Have you ever noticed when watching a movie that there are a slew of automobiles from the same manufacturer being utilized by the main stars, police, government, and/or villains? Chances are a contract is in place and the production studio must use a particular brand of vehicle so many times and in certain scenes.
The Avengers prefer Acuras, The Matrix Trilogy tapped into Cadillac as its automaker, and James Bond continues to have a penchant for all things British, with Jaguars, Range Rovers, and Aston Martins playing key roles.
Most people don’t know that there are typically multiple versions of the same car used in a film. There is always a “hero car,” which is typically reserved for close-up shots. Studios will often mock-up clones of the hero car, which are nice, but are not always as detailed or expensive, for action shots and promotional events. Then there are the stunt cars, which are gutted, caged, harnessed, and hacked-up in order to make a particular sequence possible, all without killing the driver or anyone else.
While a lot of the following vehicles will likely strike you as instantly recognizable, our hope is that the information provided with each entry will offer some insight into what goes into making a particular chassis perfect for film. Here are 25 of our favorite starring roles that just so happened to be played by iconic cars.
1. Jurassic Park – Explorer
With its bright yellow wheels, oversized brush guards, fog lamps, and enormous panoramic sunroof, Ford made a smart move when it signed on for the role of being the vehicle of choice for Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park. Utilizing top-of-the-line Eddie Bauer editions, complete with side steps, larger front bumpers, and brightly colored graphics, the Blue Oval was able to successfully showcase its four-door alternative to the Bronco on the big screen, thus rocketing the SUV to stardom and on to astronomical sales figures.
2. Fast & Furious – Supra
What can be said about this Toyota that hasn’t been said before? It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s impossible to not feel nostalgic when you see it, and it sold for $185,000 at auction last year. When the decision was made to put Paul Walker in something other than an Evo after his electric lime green Mitsubishi Eclipse got blown to hell in the first film, moviegoers watched the 2JZ-GE equipped, bright orange unicorn with a wing the size of the English Channel affixed to its decklid in awe.
Built by Eddie Paul at The Shark Shop in El Segundo, California, the Supra was outfitted with a modified twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six, a five-speed manual gearbox, heavy-duty suspension for stunt work, full roll cage, competition seats, and a Jaz Products fuel cell. The car’s Bomex body kit and APR wing make it instantly recognizable, and even the Dazz alloy wheels wrapped in Yokohama rubber are period correct.
3. Wayne’s World – Mirth Mobile
It may have some bitchin’ graphics behind each front wheel, a hot hatch to match, and two doors just like the previous entry, but that’s about it when it comes to similarities between Garth’s Mirth Mobile and Paul Walker’s Supra. Complete with red licorice rope dispenser and clueless companions in the backseat, this 1976 AMC Pacer helped make Wayne’s World an instant hit due in part to a raucous karaoke scene, and earned the crap-tastic subcompact a top spot on our list.
4. Vanishing Point – Challenger
For those unfamiliar with the 1971 cult classic Vanishing Point, now would be a great time to add it to your list of movies to watch. As for those who are already familiar with the film, you probably know why gratuitous amounts of Mopar action make this film a masterpiece, and how it all starts with a sizable wager.
After being contracted to drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger from Colorado to San Francisco in less than 15 hours, a drugged-out vehicle delivery driver by the name of Kowalski gets off on the wrong foot by attracting the attention of the fuzz almost instantly. This catalyzes into a massive, multi-state manhunt that’s punctuated by Kowalski picking up a blind DJ with a police radio scanner that goes by “Supersoul,” numerous chase scenes, gay hitchhikers, a naked woman riding a motorbike, and plenty of drug use.
Per IMDb, the car featured was a a 440-cubic-inch V8 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T, and not a 426 Hemi V8. All together, eight white Challengers were loaned from Chrysler for the film, and according to the director, the color was chosen purely for its ability to stand out against background scenery.
5. Goldfinger – DB5
Not only was Goldfinger the first appearance of a laser beam in a film, but it also is the reason why Steven Spielberg owns a DB5 (it’s reportedly his favorite Bond movie). Aston Martin was actually reluctant to part with two of its cars for use in the film, forcing producers to pay out of pocket for both vehicles. But once the movie’s success at the box office became undeniable, Aston Martin had zero issue providing vehicles for future installments, and has been a staple since.
Although Ian Fleming had Bond piloting a DB Mark III in his novel, the DB5 was substituted since it was the latest model available at that time. When we covered the vehicle a while back, we noted that two versions of the car used in the film: The original DB5 prototype served as the star, while the other played second fiddle for stunts. Years later, the DB5 prototype was stripped of its weaponry and gadgetry by Aston Martin and resold, only to be retrofitted by succeeding owners with non-original weaponry and props. The iconic piece of memorabilia was last in the news in 1997 when it was stolen.
6. Gran Torino – Gran Torino
Built in Lorain, Ohio, the 1972 Gran Torino Sport featured was one of 92,033 models produced by Ford that year. The Sport version was special due to its integrated hood scoop that fed into an optional (and exceedingly rare) Ram Air Induction package. Clint Eastwood’s Sport model also featured “Magnum 500” wheels, optional laser stripes on the sides that ran down the full length of the car, and some special badging.
The base power plant for the Grand Torino Sport was a 302 Windsor 2 barrel V8, with 351W, 351 Cleveland, 400, and 429 cubic-inch available upgrades. Unfortunately, these motors were also built with a surprisingly low compression ratio of 8.5:1 for fuel economy gains, thus losing the car credibility with performance fans. In the film, Eastwood’s character never actually drives the Gran Torino, so the only person who gets to drive it is Thao, in the very last scene — but it’s enough to make it memorable.
7. Back to the Future – DMC-12
During a test run in the 1985 classic Back to the Future, Marty McFly asks Doc Brown why he used a DeLorean for time travel at 88 mile per hour speeds. Christopher Lloyd replied that not only did the stainless steel construction help with “temporal displacement,” but that he also wanted a car that was stylish, something that the 1981 DMC-12 had in spades.
Masterminded by John Z. DeLorean, engineered in part by Lotus, and styled by Lotus Esprit designer Giorgio Guigiaro, the DeLorean DMC-12 debuted in 1981 after a manufacturing facility was established in Belfast, Ireland. With its rear-mounted engine, gull-wing doors, unique lines, stainless steel finish, and loaded interior, public interest in the car prior to release was unprecedented.
Unfortunately, instead of being sporty, the DMC-12 featured an anemic Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 that only produced 130 horsepower, build quality was questionable at best, and sticker prices were outrageously high. Within a year, DeLorean was facing bankruptcy, and as John DeLorean tried fervidly to secure funding, he became involved in a large-scale cocaine smuggling ring which put him behind bars.
8. Casino Royale – DBS V12
The only vehicle to make an appearance in two Bond flicks is the highly-coveted Aston Martin V12 DBS. First seen in 2006’s Casino Royale, which also marked Daniel Craig’s first appearance as James Bond, the DBS was an obvious product plug by Ford, which was Aston Martin’s parent company prior to its sale in 2007. After the company sold 90% of all Lagonda Limited editions of the car in 2007, the DBS returned for a quick car chase scene during the intro of the 2008 film Quantum of Solace before disappearing.
9. Batman Begins – The Tumbler
Batman’s production designer once described this machine as a cross between a Lamborghini and a tank. Designed by Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Sciences Division as a bridging vehicle for the military in the film Batman Begins, the Tumbler came loaded with weaponry and the ability to jump into the air without the aid of a ramp. Six vehicles in total were built for the film; two full-sized driving versions for exterior shots, another tasked with hydraulic jump sequences, and a special model getting tagged for rocket-blast duty.
Outside of being powered by a 500-horsepower LS V8, the vehicle needed to reach speeds of over 100 MPH, go from zero to 60 in five seconds or less, possess steering that allowed sharp turns in urban settings, and withstand a self-propelled launch of 30 feet. The Tumbler rose to the challenge by utilizing suspension systems from Baja racing trucks, the aforementioned drivetrain, and 65 carbon fiber panels, ending with a cost of $250,000 a piece to build. Due to poor visibility within the vehicle, monitors were connected to cameras on the body, and stunt drivers reportedly practiced driving Tumblers for six months before taking them out on the streets of Chicago for filming.
10. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
As reports by Hemmings show, the original car that was used in the film weighed about two tons, was 17 feet long, and was built around a custom-made ladder frame chassis. Its wheels were made from alloy in order to replicate wooden rollers, the deck was made of red and white cedar and handcrafted by boat-builders, and the array of brass fittings were supposedly obtained from Edwardian wrecks.
A few fun touches include the alloy dashboard plate sourced from a repurposed British World War I fighter plane, deployable flotation devices, and wings and propellers for when it came time to fly. Six vehicles were created for the movie, but only one was fully functional and registered for road use in the United Kingdom. Outfitted with a Ford 3000 V6 engine and an automatic transmission, actor Dick Van Dyke once said that “the car was a little difficult to maneuver, with the turning radius of a battleship.”
11. Smokey and the Bandit – Trans Am
The Y82 Trans Am driven by Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit came loaded with a lot of options that modern car buyers nowadays take for granted. Factory air conditioning, power windows, a tilt steering wheel, rear defrost, additional acoustic insulation, and a deluxe vinyl interior were only available on upper trim models back in the day. With its Starlight Black paint and Gold SE touches, instantly-recognizable hood logo, and massive 6.6-liter V8 that only got 200 horsepower on a good day, it was a strange time for the muscle car.
12. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Ferrari GT250
In 2013, Mecum Auctions revealed the story behind the Ferrari from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The history lesson behind it is pretty phenomenal: Back in the early 1980s, entrepreneurs Neil Glassmoyer and Mark Goyett founded Modena Design and Development to manufacture the Modena Spyder California, a Ferrari 250 GT Spyder-based sports car. Mention of the new creation in a car magazine drew the attention of Hollywood director John Hughes, who was in the planning stages of making a film in which a valuable sports car would play a crucial role.
“While we were waiting outside to meet Hughes this scruffy-looking fellow came out of the building and began looking the car over,” Glassmoyer recalls, “We thought from his appearance he must have been a janitor or something. Then he looked up at a window and shouted, ‘This is it!’ and several heads poked out to have a look. That scruffy-looking fellow was John Hughes, and the people in the window were his staff. Turned out it was between the Modena Spyder and a Porsche Turbo, and Hughes chose the Modena.”
In 1988, Glassmoyer took the opportunity to buy back one of the movie cars, which he has owned since. Based on the Spyder California prototype design by Scaglietti, the Modena incorporated a steeply raked windshield, sunken front turn signals, a horizontal front grille, hood scoop, fender vents, and a swept profile. But beneath the fiberglass shell sat a high-horsepower motor and a steel tube frame that had been designed by the late Bob Webb, an accomplished car fabricator who worked on Roger Penske’s racing team.
13. Death Proof – Charger
In the 2007 slasher/thriller, Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a sadistic Hollywood stunt double who likes to kill women in his downtime with heavily modified muscle cars. Russell uses two different automobiles in the film, one of them being the murdered out (pun intended) 1969 Dodge Charger pictured here.
The license plate on Stuntman Mike’s car, 983-DAN, pays homage to the 1974 Peter Fond film Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, which centers around a bunch of bumbling crooks trying to evade the authorities in a Dodge Charger and was one of Tarantino’s inspirations for the film Death Proof. IMDb claims that “the wheels on Stuntman Mike’s ’69 Charger are the same American Racing vectors used on the General Lee,” which was a more brightly colored, happy-go-lucky kind of ’69 Charger than this sinister machine.
14. Ghostbusters – Ecto-1
Ecto-1 is a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor limousine that at one point was converted into an ambulance prior to being used in the 1984 blockbuster Ghostbusters. Hagerty says that on paper, only 25 1959 Miller Meteors were ever produced, and that from this number, two were utilized in the role of Ecto-1, with Universal Studios building additional replica cars for touring, theme park use, and exhibition.
Used to haul Bill Murray and his team of ghost-capturing cronies around New York City, the old limo featured many modifications, including a unique pull-out rack in the back for proton packs. The entire roof of the car was loaded with gadgets, none of which were ever used or explained in the film.
It’s rumored that earlier versions of the script were in part written by Dan Aykroyd, and in his version, Ecto-1 had the ability to tackle inter-dimensional travel. The car was also originally designed to be all black with purple and white strobe lights, as the vehicle was designed to have a “purple aura.”
15. Dumb & Dumber – The Mutt Cutts Van
An official release by Hagerty claims that the flying pooch from 1994’s Dumb & Dumber actually was a 1984 Ford Econoline service van as Harry claims it is in the movie. While Jeff Daniels’ character confesses to spending his entire life savings on converting the vehicle into a sheepdog, Jim Carrey continues to refer to the van as the “shaggin’ wagon,” which is more wish than fact.
When the vehicle was launched into the air, the scene that proved to be so popular with audiences that producers later decided to meticulously recreate it in the sequel. Stunt coordinators said that in order to safely launch the van, the vehicle had to have considerable weight added to the rear in order to prevent a nose dive. A roll cage, racing seats, and multi-point harnesses were also added to keep the driver safe, and wireless receivers were wired in to simultaneously blow both front tires and pop off the tongue and the nose of the van when it landed.
16. Death Proof – Nova
Out of the seven custom 1970 Chevy Nova muscle cars Quentin Tarantino had contracted for the film, only two lived to tell the tale. One was gifted to professional driver Buddy J. Hooker, and a heavily modified performance version was sold to the public. When the latter of the two was about to go up for auction, Car Throttle released some specs on the death machine used in the grindhouse flick. Much like Stuntman Mike’s ’69 Charger and its plates that honored a classic Peter Fonda film, the Nova also received special tags, with plate number JJZ-109 nodding to the film Bullitt.
Mechanically, the original 350 V8 received a 650 Edelbrock carburetor, a modified gearbox and rear end, a B&M shifter, and a full roll cage to name but a few of the many modifications. It also had its front bulkhead removed to allow air conditioning to better circulate within the cabin, as well as for the support of towing rigs during dialogue shots. The Nova was also intentionally aged and rusted, then sealed in order to give it a rough edge that would not rust. Sadly, due to all of these modifications, it was not road legal, making it more of a collector item than a driver’s car.
17. The Italian Job – Mini
A feature in the Daily Mail back in 2011 said that David Morton from Newcastle is the man responsible for procuring and restoring three of the original cars from the 1969 classic to their original film specifications. While displaying his rebuilt Minis at MiniFest in Uttoxeter Staffordshire that year, Morton admitted that both Michael Caine and the film’s chief stunt driver, Remy Julienne, helped advise him on how to “get the cars back to their original conditions.”
Morton says that while 16 cars were used in the film, many of them were badly damaged and either ended up being left in Italy to rot or were parted out. “Only these three boxes [of parts] came back to England,” Morton explains. “There wasn’t much in them except for the lamp bars, bonnet straps, and lots of small bits. But most importantly the original number plates and log books were there.”
After years of work and sizable sums of money, the cars were restored and registered as road-legal under their original registration numbers. It’s rumored that plate number HMP 729G is a particularly special tag too; the first portion stands for “Her Majesty’s Prison,” and the prison number of Michael Caine in the film following.
18. Gone in 60 Seconds – Eleanor
Though the Mustang in the Nicholas Cage remake was depicted as a Shelby GT500, in reality it was a 1967 fastback with a customized body kit designed by Steve Stanford. A dozen cars were reportedly made for the film, and only a few of them were actually functional, with one of the few working ones going to producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Autoblog did a feature on the transformation that is required to make one of these machines years ago, and it all starts with Classic Recreations’ 401-cubic-inch racing engine. The cars then get an aluminum crossflow radiator, a Mass Flo fuel injection system, a Concept One serpentine belt drive system, and ceramic-coated headers. A five-speed Tremec TKO manual gearbox, an optional six-speed, or an automatic with Posi-Traction can be had also. All told, buyers can have between 535 and 770 horsepower versions, running as much as $189,000.
A Total Control suspension swap features coilovers and larger sway bars on all corners, as Classic Recreations wheels and a Baer big brake kit round things out. Five-point harnesses, custom gauges, a wood and aluminum steering wheel, and interior upgrades from deluxe versions of 1967 Mustang models also make their mark on the average Eleanor. There’s also a nitrous system that comes attached to an “Armed” toggle switch on the dash, and a “Go Baby Go” button on the shift knob, so trunk storage is sacrificed in favor of canisters of NOS instead.
19. Thelma and Louise – Thunderbird
The 1966 Ford Thunderbird from the 1991 classic starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon was last seen rolling off the Barrett-Jackson auction block in 2008 to the tune of $71,500 and was heralded as “the ‘star’ of the 1991 Oscar-winning classic.” Nominated for six Academy Awards and credited for being Brad Pitts’ first major motion picture, the road trip chick flick is an iconic piece of American cinematography and female empowerment that to this day receives rave reviews.
Throughout the entire film, and up until the climactic Grand Canyon ending scene, the convertible T-bird served as a stylish getaway car for the two heroines. When the vehicle finally went up for sale, documentation from MGM Movies along with letters of authenticity were issued, with pictures of Brad Pitt signing the rear seat arm rest and Geena Davis signing the sun visor.
20. Maximum Overdrive – Green Goblin Semi
IMDb reports that during production of the 1986 Stephen King comedy/horror film, “several of the radio-controlled trucks used for the Dixie Boy [truck stop] siege broke down throughout filming, which delayed production as every time a truck would break down and get repaired, another truck would also break down.”
About a year after Maximum Overdrive was released, the Green Goblin truck — a White-Western Star 4800 Semi — was taken to a salvage yard, as the jaw, lower teeth, tongue, and tops of the Goblin’s ears had all been badly damaged. The truck eventually ended up in the possession of a certain Tim Shockey, who displayed it in his video store until he sold the business. The truck then sat in Shockey’s backyard for about 20 years, until it was eventually moved into his garage for restoration in 2011. Shockey spent two years restoring it, and once completed in 2013, began a campaign across the lower 48 states and Canada in order to showcase it at horror and comic conventions.
21. Christine – 1958 Plymouth Fury
In 2015, Barrett-Jackson handed Lot No. 2006 to Scott Edminster, whose postcard was chosen from approximately 40,000 entries to win Christine, a fully-restored 1958 Plymouth Sport Fury from the film of the same name. Directed by John Carpenter and based on a Stephen King novel, the car was valued at around $198,000 at the time and comes with some neat stories.
In order to simulate the car regenerating itself, hydraulic pumps were installed on the inside of a series of dummy cars, which were little more than plastic mock-ups that could be bent and deformed. Once compressed, these hydraulics would crumple the car’s paneling inward, and once the footage was reversed, it appeared that the vehicle was retaking its form.
According to DVD commentary, the studio was having trouble with the vehicle’s TorqueFlite automatic transmission controls, which came on all Plymouth cars that year and were little more than a series of buttons used for selecting gears. It would often take multiple tries to put the transmission in gear, and in a few instances, filming was delayed because technicians were repairing the selector buttons.
22. Mad Max – Falcon Interceptor
While the 1979 original Mad Max was quite different than the modern Fury Road, one thing did remain intact: Loads of badass post-apocalyptic custom cars. In the original, when his son is slain by a gang of motorcycle thugs, Mel Gibson’s character goes vigilante and starts hunting down members of the gang in a black “Pursuit Special.”
This specialized vehicle was a 1973 Ford XB Falcon GT351, which had been outfitted with a Weiand 6-71 supercharger atop a 351 Cleveland engine that had been paired to a four-speed manual transmission. In a later installment, the interior gets stripped down and two spare fuel tanks are affixed to the back in order to give the vehicle a more survivalist appearance.
23. Cannonball Run – Ambulance
The ambulance used in the original Cannonball Run movie was reportedly the actual ambulance that Hal Needham and Brock Yates modified and raced during the rally one year. It had a HEMI engine that helped it reach 145 MPH, and was outfitted with four gas filler holes in order to allow all 90 gallons to be added rapidly.
Unfortunately, Needham and Yates were unable to win the race due to the transmission grenading in Palm Springs. But instead of scrapping the van, Needham kept it in storage for years, and when a film based around the event was announced, the vehicle was resurrected. After filming concluded, Needham (who also directed the film) gave the Dodge tradesman B-Series van to a local church charity, which in turn raised a considerable amount of money by auctioning it off. Cannonball Run proved to be a surprise box office smash hit, and marked the first time Jackie Chan was ever seen in an American production.
24. Bullitt – Mustang
You can’t have a cheat sheet on movie cars and not include Steve McQueen’s iconic 1968 Mustang GT 390 from the film Bullitt, which the production studio reportedly modified in order to make it stealthy. Driving lights, the galloping pony emblem, all Mustang lettering, and even the GT badges were removed in order to give the car a more covert appearance. Two vehicles were purchased and modified for the making of the film; one was so badly damaged that it had to be destroyed after filming ended.
During the movie’s spectacular car chase scene, the sounds of the vehicles themselves serve as the only soundtrack — earning Bullitt an Academy Award nomination for best sound. But where Bullitt failed to pick up one Oscar, it succeeded in garnering another; nine minutes and 42 seconds of edited footage earned the flick an Academy Award for film editing.
While Steve McQueen was credited for his driving during the chase, it was both McQueen and stunt driver Bud Ekins who piloted the Mustang. It’s easy to discern which one is driving during interior cuts, because when McQueen is driving the rearview mirror reflects his face, and when Ekins is driving the mirror is flipped up. To this day, no one knows where the lone surviving Mustang GT 390 from the film resides.
25. The Love Bug – Herbie
Herbie was a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle deluxe ragtop that came sprayed in Volkswagen’s L87 pearl white paint, and typically would have a matching interior paint scheme. But being that it was such a crucial component of the film, Herbie’s interior had to be painted a grey color in order to cut down on studio lighting reflections and glare.
All told, eight different cars were used by the production studio, each rigged a different way in order to produce the desired results. According to the film’s behind-the-scenes recorded decades after the debut of the 1968 Disney classic, Herbie’s No. 53 was chosen to honor baseball pitching star Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers.