25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

Published 3 years ago by , Updated March 7th, 2014 at 10:51 am,

the black beauty green horn 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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.

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Criteria

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).

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The 60s

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)

scooby doo 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Goldfinger – 1963 Aston Martin DB5

james bond 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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The Love Bug – 1962 Volkswagon Beetle

the love bug 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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The Green Hornet - 1966 Chrysler Imperial

the green hornet 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Batman – 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura Concept Car

batman and robin1 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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The 70s

With a couple of notable exceptions, the 70s helped usher the way for the gas-guzzling, horsepower-heavy, loud, masculine muscle car. Engines were big, gas was cheap and car companies were enjoying a surge in orders for their factory muscle car models – thanks in part to the large advertising push from popular TV shows and movies. These are just a few examples of cars and trucks we like from the 70s:

The Rockford Files – 1977 Pontiac Firebird Esprit

the rockford files 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Starsky and Hutch – 1975 Ford Gran Torino

starsky and hutch 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Sanford and Son – 1951 Ford F1 4×2

sanford and son 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Mad Max – 1974 Customized Ford Falcon XB Interceptor

mad max1 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Smokey and the Bandit – 1977 Pontiac (Firebird) Trans Am

smokey and the bandit 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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The 80s

The 80s can best be described as the “age of me” and one doesn’t have to look any further than Hollywood’s choice of cars for a lot of popular TV shows and movies. High-priced, highly-modified, and typically not available to the common viewer due to cost, cars from 80s TV shows and movies epitomized the craving we all felt – we wanted one of these vehicles but either couldn’t afford one or imagine actually driving one (since they were so impractical). There are several dozen choices to choose from in this decade but these are some of our favorites:

Christine – 1957 Plymouth Belvedere

christine 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Hardcastle and McCormick – 1971 Volkswagen Coyote X

hardcastle and mccormick 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Miami Vice – 1972 Ferrari Daytona Spider / 1986 Ferrari Testarossa

miami vice 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Magnum P.I. – 1977 Ferrari 308 GTS

magnum pi 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Knight Rider – 1982 Customized Pontiac Trans Am

knight rider1 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Dukes of Hazzard – 1969 Dodge Charger

dukes of hazzard 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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The A-Team – 1983 GMC G-15

the a team 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Batman (Tim Burton) – Customized Body on a Chevy Impala Chassis

batmobile tim burton 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Back to the Future – 1982 DeLorean DMC-12

back to the future 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Ghostbusters – 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Hearse

ghostbusters2 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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The 90s – Present Day

Starting from 1990 and moving into present day, there are very few choices of vehicles that meet our definition of “iconic.” In that 21 year span there were only five cars that we could find that, just by looking at them, immediately reminded us of their associated movie. We specify movies because starting in the 90s Hollywood began removing iconic cars from TV shows.  If you can think of one, please let us know – because the past five or six years have been taken over by generic, black, Chevy Suburbans driven by law enforcement as well as the environmentally friendly Toyota Prius.

Here are the only five cars that stand out to us for the past 21 years:

Jurassic Park – 1993 Ford Explorer XLT

jurassic park1 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Wayne’s World – 1976 AMC Pacer

waynes world 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Dumb and Dumber – 1984 Customized Ford Econoline

dumb and dumber 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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The Dark Knight – 2005 Customized “Lamborghini Tank

the dark knight2 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Lost – 1968 Volkswagen T2a

lost dharma van 25 Most Iconic Cars From TV & Movies

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Hollywood needs to get back to giving their lead actors cool, unique, and identifiable cars to drive. No one remembers what kind of car Jack Bauer drove on 24 or what kind of car was used to chase down a fleeing criminal on Bones. The closest Hollywood has gotten in recent years is the Nissan Versa on Heroes or the blue Toyota Yaris from Psych – both of which are paid-for advertisements and completely lame on-screen vehicles. Whether it was intentional or not Lost gave the iconic car a slight boost by incorporating a classic VW van into the show.

Tell us what your favorite vehicles are from the past 40 years and whether you would like to see more iconic vehicles introduced by Hollywood in the future.

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TAGS: 24, back to the future, batman, bones, ghostbusters, green hornet, heroes, james bond, jurassic park, knight rider, lost, mad max, miami vice, psych, the a-team, the dark knight

162 Comments

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  1. lamborghini tank and the Delorean =) those are sick

  2. Despite how much I loathe the Burton/Schumacher Batman series, I do love the design for the Batmobile. Although, I still say Nolan’s design is much more impressive.

    I would also add the Bumblebee’s original car model that cameoed in TRANSFORMERS.

  3. I would add the Gran Torino yet again thanks to, well, “Gran Torino”…

    I can’t hear or say it without thinking of the song.

  4. The car from supernatural

    • yes, let’s not forget Dean’s ’67 Impala. That one is tops on my list.

      • Definitly that car is epic

  5. The Beverly Hillbillies’ car didn’t make the cut? lol

    I’m not arguing with your list at all. In fact… I own 1/18 scale diecast models of 10 of the cars on this list. and I realize it was a top 25… but you forgot

    Austin Powers Shaguar
    Mach 5 How could the mystery machine qualify and not this one? lol
    Flintstones Car
    Eleanor from Gone in 60 seconds. (The original or the remake)
    Mini Coopers from Italian Job (The original or the remake)

    • There were A LOT of cars I had to leave off the list for space reasons. Mach 5 was on of those only because the Mystery Machine came first :) The Beverly Hillbillies truck and the Munster’s car are two others I would have liked to mention but if I listed every car then what would people have to discuss in the comment section? :)

    • With you on the Shaguar and the Italian Job Minis (strictly original). “Hang on a minute, lads, I’ve got a great idea. Er…er…”

  6. Ooohh… I almost forgot the Ferrari from Ferris Bueller.

    “It is so choice. If you have the means I highly suggest picking one up.”

  7. Or Greased Lightning!!!!

  8. The Bluesmobile!!! I forgot about that one too!!!

    O.K. I’m done…. sorry for the 4 post in a row. I just happen to be a collector of movie cars. lol

  9. Ecto 1. Nothing more iconic

  10. Mach 5 fo sho…..

  11. Sorry, I was enjoying this list until I got to a van from Lost? Is that iconic? I don’t get it. i’ve never heard anyone mention it before. Unlike, say Dean’s Impala from Supernatural, which is cool and people talk about all the time.

    Seriously??? A Van from Lost makes this list???

    I am genuinely disappointed in you Paul.

    • @Sam – WHy are you disappointed? lol You have to keep it all in perspective. The van from Lost is representative of the past 21 years. It’s the first vehicle in the past 5 or 6 years that can even been associated with a show…that’s why it’s on the list.

      If a car isn’t on the list that doesn’t mean we didn’t ‘think it was more or less iconic thatn other cars…I was just keeping things organized to 5 per decade (except for the 80s because there were just WAY too many).

      • Those Vans have made a comeback since LOST aired. A friend of mine bought that model and fixed it up and now competes in VW competitions and travels in it. It’s pretty sweet.

        • Those vans have been making a comeback for years, people have been refitting them for decades. A resurgance has nothing to do with Lost.

          • @Sam – You’re kidding right? At the very best those vans were considered retro but now they are considered to be the “Lost” van.

            Are you telling me that when you see a VW van on the road you don’t think of Lost?

            • No, because I havent seen that paticular episode of Lost.

              Trust me those vans have been very popular for a very long time, you never been surfing before? Hundreds of the damned things lined up by the beach.

              • I didn’t even know there was a VW camper van in Lost (never watched past season 2), but you’re spot on on about it being the perennial vehicle of choice for surfers. Must be a European/Australian thing. Can’t move for them round Newquay in the summer. The split windshield version is particularly in demand. The times I’ve ridden in one I have NEVER felt safe – as Ken J points out below, the lack of any protection in a head-on smash and being able to peer over the dashboard and look directly down at the road never fails to put me on edge…

      • “It’s the first vehicle in the past 5 or 6 years that can even been associated with a show…that’s why it’s on the list.”

        What about the Impala from Supernatural?

        I’d never even heard of a camper van from Lost. It’s hardly iconic if only people who watched the show know about it. I’m just saying.

  12. Breaking Bad has two or three now-iconic vehicles: Walter’s Pontiac Aztec, Jesse’s beater Tercel wagon (so gangsta!) and of course the stripped-down Bounder motorhome.

  13. What about Steve Mcqueens Mustang GT from “Bullitt”?
    Or the white lamborghini from the James Bond films? (can’t remember which one)
    And lets not forget Deans Impala…

    • It was a white Lotus Epsrit. From The Spy Who Loved me. And yes, it should be on this list.

      • I’m sorry but I disagree about the Lotus Esprit. Was it unique? Sure but is it iconic? I don’t think so. Was just talking to someone about this on Twitter…if you were to show a picture of the Lotus Espirt sitting in a parking lot (not a still from the movie) most people couldn’t tell you what it was from. However, if you show the same person a image of the Sanford & Son truck or the A-Team van just sitting in a parking lot they could identify the show almost immediately.

        While a lot of cars are cool they’re not necessarily iconic.

        • I bet you a years salary that more people would recognise Bond’s Lotus rather than a VW Camper Van Paul :)

          • HEH…no way! I’m looking at pics of the Esprit right now and out of context there is no way a normal person is going to tell you what movie it came from. Of course this is just my opinion :)

            • But you can’t seriously think more people would recognise a van from Lost if it was just parked on the street, compared to Bond’s iconic and very famous submarine car?!

              I no this is you rlist and therfore your opinion, and I would agree with every vehicle on there, I’d proabaly add a few but that van has to go. Really it does. Replace it with Dean’s Impala.

              Please.

            • Ah, but if it’s got those slats on the windows you just KNOW as if by instinct it’s liable to turn into a submarine at any given opportunity. :-P

          • I agree on the issue of the White Lotus Esprit, every time I see a car that looks like it I think of the one from the James Bond movie turning into a submarine! So yeah in terms of eliciting a certain reminiscence of Bond movies and the inventions in them I have to say I feel it it most definitely an iconic vehicle.

  14. Props to them including the Coyote from Hardcastle and McCormick. I actually thought I would have to post a “but what about” on it. Volkswagon though? I thought it was a “kit car”.

    • @ccs – I love the Coyote and could never forget it (although the them song for the show was just awful). I found a website where you can buy the car used in the second season for only $28k! I’m soooooo tempted :)

      http://www.remarkablecars.com/main/coyote/coyote.html

    • many ‘kit cars’ from the 70′s and 80′s are based on the old VW beetle chassis since it lends itself to easy removal of the original body without compromising the functionality or performance (such as it is) of the original suspension/steering components (and courtesy of the fact that up until about a decade ago or so you could still purchase a brand spanking new VW beetle in Mexico and a few other central/south american countries so replacement components are readily and cheaply available).

  15. Uh, and…I thought there was some controversy on what the General Lee was? I seem to recall heated discussion between classic car nuts between the Charger and Roadrunner. I think the general consensus was Charger, but has it been definitively proven?

    • it’s a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T for sure

  16. One problem there. The Christine car was actually a ’58 Plymouth Fury, not a Belvedere. It’s the right picture, but the wrong model listed.

    • @gloss – I saw it listed as both most often as a Fury/Belvedere. It seems that the car community couldn’t agree completely either way. I just went with one instead of both…

      • Don’t forget the definitive source-the book. It’s a ’58 Fury.

        • @Gloss – Yeah I knew that and I think that’s where the discrepancy is coming into play. Apparently the book used the 58 Fury while the film used a Belvedere. Either way, people still recognize and associate the car with the film when they see it :)

  17. So some car on the tv show Lost is more iconic than the Mustang in Bullitt? Alright…

    • @Ken – Bullit was made in the 60s. Of the cars we mentioned in the 60s section which would you replace as more iconic? Of course the van from Lost isn’t more iconic than the Mustang from Bullitt but Lost was in the 2000s so it’s a different list.

      • @Paul, if there can only be so many cars for the 60′s list, I would say the Mystery Machine simply because it was a cartoon and there wasn’t really an actual car. But that’s just my opinion.

        • @Paul

          I take that back. According to the criteria, the car must be driven by a person. So technically that disqualifies The Love Bug anyway. If you can disqualify Transformers for that reason then The Love Bug falls in that too since people can sit in vehicular transformers and operate them while they are in car mode. So if I would replace any one of them with the Bullitt, the obvious choice in my opinion is The Love Bug.

          • Well that would have eliminated K.I.T.T as well since he could drive himself. The thing is, no one ever drives a Transformer where as Herbie and K.I.T.T. are driven by humans quite frequently.

            Next on Fox “When Movie Geeks Argue” :) lol

            • @Paul

              Actually, when they are in disguise, people drive Transformers all of the time. Unless I’m completely misunderstanding the cartoons and the movies…

              • @Ken – I was always under the assumption that the humans merely rode in the cars?

                • @Paul

                  Well, if I bought a car and it just drove itself while I was riding in it, that’s not a very good disguise… But again, just my opinion, lol.

                  • @Ken – LMAO! Touche my friend…touche!

                    • I guess as long as it fixed itself too I won’t mind it too much, lol.

            • @Paul

              I understand the exclusion of Transformers and not KITT because technically speaking KITT doesn’t actually drive itself. Transformers and The Love Bug actually have minds of their own while KITT is a computer which means its software was written by a human. So while it seems like it’s alive, it’s really no more capable than what it was designed to do while Transformers and The Love Bug can actually manipulate themselves to be more capable than the actual vehicle technically can be. So I still stand by my opinion that The Love Bug falls in the same category as Transformers while KITT comes close but makes the cut…

              • Technically K.I.T.T. is still an artificial intelligence (meaning non-biological) in the same sense as Transformers are. The only real difference is that Transformers are much more advanced (If you’ve followed any of the original Transformers cartoon series, you’d know that just like K.I.T.T. the first Transformers were created by biological entities). And in the first Transformers movie, the kid does actually end up driving Bumblebee for a little while before Bumblebee ends up revealing himself to the kid. Just like in some of the various Herbie movies, someone drives Herbie until something happens to make Herbie reveal himself as intelligent to that person. And I seem to remember scenes in the original Knight Rider series where David Hasselhoff tells K.I.T.T. to ‘take the wheel’ while he jumps out or climbs out onto K.I.T.T.’s hood to jump over onto another vehicle (like the back of a semi-truck’s trailer or something).

  18. Most people dont even remember Bullitt.
    So I would answer “Yes” to that question.

    • Oh please, in a decade the show Lost will be gone from everyone’s minds except the crazy hardcore fans. Hell, it’s only been over for a little bit and most people have already stopped caring… Bullitt is FAR more iconic in terms of the movie itself, the characters, the actors, the cars, etc. than the fans of Lost can dream up for their show… Not to mention, those VW mini buses were garbage anyway. Their only safety feature were your legs in an accident. The only reason to own one is as a collector’s car, that’s it. I would never drive one on the streets, no thanks. No fun anyway, I’ll take the Bullitt Mustang, thanks…

    • “Most people don’t even remember Bullitt.”

      Arguably one of the best car chases ever put on film? Their loss…

  19. How about the Citroen DS 21 that Patrick Jane drives in “The Mentalist”?
    I would think that qualifies — it’s definitely a unique car that reflect his quirky way of solving cases. I think the car comes from the 1960s.

  20. I know you were doing it by decade… and this precedes the 60′s, but I just thought of another Incredibly Iconic Car. in fact the movie was named after the car….

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!!!!

    • @Raven – No you are correct. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was originally on the 60s list, as was the car from The Great Race but I ended up removing them. Not that I didn’t like them or anything.

    • I agree… Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was one of my earliest favorite car movies. Good Call Raven

      • Cars I thought should have been included, but weren’t:

        James Bond – Lotus Esprit

        Speed Racer – Mach 5

        Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

        Now that I think about it, the last two were in an email I sent listing the finalists – not sure how those were left out…

        Vic

        • @Vic

          I vote that Paul should add an “honorable mentions” list at the end, lol. ;-)

    • BTW, I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Model T from Flubber or the Model A from My Mother the Car :)

  21. @paul, I agree with you about Herbie andKitt,
    But,Shia did ride Bumblebee.

  22. I would have said the Lamborghini Countach LP400 in the TV show Automan but I remembered it only ran for 12 episodes. still the car was pretty cool even if the 90 degree turns were just camera tricks :)

    • @TJBudz – Automan FTW!

      • @Paul Even with the funky lighting on the car it was still a cool Lamborghini Countach. of all the cars I would dream to have it would be that one and the BMW used in “The Transporter 1″ movie.

  23. The ’66 Lincoln Continental from the Mod Squad. Also “Eleanor” Gone in 60 Seconds. Oh yeah the GTO from Triple X.

  24. WHERE’S THE MACH 5?!?

  25. And what about the Partridge Family Bus?

  26. I can’t belive no one has mentioned the ‘pussy wagon’ from kill bill. Great list though Paul!

    • Nice one, sully!

  27. Good list, Paul! Here’s few others…

    Patrick McGoohan’s Lotus 7 from The Prisoner:-

    http://fandangogroovers.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/kar-120c.jpg

    Ed “Commander Straker” Bishop’s car from UFO. Based on a Ford Zephyr chassis – apparently a dog to drive in real life, and the gullwing doors had to be lifted up every time by someone out of shot:-

    http://ufoseries.com/photos/strakersCar.jpg

    Lady Penelope’s Roller from Thunderbirds. No explanation necessary :-D :-

    http://photos.pixyblog.com/pictorialpress/gen/500/001-043473.jpg

    Sticking with things Gerry Anderson, there’s Captain Scarlet’s red shark of a Spectrum Patrol Car:-

    http://homepages.tesco.net/d.sisson/scarlet/spc1.jpg

    …and the beast of a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle. Windowless and driven via a TV monitor whilst facing backwards, for no adequately-explored reason:-

    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2126/2130361672_34d3a91b35_z.jpg

    Frankenstein’s car in Death Race 2000 (any of them, in fact):-

    http://www.horrorphile.net/images/death-race-2000-frankensteins-car12.jpg

    Sam Lowry’s peculiar Messerschmitt bubble car in Brazil:-

    http://bunkstrutts.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/3-wheel-messerschmidt.jpg

    Columbo’s battered Peugeot 403:-

    http://www.imcdb.org/i036906.jpg

    What are the odds on one or more of those links not working, I wonder…

  28. Don’t know if this 1 qualifies as a iconic car but you forgot the 69 yellow w black stripe Camaro Convertible as shown in my fav tv show Las Vegas. I get all nostalgic every time I see it. & u can include it from the 1990′s to present category. Yea !!!

  29. Interesting point about the lack of iconic cars in TV shows and movies from the ’90s onwards. Just realised all of my choices are from the ’60s/’70s and only one from the ’80s (I didn’t include Stallone’s custom Mercury in Cobra as that always came across as a blatant attempt to give his character some kind of “quirk” otherwise absent from the script). In these days of rampant if slightly more subliminal product placement what can it all mean, eh?