Cars and cinema have gone hand-in-hand since the cinematic medium was a new-born.
The first film to deal with cars as a subject matter is from 1927, called The First Auto – an apt name. Since the film is old, silent and mostly naff (it’s still better than those Furiously Fast movies), it’s been overlooked and forgotten in the annals of car film history…
With that in mind, let’s have a look at some of cinema’s unassuming motors, the unsung heroes and the underappreciated.
AMC PACER, WAYNE'S WORLD - 1992
Starting things off with a bang here – the AMC Pacer from the 1992 classic Wayne’s World. This beauty is a real unsung hero of cinematic cars, and (unfortunately) the only car on this list to feature flame decals on the side.
Wayne’s World stars Mike Myers as Wayne Campell, a rock ‘n’ roll fan who broadcasts his own public-access television show. There’s scenes skewering product placement, there’s romance, there’s Rob Lowe at his greasy, 90s best. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hurl.
An icon of the 70s thanks to its ‘jellybean’ design, the Pacer was a hit thanks to its compact nature, without sacrificing seating space – it was marketed by AMC as the world’s first ‘wide small car’.
However, by the 90s the AMC Pacer wasn’t a much of a hit with general public as it once was.
Thanks to Wayne’s World’s influence however, and the unforgettable ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ scene, the Pacer rose from its own ashes, like a small, clunky phoenix, and became a kitsch item for 90’s bohemian-types and those weirdos who go mental for movie memorabilia….
PONTIAC LEMANS, THE FRENCH CONNECTION - 1971
Looking a tad worse for wear, here’s the Pontiac Lemans from one of the greatest cop films ever made, The French Connection.
The French Connection concerns itself with N.Y.P.D’s finest detectives Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle and Buddy ‘Cloudy’ Russo as they attempt to bring a super fancy, incredibly French heroin smuggler to justice.
The car chase at the centre of the film is cited as one of the best in cinematic history. Filmed in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, the scene was shot almost devoid of city permits. Due to budgetary restrictions, the crew couldn’t shut down the streets or control the traffic, so director William Friedkin employed a mezze of guerilla film-making tactics in order to get round these issues.
But, as no one on the streets of Brooklyn that day knew what was going to happen, there was plenty of pedestrians and other drivers bobbing about when the scene was shot. Multiple real-life accidental car crashes with unsuspecting drivers even made it into the film.
The producers had to shell out for all the damage, including paying for extensive repairs to some geezer’s car, and Friedkin got one hell-of-a stern talking to, but hey! Someone’s gotta suffer for art!
FERRARI GT250, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF - 1986
Here’s a big red Ferrari courtesy of Matthew Broderick and his pals in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is exactly what it says on the tin: Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), high school slacker extraordinaire, decides it’d be a much better use of his time to get him and his mates involved in a bunch of Chicago-related hijinks instead of going to school.
Car buffs should already know this, but for the mildly interested, the Ferrari GT250 is an extremely rare auto-mobile, with only 100 of them ever being put into production. Director John Hughes actually managed to get one of these for the insert shots of the car… but not for the scene where Cameron batters the car and launches it out of a window (they used shoddily-made replicas for those).
Since the film’s release, the Ferrari GT250 has become one of the most expensive cars ever sold, going for auction in 2008 for $10,976,000. The perfect car for a man like Abe Froman…
CHEVY IMPALA, BOYZ IN THE HOOD - 1991
Here’s Ice Cube lounging on the bonnet of a beautiful Chevy Impala in the masterpiece Boyz in the Hood, directed by John Singleton. It was Ice Cube’s incendiary acting debut, before he got a taste for starring in family movies about road trips with annoying kids.
Boyz in the Hood follows the lives of three young men in an impoverished neighbourhood in Los Angeles, discussing questions of race and violence, all while living under extremely brutal and unforgiving socio-economic conditions.
The Chevy Impala used and driven by Doughboy throughout the film was actually owned by Ice Cube at the time of shooting. After an in-depth Google, I was unable to find any evidence illuminating the reasons why he wanted his car to be in the film, so I’ll just wrap up by admiring Ice Cube’s taste in sleek motors…
CHEVROLET CHEVELLE SS 454, DAZED AND CONFUSED – 1993
Alright, alright, alright, lastly we’ve got a big ol’ beefy all-American muscle car with everyone’s favourite Texas sleazebag Wooderson, expertly played by Matthew McConaughey, behind the wheel.
Dazed and Confused is Richard Linklater’s ode to young adulthood. It follows a group of Texas teenagers on the final day of the school year as they cruise the streets, listen to music, throw bowling balls into car windshields, participate in the ritual humiliation of children and smoke a hell-of-a lot of Devil’s Lettuce. You know, typical teenager stuff.
The behind-the-scenes of this film has been well-documented throughout the decades. The money spent on the soundtrack, the real beer supplied to minors and the on-set fights all accumulate to elevate Dazed and Confused to an almost mythical level in the eyes of its most dedicated fans. But, if it’s my money we’re putting down here, I’d chalk the film’s charm up to Mr. McConaughey’s excellent performance, and that beautiful slab of American machinery.
Those were some nice cars right? To round this off, here is a car that isn’t from some weird 90’s film about burgers or something…