Dale T Phillips - Writer
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Coolest Movie Cars With The Coolest Drivers

 





What makes a car cool?
Certainly good design, a powerful engine, great performance, but there's more. Sometimes a car becomes an icon, capturing the imagination of the public. One way to make a car supercool is to showcase it in a movie, incorporating scenes that show off its talents. The best way is to make the car an integral part of the movie, almost a character in its own right. By pairing a cool car with a cool driver, they seem to belong together, and enhance each other.

Cool Movie Cars
So I made a list of my top five supercool movie cars with the coolest drivers. The cars on this list made a standout impression as terrific yoking of car and driver. I'm leaving out racing flicks, like Le Mans and Grand Prix, which showed a lot of cars, so we can focus on particular vehicles that made a splash by themselves.

Goldfinger (1964)
James Bond (Sean Connery) drives an Aston-Martin DB5. The special tricked-out Aston-Martin DB5 of superspy James Bond is the Number One film car in my opinion. It's the first car I ever wanted, way before I even knew anything about driving. And it's the one car I could never have (advanced weaponry of this sort being slightly illegal). Though Sean Connery was the star in the best Bond film ever, the Aston-Martin became a star as well. A cool spy like Bond needs a supercool car, and he got it. Weapons specialist Q and the boys gave Bond the ultimate ride in offensive and defensive capabilities. And he used most of them in a wild chase sequence, where he dispatches a number of Goldfinger's minions.

Lethal Option Package
How can you not love a ride with bulletproof windows, revolving license plates, a homing device, smokescreen, oil slick release, machine guns, and a passenger ejector! (Who would you put in your passenger seat, with this option?)

The Most Famous Car in the World
Lots of folks wanted a similar car after the movie came out. It was tagged "The Most Famous Car in the World," and sales of Aston-Martins went up over 50%. Pretty amazing, since it wasn't on screen for an overly long time.

Bond is the Epitome of Cool
But you simply can't get a cooler driver than Bond. The guy merely said his name, and it became a catchphrase. Like the driver, the car was the perfect epitome of lethal, elegant, high-tech. Even 45 years later, the movie can still make you go "Wow!" I'd love to take a ride in an Aston Martin, even one without machine guns, but I'd still feel like I should be wearing a tux.

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Bullitt- (1968)

Steve McQueen as a policeman drives a Ford Mustang GT390 Fastback. The King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen was an avid car fan and a superbly fearless driver who did a lot of racing. In Bullitt he drives a Highland green Mustang, and the look of that car is so classic, so perfect, in a clean, compact, powerful package, that it achieves the pinnacle of cool. With the side vents, it brings to mind a sleek shark with gills, and just as voracious. Hearing that engine rumble is the call of a beast of prey.

Car as Character
The top film car depictions are more than just a fast ride. In Bullitt, the Mustang helps define the title character, a take-no-crap cop on the streets of San Francisco, years before Karl Malden and Michael Douglas. What they were going for with the choice of a Mustang is best quoted in a must-read article on the movie by Susan Encinas: "They wanted it to look like a cop car. This was his personal car and he wasn't a rich guy, he didn't have a real nice car. And it was Steve's idea to put the big dent in the fender, to show that it got banged up and he didn't have enough money or the time to fix it." But the car also had to have some muscle, because hey, we like the cars in movies to go fast.

The Chase Scene
This car did more than go fast, because McQueen wanted to depict the best movie chase scene ever. He got an amazing team together and did it, as his cop character goes after a pair of baddies in a black Dodge Charger. If you've never seen it before, do yourself a favor and give it a look. This was put together by the actor, because he knew what the cars and stunt drivers were capable of, and he knew what action was.

The scene was filmed not on a movie set but on actual streets, at real speed, and the inside cameras and slick angles give you a visceral feel for the heart-stopping chase, as the cars catch air over the hilly streets and smash down on impact, squeal around corners, revving with powerful ferocious throbs of the car engines. It has been voted the best car chase in film history.

Steve McQueen, Cool Driver Extraordinaire
The guy was the real deal, and this showed on film. If you haven't seen McQueen's other classic movie roles (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair), you've missed out on why he took over the screen and imagination of a generation. As Dan Neil says in his superb article: "It marks the only time any man ever looked cool in a cardigan -- McQueen should have gotten the academy's knitwear award."

Remaking Cool 2008
Check this piece out, as Neil not only comments on how the media capitalizes on Steve McQueen nostalgia, but he does an excellent review of the merits of the 2008 Ford remake of the Mustang, made specially for the 40th anniversary of the movie. They manufactured a limited-edition car for those who wanted to feel the cool. Neil doesn't like the concept, and wanted to hate the car, but found he really liked it. Even a watered-down version was still so cool he couldn't help himself. It says "Drive me- you won't regret it."

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Vanishing Point (1971)

Kowalski (Barry Newman) drives a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T. In parts 1 and 2, we've discussed supercool movie drivers who portrayed law enforcement agents. But the 60's were a time of turmoil, and counterculture heroes began to arise. One of the most popular figures was the lone hero, struggling against an oppressive society, an "Establishment."

Existentialist Lawbreaker
And so we get a different type of driver and protagonist, one who uses his vehicle to break the law rather than enforce it. But it goes deeper than that, because the character of Kowalski has a back story of law enforcement, and was also a decorated war veteran. (Spoiler alert) This film is a standout on our list, because it's the only one in which the car and driver do not survive.

Road Trip
What's the film about? It's kind of like a 60's "trip," where not everything has to make sense: you're not sure why it's all being done, but you're along for the ride. This cool existentialism is about the car and driver as an entity, going out at the end in a blaze of glory. The protagonist becomes one with his car, his steed, on the endless stretches of the American Southwest. If you're reminded of cowboys and yearning for getting away from it all, you're quite right. Kowalski and his car are freedom, power, and a confusing series of images: in the end, being so different from the mainstream, they become outlaws who the Establishment must stop.

The Plot
Kowalski has made a bet to get a car from Denver to San Francisco in a short time (a theme which will be repeated in Part 4 of this series). Kowalski races across the land, trying to escape from himself, and society, and what the world has become. The law he previously represented now notes his defection, and oppressively hunts him down. Kowalski takes to the barren deserts of the American Southwest to elude his pursuers. He gets away for a time, affirming life in the empty wastelands with his roaring, powerful Dodge Challenger.

Kowalski is not alone in his rebellion. He encounters other outcasts and loners, those who are apart from society. They recognize in him a kindred spirit, and most give him aid to help him on his journey. He even receives guidance over the airwaves from a mystical blind DJ, Super Soul.

The Meaning
This movie can mean many things, and like life, we must find our own meaning in it. Kowalski maintains a stoic impassivity, but despite his mastery of his car, and his unflappable cool in the face of obstacles, in the end he must yield. He has lost everything, and the only "freedom" in a sterile land comes at a heavy price. Though he is an incarnation of the Life Force, even he cannot outrun Death, not matter how fast he drives.

The Car
There's a great article where Barry Newman gets behind the wheel once more and reminisces about the film. He loved the power of the original car. Good thing, since he was in it for most of the movie! In other films, the car makes a splash but isn't on screen so much. Here, it's an hour and a half and several hundred miles in a muscle car.

References
The movie has taken so powerful a hold that it gets referenced in many other movies: most notably in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof where some characters enthuse about the movie and even find a white Dodge Challenger, feeling, like Kowalski, the need to drive it very, very fast. They find that driving it gets them into a world of trouble, very much like Kowalski himself.

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Smokey and The Bandit - (1977)

Bo “Bandit” Darville (Burt Reynolds) drives a black Pontiac Trans Am. In Parts 1, 2, and 3, the cool cars and the cool drivers in the films were all in grim earnest. The mission was life-or-death critical. But in Smokey and the Bandit, it's all in fun.

Unlike the other car and driver films in these articles to date, which are "serious" and where Death in invoked, Smokey and the Bandit is all pure fun, a simple yee-haw kind of good time. In fact, I can't recall anyone in films who looked like they were having more fun than Burt Reynolds as Bandit in this movie. With that cowboy hat and attitude to match, and cocky grin, he wheeled that black Trans Am around like an extension of himself, which in this movie, it really was.

The Plot

Here's another film where the driving of the car is not just a part of the plot but is the whole story. Bandit and his buddy Cledus “Snowman” Snow (played by Jerry Reed, who also sang the bouncy soundtrack theme) are hired to get a tractor trailer full of beer over state lines in a race against time. Hilarity ensues as various bumbling local and county cops give chase. Yeah, it's not exactly saving the world. The biggest question is whether they'll get the cargo there on time, and if the “good guys” can stay out of jail.

 

Love and Friendship

Bandit even gets a love interest, as Sally Field, who gets nicknamed “Frog” (!), hitches a ride with him. Opposites at first, she is slowly won over by his charms. She is honored by being given the passenger seat next to Bandit while he roars through the roads and byways, attracting the attention of the highway patrol away from his buddy and the truckload of beer. They're all part of the team.

As in Vanishing Point, the speeding outlaw is helped along the way by a ragtag group of anti-establishment characters, here shown as good-ole boys and gals, in contrast to the uptight law enforcers.

Cultural References

The dated point of the plot is the whim of some rich guys who want a load of Coors beer, which wasn't available in the Eastern US at the time, but is now. The movie makes much of the use of CB (Citizens Band) radio, which was big at the time, and was the way for drivers to connect to each other while on the road, a common man's counterpoint to the radios of the police. The driving team and their allies use the CB communication to foil the police, who are the “Smokey” of the title.

In an episode of the television series “My Name is Earl”, it's revealed that Earl and his brother love playing Smokey and the Bandit while driving their car.

The Driving

The film director, Hal Needham, was a stuntman, and he had a lot of cars wrecked in the film. Yet the fantasy is such that no one is seriously injured, despite high-speed crashes. The Trans Am is the flash car that attracts all the notice of the police, so that Snowman is free to speed with his bootleg truckload of beer. The police of course cannot match the skill and daring driving of the Bandit, and so he gets away with the car, the girl, and maybe a big chunk of money.

Note that in the two films where driving is the story, the driver is an outlaw. So if a car and driver become too close, it's got to be against the law.

More of the Same

Since the movie made a lot of money (only Star Wars beat it that year), there were sequels, but they were not the same, and are best forgotten. More trucking/speeding/avoiding police movies also followed. For instance, there was “Convoy” (which came from a popular Country-and-Western song, in which a group of truckers band together to defy the police. Eventually the theme ran its course.

See it Again

It's probably been years since you've seen this film. Get some friends, some popcorn and beer, and sit down for a rollicking fun time. Burt was cool and in his prime as a film star, and Jackie Gleason is a hoot as a vengeful sheriff.

It just might make you want to get behind the wheel of a black Pontiac Trans Am, if you hadn't already...

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The Blues Brothers- (1980)

The Blues Brothers (Jake and Elwood) drive the “Bluesmobile.” a 1974 Dodge Monaco sedan.

When Part 1 of this series first came out, a guy named Nunzy said, “Cool cars and drivers? Where's the Blues Brothers movie? What's cooler than that?” I had to agree, and so we come to number 5 on our list, bumping off the original #5. If you haven't yet seen this movie, see it now! It's become a cultural icon.

The Movie

The film is a musical/comedy/action/fantasy, created from a Saturday Night Live skit. It features Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd), as the former front men of a blues band that disbanded after Jake was arrested several years before. Upon his release, Jake finds out his boyhood orphanage home is about to be shut down for non-payment of property taxes. Jake and his brother track down the old band members for a charity benefit to save the orphanage. To do this, they embark in the Bluesmobile.

The Legend

Check out the webpage “A Bluesmobile Tribute” for lots of info about the movie and the car that is the Bluesmobile. The car was painted black-and-white to resemble a recycled former police car, since many 1970's police forces used similar cars.

In the movie, Elwood says the car is a used Mount Prospect, Illinois police car. In describing it to his brother, Elwood says, "It's got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant. It's got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It's a model made before catalytic converters so it'll run good on regular gas."

The Bluesmobile gets smashed around and does crazy, impossible stunts, such as jumping over an open drawbridge, flipping backwards in midair, and even "flying" for very brief periods of time. Supposedly a cut scene shows the car getting an energy boost at a power plant, the rationale for the supercharged activity.

The Rough Filming

The film used a number of different cars to depict the Bluesmobile, all of which were former police cars purchased from the California Highway Patrol, and were mocked up to look like ex-Mount Prospect, Illinois patrol cars. Some were formatted for speed, and others in jumps or high-performance maneuvers, depending on the scene. One was made to simply fall apart upon its arrival at the Daley Center, which it did in spectacular fashion.

The production kept a 24-hour body shop open for repairing the multiple cars used in the film. There is mayhem and chase scenes galore. When the movie came out, it took the world record for the most cars destroyed in one film. Later, it was surpassed by its own sequel.

Commentary

Like “Smokey and the Bandit” (Part 4), this is a car-and-driver movie that is all in fun, the screeching tires and crashing stunts just for show. The car itself is not just a character, it's a legend. It carries the Blues Brothers through their quest, “on a mission from God”, and once the mission is complete, the car self-destructs.

Jake had been expecting a Cadillac, their former car, but his brother had traded it for a microphone. Good thing, because a Caddy never would have made it, and the orphanage would never have been saved. If you're going on a special movie mission, you have to have the special vehicle. And this one endures.

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Mad Max- (International Release 1980)

Mel Gibson, as Max Rockatansky, drives a a customized 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT coupe (well, he drove another one as well...)

The Extra List Item

Yeah, this series on movie cars and drivers was only going to be 5 parts, but if you're talking cool movie cars and drivers, you can't leave out the leather-jacketed Mad Max, roaring along endless stretches of empty, post-apocalyptic Australian road, in pursuit of wrongdoers. This was even the number one choice of my friend Dan.

The Star

When Mel did this film, he wasn't a star. You could see star power in him, though, and knew he was destined for better things. At least before he went crazy...

He played a cop, enforcing the law. But things turned bloody in the film, as a foul group of bikers goes after his family. So he goes after them, to their distress. The driver was cool, if murderous and more than slightly insane in his vengeance, but he sure could push that car to its limits. In the film he was supposed to be the star driver of his police force, and proved it in some great chases.

The Car(s)

The power police car was the means to keep order, capable of traversing those endless stretches of mostly empty road. According to Wikipedia Max's yellow Interceptor was a 1974 Ford Falcon XB sedan (previously, a Melbourne police car) with a 351ci Cleveland V8 engine and many other modifications.

The other car, Max's black Pursuit Special - called "The Last of the V8 Interceptors" in Mad Max 2 – (The Road Warrior) was a limited GT351 version of a 1973 Ford XB Falcon Hardtop. The April 2009 edition of Motor Magazine celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Mad Max with a feature story on the Interceptor.

The Director

George Miller, the director of the film, was apparently a worker in a hospital emergency room, which explains the amount of gore in the movie. He felt the violence would be acceptable if the setting was a bleak, dystopian future. He went on to do the sequels, which really took off.

The Film

It did great for an inexpensive independent film. It didn't make a lot of money in the United States, but worldwide made a bundle, the highest return ratio to film cost ever, until The Blair Witch Project. Make sure you see the original Aussie lingo version, not the U.S.-dubbed, which has horrific dialogue. The movie lives on, with hardcore fans as evidenced by the following sites: MadMaxOnline and MadMaxMovies.

The Sequels

The sequels to the film, The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome have become cultural icons in our filmography. They helped launch Mel as a big-budget action star, but it all began with a power car roaring down a long stretch of road.

The Wrapup

So that's the top six picks of the Coolest Movie Cars with the Coolest Drivers. Cars and drivers that enforce the law, or break it. Spies, cops, and crooks, all those listed were supercool as they piloted their power cars on their separate missions. Whether Bond, Bullitt, or Bandit, each captured our imagination and made us want to drive a similar car.

Got any other picks? Any votes for the Batmobile? Kurt Russell's killer Stuntman Mike in Death Proof? Others?

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