Reader Question: Your Favorite Car Movie?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Dawn asks: I don’t have a car question but I do have a question about your all-time favorite car movie. . .

My reply: Answering this with just one movie is like having to pick just one type of beef jerky! If I have to pick just one, I suppose it’s gotta be Smokey & The Bandit – because the car is the star of that movie. Not just one of the cast, as in other great car movies, like Mad Max, The Road Warrior, Vanishing Point and Bullitt. Other honorable mentions include The French Connection, The Wraith and The Car – which is also mainly about the car. I’d also include  Speed Racer – though of course it’s a cartoon and not a movie. But the Mach V was a very formative influence on me!

But even more so Smokey & The Bandit  – which ignited my obsession with ’70-81 Trans-Ams and driving them appropriately.  I think the film clicked for me to the extent it did in part because the ’77 Trans-Ams (plural, they trashed several during filming) were real cars that a regular person could realistically aspire to own – and eventually, I did.

And do!

My current TA is not black and gold and isn’t a ’77. However, the TA I owned prior to the current one was a black and gold ’76 TA – which was the first year you could get a black Trans-Am and the original year for the now-iconic black-and-gold paint scheme with German-style (fraktur) lettering. My understanding is that the movie was going to use ’76 Trans-Ams but delayed filming resulted in the movie cars being ’77 TAs – painted in the same livery but with the new front clip with four headlights rather than the two round headlights the ’76s had.

The ’76 black and gold cars were LEs – marking Pontiac’s 50th Anniversary. The ’77-up cars were SEs – special editions – and they came with either the Pontiac 400 V8 or the Olds 403 V8, the latter paired only with a three-speed THM350 automatic. The ’76 LE cars came standard with the Pontiac 400 – with manual or automatic. Or the last-ever-factory-installed 455 V8 with the manual only.

1976 was the last year the “400” and “455” V8s were identified on the shaker hood scoop in the manner just air-fingers-quoted. Beginning in ’77, the standard 400 (and 403) had “6.6 litre” callouts on the shaker; the optional high-performance 400 had “T/A 6.6” on its shaker.

Yeah, I’m obsessed!

. . . .

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      • Me and the wife recently re-watched that one (Phantasm). Awesome car but damn, that was one awful movie! The 71 Cuda is in my top 5 cars of all time, along with the 68 Charger, but I know I’ll probably never be able to afford one.

        A few years ago the guys on Graveyard Carz built a tribute to the Phantasm Cuda. Except they left off the fender flares! Unacceptable!

        • Hi Philo,

          I’m with you. Much as I love my ’76 TA (and second gen GM F cars, generally) I would offer up my right nut to possess a ’70-71 ‘Cuda with either the dual quad Hemi, the 440 or the tripe-carb’d 340 Six Pak. Hot damn! As the doctor used to say. Those cars are the duck’s guts.

          • Although I could not afford the 70/71 ‘Cuda or the 68 Charger I really wanted, I was able to purchase a mint ’71 Charger for a very reasonable price. The body style of the 71-74 Charger is not as highly regarded (by most), so the price for these cars (6 years ago when I purchased it) is still relatively low compared to the more popular body styles.

            When I was ready to buy, I actually started by looking at the 77-78 TAs (Bandit or the Blue Martinique are my favorite colors). But I found out I could get that 440 Charger for the same price at the time. The prices on both of these vehicles has gone up quite a bit over the last 6 years, but the TAs, wow! They have gone through the roof!

            • Hi Philo!

              I actually like the”fuselage body” early ’70s Chargers. I have an Ertl model of one – Orange, of course – with the air grabber hood and Koni shock package. A buddy of mine owned a ’72 GTX with the 4 BBL 440 and that thing was fast.

  1. The Wraith! Excellent mention, Eric. Still one of my favorites.

    Loved “The Car”, too.

    I have to mention the car chase in “Cobra” as well. That was a righteous car. Perhaps you could tell me more about that, Eric.

    Also “Christine”, though I’m an avid horror fan.

    Not a movie, but “Knight Rider” will always have a special place in my heart.

  2. My first thought was Le Mans, wow, what cars and macho guys. I love watching races with the Chaparral 2E and the 2J….sucker…… haha. Grand Prix of course. The Great Race was a classic. I guess the best car movie ever is taken by the “Talledega Nights” The Ballad of Ricky Bobby which fairly much begs for a few tokes.

  3. Another “not a car movie” but my favorite movie of all time is The Blues Brothers. Dan Aykroyd, being a car guy, made the Blues Mobile into a superhero. Right from the beginning the car’s ability to perform feats of magic (and the bad guy cars floundering and failing) are a big reason why the film is so admired today. It’s also a great reminder that sometimes outward appearances aren’t the whole story. Oh, and God helps those who help themselves…

  4. though not technically a car movie – the chase scene in Ronin was brilliant… known to have inspired many teenagers of the time……

  5. I really enjoyed Ford vs Ferrari. Some great racing scenes in that movie. I don’t know if it was all that accurate historically.

  6. i miss the tv shows of the 1970’s and 80’s where the cars were characters as much as the people in them.

    My favorite of course was the Dukes of Hazard with the duke boys orange charger. daisy’s roadrunner and later the jeep, uncle jesses ford pickup, boss hogg’s caddy convertible, and destroyed every week dodge monacos driven by the cops. Also the various tow trucks driven by cooter and the same van (yes really!
    painted different each week) for whatever crook there was.

    Other shows with vehicles as characters, Magnum and Miami Vice with Ferraris, Chips with Kawasaki motorcycles, the custom GMC van with the A-Team, Kitt in Knight rider, Rockford with the firebird just to name a few.

    I am guessing since it’s probably pretty expensive to operate the cars (and do stunts) that is probably the main reason you don’t see that anymore. Everything now a days is done on the cheap. Also most cars today have little character to begin with.

  7. My favorite two movie cars….Eleanor in Gone in 60 Seconds and the 1970 Dodge Charger RT that Dom drives in the Fast and the Furious.

    I was filling up the gas tank of my SUV on Saturday and a 1971 Chevy Chevelle pulled in. What a beautiful car! Everybody over the age of 40 stopped and looked at it (ok, mostly guys, but it turned my head). There is no better sound than the engine of a well made American muscle car. Sorry, but I can’t get into these Japanese racers. The engines sound wimpy like their sputtering. Engines, like rock and roll music, should always be loud with a lot of attitude.

  8. You really gotta check out Grindhouse: Death Proof. This is Quentin Tarantino’s send-off of Vanishing Point. Kurt Russell is a psychopath stunt car driver who unwittingly does battle against Zoe Bell (the best stuntwoman) in a Vanishing Point challenger. As a car guy, you’ll love it. Hilarious jokes, second-to-none fight scenes, muscle cars everywhere, and hot women abound.


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