While most car movies featured cool cars that were just as appealing as the stars that drove them, many car movies — some of them which should be in your Netflix queue right now — from the 1970s and 1980s didn’t feature the cars you’d want to hang on your wall in poster form.
The Seven-Ups (1973)
The Seven-Ups had almost everything that Bullitt did: a good script, great acting performances and a killer 10-minite car chase orchestrated by the exact same people as those who pulled off all the stunts. The only problem was that instead of a super-cool Mustang, Roy Scheider drove a 1973 Pontiac Ventura Sprint, a badge-engineered version of the Chevrolet Nova. The most you could wring out of a Ventura Sprint in 1973 was with the optional 350-cu.in. V-8, topped with a two-barrel carburetor, good for a tire-smoldering 150 horsepower.
The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
James Bond drove some great cars in his day, but not in this movie. The 1970s-era 007 was saddled with some truly awful cars in that era, none more depressing than the 1974 AMC Matador Bond spends a good chunk of the film chasing. AMC must’ve spent its entire marketing budget for the decade getting its cars in this movie. You can make a case for James’s Cragar S/S-equipped AMC Hornet being kind of cool, but there’s no way you can see Christopher Lee’s Matador as anything but the kind of car your mom would take to macrame class.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
Roger Moore wasn’t the only one to operate awful machinery in a James Bond movie. Sean Connery descended all the way from the plateau of his Aston Martin DB5 to ride a 1983 Yamaha XJ 650 Seca Turbo.
For about nine weeks in the 1980s, turbocharging motorcycles was the wave of the future. All four of the Big Four Japanese manufacturers — Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki — had turbo sport bikes in that era. Given the option, everybody except James Bond just opted for a motorcycle with larger displacement, widely ignoring the complexity and non-linear power delivery of a turbo. To add insult to injury, the stunt bike in the movie is a barely disguised dirtbike, rather than the heavy sport-touring bike. The thing that saves this chase is the car Bond is chasing: a Renault 5 Turbo 2, built to homologate the car for World Rally competition, in which it won its first outing at the Monte Carlo Rally.
The Wraith (1986)
For a short period, everybody thought the Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor in the Charlie Sheen movie (yes, Charlie Sheen used to star in movies) was cool. That was until they found out what powered it: the same 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that was the optional engine your uncle’s Dodge 400, albeit with twin turbos and a Cosworth 16-valve head.
The M4S’s bodywork came from PPG, a company known more for injection-molded bathtub inserts than world-class automotive design. The concept apparently cost Dodge and PPG $1.5 million to produce. Some people describe The Wraith as a cult movie, but “cult” implies that more than four people will watch it at one time.
Smokey and the Bandit III (1983)
At BestRide, we put Smokey and the Bandit right up there with Citizen Kane as a classic example of American filmmaking. Smokey and the Bandit II is sort of passable, if it shows up unedited on cable on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Smokey and the Bandit III is a flaming shipwreck of a movie that should’ve been the defendant in a class action lawsuit filed by everyone who’s ever had to see it. The third-gen Pontiac Trans Am is heavily featured in all its 1980s-era glory, just as forgettable as the movie in which it stars.
The Last Chase (1981)
Both the Rush song “Red Barchetta” and this movie have a plot derived from a piece of short fiction that appeared in a 1973 edition of Road & Track called “A Nice Morning Drive.”
The basic plot is this: an old guy stores a cool car in his barn. Long after Big Government bans internal combustion engines, he hauls it out and takes an anti-authoritarian run from the energy police. In the original story, it’s an MGB. “Red Barchetta” never mentions the car, but the title makes a lot of people think of the Ferrari 166 MM. The car in the movie — starring Lee Majors and a crusty old Burgess Meredith — is supposed to be a Porsche 917.
The only trouble was that the movie was produced by the Canadian Film Development Corporation, which had a budget of about $12. The actual car they managed to secure is a 2/3-scale Volkswagen kit car made to look somewhat like a 917. Lee Majors head and shoulders stick out of the car for the majority of the film, making him look like he’s on a kiddie ride at the local carnival.