Cape Town - These days movie cars are often nothing more than product placements but there was a time when filmmakers actually had to beg automakers to loan them cars.
Production companies had to spend their own money to buy up dozens of identical automobiles just so they could wreck them in spectacular stunts.
Some of these movie cars became more famous than the actors who drove them.
Icons of film
If only four out of twenty cars survived filming, fans would scramble to obtain one. If there was only one car to begin with, collectors will part with millions to own it.
Here are a few cars that survived the apocalypse, the Cold War, the Wild West, and an assortment of Bond and Batman villains.
We’re sticking to movie cars here so unfortunately you won’t find KITT and the General Lee below.
1. James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 – Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965)
The DB5 was Aston Martin’s latest product at the start of making Goldfinger. The British manufacturer loaned two vehicles for the duration of filming.
A pre-production test mule – chassis DP216/1 – was modified with gadgetry, and a standard production version – chassis DB5/1486/R – was used for close-up and driving shots.
DB5/1486/R was sold by Aston Martin to American radio DJ Jerry Lee in 1969 for $12 000. In 2010 Lee subsequently sold the iconic car to collector Harry Yeaggy for $4.1-million.
Aston Martin held on to DP216/1 but in 1997 the gadget-laden version was stolen from an aircraft hangar in Florida, USA. It has not been seen since and after an exhaustive search is believed to be lost forever.
Two other DB5’s – chassis numbers 2008/R and 2017/R – were outfitted with gadgets and used for promotional purposes only. 2018/R belongs to an anonymous collector and 2017/R is the only copy available for public viewing. At the time of writing it resides at the Dutch National Motoring Museum in The Hague.
2. James Bond’s Lotus Esprit submarine car – The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Nicknamed 'Wet Nellie' by the film crew, this ‘car’ was actually a custom made submarine that resembled a Lotus Esprit. Powered by four electric motors, operated by two divers, and having zero wheels it shouldn’t qualify for this list but as you’ll read below, things took an unexpected turn for 'Wet Nellie'.
After a brief promotional tour the tired movie prop was shipped to Long Island, New York where it stayed inside a pre-paid shipping container for ten years. The unclaimed container was eventually auctioned at $100 and the surprised new owner restored and exhibited the legendary Bond car.
In September 2013, billionaire inventor Elon Musk bought the prop for £550 000 at a London auction. Musk vowed to convert 'Wet Nellie' to a fully functioning submarine-car powered by a Tesla Motors electric drive train, no matter the cost.
The standard Esprit (with an actual interior and engine) used for the driving scenes was sold at auction in 2008 for £111 500 to a private collector.
3. Eleanor – Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
This retelling of the 1974 cult film features a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500 whereas the original ’74 film had four so-called “Eleanor targets”, all 1971 Mustang Sportroof styled to look like ’73 models.
A total of 11 cars were used in the 2000 film version. Most were turned into camera fodder but the ‘hero’ car – serial number 7R02C179710 – reserved for close-ups, beauty shots, and posters was recently auctioned at a cool $1-million!
The car was styled by famed hot rod illustrator Steve Stanford and pimped out by equally famous Chip Foose. Eleanor regularly attends car shows in the US.
4. Max’s Pursuit Special "the last of the V8s" – Mad Max (1979)
Back in 1979 Mad Max director George Miller had almost no budget to film his post-apocalyptic vision. He certainly had no money to pay his crew and gave the tricked out Ford Falcon GT to mechanic/stuntman Murray Smith as payment.
Smith returned the iconic black car to road legal spec but come Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Miller finally got his V8 back and promptly vandalized it again to achieve that post-apocalypse, worn look.
After filming the hero car was sold to a junk yard (a stunt version was blown to smithereens). The wrecker decided to spare it and the V8 had a succession of Aussie caretakers until it reached Bob Fursenko in the mid-1980’s who restored it to glorious perfection.
Max’s original Pursuit Special toured the world and currently resides in the Dezer Museum in Miami, US. Unfortunately the museum curators constantly clean the last V8, not understanding that it needs its blood splatters and thick layer of dust.
5. Doc Brown’s DeLorean – Back to the Future I, II, III (1985 - 1990)
Of the original seven DeLorean time machines used in the Back to the Future film series, only three have survived to this day. Two belong to Universal Studios and are continuously on display at any one of their four theme parks in Los Angeles, Orlando, Osaka and Singapore.
The third car was used in the 1955 drive-in scene where Marty McFly drives it into 1885. It was built for off-road use and did indeed plough through the desert until it could be hid in a cave from “Indians”.
Once filming of the franchise completed, this particular car sat on the back lot at Universal Studios for 14 years. In 2011 it was at last auctioned off to an anonymous bidder from San Jose, California for $541 000. The deal included a certificate of authenticity and an original signed Bill of Sale with the Vehicle Identification Number.
What happened to the four other cars? One was crushed in a compactor; two were stripped for parts to complete the three remaining cars; and one wrecked shell with no innards hung suspended from the ceiling of a Planet Hollywood restaurant in Hawaii. The latter has disappeared since the restaurant’s closure.
6. Ford GT40 - Le Mans (1971)
This iconic action film features legendary Steve McQueen actually racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although McQueen’s character drives a Porche 911, the car that many remember is the Ford GT40 that served as the camera car, barely keeping up with the duelling Porches and Ferraris.
The GT40 began its racing career in 1967 in Spa when it was driven by legend Jacky Ickx. Three GT40s were built and only two survive to this day. Chassis P/1074 that starred in the film was sold for $11-million to an unnamed private collector in August 2012. Those in the know reckon it was worth every cent.
7. The Batmobile – Batman the Movie (1966)
This turkey of a movie has many campy highlights; one of which is the batmobile. The caped crusader’s ride of choice began as a non-functioning 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car.
Just like today, concept cars at the time were for display purposes only and scheduled for destruction after they concluded the motor show circuit.
The Futura found its way to Hollywood instead where it featured in the 1959 film It Started With a Kiss starring Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford.
Auto customiser George Barris bought the movie prop for $1 and converted the Futura to the now-familiar (and drivable) batmobile for use in the TV show and subsequent motion picture.
In January 2013 it was sold to American businessman Rick Champagne at an Arizona auction for $4.6-million. Champagne reportedly bid on the car to impress his date.
8. The Batmobile – Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)
I hate to break it to you but Michael Keaton’s batmobile was nothing more than a collection of plywood and fibreglass. Although flames really did shoot out the back, they didn’t actually propel the car forward. A remote-controlled scale model was used when the batmobile was shown travelling at speed.
Warner Brothers had several replicas made for promotional purposes. They are on display in cities around the world.
In 2015 the original flimsy prop mounted on a Chevy Impala body was sold to ventriloquist Jeff Dunham for a reported $500 000. Dunham has since spent another half-million to get it road-worthy and to refit it with all the gadgets as shown in the film (except the cocoon armour and lethal weapons we assume).
9. Herbie – The Love Bug (1968)
You’ll be pleased to learn that there is a small army of authentic Herbies out there. Most are housed in museums such as the Star Cars Museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Another is on display at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. There are even official movie Herbies in museums in Germany, England, and South Korea.
Only seven movie cars are in private ownership. Most recently in 2012 an Australian man named Alex Micakovski bought his Herbie for $150 000.
Micakovski’s Herbie was one of several #53 VW Beetles that appeared in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) and Herbie Goes Bananas (1980) and can ‘look’ side-to-side and ‘blink’ its headlights.
10. Christine – Christine (1983)
Of the twenty 1958 Plymouth Furies used in this movie, only four survived. Three went on the road to promote John Carpenter’s horror flick and were subsequently sold to collectors.
The fourth Fury was initially going to be recycled for use in another film penned by Stephen King, Cat’s Eye (1985), but it was decided at the last minute to send her to the crusher with her siblings.
Martin Sanchez, a fan of Christine, was tipped off about the impending fate of car #20. Since the interior had been stripped and replaced with a roll cage and a single bucket seat, Sanchez was able to purchase Christine for a lowly $900.
Sanchez then befriended the owner of the wrecking yard where the other Furies were sent, and harvested undamaged parts from the executed cars.
Now fully restored, Christine and Sanchez are still together.
What about the other three? One is on display at the Volo Museum in Volo, Illinois. Another belongs to Bill Gibson of Pensacola, Florida. The third found its way to the UK and her exact whereabouts is unknown.
11. Ecto-1 – Ghostbusters (1984)
Three 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulances were used for the filming of our favourite 80’s spook movie. Who can forget that wobbly Caddy emerging from the Ladder 8 Firehouse with its crazy siring bleating through the streets of New York City? I don’t know about you but the memory makes me feel like re-watching Ghostbusters tonight!
One of the three original ectomobiles is currently on display outside Sony Studios. Another was seen in a state of disrepair in a prop lot in Culver City, California. Ghostbusters fans have petitioned Sony since 2013 to have this Ecto-1 restored as well.
According to the Ecto-1 Facebook fan page, the third ectomobile is receiving a makeover and may be destined for the unconfirmed Ghostbusters III sequel starring the original cast except for Harold Ramis who died in 2014 – not to be confused with the all-female reboot due in 2016.