No, not The Italian Job, but the films that actually made a difference to the world’s automotive perspective.
By Ben Oliver
1. Vanishing Point
Easy Rider on four wheels: as much about US counter-culture in the late ’60s and the death of the American dream as it is about the machinery. But let’s not over-intellectualise it, the action is great, as are the stars: Barry ‘Petrocelli’ Newman and the 7.2-litre, 375bhp Dodge Challenger 440R/T. ‘Hey, Kowalski, you out there?’
How can a cartoon cost $120m to make, or take half a billion at the box office and many times that when you include DVD sales and merchandise? Pixar, founded by Steve Jobs, doesn’t do flops: it had to draw itself a truck to haul all its cash to the bank.
3. American Graffiti
No film has ever captured the importance of cars as well: to America, to teenagers everywhere, to the pursuit of freedom and sex. A slow burner, it became one of the most profitable films ever in percentage return, but director George Lucas wasted the millions he made on a terrible flop called Star Wars.
4. The Speed Merchants
Amazing, criminally underrated Michael Keyser documentary on the ’72 World Sports Car championship. The Mario Andretti voiceover flirts with being cheesy, but the opening sequence with its haunting music and the scenes of journeyman racer (and total hero) Brian Redman at home with his family in a quiet northern village are artfully done.
5. The Driver
Seems like everyone has now seen Ryan Gosling in Drive, and it’s a fine film. But the Walter Hill/Ryan O’Neal effort that partly inspired it is better (I’d say): short, tight, pared-back, violent and with some terrific action, despite being made in post-muscle car 1978.
6. Le Mans
An obvious choice, but you’ve got to respect the fact that for the first 30-odd of its 104 minutes there is virtually no dialogue: just cars. McQueen would have had no script at all, but the studio knew that average cinema audiences were not as obsessed with Porsche 917s as he was, and insisted on a love interest.
Okay, so Ayrton’s drive at Donington in ’93 barely features, and you know how it’s all going to end, but the producer’s real achievement lies in making something that stands up to cinema viewing from mostly crappy period TV footage, minus the Murray. And you’ve got to love those Brazilian F1 commentators: ‘Ayyyyyy-rton Senna do Brasil!’
8. Back to the Future
The DeLorean wasn’t much of a sports car; underpowered and underwhelming to drive, it didn’t stay afloat long enough to benefit from the publicity from its role in Back to the Future. But it’s going Back into Production, with a very ‘Doc’ EV powertrain, and we doubt that would have happened without the movie.
Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions prepared two of each car for the filming of The World’s Best Chase SceneTM though they were largely standard. Both Chargers and one Mustang were destroyed in filming. The other Mustang has been locked away by its secretive owners. Worth millions!
10. The Sweeney
This homage to the kipper-ties-and-sexism ’70s cop show stars Ray Winstone and the Ford Motor Company. We know why the action was blinding: some of the stunts were performed by CAR’s own Mauro Calo, a regular driver in our big tests. And watch out for our Chris Chilton crashing a Kia during one chase.