The American car: few things define an individual better than the car they drive and nothing better defines a movie or TV series than the car the lead character drives. For years people from all walks of life were known by their cars and that recognition spilled over into TV shows and movies in a big way.
Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s cars played a big part in just about every TV series and film – to the point that audiences would see the car and immediately associate it with a particular (entertainment) brand. Sometimes the car was just an iconic mode of transportation meant to show the societal class of the person driving it – like Fred Sanford’s beat up 1951 Ford truck in Sanford & Son, Colt Seavers’ early 1980s model GMC pickup truck in the Fall Guy, or Sonny Crockett’s 1986 white Ferrari Testarossa in Miami Vice.
Other times, the automobile overshadowed its lead actor, becoming a focal point of attention well after the show or movie it appeared in had stopped being popular – cars like K.I.T.T. in Knight Rider, the General Lee in the Dukes of Hazzard, or Herbie in The Love Bug.
Still there were other times where a TV show’s car was meant only as a cool form of transport reflecting the “hipness” or “swagger” of its driver – in other words, it was secondary, and purely there for looks. Examples of these cars are the Batmobile in Batman and Robin, the 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit, or the Ferrari 308 GTS from Magnum P.I.
Regardless of their use, each of these cars had one thing in common : They became iconic.
In this article we’ll discuss what makes a car iconic, as well as list some of our favorite examples from various decades. Also, we’ll dig into why the use of iconic cars might have been permanently garaged by Hollywood.
In order to understand what makes a car iconic we should start with the definition of the word “iconic” – courtesy of Dictionary.com:
“Relating to, resembling, or having the character and sign or
representation that stands for its object.”
For the sake of this discussion, an “iconic” car will be one that reminds the viewer of the TV series or movie it represents – simply by seeing it. We’re going to add a couple other qualifications to the list as well:
- The vehicle should have a unique look, paint job, or function.
- The vehicle must be a car or truck – no planes, trains, boats or helicopters for this list (sorry Airwolf fans).
- The vehicle must be driven by a person and must always be in its original, “iconic” form (sorry Optimus Prime fans).
Hollywood was just starting to dip its collective toe into the car pool (pun intended) during the 60s, and the further into the decade they got, the more elaborate, fancy, and often fantastical the cars became. Some of the most popular and iconic cars recognized today came from this decade. Here are just a few of our favorites:
Scooby-Doo, Where are You! - 1963 Ford Econoline Custom Van (as used in the cartoon)
Goldfinger – 1963 Aston Martin DB5
The Love Bug – 1962 Volkswagon Beetle
The Green Hornet - 1966 Chrysler Imperial
Batman – 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura Concept Car