Even with the leading lights of Hollywood behind the wheel, sometimes the car is the star. Four-wheeled legends have provided some of the most memorable moments in cinematic history, and the most famous movie cars will stay with us forever.
Some of these films weren’t even good, technically speaking. Look at The Blues Brothers, The Italian Job, and the never-ending Herbie collection, as well as the classier offerings of Gone in 60 Seconds. It was the thrill of the chase, more than the spec of the car, that left tire tracks in the history books.
Here are five of our favorite famous movie cars in movie history.
1. Aston Martin DB5 — Goldfinger — 1964
James Bond’s Aston Martin remains one of the most evocative and spectacular product placement deals in cinema history, and it all started with the DB5.
Sean Connery drove the least appropriate sports car for a secret agent. It does not blend in, anywhere, but it does have machine guns behind the indicators. The revolving license plate offered three separate identities, the rear was bulletproof and, naturally, an ejector seat was one of the modifications.
Even without these add-ons, the DB5 was a stunning car and generally considered the most beautiful Aston Martin of all time. With a 4-liter, 282bhp inline six cylinder under the hood and a top speed of 145mph, it was fast too. Tragically, the car supposedly met its end in an exhilarating chase through an industrial area, when Bond lost control and smashed into a brick wall.
The actual hero car from the movie was stolen from the Florida Quays in 1997. Investigators believe a wealthy collector from the Middle East ordered the theft, in a plot that really belongs in a James Bond film.
2. DeLorean DMC-12 – Back to the Future – 1985
The DeLorean DMC-12 was a catastrophe of epic proportions and the long and sordid story ended with company founder John Delorean landing in a federal prison for cocaine trafficking.
That made the ‘outlaw’ car perfect for a sight gag in a time travel comedy starring Michael J. Fox. The dated look of the unpainted and angular stainless steel ‘sports car’ worked perfectly for the film and it went on to outshine the man in the starring role.
Marty McFly found himself struggling to hit 88mph and kickstart the Flux Capacitor in a 130bhp car that would probably have struggled to get there in the real world, too, while terrorists took potshots from a VW bus with machine guns.
In the real world, the Delorean’s stainless steel body, gullwing doors, 10.6s 0-60mph time and 130bhp Renault V6 engine were a horrible recipe for a sports car. Even without the legal trouble it was unlikely to succeed, but the back story and this movie role have turned this oddball car into a collectors’ item.
3. Pontiac Trans-Am – Smokey & The Bandit – 1977
We live in a different world now, but in the 1970s every young boy wanted to be Burt Reynolds. They also wanted a black Pontiac Trans Am with a gold eagle on the hood.
The films themselves were beautifully simple, as The Bandit agreed to ‘bootleg’ illegal beer and drive across the State. They pick up a runaway bride, incur the wrath of local Sheriff Buford T. Justice, and mayhem followed. It’s a classic police chase comedy, with truckers, police helicopters and roadblocks to face.
Pontiac supplied four 1976 Trans Ams with 1977 front ends for the production. All of them were destroyed and one was fitted with a rocket for the now infamous jump over a disused bridge. With a 6.6-liter engine producing 180bhp, which propelled the Trans Am to 60mph in 9.3s, it wouldn’t have made this jump in real life.
Reynolds was the highest paid actor in Hollywood at the time, and what was originally planned as a B-movie finished second only to Star Wars in the 1977 box office rankings.
4. Mustang GT 390 – Bullitt – 1968
When you’re sharing a screen with Steve McQueen, you really have to be special to stand out. The legendary Ford Mustang GT 390 gave what was arguably the greatest chase scene in history and turned Bullitt into the ultimate car lovers’ movie.
Hitmen chase detective Frank Bullitt through the streets of San Francisco in an epic near 10-minute chase that remains one of the golden moments in cinema. The 325bhp Ford Mustang GT 390 V8 came with the four-speed manual transmission and the 390 cubic inch engine and four-barrel carburetor. Inevitably the cars were heavily modified to take a beating.
The original instructions told the drivers not to exceed 70mph, but the stuntmen’s enthusiasm got the better of them and they exceeded 120mph at certain points. McQueen was an exceptional race car driver and took the wheel for some of the chase, but even he had to hand over to seasoned pros for the serious stuff.
5. Dodge Monaco – The Blues Brothers – 1980
The Bluesmobile, the Dodge Monaro in the smash hit movie starring Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi, was meant to be a retired 1974 California Highway Patrol car that suited the protagonists’ non-existent budget.
The producers bought 60 more police cars at auction, for $400 each, and most gave their lives to the making of one of the standout films of the 1980s. It also set a record for the most cars destroyed in the making of a film, which was only beaten by its own sequel.
Other Famous Movie Cars
It pains us to leave out Eleanor, the star of Gone in 60 Seconds, a film so good they made it twice. The original Mini in The Italian Job deserves a place here and we could happily include the original Love Bug, Herbie, Janice Joplin’s psychedelic Porsche could quite happily fit in and, if the film had been better, you might just be staring at The A-Team van right now.
Ronin’s Audi S8 belongs here and The Flintstone’s foot-powered daily driver and the steampunk beasts of Mad Max could all come in here. Let’s face it, we could still be going this time next week.
The Most Famous Movie Cars Shaped Our Lives
These iconic cars from the big screen are a part of our lives. They’re a part of our childhood, dreams and aspirations. We may never get to own an Aston Martin, but thanks to James Bond they are featured in our dreams. The DeLorean will always be the Back to the Future car and even kids who will never own a car can imagine putting on a 10-gallon hat and taking on the law in a Trans-Am.
You can still do it, too. These cars are out there and there are more than a few that have been modified to full movie spec. Check the auctions and specialist sites if you want to take the plunge and relive your greatest moments in the real world, but maybe don’t try jumping off a bridge or racing through San Francisco.
If you’re going to buy a classic car, then make sure you invest in some breakdown insurance and you can get that right here.