There has been a longstanding suspicion within the automotive community concerning factory-published power output numbers of the muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s. Read more
Songs may exhaust that first thrill, films may lose their glamour, but the value of a historical car persists through time as no other cultural iconography can, as evident in the decade defining classic cars that collectors, dealers and enthusiasts everywhere remember with a smile of pride and wonder.
From the very first mass-produced automobiles of the early 1900s to the opulent carriages of the Roaring 20s, from the sexy sportscars of the ‘50s to the revolutionary designs at the end of the millennium, vintage and classic cars have influenced more than just car history — they helped define each decade with every revolution of their tires.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, as Henry Ford proved in 1913 when he installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of perhaps the most legendary classic car, the Model T. Selling for less that $300 once the manufacturing process was perfected, the Model T was purchased by more than 15 million Americans, simultaneously employing thousands in Detroit and revolutionizing the industrial business forever.
Known as the Tin Lizzie and named the most influential car of the 20th century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation in their 1999 “Car of the Century” competition, the Model T made car history possible by virtually democratizing car ownership for the everyday consumer.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” Henry Ford famously said as he surpassed customers’ wildest dreams with a historic car built for the masses to enjoy.
A railroad mechanic turned president of the Buick Motor Company, Walter Chrysler commissioned three engineers to design a new vehicle that would become the bedrock of his own automobile company — the 1924 Chrysler Six or the Model B-70. Sold head to head against many rival automobiles in the Roaring ‘20s, including Chrysler’s former employer Buick, the first vintage car from Chrysler broke many precedents with its revolutionary designs.
Featuring a new six-cylinder, high-compression engine, the Chrysler Six boasted a top speed of 70 mph, from which it earned its model name “B-70,” and included many other unique innovations, including hydraulic brakes, aluminum pistons, a replaceable oil filter, and more.
“No matter how proud I feel because it bears the name of Chrysler, I never fool myself that I did all this,” said Chrysler on the collaborative effort that went into bringing the historic car and his namesake company to life.
Despite the Great Depression, one luxury car excelled in the ‘30s: the quintessential 1930 Packard Eight. Boasting the sleek front fenders that epitomized the classic car of the era, the Packard Eight appeared in three models — the Standard Eight, Custom Eight and De Luxe Eight.
Though expensive and bearing many of the trademark features of the previous Packard Six, the Packard Eight was powered by an eight-cylinder internal combustion engine, found also beneath the hood of vintage racecars of its time, which helped propel the big, yet elegant automobile into car history.
Conceptualized by renowned automotive designer Harley Earl, the Cadillac Series 62 defined car history in the ‘40s with its unmistakable torpedo shape and roomy interior, easily seating six comfortably. Beneath its elegant bulk, a powerful L-head V8 engine gave the Series 62 up to 150 horsepower as well as a 4-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission, the first fully automatic transmission mass-produced for passenger automobiles.
As proof of its place in car history as a truly classic car, the Cadillac Series 62 was featured in several films and television shows depicting the era, including the TV show Wonder Woman and the 2011 movie Captain America.
Historic cars do more than appear in history — they shape it, as the 1955 Ford Thunderbird did as it launched a new segment of the auto industry as the first personal luxury car. Appearing on a U.S. postage stamp, as well as countless films and television shows, the two-seat T-Bird was the country’s second mass-produced sportscar after the Chevrolet Corvette, though it was not marketed as such.
With a 150 mph speedometer and a sleek design that few automobiles of its time could match, the ’55 Thunderbird quickly gained popularity across the country and even outsold the competing Corvette 23-to-one. Stylish and sporty, the personal luxury car arrived just in time for the consumer culture of the 1950s, securing the Thunderbird forever in classic car history.
As America strode boldly into the second half of the century, nothing lured drivers’ attention like the quintessential muscle cars of the 1960s, of which the 1964 Pontiac GTO was considered if not the first, then the foremost of the class.
According to auto editor Dan Jedlicka of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Pontiac division of General Motors developed the GTO in secret behind the backs of their conservative executives, who feared their consumer base would view the muscle car in bad taste. To their chagrin, the GTO proved wildly successful and was selected Motor Trend Car of the ear in 1968.
Behind the rock ‘n roll and flower power of the 1970s festered a desire for expression and adventure, a consumer trait that gave way to the success of the versatile Chevrolet El Camino. Blending power with personality, the fourth generation of the El Camino, produced from ’73 to ’77, boasted Chevy’s then largest and most powerful engine.
From Almost Famous to Anchorman and more, innumerable depictions of the ‘70s feature the El Camino as a classic car and decade-defining icon that everyone, from car collectors to nostalgic consumers, hold in their minds forever.
From the rise in science fiction and futuristic designs like the illustrious DeLorean, it was clear that Americans desired highs speeds and sleek aesthetics in this decade of many technological advances, and Chevrolet answered the call with its 1984 Corvette C4.
With engine power ranging from 205 hp in ’84 models to 230 in ’85, the C4 provided Corvette with its second-largest production run in history, as well as the return of the convertible Corvette in 1986, making it one of the country’s most desirable sports car by collectors and consumers alike.
“The new Corvette is a truly stout automobile. It is all that the fevered acolytes so desperately wanted their fiberglass fossil to be — a true-born, world-class sports car loaded with technical sophistication,” wrote journalist Brock Yates in the March ’83 issue of Car and Driver, echoing the sentiments of classic car enthusiasts for decades to come.
Though few could afford one of their own, everyone coveted the beautiful body and record-breaking speed of the McLaren F1, which pushed the boundaries of automotive science at the end of the millennium, earning its eternal place in car history.
Influencing nearly every subsequent sports car since its 1992 debut, the McLaren F1 set the record for the world’s fastest production car, reaching 240.1 mph, and remains one of the world’s fastest natural aspirated cars, according to Top Gear Magazine’s April 2017 issue.
“The F1 will be remembered as one of the great events in the history of the car, and it may possibly be the fastest production road car the world will ever see,” wrote journalist Andrew Frankel in Autocar in 1994 of the historic car.
As the new millennium began, the events of the world seemed to race faster than ever, consumer expectations rose to their highest in the technological revolution, and the 2005 Ford Mustang GT provided all that American drivers could demand or desire in a car.
Blending ‘60s muscle with ‘80s elegance, the design team created a cultural icon “up there with the Marlboro man and the Beach Boys,” Ford Group Vice President of Design, J Mays, reportedly said of the historic car. Its 4.6L V8 engine provided up to 300 hp, and sales revved to over 160,000 in 2005 after a decade-plus delay in launching any new models of the classic car.
2012 Tesla Model S
If anyone expected the technological bubble of the early 2000s to burst, they were wrong, as it has only expanded to every corner of the globe, including the auto industry, as Elon Musk’s Tesla Model S proves.
Earning recognition and awards with each charge of its battery, the Model S was the 2013 World Green Car of the Year, the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year, among Time Magazine’s Best 25 Inventions of the Year, and Car and Driver’s Car of the Century, among other distinctions.
Though facing controversies on many issues, from range limitation to power consumption and more, this historic car has altered the course of automotive history indefinitely — as has each of these decade-defining classic car icons in their own unique way.
From timeless Formula 1 racecars to vintage American muscle cars and classic drag racing vehicles, motorsports boasts a host of four-wheeled legends that all classic car enthusiasts can appreciate, but it’s the prolific drivers behind the wheel that elevated the cars into true icons. Among the revered history of the sport, many names leap to mind, but five prolific vintage racecar drivers demand recognition most of all for their impact on the pastime and their dedication to the craft.
Born February 15, 1929 in North London, British racing driver and team owner Graham Hill’s rise to the racetrack reflects the same need for speed drivers across the world have felt their first time behind the wheel. According to Formula 1, Hill first tried racing in 1953, taking a F3 car for a few laps around Brands Hatch motor circuit. As the story goes, he then bought a 1934 Morris, taught himself how to drive and finally got his license. He quit his job, collected unemployment and talked his way into a job as a mechanic at a racing school.
There, he eventually met Colin Chapman, an English design engineer, inventor, and builder in the automotive industry, and founder of Lotus Cars. Chapman hired Hill to work for Lotus and, in 1958, when Chapman decided his company was ready to truly test their mettle, Graham Hill became a Formula One driver.
In 1962, Hill collected a World Championship with wins in Holland, Germany, Italy and South Africa racing for British Racing Motors. He is also the only driver to win the “Triple Crown of Motorsport” : the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix
In 1973, Hill created his own Formula One team, Embassy Hill Racing, and raced with the vintage racecar Lola T370 designed custom for the team; but after failing to qualify for the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix, Hill finally retired after many years of renown.
“I am an artist. The track is my canvas, and the car is my brush,” he had said about his career.
Inspired by his uncle, a great driver in his own right, Pierre Bouillin adopted the racing name Levegh in memory of his uncle, who had allegedly rearranged the letters of his surname Velghe into a more French-sounding name.
The dedication of Levegh endured far beyond the legendary driver’s career. He had attended every running of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures, as he knew The 24 ours of Le Mans as a young man in Paris, since it began in 1923. He represented Lago-Talbot in four consecutive races (1951 to 1954), including the epic 1952 event. There, at the 24 Hours Of Le Mans, Levegh drove for the duration of the race on his own, and was well in the lead when a gear-shifting error blew his engine minutes from the finish line. Not only did the malfunction cost him the race, but also a place in the record books as the only driver ever to win Le Mans single-handed, though “close enough” has earned him eternal renown in the purveyors of racecar lore. Today, no contestant may drive for more than four hours in six, and 14 hours total out of the event, so no other driver may ever achieve that which Levegh was minutes shy of winning all on his own.
After driving Talbot for most of his career, Levegh drove the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, an iconic 2-seat sports race that Hall Of Fame Formula One driver Stirling Moss called, “the greatest sports racing car ever built — really an unbelievable machine.”
It was in that legendary racecar that Levegh passed away, on June 11 ,1955, during the infamous 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans automobile race, which took his life as well as 83 spectators when an accident during the race launched Levegh’s car into the air and its wreckage into the crowd.
Raised on a family farm in Goldsboro, North Carolina in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Malcolm Durham gained his mechanical experience working on tractors and later employed his skills to accelerate into a classic American rags-to-riches tale of motorsports renown.
Durham began racing in 1957 at Easy Street Dragstrip in Newton Grove with a 225-horsepower ’56 Chevy, a brand he would forever champion throughout his racing career. He even began working as a mechanic for Chevrolet, then in sales, which afforded him more time to race. He campaigned Chevy racecars under his own series of Super Stocks with the moniker Strip Blazer, beginning with a 427-cid Z-11 ’63 Chevy, one of only 57 ever built according to Robert Genat’s book, Vintage and Historic Drag Racers. Durham continued representing Chevy even after Chevrolet and the rest of General Motors pulled out of factory-supported in 1963.
Nicknamed “The D.C. Lip,” a title given to him by his public relations director, Durham was awarded before his death a Lifetime Achievement Award at NHRA’s Hot Rod Reunion, both for his prolific accomplishments behind the wheel as well as for challenging racial discrimination as drag racing’s first African-American superstar.
“Drag racing was and still is very exciting,” Durham said in a 2006 interview with NHRA months before he passed. “I am amazed at the current popularity of yesterday’s muscle cars and the level of participation in the nostalgia racing. Amazing. It says a lot about the growth of the sport.”
Even those who do not immediately recognize the name of the prolific racecar driver, anyone remotely aware of the motorsports culture has seen the lasting impact of Dan Gurney on racing everywhere with the iconic spray of champagne post-victory.
Born on April 13, 1931, Gurney first began racing when, after moving to California as a teenager, he quickly got caught up in the West Coast hot rod scene. At age 19, he built and raced a car that exceeded 130 miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats, a timeless destination to set land speed records. He was discovered by Ferrari North American importer Luigi Chinetti who, after watching him finish second in the inaugural Riverside Grand Pix in 1957, invited Gurney to race at Le Mans in 1958.
Gurney was the first of three drivers to have won races in Sports Cars (1958), Formula One (1962), NASCAR (1963), and Indy cars (1967). According to All American Racers, Gurney drove in 312 races in 20 countries in 51 makes of cars (and also winning 51 of those competitions). Perhaps most enduring of all his deeds, Gurney started the motorsports trend of spraying champagne following a win in 1967, after winning the 24 Hours Of Le Mans together with racing partner A. J. Foyt. In that same year, Gurney won the Grand Prix of Belgium in a 416-horsepower American Eagle, which he had designed and built himself, becoming the first American in 46 years to win a world championship in an American car.
“Race driving is a form of brinkmanship, I suppose,” he told The New York Times in 1967. “First you use your judgment to determine where the brink is. Then you use your skill to approach the brink and stay at that point.
A self-described trouble-child from upstate New York, Shirley Muldowney has aptly earned the title the motorsports world has given her as the First Lady Of Drag Racing. Born June 19, 1940, Muldowney earned many firsts in her career, including the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association to drive a Top Fuel dragster; the first person to win two and three Top Fuel titles, with a total of 18 NHRA national events, and Championship titles in 1977, 1980 and 1982; and more.
Muldowney began street racing in the 1950s in Schenectady, New York. When she was 16, she married 19-year-old Jack Muldowney, who eventually built her first dragster for her. She debuted her racing stripes in 1958 on the dragstrip of the Fonda Speedway, forever changing the world of racing with her fiery determination and defiance of gender expectations. She was bestowed such awards as an induction in the Automotive Hall Of Fame in 2005, as well as many more.
Though she pressed in an interview with Hot Rod Magazine in 2009 that her favorite car was the twin-engine dragster she competed in the U.S. Nationals at Indy with in 1970, fans and followers have said that her career truly launched with the purchase of her first nitro car from fellow racecar legend Connie Kalitta. Nicknamed the Bounty Hunter and the Bounty Huntress, the two competed together in the Funny Car racing class with her vintage 1972 Buttera Chassis Ford Mustang.
“A lot of competitors were ugly to me. What they didn’t realize was they were making it worse for themselves. The angrier they made me, the more pissed I was, the better I was in the car. Driving came naturally for me. I was not afraid or unready to deal with the unexpected. That’s where I think I had an edge on some other drivers, the new guys who came along every few years and many of the veterans, too. I could make a decision. Nobody held my hand,” she said to Hot Rod Magazine.
As every parent knows, it’s hard to see your babies grow up, a grim truth that classic car collectors especially understand when debating if their vintage automobile is beyond restoration.
When solving mysteries, sometimes detectives can be too close to the case to discover the clue. Similarly, when determining the value of your classic car, don’t stand so close that all you can see the are the obvious dints and scrapes — you want to step back several to fully appraise its condition. Publications like the “2018 NADA Classic, Collectible, Exotic and Muscle Car Appraisal Guide & Directory” can guide your eye as you determine its worth. From checking for sagging doors to the condition of the upholstery, there are a milieu of factors that contribute to estimating the value of your classic car.
The first step in determining if it’s worth restoring your collector car is going through and fully appraising your old glory. From there, you learn all that is needed to fix, replace or refurbish in order to bring that dream to life. If the full cost of that project far exceeds the value of the full restoration, as well as the joy that you’ll glean from owning a restored piece of history, then that’s the first red light in your noble pursuit.
As every vintage collector knows, a classic car is more than just the shiny chrome product in the driveway — it’s the sum of many different, original, and almost irreplaceable parts. In each vehicle, there are about 30,000 parts, according to Toyota, including everything down to the smallest screws. Though some parts may be replaced with newer or modern pieces of engineering, a truly authentic restoration project requires original parts to be salvaged, discovered or bought — a time-consuming and expensive endeavor.
As you decide whether or not your collector car is worth a full restoration, consider the parts that will be required to bring your dream vehicle to fruition. If you don’t want to spend the time or money chasing parts that may or may not exist, then perhaps it’s best to live another day and dream another dream.
For most classic car collectors, the journey is as much part of the dream as the end result. Understanding the early mechanics of a several decades-old engine, rethreading nuts that had long been stripped by rust, reclining on the concrete to replace by hand brake pads along rotors older than your eldest child — every bit of sweat that spills out is a bit of love poured into the project.
Nonetheless, that’s a lot of sweat. According to several classic car restoration shops, some projects may require over 2000 hours of labor, a commitment most would struggle to make on their own. However, even the most skilled mechanics may need to tap out for some assistance, which doesn’t come cheaply — especially with vintage restorations. If your classic car seems to require more labor than you can afford, it may be a sign to retire your baby before that first bit of sweat falls.
Those in the business of classic car restoration know by heart the fable of George Washington’s axe — though recovered, it’s been through three new handles and two replacement blades, which begs the question, is the resulting weapon still a piece of history or simply a piece-meal tool that’s got a supposed story to it?
With car restorations, the same question comes to mind: if too much of your collector car has been replaced, is the resulting vehicle truly a restored piece of history or no more than an expensive homage to a long-lost time? From the undercarriage to the frame, there are many pieces of metal to that hunk of beauty you call your baby. If too much must be replaced to bring it to full restoration, then you might be better off keeping the memory of what was than creating a shadow of what might have been.
Art can hang on walls, but still the paint will fade. Models may win pageants, but their youth will never last. Collector cars are no different — with each mile it drives, another dollar of its worth ticks off.
As automotive journalist Jacob Clifton writes, “a car is not equity: it’s an ongoing expense.” Beyond the cost of bringing a collector car to full restoration, there’s also the cost to maintain that value you labored tooth and nail to restore. If the costs of parts and labor are already a burdensome expense, consider as well how often you’ll be driving that beautiful hunk of restored glory. If you can’t afford the costs to maintain, on top of the costs to restore it, then perhaps you might as well rest easy knowing you could have brought that dream come true.
Throughout automotive history, speedsters of fast-moving classic cars have forced law enforcement departments to up their game and sporty police cars that at the time were pragmatic in chasing felons, but are now coveted icons for classic car buyers everywhere.
For both classic car collectors as well as American history enthusiasts, revisiting the most iconic vintage police cars through the years will accelerate your passion for classic cars.
As Pontiac advertised in ’57, their Chieftain model evolved from America’s number one road car to the county’s top police car. Appearing first in the 1955 model year as the “Strato Streak,” the V8 engine’s stroke was increased to 3.5625 inches by 1957 and Pontiac for the first time offered Tri-Power, three two-barrel carburetors with a sequential linkage, according to General Motor’s archives.
Though not as commercially successful as its classic Bonneville model released that same year, classic car buyers everywhere admire the ’57 Chieftain for both its handling and aesthetic. Even modern law enforcement officers covet the vintage car, such as Senior Constable Mauro Tonin of LaSalle Police in Windsor, Ontario, whose vehicle fleet includes a restored 1957 Pontiac police car.
“The reason we got the idea,” Tonin explained to the Windsor Star, “it gives the citizens fond memories of when the car was actually on the streets on patrol back in the ‘50s.”
When people think “vintage police car,” most will picture the Chevrolet Bel Air, a full-sized car popularized by law enforcement throughout its 30 years in production. Considered the first time that a General Motors vehicle achieved 1-horsepower-per-cubic-inch in a production vehicle, the Chevy Bel Air featured the heft and the power to intimidate any suspect in pursuit.
A highly desirable vehicle by collector car buyers, the ’57 Bel Air is widely reproduced as a model toy car to further highlight its timeless repute. Additionally, popular video game Grand Theft Auto even featured a modification to upgrade the police simulations to this classic car model.
Comparable to the Chevrolet Bel Air and the precursor to the Crown Victoria, the 1961 Ford Fairlane is a classic car popularized for fleet use by taxi drivers and law enforcement alike. Featuring the manufacturer’s big-block 390 CID V8 engine, the top-horsepower option at the time, the Ford Fairlane emerged amid the “horsepower wars” that raged between automakers of Detroit in the 1960s.
To further memorialize the Ford Fairlane as a classic police car, stars of the equally classic television show The Andy Griffith Show, Andy and Barney, patrolled the town of Mayberry in this vintage vehicle.
As the official blog of Dodge explains, the 1970 Dodge Coronet is “one of the most distinctive-looking muscle cars of the era.” This coveted collector car featured the 440 Magnum V8 engine from Mopar motor parts organization, yielding 400 horsepower to this classic cruiser.
Its appearance in 1974 American action film Gone In 60 Seconds helped establish the Dodge Coronet as a truly vintage police car and a favorite among classic car buyers. As the film’s police chase depicts, the signature headlight design of the 1970 Dodge Coronet 440 inspired both awe and anxiety in any driver who spied this police car in their rearview mirror.
Indistinguishable except for their dissimilar grills and tail lights, the Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Gran Fury were popular police cars throughout the 1980s. Their competitively low price points made them a common purchase for law enforcement fleets across the country, and their 318 V8 engines, common in most M-body cars, permitted officers to drive at speeds up to 120 mph.
As any fan of action films from the 1980s and ‘90s will recall, the utility of the Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Gran Fury came as much from their moderately high speed as their renowned durability. The vintage police cars made hundreds of appearances in film and television during this time, primarily as police cars for dangerous and high-speed chases. From hurtling over highways to exploding in fire, the Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Gran Fury endured as much abuse on screen and off. Now, their reputation continues in the garages of car collectors everywhere.
Considered an upscale performance car, the 1955 Buick Century featured the manufacturer’s largest and most powerful 322 cubic inch V8 engine, which, combined with its lightweight body, allowed the classic car to produce up to 236 horsepower. Its performance attracted the interest of California Highway Patrol, which, in 1955, commissioned a fleet order for 268 Model 68s, its 2-door body style, of which only 270 were produced that year.
Though most prominent along the West Coast, the 1955 Buick Century became an instant classic police car with its appearance in the popular crime drama, Highway Patrol, starring actor Broderick Crawford. The show heavily dramatized high-speed chases along California’s scenic highways, forever imprinting the image of a high-flying Buick Century driven by the husky-voiced police chief in the memories of an entire generation.
A mid-sized car produced by manufacturer American Motors Corporation, the AMC Matador was powered by a 401 cubic inch V8 engine that, when put head-to-head with a 2006 Hemi Charger police car, matched the modern copper’s zero to 60 miles per hour times of within 7 seconds. This high-performance muscle car was commissioned by many law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the largest reported user of Matador patrol cars.
Due to its prominence as a popular police car, the AMC Matador appeared in numerous film and television shows throughout the 1970s, including Police Academy and The Rockford Files. The Matador coupe was even featured in the 1974 James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun, making it even more popular among classic car buyers.
“The Matador was an extremely good police car,” said Jerry Bush, an LAPD driving instructor, in a 2005 interview with Hemmings Muscle Machines. “It was fast, it had superior brakes to the Plymouths, and it handled pretty well.”
Popularized throughout the mid to late-20th century, the Chevrolet Nova was a compact car first introduced by General Motors in 1962. Most Baby Boomers will remember its success throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, but purveyors of collector cars seek the Nova, otherwise known as Chevy II, for its high-performance 9C1 model. The first compact car certified for police duty, the Chevrolet Nova 9C1 was first developed to be used by the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department as a prototype in 1974.
“[It] is the most important police car Chevrolet ever made,” writes one autoblogger. “The Nova 9C1 revolutionized the police use of mid-size patrol cars in exactly the same way as the special service package Ford Mustang got copy to rethink pursuit cars.”
All classic car collectors share the same reverence for automotive achievements throughout the years, but police car enthusiasts further epitomize this characteristic nostalgia. Their twin roles in American culture and automotive history make chasing vintage police cars an indelible pursuit for any classic car collector.
Hollywood is no stranger to the appeal of a quality classic car – entire franchises such as the mega-grossing Transformers and Fast & Furious flicks have been built around America’s love affair with metal and chrome. Let’s take a look at six of the most iconic movie motors of all time – how many of these vehicles have you dreamed of taking for a test drive?
Arguably the most iconic car in pop culture, the Batmobile has been through more aesthetic changes than the actors that play its driver. Batman’s vehicle made its first appearance on the silver screen in a 1943 serial, simply entitled Batman, in which the caped crusader drove a Cadillac Series 61 convertible. By 1949, with the release of sequel serial Batman and Robin, Bruce Wayne had traded in his Caddy for a Mercury Eight.
It was with the 1966 feature-length movie connected to Adam West-starring TV series that the Batmobile as we know and love it started to appear on the screen. This incarnation was custom designed and built using a prototype 1955 Lincoln Futura, and first introduced such space-age gadgets as automatically inflating tires, a blade for snipping through cables on the vehicle’s nose, and – of course – the fabled Batphone. Street legal replicas of the ’66 Batmobile can actually now be purchased for just $150,000.
Michael Keaton’s stint in the suit was the pop culture event of 1989, and his ride didn’t disappoint (as Val Kilmer would later comment while playing the role in sequel Batman Forever, “chicks dig the car”) – set designers created a unique art deco vehicle using the chassis of a Chevrolet Impala. As the franchise moved into the 90s the Batmobile became more and more outlandish, scaling sheer walls and firing grappling hooks.
More recently, Batman has taken to driving street tanks. The Batmobile driven through the Chicago-inspired Gotham City in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was dubbed The Tumbler, while Ben Affleck steered a similar vehicle in Batman v. Superman. A reboot of Hollywood’s favorite car is promised for the impending Justice League, and we can’t wait to see they come up with next.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, Herbie has been delighting young audiences for decades with his Disney-produced misadventures.
A 1963 VW Beetle, Herbie made his first appearance in 1968’s The Love Bug, where it was initially revealed that the car takes firm control of his own destiny, helping his down-at-heel owner enjoy a great deal of unexpected success on the racetrack. Herbie would return in 1974 with Herbie Rides Again, live it up in the millionaires playground in 1977 with Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and conclude his initial run in 1980 with Herbie Goes Bananas – released a year after VW ceased production on the model used in the movies. Proving that you can’t keep a good sentient vehicle down though, a reboot entitled Herbie: Fully Loaded was attempted in 2005.
The relationship that Herbie enjoys with his owners is something that any gearhead could learn from – anybody that loves this quirky little bucket of bolts has that affection returned in spades. Seven original models from the first wave of Herbie movies remain out in the world (though not tearing it up on a NASCAR racetrack), but sadly VW concluded production of their evergreen Beetle range in 2003 after 65 years. At least we’ll always have Herbie to remember the car by.
Every bit as terrifying as Herbie is lovable, Christine is – to quote the George Thorogood track so memorably played over the opening credits of John Carpenter’s cult 1983 horror flick – bad to the bone. Or should that be bad to the chassis?
A cherry-red 1958 Plymouth Fury, Christine is in a bad way when bullied teen Arnie Cunningham first lays eyes upon her in the front yard of a neighbor. Putting his auto shop classes to good use, Arnie restores Christine to the shimmering, shining glory of her heyday from three decades before – but soon realizes that this vehicle has a mind of its own…
Taken on its own merits as a slice of disposable entertainment, Christine is an above-average horror movie that even Carpenter admits he took for the paycheck after The Thing stunk out the box office. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find an allegorical tale that any American can relate to – the love affair between a teenager and their first car, and the freedom that finally getting behind the wheel represents.
As the possessed automobile starts acting more and more like a jealous lover, Arnie finds himself in a twisted love triangle between his popular girlfriend and his homicidal vehicle. You may not first-hand have experience of a murderous motor driven by a hunger for revenge, but we defy you not to fall in love with Christine – this muscle car is a genuine beauty.
Britain’s favorite superspy was always destined to make an appearance on this list, with the only question being with iconic car would make the cut.
The Aston Martin DB5 introduced in Goldfinger? The Mercury Cougar XR-7 displayed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? The Toyota 2000GT Roadster of You Only Live Twice? Fine vehicles one and all, but many childhoods were defined by the Lotus Esprit S1 featured in The Spy Who Loved Me – also named Wet Nellie, due to the fact that it doubled as a submarine.
That’s right – 007’s Lotus took a dip in the Sardian sea (please don’t try that for yourself if you’re lucky enough to get behind the wheel of one of these classic cars). The models delivered to the set actually disappointed the filmmakers due to their lack of speed and grip, and were set to be returned and replaced with an alternative that could generate more excitement for the screen. In an act of serendipity, the engineer of the vehicle turned up and did a little stunt driving himself – an action that was captured on film and has been immortalized to this very day.
A handful of Esprit S1 models are still available for purchase today despite production ceasing in 1978, but good luck finding one that’s roadworthy – the car was plagued by issues with its drivetrain.
Bond isn’t the only Ian Fleming creation to make an impact on the world of classic cars on the screen; the author was also responsible for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the magical flying car from the beloved 1968 movie musical of the same name.
Inspired by banger racers of the early 20th century and named after the racket the engines of such vehicles produced, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang may not have been a dream to handle (star Dick van Dyke described it as having, “the turning radius of a battleship”) but it’s one of the most instantly recognizable cars in Hollywood history. Having the ability to fly, ride over water and, well, drive on the road will have that kind of impact.
Replicas of the vehicle are dotted around the world to this day, some of which are even street legal. Just try to avoid getting the infuriatingly catchy movie theme tune out of your head if you get stuck behind one at a set of traffic lights.
Seminal time travel movie Back to the Future could have been so very different. In some early drafts of the script, Doc Emmett Brown and Marty McFly were set to travel back to 1955 using a refrigerator, an idea nixed due to concerns that kids would lock themselves in iceboxes trying to imitate their celluloid heroes, and a DeLorean DMC-12 was chosen instead. Movie history and lovers of classic cars are equally relieved about that.
Back to the Future changed the fate of the DeLorean forever, as the car would otherwise surely have been largely forgotten. The DMC-12 was the only model that the manufacturers ever managed to create, and production had ceased by 1983. Maybe this was because none of them featured a Flux Capacitor or were capable of flight.
Once Doc Brown hit 88mph, however – an interesting choice, seeing as the vehicle’s top speed was closer to 110 – eyeballs around the world were saucered, and the top-opening doors of the DeLorean would forever become shorthand for effortless cool. Which is more than could be said for Michael J. Fox’s bodywarmer in the year 2017.
Six versions of the car were made for the filming of the Back to the Future trilogy, and three of them still exist today, making frequent appearances at Universal Studios. A handful of street-legal replicas of the DMC-12 are in production as you read this though, so if you have a spare $100,000 in your pocket looking into placing a pre-order. Just don’t expect it to fly – despite the predictions made in Back to the Future part II that we’d all be sailing through the skies by 2015, we’re still waiting for that.