Who makes a movie? Usually, it’s a joint effort. In some films, however, it isn’t only the actors, director, crew and backroom staff that make the result memorable. It’s a car or cars and here are some we all know and love…
Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes scripted the 1968 film ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. Dick Van Dyck and Sally Anne Howes appeared in it but its specially-built star made it come alive. There were in fact six Chittys and not all ran on car tyres. One was the car in its dilapidated state, another appeared in all its rebuilt glory. Of the four others, the ‘hovercraft car’ is probably best remembered. This variation was lightened with aluminium copies of many of the brass parts. When the car had to be filmed suspended from a crane or helicopter during ‘flying’ sequences, its engine was removed to lighten it further.
Could you create a legend in just over seven weeks? In August 1965, US custom car builder George Barris was given a job to do. He had to produce a special car for TV and film work, as fast as possible. Luckily for him, a division of the Ford Motor Company had built a concept car ten years earlier. The Lincoln Futura made an ideal starting point. Barris fitted the 390 cubic inch (6.4 litre) V8-powered car with 15 inch cast alloy wheels, carrying Firestone Wide Oval tyres. Into the recipe went Cumming & Sander impact safety belts, a Moon aluminium gas tank, 2 Deist parachute packs with 10ft. diameter parachutes, and the ‘exhaust turbine’ was made from a five gallon paint can. If you need any further clues, the giveaway lies in the colour scheme. Threequarter inch fluorescent cerise stripes relieved the ‘Velvet Bat-Fuzz Black’ surface finish. Yes, we’ve been looking at the original 1966 Batmobile.
Now for a collection of vehicles, all but one of which set tyres to tarmac in reality. In 1969′s film ‘The Italian Job’, it wasn’t a real Lamborghini Muira that went into a river. It was a bodyshell on a crash-damaged chassis. However, when the film crew returned to pick up the pieces next day, they’d been stolen overnight!
Speaking of car tyres, the production crew got through quite a number with the Italian Job Minis. These were Mk.1 Austin Mini Cooper S cars; in the hands of stunt driving team L’Equipe Remy Julienne, they became legendary.
The film’s two E-Type Jaguars were Series One models, bought for a measly (for the time) £900 apiece. The red convertible registered 848 CRY, however, was restored and survives to this day. Michael Caine’s character’s 1961 Aston Martin DB4 convertible, scooped off its tyres by a digger, really did go down the mountainside – twice. In fact, the first take was unsatisfactory because the car was supposed to burst into flames (it didn’t because the man with the ‘explode button’ had to run for his life as the Aston plummeted towards him.) The ‘Aston Martin’ that we did see destroyed was a Lancia Flaminia 3c Cabriolet, dressed up by an excellent and obliging bodywork firm in Turin.
To close this little trip down memory lane, we can look at what is arguably the world’s most famous coach – ever. The six-wheeler that ended up with its rear tyres clawing at empty air at the close of The Italian Job was a Harrington Legionnaire. Perhaps the notion of reinforcing the cab so that the boarding Mini Coopers didn’t squash the driver was heralded with this: ‘Listen lads, I’ve got a great idea – er – er’.