Top 10… Cars On Screen

Some things are so obvious as to need no explanation. It is, for example, perfectly clear that Famke Jannsen is the most beautiful woman on the planet, and I have the (signed) photograph to prove it. (I mention this mainly to please you, Impertinent Googler, rather than you, Dear Constant Reader). The photograph in question is this one (and with this, IG, you can go away again):

The unsigned version

The unsigned version

Right. Now that that’s dealt with (although just you watch my blog stats skyrocket) I can get to what it was I actually wanted to talk about, which was ‘Cars on Screen’. This is a contentious issue. I make no bones about it. Some of you, I’m sure, are going to disagree with my list. If so, well…that’s just too bad. These are some of the very finest examples of automotive coolness to be seen anywhere, and you’ll just have to flame me later. With that in mind, let’s get things rolling…

#10: 1971 Plymouth Valiant

It’s not the most powerful car on the list. It’s not the prettiest car on the list. It’s not the coolest car on the list (well, duh) and it’s not the fastest car on the list – but it just might be the most courageous car on the list. This 4-door family saloon was the unsung hero of Steven Spielberg’s film ‘Duel‘, where Dennis Weaver used it to flee his pursuer, a literal ‘monster truck’. At the end of the film, the car careered into the lorry, destroying itself…but blinding the lorry driver for a few vital seconds until escape from the cliff-edge was impossible and he plummeted over the side. Kudos to the car for that.

Besides, look at that nose, reminiscent of a ’69 Charger… remember, this was Mom’s car, not an action hero’s. I can’t decide whether there’s a history in American films of using regular cars in extraordinary roles to suggest the triumph of the everyman; or if there’s a history of American car manufacturers designing extraordinary cars for ordinary situations as part of a marketing campaign. It’s the chicken or the egg query of automotive pop culture…

#9: 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T

In some respects the ultimate counter-culture car, the 1970 Dodge Challenger became so as the star of the very trippy and deeply weird anti-establishment chase movie ‘Vanishing Point‘. The big brother of the Dodge Charger, the Challenger was designed to be more comfortable, although apparently this is not the case when you plough into a couple of bulldozers at a hundred miles an hour. Perhaps the car should have survived – Quentin Tarantino certainly thought so, as a white 1970 Dodge Challenger became the hero of the otherwise-woeful ‘Deathproof’. Although the two movies don’t feature exactly the same model of car, the two Challengers do have the same license plate.

Whether you just have to make it to ‘Frisco, or you just have to get off the hood because you’re being chased by a maniac in a ’69 Charger, clearly, the Dodge Challenger is the answer to all your vehicular requirements.

#8: 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

When I was seven I saw what I then thought was the single greatest movie ever made: ‘Smokey and the Bandit’. I was too young to realise that I was essentially watching the most expensive, most sustained commercial Coors Light Beer ever made: I just loved the car with the missing roof and the painting on the bonnet, the one whose speed was determined by the amount of money thrown towards it (a scene I didn’t understand for several years). The car itself didn’t wow me, exactly, but I loved the idea that it was essentially good-humoured anarchy on wheels. As such, I find it very difficult to forgive the two sequels, just as I find it equally difficult to ignore the darker cast given to the car by (again) Quentin Tarantino, who has The Bride drive it in volume 2 of Kill Bill. This car represented good fun, unlike the other famous TV Trans Am, which doesn’t make it onto this list: Knight Rider’ s K.I.T.T. Can you imagine being nagged incessantly by nothing more than a glorified and sentient satnav? Stick with the Bandit. Not even Hasselhoff could get away with that ‘tache. Instead, stick to the backroads, roar off in a cloud of dust, keep up the chatter on the CB and play hide-and-seek with the local law enforcement. Trust me, it’s much more fun.

#7: 1968 Ford Mustang 390 CID Fastback

Yes, I know that in THAT car chase they had to rein in the Dodge Charger, because it kept getting away; yes, I know that in that car chase Steve McQueen’s tyre-smoking antics weren’t entirely planned, nor was the Charger’s running into the camera; yes, I know that Mustang’s engine had to be extensively modified to increase the power output and that the Charger  somehow manages to lose a total of 6 hubcaps… but ‘Bullitt’ provides THE definitive movie car chase, and the Highland Green Mustang is, clearly, the star therof. It’s a cool car. It just is. And being driven by Steve McQueen made its coolness probably eternally unassailable. Filmed at full speed, with no soundtrack other than the tyres and the engine, this thing roared round San Francisco and into a well-deserved place in movie history.

#6: 1969 Dodge Charger ‘General Lee’

If you wanted a car that you had to enter via the windows (preferably after sliding over the hood), waved on by a girl in the shortest shorts history has ever seen, and which seemed to spend more time in the air than it ever did on the ground, well, there’s no choice: it has to be the General Lee. Less well known is the fact that General Lee is based on a real car, a 1958 Chrysler 300D used by a real bootlegger and named ‘Traveler’ – the name of General Robert E. Lee’s horse. Oh, and another fun fact: ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ used up no less than 256 ’68 and ’69 Chargers, much to the chagrin of classic car enthusiasts today. In fact so many cars were used for the series that by the end they were resorting to scale models. Even so, the General Lee – possibly the least-conspicuous criminal car ever built – stands out as a firm favourite. How did that horn go again?

#5: 1963 Aston Martin DB5

Well, let’s see: James Bond’s vehicle of choice comes fully stocked with twin machine guns, bulletproof glass, a retractable armour shield, oil slick dispensers, tyre-shredding hubcaps, revolving number plates, a champagne cooler, smokescreen generators, extending bumpers for ramming, and finally, who could forget the passenger-side ejector seat? The car, unlike most of the others on this list, suggests elegance rather than brute force. Mind you, you’d have to be out of your mind to make rude gestures at the driver… And you’d then have to drive awfully fast to escape him, as the standard DB5 was capable of 145mph. Though you would have to be insane to attempt driving it at that kind of speed, as the car’s brakes started life as milk-bottle tops. If you think you might just buy one, expect to have to pay a further £10,000  getting it up to a standard whereby it can be driven as it ought and deserves to be driven. Also, if you’re wealthy enough to be thinking seriously about buying one, will you be my friend?

#4: The Batmobile (Keaton Era)

There have been numerous Batmobiles over the years, but this is the best. Less camp than the TV version or the Schumacher monstrosities (*shudder*); less military-industrial complex than the Tumbler of Nolan’s two recent films: Tim Burton’s batmobile strock the perfect balance. Made from two Chevy Impala chasses and fitted with a 5.7 litre V8, it could actually go like stink – although that isn’t my favourite factoid about this machine. No, that honour goes to the fact that at least one was built with a real jet engine. Admittedly it was so thirsty that it drained the fuel tank in 15 seconds, which isn’t ideal, but the idea was basically good. They even went so far as to make all the gadgets actually work, with the exception of the shield mechanism, because that kind of solid-state science is still quite far off. But this is probably the meanest machine on the list, and I love it.

#3: 1967 Chevrolet Impala

Close all the doors, break out the salt and lock up your daughters: the Winchester boys are in town. Apparently Eric Kripke, the creator of ‘Supernatural’ was originally going to use a ’65 Mustang for the show, but he was talked out of it by a neighbour who explained that with the Impala “you could hide a body in the trunk”. Good thinking that man. While they have used it for that purpose (chalk up a hex on the  dusty black paintwork and you’ve got yourself an excellent demon trap), what the trunk mostly contains is about the most impressive armoury you’re likely to see outside of Camp Victory. Who’d’ve thought ghosts could be so vulnerable to 12-gauge shotguns? Or a Colt…? This is a car elevated from ‘meanness’ to ‘bad-ass’, and the rumble of that V8 means it’s time for the baddies to start quaking in their boots. Or hoofs. Whatever.

#2: 1983 GMC G-15 Vandura

“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.”

Sure, the van handled like a pig; sure, the 0-60 time required a long weekend; sure, everybody gets the colour scheme wrong (it’s not, as you can see, all-over black, but is instead black and gunmetal-grey): but who cares? When the A-Team came to town, they did so in style. They might have been the worst shots in the entire universe, but they always had a plan. And then a different one would come together and it would all be alright. Yay!

And finally…

#1: DeLorean DMC-12

Not only the coolest car on the list but also the fastest (relatively speaking), this is Northern Ireland’s only supercar. Well, I say ‘supercar’ – the speedometer only went up to 85mph. Which means finding out exactly when you were likely to hit the magic number of 88mph could be problematic… With its stainless steel body, gullwing doors, and digital displays, the DeLorean still seems futuristic, whether or not you opt for the flux capacitor upgrade, hover conversion, or Mr Fusion power supply. And if it all goes really badly wrong, converting it for use on the railways is not impossible…

I’m from Northern Ireland. Someday I too will be Doc Brown(e). I think I ought to get a DeLorean…

And finally (genuinely, this time), a little piece of cinema magic. Enjoy!

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About Gavin

I am a 32-year-old PhD student in Aberdeen, Scotland. I work in QC at an e-learning company. I'm originally Northern Irish, though I've lived here in Aberdeen for several years. I am, essentially, somebody who is very normal, yet to whom very strange things keep happening...
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