history.
KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand), modifications aside, was a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am. But obviously, the modifications were what mattered.
KITT Pontiac Trans Am Details
- Years: 1982
- Make & Model: Pontiac Trans Am body
- Engine: Knight Industries turbojet with modified afterburners
- Acceleration: 0-60mph > .2 seconds (with power boosters), Standing 1/4 mile > 4.286 sec @ 300mph
- Transmission: 8-speed microprocessor turbo-drive with auto pilot
- Color: Black
- Other Notables: Modified dash and steering, automatic pilot, ejector seat, electromagnetic hyper-vacuum disc brakes, satellite communications, radar, electronic field disrupter, laser defense, traction spikes, voice analyzer, video recording and playback, grappling hook, ultraphonic chemical analyzer, ultramagnesium charges and T-Tops.
Now that is one wicked whip!
3. Smokey and the Bandit — 1977 Trans Am SE
Eastbound and down… load it up and truck it!
Smokey and the Bandit is a 1977 action-comedy film directed by Hal Needham and starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed and one of the sweetest rides of all time – the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am SE.
The 1977 Pontiac Trans Am SE sported 400 cubic inches, or 6.6 liters, of meaty V-8. It looked fantastic – sharp in the right places and flared and muscular in the others. That shape, draped in glossy black paint and gold regalia, was a complete knockout. The gold engine-turned dashboard wasn’t subtle, but it was gorgeous.
To the casual onlooker, the ’77 Trans Am SE looked like the perfect muscle car combination. With a beefy engine, flared fenders, sport seats, and of course the iconic screaming chicken decal on the hood… well, the ’77 T/A looked like a worthy successor to the legendary 1973 Trans Am SD-455 as master of all muscle cars.
There was one rub, but it was a big one. Those 400 cubic inches generated only 180 horsepower—about half of the estimated 310-370 net horsepower the illustrious SD-455 produced. With about the same horsepower on tap as a 1995 Toyota Avalon, the ’77 Trans Am offered similar acceleration numbers as well – 0-60 in around 8.5 seconds.
A brightly plumaged muscle car that accelerated like a feeble mid-1990s Toyota family sedan doesn’t sound like a particularly compelling muscle car, but the ’77 Trans Am has two mitigating factors working in its favor.
The first is context. The late 1970s were a dark time for performance. Pollution regulations, fuel shortages, and spiraling insurance costs had combined to nearly kill performance cars during that dark decade.
The list of real American performance cars on the market was down to two – the Corvette and the Trans Am. In the context of this era, when a sub-10-second 0-60 time was considered an accomplishment, even this somnolent version of the Trans Am was one of the hottest American cars available.
The second mitigating factor was handling. If you didn’t think a 1970s muscle car with a massive V-8 mounted way out front could handle particularly well, you would be wrong. To quote a contemporary Car and Driver test of a big-engined T/A:
“Handling is (the) ace in a hole. Detroit has never offered a better car for snaking down a country road at speed, and that character remains almost intact … fast, sensitive steering gives the car keen reflexes … the fact is, you couldn’t choose a more capable machine for getting out of trouble.”
And that is precisely what made the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am SE the perfect car for Bandit.
The plot of Smokey and the Bandit is plain and simple: The Bandit is hired on to run a tractor-trailer full of beer (Coors used to be illegal east of the Mississippi) over county lines in hot pursuit by a pesky sheriff. But plain and simple can still be sweet. The second highest grossing film of 1977 (beaten only by Star Wars), Smokey and the Bandit, inspired several other trucking films, including two sequels, Smokey and the Bandit II, and Smokey and the Bandit Part 3. There were also a series of 1994 television movies (Bandit Goes Country, Bandit Bandit, Beauty and the Bandit and Bandit’s Silver Angel) from original director/writer Hal Needham loosely based on the earlier version, but with actor Brian Bloom now playing Bandit.
The three original movies introduced two generations of the Pontiac Trans Am (the TV-movie version drives the Dodge Stealth), but it was in the first film that the car – the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am SE – truly shines. In fact, Smokey and the Bandit is Burt Reynolds at his finest (this sure as hell wasn’t it), and his Trans Am had a great deal to do with that. (I mean, c’mon, it sure as heck wasn’t Gidget riding shotgun that made him the man.)
Sadly, on November 3, 2010, the iconic Smokey and the Bandit Pontiac cars went out of business (this means that #4 is also gone but not forgotten). So, in loving tribute, here’s some serious T&A porn – every Trans Am scene from Smokey and the Bandit:
2. The Dukes of Hazzard — 1969 Dodge Charger R/T
The Dukes of Hazzard is a television series that originally aired on CBS network 1979 to 1985. The show follows Bo and Luke Duke (John Schneider and Tom Wopat, respectively), two cousins living in a rural part of the fictional Hazzard County, Georgia, with their cousin Daisy (Catherine Bach – my first crush) and wise old Uncle Jesse (Denver Pyle). Having been previously sentenced to probation for illegal transportation of moonshine, Bo and Luke are not allowed to carry firearms (instead, they often use compound bows, sometimes tipped with dynamite) or to leave Hazzard County. They are also constantly evading corrupt county commissioner Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg (Sorrell Booke) and his inept county sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (James Best) with the help of their mechanic friend Cooter (Ben Jones – who actually went on to serve as a congressman) and, of course, the show’s true star – their customized 1969 Dodge Charger R/T, The General Lee.
The modified 1969 Dodge Charger R/T driven by the Duke boys is best known for the chases and stunts, especially high jumps, and for having the doors welded shut, leaving the Dukes to climb in and out through the windows. The car’s name is an obvious reference to the Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and indeed the vehicle embodies the ole South, bearing as it does a Confederate naval jack on its roof and a horn that plays the melody from the first line of the song “Dixie.”
The idea for the General Lee was developed from the famous bootlegger Jerry Rushing’s car, which was named for Lee’s favorite horse, Traveller. “Traveller” was also the name of the car in Moonrunners, the 1975 movie precursor to The Dukes of Hazzard. (Both the movie and the show were created by Gy Waldron.)
Who could ever forget this monster car? The shiny orange paint, the horn that played the “Dixie” tune, the welded-shut doors, and the number “01″ on both sides is enough to bring back many good memories… like when you could have a giant Confederate flag emblazoned on the roof of your ride.
But southern “charm” aside, this car, which is muscle at its finest, truly brings back a ton of fond memories. As a spastic little 3-year-old, I was so obsessed with this show that I would only climb in through the windows of my parents’ car and demanded that they only refer to me as “Luke Duke.” (Yeah, I was a dork.)
In 1997, one of the models of this car sold at an auction for an impressive $450,000. Yeeeeehaw!
1. Goldfinger (1964) — 1963 Aston Martin DB5
So we have cops, detectives, vigilantes, and of course, who could forget spies?
Goldfinger (1964) is the third spy film in the James Bond series, and the third to feature Sean Connery as MI6 agent James Bond. Based on the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming (who also wrote the children’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which – oddly enough – features another famous car), the film also features Gert Fröbe as the title character and Honor Blackman as the Bond Girl with the greatest name ever – Pussy Galore. Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman produced the film, and it was the first of four Bond films directed by Guy Hamilton.
Goldfinger was the first official Bond blockbuster and many consider it to be the greatest and most iconic film in the series. Goldfinger was also the first Bond film to use a pop star to sing the theme song during the titles, a hallmark that would follow for every Bond film since, except On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
So we have the greatest Bond film, the greatest actor to play James Bond, the greatest Bond Girl, and… wait for it… the most famous car in the history of film and television. That’s right, in Goldfinger, the world’s most beloved secret agent and playboy extraordinaire drives the super-stylish 1963 Aston Martin DB5 (it can also be seen in the Bond film Thunderball, along with different DB5s in Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies and Casino Royale).
The 1963 Aston Martin DB5 was an improved DB4. The DB series was named after David Brown (the head of Aston Martin from 1947–1972). Standard equipment on the DB5 included reclining seats, pile carpets, electric windows and a fire extinguisher. All models had 4 seats and 2 doors. The UK recommended list price of the sports saloon (coupe) in December 1963 was £4,248 including Purchase Tax. The convertible was £4,562.
Engine: 3,995 cc (243.8 cu in) Inline-6
Power: 282 bhp (210 kW) at 5500 rpm
Torque: 288 lb·ft (390 N·m) at 3850 rpm
Weight: 1,502 kg (3,310 lb)
Top Speed: 145 mph (233 km/h)
0–60 mph (97 km/h) Acceleration: 7.1 s
Oil Slick: Optional
The Aston Martin DB5 is the most famous Aston Martin car due to its use by James Bond in Goldfinger. Although Ian Fleming had placed Bond in a DB Mark III in the novel, the DB5 was the company’s newest model when the film was being made. The car used in the film was the original DB5 prototype, with another standard car used for stunts. Two more modified cars were built for publicity tours after the film’s release. In January 2006, one of those cars was auctioned in Arizona for $2,090,000. On June 1, 2010, one of the actual DB5s used in Goldfinger and Thunderball was auctioned and eventually sold for a mind-boggling $4,103,000.
If you would like to see James Bond’s 1963 Aston Martin DB5, equipped with all the gadgets, visit The Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
Dan Berry began writing and performing stand-up comedy while attending New York University. An inexplicably instant success, he has since appeared in clubs and on college campuses nationwide, and is frequently featured on radio and television. Aside from creating the humor site Jotter of a Rotter and the internationally acclaimed website The Prison Kite, Dan has also lent his warped writing skills to a pair of failed pilots for FX and NBC, as well as to several current network shows that are somehow proving successful in spite of his crazed contributions.