Countdown: Burning, Rolling, Action!

     June 23, 2008

Written by David Kobylanski

Films have worked hard to captivate for more than a century. Another innovation shares that pedal: the automobile having survived the production line for generations epitomizes a decade’s attitudes and feelings on life’s highways. But now, for the first time the Pit Crew’s having a chance to rank the top movie cars in history based on originality, stunts and status. We’ll leave the 10th up to you. No one wants an arguable runner-up on this list. We’ve gone into the archives, rolled out the celluloid and done things in the dark you don’t want to hear about; seeing them all to bring you the top 9 on the countdown. Cue the music: our countdown starts at #9…

#9 Bluesmobile: A 1974 Dodge Monaco picked up Jake Blues from prison in The Blues Brothers and was irritably for him a former Mount Prospect, Illinois police car. Brother Elwood understandably traded the old Cadillac for a microphone. Equipped, “It’s got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant. It’s got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas.” Having the ability to perform seemingly impossible stunts (vaulting over an open drawbridge and flipping backwards in midair) to save an orphanage, the Blues sang their way with cool from Illinois Nazis and the fine members of Illinois’ law enforcement community to #9.

#8 1968 Ford Mustang GT390 Fastback: Bullitt’s actor Steve McQueen in “highland green” chased two hit-men in a black Dodge Charger through the streets of San Francisco. Winning an Academy Award for film editing, the film influenced car chases for decades to come. In honor of this Mustang, the Ford Motor Company produced a limited edition 2001 “Bullitt Mustang” GT styled after the ’68 movie car and even mimicked its exhaust note.

#7 The Minis: Replaced in 2003 for The Italian Job by the new BMW-built MINI Cooper with the classic making only a cameo appearance, it’s the classic that we’re remembering today from the original 1969 film. They “were only suppose to blow the bloody doors off,” but stole the hearts of many for their versatility and size in the Turin getaway with four million dollars worth of gold bars. Not being a huge hit in the U.S. scrapped sequel plans until the 21st century when The Brazilian Job could hit theaters in… well, someday. Turns out Michael Caine’s last line won’t go unjustified, “Hang on a minute lads; I’ve got a great idea!”

#6 Ecto-1: The Ectomobile is a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor hearse/ambulance combination used by the Ghostbusters. Purchased by Ray Stantz for the 1984 price of $4800 in an equally ridiculous state of disrepair needing, “suspension work and shocks, brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission, rear-end, new rings, mufflers, a little wiring.” Being a sensation, it captured spirits and ghostly vapors. The troupe destroyed Gozer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow man atop 550 Central Park West. The possessed love-interest and neighborly accountant turned into dogs but who doesn’t have problems? The Ecto-1 was waiting when all was done to drive off into merchandising and a sequel because it ain’t afraid of no ghost. At #6, who you gonna call?

Get ready to catch a mythical creature at #5…

#5 Eleanor: Gone in 60 Seconds’ 1967 Shelby GT-500 was Memphis Raines’ elusive unicorn, the one no matter how many times you boosted, bad luck followed. The remake of car fanatic H.B. Halicki’s ‘74 film was produced by juggernaut Jerry Bruckheimer. Eleanor was the last car on the list of 50 to be delivered to high-end car broker Raymond “The Carpenter” Calitri, exchanged for $200,000 and a brother’s life Memphis came out of retirement to save. On the streets of Long Beach with the legend boost behind the wheel of his unicorn, when it Raines, it pours.

#4 Herbie The Love Bug: The L87 pearl white 1963 Volkswagen Beetle with yellow-on-black California license plate OFP 857 was the little car that could, spawning Disney sequels and a certain love for the car Adolf Hitler commissioned. Its shape and size is recognizable from anywhere and is one of the few cars to be cute while earning respect for its design and originality.

#3 1983 DeLorean: Back to the Future’s flux capacitor-equipped DeLorean made fire sending Marty McFly to 1955 and inadvertently changed history. But before he could leave, he had to fix what he’d done while Dr. Emmett Brown helped with the invention he hadn’t invented yet. It wasn’t a success in dealerships, having many adjustments (a garbage based fuel system and flying capabilities) when it visited 2015, but it’s the original being honored back in time.

#2 1989 Batmobile: Zwack! The campy television show brought Batman into millions of homes but it wasn’t until 1989 when Tim Burton Dark-Knighted Michael Keaton to play the Caped Crusader. It resembled no car on the road but was believable for Gothamites when it rolled to fight the Joker and in Batman Returns, the Penguin and Cat Woman. Joel Schumacher lowered the standards with over-lengthened bouncing wings in Batman Forever and weird choice of solo ride in Batman & Robin. It seemed George Clooney wouldn’t be able to bring any dame to the bat cave anymore, unless she hitched. Christopher Nolan showed us how Batman began and though the Tumbler was a noble starting off joyride, it’s only the 1989 Batmobile that jet-burned its way through the screen instead of just on it.

The final spot goes to vintage still living today…

#1 Goldfinger’s Aston Martin DB5: In the 3rd series addition it was Bond’s first company car in the films, equipped with a number of Q’s modifications: bulletproof front/rear windshields, oil slick dispenser, smoke screen, machine guns, rotating license plates, and passenger ejector seat. Goldfinger was the first Bond film broadcast on U.S. television, on September 17, 1972 on ABC, garnering the highest Nielsen Ratings of any film broadcast: 49% of all viewers. After the first two films gave us the most popular Bond themes, 1964’s Goldfinger was the first to feature a pop singer performing over the title credits, something that would become a trademark in future missions. “Do you expect me to talk?” That was the famous question first uttered in this film only to be responded to with the most infamous reply, “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” Good luck with that. The vehicle would appear in Thunderball, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Casino Royale. With its status on the roads of reality, downright awesome gadgets, the DB5 takes our #1 spot on the countdown for making the ladies miss it yet itself never missing.

Thanks for joining us on the drive through cinema’s top autos.

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