Star Cars. More Objects of Desire On Tyres
We may not view them for very long but movie star cars live on in our memories. Not all movies featuring memorable motors are car chases wrapped in sub-plots. That said, car tyres aren’t just for these four-wheeled screen idols to sit on. Yes, rubber was burnt in many instances. The tyre-smoking heroes here have one thing in common – they’re all from the ‘States. So let’s take a look across the pond at some US-born petrol-driven thespians.
The 1971 film ‘Vanishing Point’ is a classic car chase wrapped in celluloid. Starring Barry Newman and Cleavon Little (who went on to great things in ‘Blazing Saddles’), Vanishing Point revolves around a fifteen-hour, transcontinental drive from Denver to San Francisco. The star car tyres doing the revolving in the film were fitted to a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T, the suffix letters referring to ‘road and track’. This 6.2-litre monster, driven by Erich Heuschele, developed the power of 375 gutsy, all-American horses. The car’s F70x14 car tyres put the power onto the tarmac, with the aid of the Challenger’s R/T package. Interestingly, the same model in the same colour popped up in Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 movie ‘Death Proof’. What’s more, the Challenger’s pedigree goes back in time. The black car driven by the baddies in ‘Bullitt’ was a 1968 Dodge Challenger 440 R/T.
More tyre-smoking Detroit iron finished in black starred in 1977′s ‘Smokey and the Bandit’. The motorised matinee idol here wasn’t Burt Reynolds, it was a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am. This car’s history can be traced – it stemmed from a General Motors Design show car created for GM design supremo Bill Mitchell. On this Trans Am, the car tyres were put under pressure in more than the literal sense. The car’s 7.5 litre V8 motor became the last of the muscle car engines. Increasingly stringent emissions regulations in the US finally killed off these big V8 beasts in 1980. The stunt team on ‘Smokey’ pre-empted this, killing off, or at least damaging, all five film cars.
Now for something more unusual, though still in black paint. The next movie star was built using three Model T Ford bodies and a 133-inch hand made chassis. The Munsters Koach was created in 21 days in 1964, at a cost of $18,000; it took 500 hours to make its ornate steel scrollwork alone. Another big V8, by Ford this time, sent the power to the tyres via a four-speed manual gearbox, and the brass radiator and wings were hand formed. The Koach had ten Stromberg carburettors. On an eight cylinder engine? Not really. The visible carburettors were dummies, concealing two functioning four-barrel carbs.
In the Munsters, Grandpa, played by Al Lewis, became more than a little jealous of the Koach. So he acquired ‘Drag-U-La’. This vehicle was notable for its spindly front tyres, mounted on Speedsport English buggy wire wheels. The V8 engine’s 350 horsepower was transmitted to 11 inch-wide Firestone racing slick car tyres, mounted on specially made ten-inch deep Reynolds aluminum Rader drag wheels. Still more characteristic for a ‘vampire’, Drag-U-La’s body shell was a coffin. The original Drag-U-La, one of four built, hangs from the ceiling in Planet Hollywood, Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Who was the talented creator of these last two oddities? The man responsible for putting a lot of tremendously memorable tinseltown tin on tyres. Yes, it was none other than Batmobile creator George Barris.