We pick ten of the best – or at least the most memorable – cars ever to feature on the silver screen
This slick thriller played to Steve McQueen’s aloofness. Bullitt's gripping car chase through San Francisco’s rolling hills, overlaid with Lalo Schifrin’s score, raised the bar for action flicks. But, if anything, it was the star’s Highland Green Mustang GT390 that stole the show, even if the overdubbing inferred that it had about 18 forward gears. McQueen did some of the driving sequences himself, although legendary stuntman Bill Hickman performed most of the rough stuff. Despite the fact that Bullitt isn’t a great film per se (go on, what happened in the plot before and after the chase sequence?), it remains a classic of its kind.
AutoFact: Hickman also appeared on screen as the driver of the Charger.
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Checkpoint isn’t high art, but it remains hugely entertaining nonetheless. The plot, such as it is, centres on dirty rotter Stanley Baker who steals a secret demon tweak from the Ermini race team. Unfortunately, he shoots a policeman in the process. It just so happens that the Arno-Alpi road race is underway, so how better to make his way out of Italy than by posing as co-driver to dashing driver Anthony Steel? Baker persuades Steel at gunpoint to make a detour to the Swiss border, their run famously ending with their 'Warren-Ingram' (a V12 Lagonda) teetering on the edge of a cliff.
AutoFact: Warren-Ingram production cars seen near the start of the film were, of all things, Fairthorpe Atoms.
Vanishing Point Challenger
Cult movie Vanishing Point starred Barry Newman as Kowalski, the anti-hero packing a fistful of ‘ups’ and a poodle perm as he attempts to make it from Denver to ’Frisco aboard a ‘presumed supercharged’ Dodge Challenger. Director Richard Sarafin managed to infuse an almost hallucinogenic sense of movement, with shifting perspectives, disconnection and red-herring flashbacks as the burned-out ex-racing driver/policeman attempts to shake off Johnny Law. And the director’s cut is even trippier, the extra footage serving only to render the plot even more brilliant/impenetrable. Ignore the 1990s remake. Spoiler alert: Kowalski lives!
AutoFact: In the original bulldozer-hitting finale, the Challenger morphs into a ’67 Chevy Camaro.
Man from U.N.C.L.E. car
Forgoing the fact that the Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a TV series, this car is included here because extended episodes were shown in European cinemas. That, and the fact that this machine was altogether sexier than the series’ original ‘Thrushbuster’ Chrysler (don’t ask…). Unveiled at the 1966 Detroit Auto Show, the Cycloac Research vehicle was built to demonstrate the capabilities of thermoplastics. Model kit company AMT put the Chevy Corvair-engined car into production as the Piranha, and custom car guru Gene Winfield constructed a special version with full gullwings and an arsenal of weapons for NBC for use in the series.
AutoFact: The car was written out of the show as it was impractical for getting in or out of in a hurry.
Directed by South African-born Henry Cornelius, celluloid gem Genevieve featured a witty script by American William Rose and an excellent ensemble cast. Oh, and also the titular star, a 1904 Darracq, which would help cement the British public’s affection for veteran cars and also the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. Hyde Park was closed for the re-enactment of the start, the finish being restaged at Madeira Drive in Brighton, although other locations were closer to Rank’s Iver Heath studios. Ironically, for such a well loved and emblematic film, its director was pessimistic about its chances on its release in 1953. ‘It’s going to make people happy,’ was his most positive remark.
AutoFact: The Darracq had been christened ‘Annie’ by its owner prior to its use in the film.
‘Eleanor’ Mustang Mach 1
Not to be confused with the Nicolas Cage vehicle of 2000, the original Gone in 60 Seconds was the work of scrap magnate HB ‘Toby’ Halicki. Despite no prior experience, he wrote the script in a day, played the lead and performed his own stunts. The plot, for want of a better word, centres on Maindrian Pace’s bid to steal a great many cars in no time at all, the plan taking a dive after he is ratted out as he attempts to bag the final one on the list – a Mustang Mach 1 dubbed Eleanor. The 40-minute car chase in which 93 cars are destroyed is amazing.
AutoFact: Halicki broke several vertebrae in the climactic 128ft leap aboard Eleanor.
Starring Michael Crawford and a slumming Oliver Reed, the plot for this 1981 Disney flick centres on a comic-book artist who has to become his creation (Condorman) in order to facilitate the defection of a beautiful Russian spy to the West. Cue some shonky ‘special’ effects and a car that transforms from a camper van into a be-winged supercar befitting a superhero. The unnamed machine then bests a crack team of Porsche-mounted killers, the Brocknoviach, before it turns into a hovercraft. Or something (we didn’t make it to the end). Tellingly, it was Crawford’s last-ever big screen outing (to date, anyway).
AutoFact: The Condorman car was actually a modified Nova kit car.
School for Scoundrels Swiftmobile
This gem of a film features several car-related cameos, with rotter-in-chief Raymond Delauney (the always watchable Terry–Thomas) driving an Aston Martin DB3S – or rather a ‘Bellini’. However, the ‘Swiftmobile’ is pivotal to the School for Scoundrels plot, as hapless hero Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) is bamboozled into buying this pre-war monstrosity in a bid to impress the film’s love interest (Janette Scott). With its comedy grille, giant elephant mascot, serpentine horn and faux exhaust pipes, it was as ghastly to look at as it was unforgettable. In reality, the Swiftmobile began life as a 1928 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre with bodywork by Freestone & Webb.
AutoFact: The car was sold by H&H in 2003 for £110,000.
James Bond Citroën 2CV
OK, it isn’t exactly the most exotic car in this list, but the 2CV that appeared in For Your Eyes Only tends to be overshadowed by Astons and Lotuses when it comes to Bond worship. And let’s face it, the banana-yellow Deux Chevaux did at least distract viewers from the risible disco-funk soundtrack as 007 and Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet) try to put some distance between themselves and their Peugeot 504-equipped pursuers. Six cars were apparently used during shooting, with at least one packing a GS flat-four (nonetheless, footage was still speeded up…). In terms of showing off Bond’s raw driving skill, the 2CV is a better wingman than any gadget-laden DB5, Vanquish, submersible Esprit or gondola.
AutoFact: Citroën UK offered a James Bond package as a limited edition, complete with stick-on bullet holes.
Back to the Future DeLorean
‘Where we’re going, we won’t need roads.’ As a movie quote, it’s up there with ‘You made a time machine out of a DeLorean?’ And you can only share the sense of wonderment felt by Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) on first coming into contact with the latest invention of ‘Doc’ Brown (Christopher Lloyd). At a stroke, this witty 1985 blockbuster turned around public perception of a car that had been mired in controversy. Suddenly, the DeLorean DMC12 was hip, even if none ever left the Belfast factory with a flux capacitor.
AutoFact: Six DeLoreans were used during filming. Three still survive.
Images courtesy of Rota Archive