You can roll up to any schmuck on the street and ask what the greatest movie cars are, and about 75 percent of the time, you’ll get the same answers: Bullitt’s Mustang, Bandit’s Trans Am, the Bluesmobile, Falfa’s ’55 Chevy from American Graffiti (painted flat black in Two-Lane Blacktop), Kowalski’s Challenger. But where you start separating the wheat from the chaff is when you ask about the WORST movie cars.
There are some plain bad movies that had lousy cars, but there are some real classic films that should be on any car geek’s must-see list that had some truly awful cars in starring roles. Here are the seven we collected. What did we miss?
The Seven-Ups (1973)
It starred Roy Scheider and was directed and produced by Philip D’Antoni, but the only thing to know is that the stunt coordinator was Bill Hickman, who brought you the chase scenes in Bullitt and The French Connection. The chase scene in The Seven-Ups is legendary, but the car Roy Scheider drives is one of the most pedestrian automobiles to come out of the 1970s: A 1973 Pontiac Ventura Sprint, chasing a 1973 Pontiac Grand Ville.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the soundtrack for the chase features the same unmuffled exhaust note as the Mustang from Bullitt, complete with shifts from that eight-speed transmission Frank Bullitt was running. That’s a lot of noise from an inch and a half single exhaust hooked up to a 307.
White Lightning (1971)
I’ve always had a soft spot for the police-equipped 1971 Ford Custom 500 that Burt Reynolds drove in this hillbilly classic, complete with a four-speed (that occasionally transforms into an automatic on the column in some scenes) and a 429.
The car that always confused me was Roy Boone’s 1971 Mercury Monterey. What kind of ‘shine running hayseed drives a fat-ass Mercury that Frank Cannon would’ve been ashamed to be seen driving? You could take all the seats and glass out of it and still get caught on the back roads by a revenuer driving a plain-Jane Plymouth Fury.
And the color– green with a red and white racing stripe– makes me think that maybe this movie was originally supposed to be shot in black and white. Given all the Ford products used in this movie, somebody must’ve had naked pictures of director Joseph Sargent as blackmail.
Let’s get this out of the way now- unless you’re some kind of film student, Drive is a completely unwatchable movie. It’s made more unwatchable by Ryan Gosling’s car, a 1973 Chevy Malibu/Chevelle (hard to tell) in gray primer.
I love GM’s Colonnade cars. With the exception of not having a convertible, I thought there were significantly better cars than the A-bodies that preceded them. But no hot-shoe racecar/getaway driver is ever going to get hired with a ’73 Malibu on his resume.
I suppose you can make a case for it being some kind of nostalgic reference to racing, as the greats like Cale Yarborough drove NASCAR versions of these cars, but not with those fat bumpers he didn’t.
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
I can see the meeting that AMC executives must’ve had with the producers of The Man With the Golden Gun. Considering AMC’s marketing budget must’ve been about eleven dollars a year, the only way I can see that company scoring all the AMC products that appeared in this film must’ve been through a widespread kissing of asses.
The 1974 AMC Matador that appears in a good chunk of the film – eventually with an airplane grafted to the roof…ugh – is not only a pathetically lame automobile for James Bond to drive, but it’s also brown. A brown Matador is a car for a shoe salesman not an international man of mystery. You can tell by the promo photo just how thrilled Roger Moore was.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
Yep, James Bond again. This 1983 version was a remake of 1963’s Thunderball, and marked the return of a gray-haired, doughy Sean Connery in the lead role. It has a series of unremarkable automobiles, but the most notorious offender is Bond astride a 1983 Yamaha XJ 650 Seca Turbo. Like parachute pants and the music of John Parr, the turbocharged motorcycle was fashionable for exactly 11 days in 1983.
Imagine if you will, a time of low-octane unleaded gas, multiple carburetors and no engine management software and you can understand why turbocharged motorcycles were almost universally loathed when they made their appearance. The last thing anybody would be interested in on a notoriously poor-handling, spindly Universal Japanese Motorcycle was the erratic boost of a 1980s turbocharger.
Special bonus penalty for the lame jump that obviously featured a more capable 1980s Yamaha dirtbike tarted up with the Seca Turbo’s bodywork.
The Wraith (1986)
Historical Note: In the mid-1980s, humans lost the ability to design automobiles, and the result is no more plainly obvious than in the cars – all the cars – that appeared in The Wraith.
The star of the film was a mid-coke, pre-Tiger Blood Charlie Sheen, and the object of his obsession is the Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor. The only thing “Dodge” about it, really is the 2.2-liter Turbocharged Charger engine under the bodywork, which should give you some indication of just how awful this automobile really is.
The bodywork on top came from PPG, a world renowned carrozzeria most recognized for its amazing design work in fiberglass bathtub inserts.
Smokey and the Bandit III (1983)
Production Note: When Burt Reynolds tells you he’s too busy making The Man Who Loved Women to make a sequel that was probably guaranteed to triple his bank account, it’s time to cut your losses.
This is an unfathomably awful attempt to squeeze one more mile out of the empty tank that was the Smokey and the Bandit franchise. I’ll watch Jerry Reed in just about anything, but the second sequel is pathetic, and so is the car.
In 1983, the third generation Pontiac Trans Am had just debuted, and it took nothing more than this horrible, horrible movie for many of us to realize just exactly how far we’d strayed from the original.
The Last Chase (1981)
The Last Chase and Rush’s post-fuel crisis anthem “Red Barchetta” both share a plot inspired by the 1973 Road & Track short story (remember those?) entitled “A Nice Morning Drive,” where a crusty car guy sticks his thumb in the eye of the establishment by burning fossil fuels.
Starring Lee Majors, Burgess Meredith, and the kid from Meatballs, The Last Chase should’ve been a cool movie, but it was hampered by its Canadian Film Development Corporation budget. What should’ve been a kick-ass Porsche 917/30 was a 917 kit car that would’ve had them ROFLing on the set of Hardcastle & McCormick.
Today, Porsche is notoriously tenacious in protecting its brand name, and I think this is the movie that started that trend. Seeing the Porsche logo pasted to the cracked fiberglass nose of what is probably a Pinto underneath, likely had Porsche marketing executives running for the closest open window.
Lee Majors and the Meatballs kid ride in the car together, the scale of which is about 1/3 that of an actual 917, so Majors’ head and shoulders stick out of the cockpit like he’s on board a 1970s carnival ride. Pathetic.
Photo Credit: IMCDB.org