Joanne Smith, Negosentro | Hollywood has shown a renewed interest in giving us some truly epic car movies in recent years. This coincides with the return of iconic sports cars to shows and showrooms around the world. Car Culture never really went away, but it is experiencing a renaissance, making this a great time to take a look at a few of the coolest custom vehicles to step out of the background and into our imaginations.
What Makes A Car An Icon?
A car’s journey to on-screen greatness can take many roads. Some are souped up, packed with high-horsepower parts like you would find at premium performance dealers like Enjuku Racing. Others gain recognition purely from an aesthetic appeal that acts to further the story or give us insight into the leading characters. The vehicles that drive these dramas go beyond being merely transportation or backdrop.
There is no tried and true formula to capturing the public’s capricious imagination. Properly done, these movie motors ascend to the point of being actors in their own right, at times, even outshining the stars of the show. However they get there, they become the stuff of legend, selling out personal appearances at car shows without a Hollywood star in sight.
Picking The Best
This is not a complete list. If you’re a custom car fan, you know that, however many you pick, there’s always one more. For this article, we’re going to look at my five top non-scientifically selected choices for coolest custom cars in the history of cinema in no particular order.
Who You Gonna Call?
Sure, Ghostbusters had Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis, but it also had Ecto 1. Ecto 1 started life as a 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood Professional Chassis customized by Miller-Meteor into an ambulance/hearse combination. Despite its poor repair, Dr. Ray Stanz soon had the formerly morbid vehicle fully customized for the even more morbid task of chasing the dead. The newly modified vehicle had fresh paint, a souped up engine, and enough rooftop doodads and geegaws to warrant its own user manual.
Behind the scenes, Ecto 1 was the creation of Stephen Dane. Over the course of several weeks, he designed the Ecto 1 concept, got it approved, and had it mostly finished to be shipped to the shooting location. After a few days of finishing touches, it was ready to go. While it was striking on the big screen, it was even more so in person, causing several wrecks as it was driven around New York City by one of the Ghostbusters as a promotional stunt.
Break 1-9, Bandit, You Got Your Ears On?
Smokey & The Bandit (1977)
When Bo “Bandit” Darville, played by 70s man’s-man Burt Reynolds, took a bet to get 4000 cases of Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta, he needed a fast car as a blocker. His solution was a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. This road beast’s 6.6 liter engine powered the Bandit past Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice as he successfully escorted the beer cross country past speed traps, road blocks, and hijinks galore.
Director Hal Needham saw an advertisement for the upcoming 1977 Trans Am and knew he had found his film’s iconic vehicle. In reality, the cars used in the film were 1976 models with 1977 front ends and decals. While most were used for various shots on highways or tracks, one was equipped with a rocket booster for the famous bridge jump (which it did not survive). Of the four original cars provided by Pontiac and go-to Hollywood autoshop Cinema Vehicles, all four were heavily damaged by the end of production, necessitating the production of new promotional cars after filming.
Back To The Future (1985)
When this DeLorean DMC-12 hits 88 miles per hour, you’re going to see some serious…well, you know. The ill-fated DMC-12 was already regarded as a collector’s car when it blazed across the big screen and through time with Marty McFly behind the wheel. Equipped with a plutonium powered time travel system driven by the flux capacitor, this car spent nearly as much time being pushed and towed through the original movie and two sequels as it did actually driving or flying under its own power. Nevertheless, many theatre goers envisioned themselves behind the wheel of this car as the sparks began to fly.
The DMC-12 was chosen mostly for its flying saucer appearance to allow a visual gag of rural farmers mistaking a modern vehicle for a UFO. Production of the car had stopped well before filming began when the original DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt, however over the course of the franchise, six chassis were used for filming along with one fiberglass replica for flight scenes. A grand total of less than 8600 DMC-12 vehicles were produced, but a company in Texas, also named the DeLorean Motor Company, is planning on producing new vehicles based on the original design in the near future.
Where Does He Get Such Wonderful Toys?
Tim Burton’s Batman left campy kitsch behind in favor of a darker, grittier Gotham. The powerful performance by Jack Nicholson as the clown prince of crime and Michael Keaton’s split personality portrayal of playboy Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight set the course for future installments of the franchise, just as the re-imagined Batmobile did for Bat-vehicles.
This bad boy was driven by a jet turbine that would propel it past 330 miles per hour and was spiced up with guns, bombs, armor, and grappling hooks. While later Batmobiles would add bells and whistles, the “James Bond Meets Leather Dom” design started here.
In real life, the car was less than impressive. It has comprised of two Impala chassis welded together and driven by a Chevy V8. Many of the more fanciful elements of the car were no more than movie magic, special effects, and camera tricks. This car makes the list for the sheer number of replicas, both official and unofficial, that it has inspired, illustrating exactly how much this car has captured imaginations. Unofficial replicas include everything from a professionally designed model driven by a functioning Boeing turboshaft to “home-brew” models like this one.
Never Opt For A Gallo 24 Engine
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Paul Walker’s portrayal of Brian O’connor was made none the less legendary by his choice of a 1999 Nissan R34 Skyline GT-R. This backlot find from a used car dealer was paid for in cash before being fixed up to hit the streets. We don’t get nearly enough screen time from this beauty before it is impounded by the cops, but it makes a return in Fast & Furious.
The Skyline GT-R is a supercar straight from the factory. It’s RB26DETT engine—that’s right, two turbochargers—can put out 330 horsepower without any modding, it has extensive electronic control systems, and four-wheel steering. In fact, the car handled too well for the racing scenes, forcing engineers to remove the front driveshaft and disable front-wheel steering so that race scenes were more visually exciting. Cars in the later film were made using base Skyline models with GT-R body kits, robbing Paul of some driving fun.
Theatre Dreams Are Made Of
These cars became the face of their franchises, causing audiences to drool as they roared across the screen. From the cars of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the glorious monstrosities of Fury Road, Hollywood’s infatuation with custom built cars is easily equal to our own, and we can’t wait to see what motor-driven dream is starring next.
Joanne Smith is a freelance blogger who has been writing about pop culture for nearly 10 years. When she’s not digging into the latest pop culture trend, she enjoys hiking in the hills around her San Diego home.
Image Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Nissan_Skyline_-_2_Fast_2_Furious.JPG