OK, so, no: We’re not talking about the exact cars that were used in filming, which often sell for many times more than the car is actually worth. We’re talking about affordable (let’s define that as less than $50,000) cool cars used in films whose spot in your driveway would enhance your image and make your friends crazy jealous.
1966 Ford Thunderbird
Ford offered four distinct Thunderbird models in 1966, but of course you can’t beat the convertible version that we saw in Thelma & Louise. The fourth generation of T-Birds lasted only from 1964 to 1966 and could easily be argued as being the last great cars of the line (as 1967’s redesign was tragic). In the early ’60s, the Thunderbirds were getting heavier and noticeably slower, so the fourth generation embraced it by choosing style over sporty. This, by the way, would be the last Thunderbird convertible for about 36 years. Finding one in good shape might be a challenge, but these cars are certainly affordable.
1974 Ford Gran Torino Sport
Starsky & Hutch (first the TV show, then the movie) featured the flashy-painted 1974 Gran Torino tearing around town, but it was actually the 1972 Gran Torino Sport that was in—what was it? Oh yeah, Gran Torino—that was actually the slightly better performing car. The Torino was Ford’s entry into the intermediate market, an upscale version of the Fairlane. Soon it grew in popularity, and the Gran Sport was the model that featured a little punch, although the performance was reduced slightly each year after peaking with the 428 Cobra Jets a few years earlier.
1968 Cadillac DeVille convertible
Talk about announcing your presence. This oversized boat is perfect for cruising, with a 472-cubic-inch V-8 that was as powerful as any muscle car coming out of Detroit at the time. This Caddy was loaded with features that we now take for granted, which only means you won’t have to do without them. With the top down, it can be driven magnificently both forward and backward, as we learned in A Bronx Tale. The design was softened in 1969, so this ’68 model is the last with its distinct classic lines and sharp creases.
1949 Buick Roadmaster
Buick’s Roadmaster began surging in popularity after World War II, and in 1949 it got a major redesign, becoming a beautiful, sleek, and stylish ride that was designed to compete with the Cadillac. With a curved, two-piece windshield and “VentiPorts” along the side that flashed when the pistons fired, the idea was to give drivers the feeling they were flying a fighter plane. With 150 horsepower, it had a top speed of 110 mph. While collectors never forgot, the public was reintroduced to this beauty in Rain Man.
1977 Pontiac Trans Am
You don’t have to be Burt Reynolds, but it certainly takes a certain kind of guy in order to pull off a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am these days. Made iconic in Smokey and the Bandit, this Trans Am looked amazing but was actually a victim of sensibility as Americans were trading performance for gas mileage. Still, if you can pull it off (preferably without the stash and cowboy hat), you will be a man among men.
1968 Mustang GT 390
America has a love affair with muscle cars, and Ford Mustangs have been at the heart of that since the mid-’60s. They’ve starred in many movies, including both the original and remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, Need for Speed, Transformers, and two of the Fast and the Furious flicks. But our favorite is the 1968 Mustang GT 390 that appeared in Bullitt and featured what could be the greatest car chase scene in cinema history. Checking in around 13 seconds and 105 mph in a quarter-mile, it may not have been the quickest car ever built, but it may be one of the most iconic.
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
We did enjoy the 1969 Chevelle Malibu in Talladega Nights, but to kick it up a notch, we’re going with the 1970 Chevelle SS featured in Dazed and Confused. With five engine sizes offered, there’s much variety out there, but if you can find the 450-horsepower 454, you’ll have one of the fastest street cars of its time and the quickest muscle car made in the ’70s (going zero to 60 in 5.4 seconds). The downside is that it’s also one of the most popular cars among collectors, so you may need to lower your expectations to find one that’s affordable.
1958 Plymouth Fury
Made popular to even noncollectors because of the movie Christine, the 1958 Plymouth Fury is actually a wonderful cross between beauty and performance. After launching in 1956, the line’s ’57 model got a redesign. Plymouth was again planning major changes for the ’58, trying to make it less sporty, but the decision came too late. The Dual Fury V-8 came standard and produced 290 horsepower, and there was an option “B-block” 350 that produced 305 horsepower. As striking as the car looked in red and white in Christine, it actually was only offered in buckskin beige with gold accents in the sport-tone moldings that crested into its signature rear fin. Pristine examples can fetch more than $85,000, but fixer-uppers can be had for less than $20K, if you have the guts to try to fix one up.
1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS 350
Ah, the competition between Mustangs and Camaros lives not only on the streets but on the silver screen as well. Like the Ponies, there have been many movie Camaros to love. The Fast and the Furious franchise gave us a ’73 F-Bomb and a ’69 Yenko, Transformers started Bumblebee as a ’77 Z28 before upgrading to a 2011 Autobot SS, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High trashed a poor 1978 Z28. We pick the one that was shown the most love, as the cute exchange student in Better Off Dead helped bring a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS 350 back to life. This model also had an available 396 that produced 375 horsepower and had a reported top speed of 140 mph.
1968 Dodge Charger
There are many famous Chargers out there, like the 1970 featured in the Fast and the Furious, or, king of them all, the 1969 from The Dukes of Hazzard. The TV show crashed more than 300 General Lees, causing a shortage of ’69s, so we’re going with the more readily available ’68 driven by the bad guys in Bullitt’s famous chase scene. It would have blown the doors off Bullitt’s Mustang, by the way. Prices are all over the board because of the various available engines, but if you look hard you can find a solid 383 V-8 south of $50K. If you find one with a 426 Hemi, you’ll have the quickest muscle car ever made (zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds).
If Price Were No Object
There have been plenty of high-priced Ferraris and Lamborghinis gracing movie screens for years, so this list is not just about dollars but also factors in panache and kickassedness.
Need For Speed wasn’t the greatest movie of all time, but it did feature some kickass cars, led by not one but three Koenigsegg Ageras. Well, replicas, anyway. Since the movie crashed two, they probably didn’t want to trash one-ninth of the $2.1 million supercars that were ever built.
The king of cool, James Bond has driven some ridiculous rides over the years, including a slew of Aston Martins (that are now synonymous with the franchise). Choosing between them is all but impossible, but we’re going with the 2007 DBS V12 Daniel Craig drove in Casino Royale. Sorry, 1963 DB5. We love you too.
Oooh yeeeah. Ferris Bueller taught a generation what can be crammed into a day when school doesn’t get in the way, featuring the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California. Bump, bump. Chicka-cha-ka.
Sarah Michelle Gellar as the stepsister constantly flaunting her breasts, a young Reese Witherspoon as the love interest, and cruising around in a 1956 Jaguar XK140. Filming Cruel Intentions must have really sucked for Ryan Phillippe.
The 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf was the first car to use carbon fiber and was a successful racer before being driven my Steve McQueen in Le Mans. It was also the most expensive American car ever sold at auction, fetching $11 million. So, OK, maybe price matters a little.
Just for Laughs
How great would it be to roll up, just for the day, riding in:
The Dark Knight’s Tumbler. There have been numerous Batmobiles that were certainly all cool in their day, but none more so than the latest incarnation, a funky cross between a Lamborghini and a Hummer with a crazy front end. The actual vehicles built for the movie cost about $250,000 each and were capable of topping 100 mph.
What’s better than a pulling up in a 1981 DeLorean DMC-12? How about one that travels through time like in Back to the Future?
Covering a 1984 Ford Econoline with fur takes it from sad to awesome, as evidenced by the “Mutt Cutts” van in Dumb and Dumber.
Never has a crappy, falling apart 1974 Dodge Monaco looked so cool as when it was fit with a police package, topped with a giant speaker, and cruised around Chicago in The Blues Brothers.
For more movies, check out our list of best songs by fake bands.