Classic Cars in Movies: The Unsung Heroes of Hollywood

We love classic cars in movies, but they are often the unsung heroes of Hollywood. Let’s explore some of the best of the best. Lights. Camera. Action.

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We love classic cars in movies, but they are often the unsung heroes of Hollywood. Let’s explore some of the best of the best. Lights. Camera. Action.

For generations, classic cars have been thrilling movie audiences with their beauty, finesse, and style. From Herbie the Love Bug to the supercharged Fast and Furious cars to a Delorean that went “Back To The Future,” cars have often played a role in the best moments in modern cinema.

Every year, millions of people sit down to watch the Academy of Motion Pictures hand out golden statues to the best of the best. Whether it is a leading actor, the best director, or even the movie of the year, the winners enjoy their moments basking in the glory of instant fame and attention. But, over the years, there has been a significant oversight by the Academy that needs to be corrected here and now. What is this grievance, you ask? There should be a category for the best performance by a car in a motion picture. Some of the finest moments in our lives have been spent sitting in a theater with a big bucket of buttered popcorn, watching a car explode across the screen. For years, classic cars have been making their presence known in film, but never have I seen the Academy recognize these unsung heroes of Hollywood. So, in honor of classic car enthusiasts everywhere, here are the nominees for the best classic car performances in a supporting role.

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What Are The Best Cars To Appear In Movies?

The movie cameras have captured so many memorable and exciting car moments that it is hard to know where to begin. From the Model Ts appearing in early silent pictures to car chases through crowded city streets to futuristic wastelands, we have seen cars dominate their roles on the silver screen. Although challenging, we’ve narrowed the field to a select few. Grab your classic car bingo card and see if you agree with our selections.

1963 VW Bug - The Love Bug

1963 VW Bug
1963 VW Bug

If you grew up in the sixties and early 70s, you’ll remember the little 1963 VW bug that Dean Jones, Michelle Lee, and Buddy Hacket rode to victory. Only the hardest of hearts could keep from smiling as tiny No. 53 captured our hearts. Herbie was a peppy little car with a mind of its own, who played matchmaker about as well as won races. (not to mention spitting oil all over people he didn’t like). VW was in financial trouble at the time that they even made a “love bug” you could buy and drive home for yourself in 1974.

The Love Bug was the second highest-grossing film in 1969, earning over $51 million. Some reviewers panned the film, but Walt Disney Productions announced a sequel and more. Herbie would go on to star in five more sequels. Who could forget the TV series Herbie: The Love Bug in 1982 that lasted five episodes?

1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 - Bullitt

The car chase has become an integral part of action films, but one of the most iconic occurred in 1968 when Steve McQueen’s 1968 Mustang GT 390 chased a 1968 Dodge Charger RT through the streets of San Francisco. As moviegoers followed every bump, turn, and twist of the muscle cars’ chase, The Mustang GT 390 followed the Charger for a steady uninterrupted ten minutes. The camera work featured shots from the driver’s perspective, and it was nothing short of a masterpiece. The chase scenes would become the standard by which all future car chases would be judged.

Although the cars were supposed to go 75 - 80 mph tops, they exceeded 110 mph. The 1968 Charger RT was equipped with a Magnum 440 V8 (375 hp), and one of the stunt drivers confessed that during filming, he was told to slow down so that the Mustang could keep up. Today, if you wanted to own a piece of movie history, you would have to have a cool $3.74 million since that is the amount it sold for at auction in 2020.

1981 Delorean - Back To The Future

1981 Delorean
1981 Delorean

Who can forget Marty McFly’s journey back in time in the 1981 DeLorean DMC-12? We can’t. This super-flashy time machine stole our hearts in the mid-eighties with its flux capacitor that could only be powered when the car reached a “critical” 88 mph. The car developed an instant cult following, helped solidify the careers of Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd, and set Back to the Future towards $388 million in revenue.

The original Delorean was equipped with a wimpy V6, and the three cars used in production often broke down. Universal Studios finally replaced the v6 with a Porsche V8 so the car could go faster for filming. One of the three Deloreans is part of a private collection in Massachusetts.

1977 Pontiac Trans Am - Smokey and the Bandit

1977 Pontiac Trans Am
1977 Pontiac Trans Am

There isn’t a kid from the late seventies who didn’t want a black and gold Pontiac Trans Am to drive for their very own. When Smokey and the Bandit debuted in 1977, with Bo Darville (Burt Reynolds) leading Sheriff Bufurd T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) on a cross-country chase, no one could have predicted the effect a car would have on the psyche of the American culture.

The four Trans Ams were brutalized during the filming (one being destroyed during the jump over a dismantled bridge). The stunt crew cobbled enough parts from the damaged cars to keep one of the Trans Ams running. (The 1974 Cadillac Eldorado that the sheriff was driving suffered a similar fate losing its top and bumpers). By the end of the film, both cars were barely running. The only surviving movie car (Trans Am) was bought and restored in 2014 and is part of a collection in Florida.

Pontiac loved the success so much that they made a limited edition Smokey and the Bandit car and released it in 2019.

1964 Aston Martin - James Bond

1964 Aston Martin
1964 Aston Martin

Of all the cars used in the James Bond franchise, the most iconic is the 1964 Aston Martin DB5, used in the movie Goldfinger and Thunderball. The Aston Martin is one of the most iconic cars ever to hit the screen, and despite Sean Connery being perhaps the best Bond ever, the car more than held its own, creating such an impression that it would go on to appear in six more Bond films.

There were originally four DB5s used in producing and promoting the films. One of the original DB5s was stolen from a Boca Raton airport hanger in 1997, and until just recently, it has been confirmed to be in a “private collection” somewhere in the Middle East. Two others have been sold for millions of dollars and are parts of private collections.

1973 Ford Falcon XB GT “Mad Max”

When Mad Max was released in 1980, it depicted a story of a cop who seeks to avenge the death of his wife and family from a lawless gang roaming the land, terrorizing everyone they meet. As great as Mel Gibson’s performance is, it is the 1973 XB GT Falcon Police Interceptor with a modified nose, large sport tires, and a fake supercharger sticking out of the hood that is the real star.

There are several scenes featuring the car as Mad Max roams the highways searching for his family's killers. The original car was equipped with a 351 V8 and created such a stir that it appeared in the sequel, Mad Max 2, a couple of years later. The Interceptor used for the film has been sold a few times and is now housed in the Orlando Motor Museum, where it has been since 2011.

1970 Charger RT - Fast and Furious

1970 Charger RT
1970 Charger RT

Many exciting cars have appeared in movies, but we thought we might share a classic muscle car. When Fast and Furious debuted in 2001, no one connected with the franchise could have predicted the longevity of ten sequels. The films are Universal’s biggest franchise, with an estimated revenue of over $7 billion.

None of the cars used raced, and destroyed in the Fast and the Furious films is more iconic than the 1970 Dodge Charger RT. (It was a 1969 model made to look like a 70). The car would be so well-loved that it appears in three more Fast/Furious films. The Charger was equipped with an RB 440 Magnum V8 (although the one that rolls over in the final scene and is destroyed has a 318 V8). The car resides today in the private hands after being bought from Universal.