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Movie and TV Cars

Cars Can Be Stars in Movies

Kevin Harper - October 27, 2011 10:00 AM

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Starsky and Hutch

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Fast and Furious

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Days of Thunder

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Back to the Future

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Terminator 3

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Cars

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Ghostbusters

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The Blues Brothers

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Robocop

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The Bucket List

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TV Stars

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TV Stars

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TV Stars

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TV Stars

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Cars for Sale

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Cars for Sale

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Nothing helps a person, place or thing to reach the pinnacle of success in popular culture more than the movie screen. The fame achieved through an appearance on-screen can be everlasting. It’s not always the case when it comes to cars, but when you hit it big, you really hit it big.

There are cars that have been seen in movies that have become eternal icons. The Mustang used by Steve McQueen in Bullitt spawned real life models. The same can be said for the Eleanor that was a central focus of Gone in 60 Seconds. Burt Reynolds did magic for Pontiac with the Smokey & The Bandit star car. Who can forget the Mopar that raced through Vanishing Point? The list could continue to grow.

The argument about the “best car chase” or the “best car scene in a movie” is a debate that will never end. Everyone has their favorite movie car. A comprehensive list of cars in the movies, ones that served more than just a mundane background shot or functioned as a parked ride for some main character to lean on, may exist, but it would have to be bigger than multiple copies of War & Peace. Cars have been a movie staple since the beginning, and their role has only grown through time.

According to LA Movie Cars, the first car chase actually happened in 1903 in a black-and-white silent film called Runaway Match. The car provided a point of action … after all, these were “motion pictures.”

We’re going to take a look at a few movie cars, randomly selected, that have played significant roles in some of the big screen (and small screen) products that have entertained generations. There’s no particular order of importance, no particular reason for choosing one and leaving another on the cutting room floor. A significant number of the cars shown are featured at the Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois, 50 miles northwest of Chicago. There is a heavy influence of the creativity of George Barris found in their Movie & TV Collection.

 

The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)

Image: Al Rogers

The General Lee upstaged its human co-stars in the 1979 television series of the same name starring Tom Wopat and John Schneider. A similar car was put through its paces in the film that featured Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott (honorable mention to Jessica Simpson). The General Lee is believed to be a 1969 Dodge Charger, but that is only part of the story. During the television series, there were more than 250 cars used (some estimates go higher than 300), and the occasional 1970 Charger crept into the picture. When it came time to do the movie, 24 cars were used, including ’68, ’69 and ’70 models. In the movie, the original motor, which for the TV show was a 383 (though other engines were featured among the 250-plus cars), was replaced by a HEMI. Among the subtle differences between the movie car and the TV car are the tires. The movie car featured the white letter tires, while the TV show usually had them blacked out.

This car is owned by Mark Marouge.

Green Hornet (2011)

Image: Al Rogers

The Black Beauty gained fame from the television series that spawned the movie. Like the original Black Beauty, the movie car was built from a 1965 Chrysler Imperial (The original car was built by Dean Jeffries and some sources cite a ’66 Imperial as the platform). It features tinted black windows, a brake upgrade, thin and wide tires with hornet center caps on the wheels, and green accents. The cars used in the movie featured massive firepower like 30-caliber machine guns in the hood (The original had no weaponry in the hood) and 12 missiles located throughout. The movie starred Seth Rogen and Jay Chou (The TV show starred Van Williams and Bruce Lee).

This car is owned by Mark Marouge.

Starsky & Hutch (2004)

Image: John Gunnell

Some enthusiasts call it “Zebra 3,” which is actually not a reference to the car but the patrol location and unit number of the two detectives who used this iconic Ford Torino. The car achieved its early popularity through a television series in 1975 that starred Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul. A movie based on the TV series hit the big screen in 2004 with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as lead characters. While most movie stars accept or embrace their automotive co-stars, TV star Paul Michael Glaser hated the Torino and reportedly tried to wreck it. The producers originally wanted a Camaro, but the studio’s contract with Ford didn’t allow that. During the making of the film, 10 Torinos were destroyed out of the dozen cars used. The TV show’s popularity led Ford to offer a limited-edition Starsky & Hutch replica Torino, built in Chicago. The car is also known by some as “Striped Tomato.”

This car is owned by Volo Auto Museum.

 

The Fast & The Furious (2001), Fast & Furious (2009)

Image: John Gunnell

This 1970 Charger (identified by some sources as a ’69) was so popular in its first go-round in 2001 that it returned in a series of sequels. No one really had a problem with that, giving the car a new lease on life. The car was shredded in the first movie, but “movie magic” gave viewers a new chance to watch it, building a new fan club for Dominic’s ride. In the return, the car was saved for the final race scene to offset an imbalance of import/tuner cars. It was fitted with a 440 engine for its duty, but after the duty was over, the car was treated to a full restoration.

The car is owned by Volo Auto Museum.

 

Back to the Future (1985)

Image: John Gunnell

Time travel in a DeLorean, a concept that still has people thinking about ways to fool science with cars. This classic movie with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd is what put the original DeLorean Motor Company on the map. The DMC-12 became the rage, but it was too late as the company was well out of the game by that point. The company has been resurrected but is still waiting for its first iconic car to boost sales. The heavily modified car included the flux capacitor and futuristic digital displays that look routine today, but remember, it was 1985.

This car is owned by the Volo Auto Museum.

 

RoboCop (1987)

Image: John Gunnell

It wasn’t the original car choice for the makers of the movie, but a chance drive-by of a 1985 Ford Taurus convinced the organizers that was what they needed for the “Turbo Car” and subsequent vehicles. Ford Motor Company was less than pleased with the idea and did not endorse it, forcing the producers to buy all of their cars. The car featured a lighted pushbar, roof-mounted spotlight, onboard computer and dashboard arsenal. The 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme also played a role in the movie.

This car is owned by Volo Auto Museum.

 

Ghostbusters (1984)

Image: John Gunnell

Based on a 1959 Cadillac Miller Meteor limo/ambulance conversion, the car known as Ecto-1 raced to the scene to bring three intrepid scientists who battled evil spirits. Ghostbusters had an element of comedy and spookiness, relying more on character development than riding around in their hip mobile. In the movie, the vehicle was purchased by character Ray Stantz in a poor state, leading to numerous repairs to become roadworthy. The proper name of “Ectomobile” was only mentioned in a song, and the car’s more popular name came from its license plate. There were three Ectos, the last becoming necessary when the second simply quit (Apparently, Stantz didn’t do all the repairs needed).

This vehicle is owned by the Volo Auto Museum.

Days of Thunder (1990)

Image: John Gunnell

Due to its plot centering around a top-level racing series, the movie had plenty of cars to watch. Cole Trickle’s talents were being showcased as the hot-shot new guy faced with an unwelcoming competition, which led to more than one occasion of bent metal (perhaps none more so than the rental car scenes). The specially built cars that appeared on the screen as race cars actually did eventually compete in NASCAR-sanctioned competitions. The movie starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The cars were provided by NASCAR team owner, Rick Hendrick, who is also the owner of City Chevrolet that appears as a sponsor on a car.

This car is owned by Volo Auto Museum.

 

CARS (2006)

Image: John Gunnell

After playing a pivotal role in the movie’s debut, Doc Hudson was left out of the sequel. Since the movie itself was an animation, this car is not actually from the movie, but rather the inspirational Hudson for the character role. The animators’ paper was transformed into the third dimension with the addition of the “cars turned human” features seen. It basically resurrected an old forgotten Hudson, giving it a new lease on life. The character Doc Hudson, the mayor, judge and medical doctor of the town of Radiator Springs, was based on a 1951 Hudson Hornet that had a secret successful racing past. Doc became the mentor of the main character, Lightning McQueen. The late Paul Newman provided the voice in the movie.

The car is owned by the Volo Auto Museum.

The Bucket List (2007)

Image: Larry Jewett

Just recently, Wisconsin resident Michael Clemens was able to get the actual Ford Mustang used in this movie. This car was utilized in a scene shot at California’s AutoClub Speedway. Morgan Freeman was behind the wheel in a match race with Jack Nicholson. The 1966 Mustang, made out to be a Shelby G.T. 350, was reinforced in some areas. The car was shown at the 2011 Horses & Hogs event in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where additional bracing was noted. Repair of areas where the car was damaged in the filming can be seen.

This car is privately owned.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Image: John Gunnell

This hearse was driven by star Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was punched with over 150 “bullet holes” for its on-screen appearance during the graveyard chase scene. The movie is best known as Schwarzenegger’s last in the series. There are plans for a Terminator 5 in 2014, but the hearse will not be a factor. Schwarzenegger, however, may need the money by then.

This car is owned by the Volo Auto Museum.

 

The Blues Brothers (1980)

Image: John Gunnell

You will often find a replica of this car at many Mopar-related events across the country. In the movie, the Blues Brothers get from place to place on a mission from God in a lumbering 1974 Dodge Monaco. The 13 movie cars were purchased at a California Highway Patrol auction. Some of the cars were built for speed with others built for destruction. At one point, the movie held the honor of being the picture that destroyed the most cars.

This car is owned by the Volo Auto Museum.

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