Unsung Cars of the Big and Small Screens

There are famous film and TV cars, and then there are ones that are a bit less so.


For car people, it’s almost easier to remember iconic rides from the big and small screen than it is the actors and actresses who drove them. The Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger, the Ford Mustang GT 390 from Bullitt, the Ferrari 308 GTB from Magnum, P.I. sit closer to our hearts than Sean Connery, Steve McQueen and Tom Selleck do. But, in the midst of all the filmic automotive fame, there are the less renowned vehicles that show up only deep in the credits. These vehicles are still worthy, though, and each have their own respectable automotive chops. And so, we now present the supporting, but no less important, cars of film and TV.

Buick Regal GNX


Fast & Furious (2009)
The blocky and dark GNX isn’t the flashiest car in The Fast & The Furious movies, but that’s a good reason to love it. Dom and Letty get themselves into a pickle trying to hijack a high-octane fuel tanker, and the GNX saves their bacon in classic and crazy F&F style. The GNX was good for 276 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque (though the movie car was portrayed as having been seriously modified, of course). The GNX was built to be the “Grand National to end all Grand Nationals”, with the help of a Garrett T-3 turbocharger combined with a larger capacity intercooler, a free-flow exhaust with twin mufflers, a Turbo Hydramatic 200-4R transmission with a custom torque converter and a transmission cooler. The car clocked 0-60 mph at an impressive 4.7 seconds, though we imagine Mr. Toretto’s version would cook that number with ease.

Mercedes-Benz 220S Cabriolet


North by Northwest (1959)
We’re not exactly sure how Cary Grant survives the drunken car chase on the Long Island coastal road, but it was probably good he had the heavy steel of a Mercedes 220S around him. The 2.2-liter inline-six engine was good for 100 horsepower — not exactly powerful for an over-3,000-pound German convertible, but it looks like Grant was easily able to hit the car’s 110 mph top speed while missing nearly every apex. It’s just the kind of car a fashion plate like Grant could be caught dead in, anyway, since the car — with a gorgeous, tall rectangular Benz grille and chrome trim running tip to tail — was the pinnacle of high style. The Benz actually gets mentioned twice in the script and manages to escape unscratched (much less banged up than Grant’s bewildered Mr. Thornhill).

Lamborghini Jalpa


Rocky IV (1985)
Ignore the Rainbow Brite track suit Sly is wearing, and just focus on the car he’s washing: a gorgeous black Jalpa (pronounced “hal-pah”). The subtly styled Lamborghini Jalpa paled in comparison to the far more dramatic and angular Countach, and the car proved that Rocky had a bit more taste than his satin tiger motif jackets would indicate. The 255 horsepower V8 engine launched the Jalpa to 60 mph in under six seconds and allowed it to hit a top speed of 146 mph. Stallone’s Jalpa is probably less memorable than his Firebird Trans Am from Rocky II, but it is no less cool.

Volvo P1800


The Saint (1962-1969)
Roger Moore’s Simon Templar could’ve driven a Jaguar E-Type, but the show went with one of the sexiest cars to ever make the small screen — and it was a Volvo at that. With the “ST1” license plate and a beautiful, pristine white paint job, the P1800 looked the part as a mysterious vigilante’s daily driver. The fact that it was Volvo’s first successful sports car made it even more attractive as a unique choice for a sophisticated TV hero. 100 horsepower from its 1800cc inline-four engine gave it pep with a top speed of 110 mph, and the standard manual transmission allowed good driver control. A total of three P1800s were used in the show, and Moore loved the car so much, he even got one himself.

Ford Falcon XB GT “Pursuit Special” V8 Interceptor


Mad Max (1979)
If there’s a car you’d want for the apocalypse — and you can’t afford a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen — then look no further than Mel Gibson’s Pursuit Special. Mel trades up his Main Force Patrol yellow, red and blue inline-six-powered Interceptor for the markedly more sinister V8 Interceptor. The Aussie car’s humble beginning was a white 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe modified with a Weiand 6/71 Supercharger, a chiseled Concorde-style front end with menacing light covers and quad exhausts on each side. The V8 engine spit out 600 horsepower to the rear wheels, which we can easily believe based on the chase scenes on the wide open roads of the Outback.

GAZ 3110 Volga


The Bourne Supremacy (2006)
This Russian-made taxi is easily the most unattractive car in this group, but the way it’s driven is brilliant enough to give it real automotive street cred. Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne takes the bare-bones 3110 and does things with it that would shred a beaded seat cushion. Though the stock 3110 was outfitted with a paltry 131 horsepower engine, crappy electronics and the build quality of a Jenga tower, the heavy steel body made it just the kind of car Bourne would pick for a demolition derby on the streets of Moscow. Rumor has it that the film car actually had a BMW 3.0-liter inline-six engine, which explains the nutty speeds Bourne reached, but we like to think he could do extraordinary things with the absolutely ordinary.

Mercedes-Benz W116 450 SEL 6.9


Ronin (1989)
Just about every other car in the John Frankenheimer thriller upstages the rather conservative brown Merc, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of an honorable mention. In fact, the W116 was a true sleeper — a performance version of the S-Class sedan with a 6.9-liter V8 engine good for 286 horsepower and 405 lb-ft torque. It was touted as the world’s fastest luxury sedan during its time, and the adjustable hydropneumatic suspension from Citroen made it handle like a much smaller car when driven hard. Plus, is there anything cooler than having Robert De Niro fire a rocket launcher out the sunroof when Jean Reno is hammering it? We think not.

Chevrolet Impala Convertible


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Terry Gilliam is one weird but gifted director. His use of the big Red Shark Impala for the movie is true to Hunter S. Thompson’s book and is just the type of car a couple of Vegas-bound druggies would choose. In fact, Thompson even lent his actual car to Gilliam and Depp prior to filming. It was powered by a big 400cc V8 engine, which the heavy beast needed to get moving, and though it was never meant to be driven as hard and fast as it was in the movie, the role worked like a charm. In the majority of the major scenes, Depp’s Raoul Duke character used the 1971 Impala, but if you look closely, in some shots a ‘73-74 Caprice is used. Regardless, we can’t imagine Duke and Dr. Gonzo’s adventures taking place in any other vehicle.

1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum


Vanishing Point (1971)
This cult classic starred a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum with a supercharged 6.98-liter Hemi V8. Barry Newman (Kowalski) took the role as its embittered driver, attempting to deliver it from Denver to San Fran in 15 hours while evading cops, muggings and all manner of trouble. Dodge’s powerful answer to Chevy’s Camaro and Ford’s Mustang took the form of 425 horsepower to the rear wheels and 410 lb-ft of torque, more than enough to get into and out of trouble in no time flat (while also kicking up big, fat billows of desert dust).

Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC C126


Road House (1989)
It’s an odd choice for a mulleted Patrick Swayze, but not a wrong one. The light blue Merc 560 SEC was exotic, fast and a nod to Dalton’s slightly heightened sense of style. In fact, in 1989, the SEC 560 was one of the most sophisticated cars you could buy. Refined wood, leather interior, heated seats, ABS and racy styling — the Dalton was a downright foreigner in good ol’ Jasper, MO. But the car also had the guts to move, with 300 horsepower, fat rubber and a limited-slip differential. Thankfully when the Merc meets its bullet-riddled demise in a rolling fireball, it’s actually a cheaper and less exclusive pre-1985 SEC that takes the hits. Dalton wasn’t all brawn and no brains, you see.
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