Classic Cars: Celebrating Star Cars on the Big Screen

James Bond's iconic Lotus (and submarine) The Spy Who Loved Me
James Bond's iconic Lotus (and submarine) from 1977's "The Spy Who Loved Me," Photo: OliScarff/Getty Images News/Thinkstock

I’m sure most of you have never heard of a car called the Woodill Wildfire. It was a custom sports car used in the 1956 film Written on the Wind, which starred Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone. In this soap opera of a Hollywood blockbuster, Dorothy Malone, a sexy dame if ever there was one, drives her red Wildfire in every exterior scene. In Hollywood jargon, this specific car was a “star car” and cast for the film.

Here’s a film and car you all know—Bullitt, shot in 1968. Steve McQueen’s star car was a 1968 Ford Mustang.

An old friend of mine, a well known Hollywood stunt driver, did a lot of the driving in the film. McQueen’s car was cast because, one, McQueen wanted it, and two, it was hot looking and fast. Remember that the bad guys drove a black Dodge Charger. This Dodge was cast because it was rather mean looking and had a reputation of being just as fast as the Mustang. By the way, that chase scene down the hills of San Francisco between these two cars is considered the most impressive chase scene ever filmed. It also started the movie craze of car-chase scenes.

Steve McQueen's famous 1968 Ford Mustang fastback from Bullitt
A reproduction of Steve McQueen’s famous 1968 Ford Mustang fastback from “Bullitt,” Photo: Brendan Rankin (Flickr) See link below.

One more car was cast in this film, and that was the little pale yellow 1965 Porsche 356 Cabriolet used by Steve McQueen’s beautiful girlfriend in the film, Jacqueline Bisset. That particular car in that color is quite feminine. Good casting.

Of course, Batman had his star car in every film. The Batmobile was obviously a custom car, but there was a great deal of design creativity behind it. Sure, it resembled a big bat, but it also looked powerful and masculine as heck. Let’s face the facts: Batman was not going to drive a black Prius.

Why does the “new” James Bond drive a BMW? C’mon guys, that’s bad casting. Everybody knows that Bond is an Aston Martin guy. It’s all the bad guys who drive black S Class Mercedes and 7 Series Black BMWs. Truth be told, Aston Martin was a small maker of very elegant British sports cars in the ’50s. It was always considered a more elegant and expensive Jaguar, if that’s possible. The best thing that ever happened to Aston Martin was the James Bond connection. Talk about free advertising. Ever since the first Bond film, Dr. No, Aston Martin has been the talk of the town, along with Bo Derek’s
bathing suit scene in 10.

So why is James Bond hanging around BMWs? For that matter, why does The Transporter actor Jason Statham always show up driving a hot Audi in all his films? It’s called product placement, my friends. Car manufacturers love to see their cars on the big screen. They not only supply spanking new cars to film crews, in many cases they don’t mind if you destroy them. Really expensive iron excluded.

The next time you see the wonderfully exciting TV series 24, filmed in Europe, please take note that virtually every car you see running around England, Bulgaria or Russia seems to be a Chrysler Jeep. I’ve been to these countries and have never seen a Jeep there. Maybe a diesel Range Rover or a Fiat Panda, but sorry, a Jeep is bad casting. Truth be told, 24 is sponsored by Chrysler-Jeep, and boy, they must have shipped a fleet of them over there. True to Hollywood form, all the bad guys in 24 are still driving black Mercedes sedans.

Soon everything will be digital and we won’t be able to tell a real car from a fake one. We will pine away for the non-digital automobile stunt driving in Bullitt and the no-special-effects look of a 23-year-old Bo Derek in a bikini on a sunny beach in Bimini.

See what all the fuss was about in the Bullitt car chase below.

Photo of  the reproduction of Steve McQueen’s famous 1968 Ford Mustang fastback from Bullitt was taken by Brendan Rankin and displayed on Flickr here:

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