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Wheels on Reels: Classic Car Movies

movie cars

As film fans we have an obsession with movies and cars. Thankfully, we often get to indulge both obsessions for the price of one movie ticket. And once in a while, a car featured in a movie sparks a trend or becomes intimately associated with an era and a star. Check out the hot movie cars that not only raced to profits at the box office but also became icons in their own right.

movie cars

The Movie: Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
The Car: 1978 Pontiac Trans Am SE
Bandit’s 1978 Pontiac Trans Am SE became an instant icon thanks to its muscle car profile, gold-on-black trimmings and signature T-top. No wonder Trans Am sales skyrocketed after Bandit, increasing a staggering 25,000 in 1979 to more than 93,000 Trans Am’s sold. Of course, in the movie, the Trans Am transformed Reynolds’ Stetson-wearing character, Bo “Bandit” Darville, into a modern-day desperado.

movie cars

The Movie: The Italian Job (2003)
The Car: 2001 Mini Cooper
In this big-budget remake of the 1968 original, the Mini Cooper, reintroduced to the U.S. market in 2001, is as much a star as Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron and Mos Def. In total, more than 32 Mini’s were used for the spectacular stunts. To help promote The Italian Job, Paramount Pictures sponsored a drive-in screening on their L.A. studio lots. More than 250 Mini owners came for the free movie and dinner: In-and-Out Burgers, a staple for car-happy Los Angelenos.

movie cars

The Movie: Mad Max Road Warrior (1982)
The Car: 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT
Mel Gibson’s black police Interceptor was a tricked-out 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT, a Ford model sold only in Australia. For that hard-hitting Outback look, filmmakers installed such touches as the chrome supercharger sticking out of the hood (purely cosmetic by the way) and rear and roof spoilers. While a replica Interceptor was destroyed in the climactic chase scene, the original can be found at the Cars of the Stars Museum in Cumbria, England.

movie cars

The Movie: American Graffiti (1973)
The Car: 1932 Ford Model T coupe hot rod
Hot rodding started in earnest after World War II. Returning GI’s had seen all sorts of jury-rigged vehicles in the war, and once home, they started modifying their own cars with monster engines, outsize wheels and more. By 1973, hot rodding’s peak in popularity had come and gone. But American Graffiti revived the art of the modified muscle car. And there is no more memorable hot rod from Graffiti than the screaming yellow 1932 Ford Model T coupe: a one-of-a-kind car built on the very model of mass production.

movie cars

The Movie: Bullit (1968)
The Car: 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback GT
In total, two Hunter Green ’68 Ford Mustang Fastback GT’s were used in the realer-than-life chase scenes over San Francisco’s hilly streets. These muscle machines made Steve McQueen the coolest police detective of the 60s. Where are these legendary cars today? Reliable sources say the Mustangs were scrapped after the movie wrapped. But there is a dedicated following of replica builders, keeping the spirit of Bullit, and tough-guy Steve McQueen, alive.

movie cars

The Movie: The Fast and the Furious (2001)
The Car: Tricked-out Mazda RX-7
Inspired by a “Vibe” magazine article on street racing, The Fast and the Furious brought to the big screen the urban phenomenon of modifying ordinary Honda’s, Mitsubishi’s and Acura’s into tricked-out thoroughbreds. In the film, the appropriately named Vin Diesel risks life, limb and his one-of-a-kind ride a tricked-out fire-engine red Mazda RX-7 in dangerous street races. Kids, don’t try this at home.

movie cars

The Movie: Days of Thunder (1990)
The Car: Chevrolet custom-built stock car
In 1948, when NASCAR first formed, drivers raced in off-the-shelf American cars in the “Strictly Stock Car” series. Of course, today’s stockcars are anything but stock. They are state-of-the-art land rockets. Take for example Tom Cruise’s bona fide Chevrolet from Days of Thunder. How real was this custom-built car? Real enough for NASCAR driver Greg Sacks, who did the stunt driving for Tom Cruise, to race it in a Darlington, NC NASCAR event.