Cars – The forefront of our best loved films.
In recent years, the car has been at the forefront of our best loved films and TV series. There’s James Bond and his Aston Martin DB5, DCI Gene Hunt firing up the Quattro in Ashes to Ashes and for lovers of classic TV cop shows, who can forget the Sweeney’s original Ford Consul and the Cortinas and Granadas that came along later?
In some cases, the car has even outshone some of the wooden acting to become a star in its own right and here are some of the best from the last fifty years.
James Bond and his Aston Martin DB5
It’s not an exaggeration to say that when some cars appear on the big screen and are shown in a positive light, it can boost their sales tremendously and this type of scenario has even been credited with saving some marques from oblivion.
The appearance of the iconic DB5 in early Bond films didn’t exactly save the company but it’s generally accepted that a major sales spike ensued as a result. The car’s CV includes such classic movies as Goldfinger and Thunderball but it had to endure a hiatus when Bonds such as Pierce Brosnan had to make do with other, inferior marques.
Thankfully, Bond saw the error of his ways as the DB5 made a triumphant return in Tomorrow Never Dies and the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, was also allocated one by way of a welcoming gift in the 2006 movie, Casino Royale.
Throughout the fifty or so years that the DB5 has featured in Bond films, sales of the car have improved but you can’t help thinking that the new owners would have been secretly disappointed not a have a shield deflector or a surface to air missile launcher fitted as standard.
The Trotters and their three wheel van
At the other end of the scale, many observers believe that the continued appearance of a battered, barely drivable three wheel yellow van spelt the end for the Reliant Robin as an entity.
While the rare vision of the three wheel Robin is now met with widespread derision, it’s hard to believe it but this make was once very popular indeed.
In the mid 1970’s, the subject of rising fuel costs first came into the public consciousness in a decade that was plagued with strikes, power cuts and the three day week before culminating in the winter of discontent when rubbish piled up, uncollected on Britain’s streets.
At the time, petrol nudged a staggering £1.00 a gallon and as a result, many of the greatest gas guzzling cars of the generation disappeared from our roads, never to return.
This is where the Reliant Robin stepped in with a phenomenal mpg ratio. It also caught those who were just a little too late for the hippy era but still wanted to be seen as great pioneers, some twenty five years before anyone had coined the phrase ‘carbon footprint’.
As a result, no self respecting pottery teacher was seen without a Reliant Robin but that was all set to change as the first episode of Only Fools and Horses hit our screens back in 1981.
A new decade of hope coincided with a generation of people waking up to the fact that the three wheeler was actually quite comical to look at. Sales never recovered and in the same year, Reliant took a long break from production.
There have been brief returns for the vehicle but largely thanks to the efforts of Del Boy, Rodney and the rest, the spectre of the three wheeler has largely been removed from our roads.
The Sweeney’s collection of Fords
While many fans of the show look back and associate Regan and Carter with a Ford Granada, the dynamic duo first started out with a mid 1970’s Consul. This particular car was destined to be a star from the start as it immediately appeared in the show’s opening credits.
Sweeny nerds will automatically tell you that the registration number was NHK 295M but if you want to trump them with your own knowledge of the show, you can reply with the fact two consecutive plates were used for two different cars.
In later episodes, DCI Regan drove a marine blue Mk III Cortina with the registration number NHK 296M. OK so this may qualify as the most pointless piece of trivia ever but you never know when it will crop up in a pub quiz.
As the Sweeney continued, the ‘boys’ were issued with a series of replacement cars including another MK III Cortina in white and a couple of Granadas Overall, your favourite would largely depend on which series was the one you remember most.
DCI Gene Hunt – Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes
When Philip Glenister accepted the role of Gene Hunt in the much loved Life on Mars series, it’s said that he had a major say in the choice of car for his role. Whether or not that is true, the Ford Cortina that Glenister’s character used in the series had more than a passing resemblance to its predecessor.
In a classic shade of 1970’s brown, Hunt’s 1972 Ford Cortina, registration number KJM 212K, would not have looked out of place on the streets of West London with Regan and Carter at the wheel.
However, when Life on Mars drew to a close and Ashes to Ashes was ushered in, Hunt’s car was brought to the forefront of the show as the phrase, ‘Fire up the Quattro’ made its way onto T shirts all over the world: Although this particular quote isn’t as fondly remembered as ‘I’m arresting you for murdering my car you Dyke Digging Tosspot’.
If you’re the most tedious of individuals, then you may like to point out that the version of the Quattro used in the programme wouldn’t have been available in 1981, when the series is set. Additionally, you could also indicate that Hunt’s handbrake turns wouldn’t have been possible in a four wheel drive but by that stage, nobody will be listening to you and you’ll be wondering why you have no friends.
Back to the Future’s DeLorean DMC-12
The Back to the Future series is notable as being the only setting where you’re ever likely to see a DeLorean. The ill fated range of vehicles was released by American engineer John DeLorean with the first prototype arriving in 1976. When the first cars rolled off the production line back in 1981, they really had a futuristic look to them that may have caught the eye of the film’s producers. The most distinctive part of their design were the gull wing doors.
In the Back to the Future trilogy, the car travels through time and as for the choice of transport, Christopher Lloyd’s ‘Doc’ character sums it up rather nicely in this exchange,
“Wait a minute, Doc,” says Marty. “Are you telling me that you built a time machine out of a DeLorean?”
Doc answers, “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”
Unlike some of the other cars in this list, DeLorean sales were unaffected by its appearance on the big screen, largely because the company was heading for bankruptcy and its owner had been arrested on drug trafficking charges. It did however help to turn the Delorean DMC-12 into an icon and if only we’d known that it could travel through time, maybe sales would have been that much better.
As a footnote, after John DeLorean’s death in 2005, the marque enjoyed something of a rebirth with the promise of a limited supply of new DeLorean DMC-12’s. From the first tentative steps back into the world of car production, we even have the promise of an all electric vehicle to be launched in 2013.
Inspector Morse’s Mark 2 Jaguar
Although the city of Oxford with its fine buildings and tranquil streets has drawn tourists from all over the world for many years, this wasn’t a safe place to be in the 1980’s. Horrific murders were being committed on a weekly basis at around 8pm on a Wednesday evening.
Fortunately DCI Regan was rumoured to be still at the height of his powers and was called in to sort things out with cries of ‘you’re nicked you slag’ and ‘take him down George’.
It was something of a shock therefore to see the DCI approaching retirement and listening to classical music. Worst of all, the Consuls and Cortinas had been traded in for a rather sedate Mk II Jag.
By the time somebody had pointed out that this was in fact a different TV series, the damage had been done. While some viewers look back at the distinctive red jag with fondness, others were left yearning for an era when John Thaw would rough up his suspects before asking the questions.
Withnail and I’s Mark 2 Jaguar.
To put Morse’s mode of transport in perspective, this is how ‘great’ some classic cars can be. In this iconic 1980’s film, Withnail and Marwood travel to the Lake District, or in reality a farm in Rickmansworth, in this wreck of a car.
The technical term used in the motor trade is that the vehicle is ‘knackered’. It’s riddled with rust, the lights work intermittently and finally, in driving rain, the windscreen wipers give up.
This is one film where the car is almost forgotten as generations of disaffected viewers walk around dropping Withnail quotes into conversations hoping to reel in another aficionado. However, it is very much a screen icon in its own right.
Mr Bean’s Mini
When you attack a British icon, a proportion of the viewing public are very slow to forgive you so when Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean series derided the most classic vehicle design ever, Mini enthusiasts switched off in their droves, alongside anyone over nine years of age.
It’s all very well to mock a Reliant Robin but the Mini was an altogether different victim of the scriptwriter’s malicious art. The lime green car with its black bonnet was hardly the star of the show but it was the subject of ridicule whenever it appeared. It did however have one redeeming feature with its regular assaults on a blue Reliant Robin van.
The Saint and his various wheels
Coming full circle now, The Saint was seen by many as a rather poor man’s James Bond but this was a view that people had to wrestle with when its star man, Roger Moore, became the third 007.
The Saint’s method of transport was a little more sophisticated than that of Bond and many fans of the show will connect him with a gleaming white Volvo P1800. This was the first vehicle that the character used and as such, it’s largely the one that everyone remembers.
However, as the series progressed and Moore was recruited by a higher power, Ian Ogilvy stepped in as the new Saint and was supplied with a Jaguar XJS – in gleaming white of course.
While many fans of the show will cite Moore’s P1800 as the archetypal ‘Saint’ car, perhaps the best was saved until 1989 when Simon Dutton starred in six, two hour shows. His transport of choice was a Jensen Interceptor in blue and many vehicle aficionados would argue that Dutton got the best deal as far as cars were concerned.
Have we missed any off our list?
There are so many other vehicles that have become favourites over the years including Herbie, the Volkswagen with a ‘mind of its own’, that didn’t make it to this list.
In recent times, the original cars involved have sold for huge sums of money at auction, including one of James Bond’s DB5’s which fetched an incredible £2.8 m in October 2010. Other innovative entrepreneurs have picked up the vehicles and hired them out for weddings and other occasions.
Above all, some of these cars are as fondly remembered as the shows and the actors themselves and this only serves to prove just how big a part motoring plays in our lives.
Long may the cult of TV and Film cars continue! Have we missed any important car in our list? As always, we want to hear from you so please leave your comments below!Author's Google+ Page