Remember When Villains Used To Chase Our Hollywood Heroes In Stylish Sports Cars?
Do you ever watch a film and find yourself rooting for the bad guy? The hero cars are the ones we most often remember from film and TV—the Batmobiles and the Mustangs—but what about the bad guys? Villains often like the finer things in life as those Jaguar commercials illustrated so well, and they are sure to invest their ill-gotten gains in some tasteful transport. Sometimes it’s better to be bad, so we took a look at some of our favorite villain cars from the big screen. If you don’t see your favorite below, let us know!
Bullitt – Dodge Charger R/T 440
This 1968 picture starred known gearhead and “King of Cool” Steve McQueen as Detective Frank Bullitt, a San Francisco cop who becomes embroiled in a political conspiracy. While the film is, of course, synonymous with the green Mustang GT driven by the hero, the Ford is far from the only automotive star jumping across intersections.
As the plot thickens, Bullitt finds he is being tailed by a pair of henchmen in a ‘68 Dodge Charger, setting up the iconic chase. The car’s muscular lines and ominous, gaped-mouth grille make for a very sinister presence in the rear view mirror. Never one to shy from a fight, McQueen’s character quickly turns the tail on them, pursuing them through the hilly streets of the city with plenty of tire smoke and flying hubcaps. The Dodge’s passengers have very little dialogue throughout, and the chase is shown primarily from external cameras, meaning it is the Dodge itself that becomes the real villain in the eyes of the audience. You could argue that the green Ford versus the black Dodge is a rather heavy-handed bit of good versus evil symbolism, but then again Bullitt was never intended to be anything more than a modern day Western.
Ronin – BMW E34 535i/M5 clone
John Frankenheimer’s Ronin is a thrilling ride through international espionage and treachery, and it also enjoys cult status amongst car enthusiasts due to its array of discreet European super saloons. Featuring a gamut of German modern classics like the Merc 450SEL 6.9 and Audi S8, there are tons more to spot in the extras cast of cars alone, but it’s the black Bimmer that most remember.
After double crossing her team, IRA operative Deirdre, played by Natasha McElhone, makes her escape in the original sleeper car, a BMW M5 (more on the model in a minute). Miraculously the Peugeot 406 of Robert De Niro’s character is somehow able to keep up with the BMW in a daring chase across Paris. Leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, the duel unfortunately does not end well for the M5.
Now, E34 aficionado’s amongst you will note that in certain scenes the car sports M5 Turbine wheels yet wears the standard bumpers of the lesser 535i. When shown from the rear there is an M5 badge on the bootlid in some scenes, and in others it is absent again. Given the incredible stunts and realistic destruction that the cars suffered in this film, destroying brand new, handbuilt M5s was likely not very economical, so they opted for the standard models with some dress-up bits. While ordinarily at Petrolicious we would never forgive such continuity errors, we admire Frankenheimer’s services to M5 conservation more!
Never Say Never Again – Renault 5 Turbo II
This 1983 film saw Sean Connery return to the role of 007 in this independent “non-canon” Bond film in which he finds himself following the trail of a stolen nuclear warhead and crosses paths with SPECTRE assassin, Fatima Blush, who pilots a bright red Renault 5 Turbo II. The nimble mid-engined hatchback is the perfect weapon to evade Bond on his Yamaha XJ650 Seca Turbo through the winding streets of Nice.
Blush leads Bond into a trap set by her henchman, and even her gang of heavies is outfitted with some nice rides, driving an eclectic array including a Chevrolet Camaro, a Citroën CX, and a Peugeot 604 amongst others. Together they manage to corral Bond and his motorcycle into the back of a box van, before he makes a daring escape using the tail lift as a ramp. The Camaro resumes the pursuit but ends up destroying a Citroën Mehari, which tugged at our heartstrings a little
A Clockwork Orange – Probe 16
Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 big screen adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel coined the term “ultra violence” and shocked a generation with what the displays of it. The film’s antihero, Alex DeLarge, careens around the countryside in a low-slung sports car he refers to as the Durango 95. It is in fact a Probe 16, a limited-production British car penned by ex-Marcos designers Peter and Dennis Adams. The Probe stands at a mere 34 inches tall, allowing DeLarge and his droogs to drive under a semi trailer in one scene.
As with any Kubrick picture, props and interiors are of utmost importance to the mood of the story, and the car’s angular but groovy styling is the perfect compliment to the film’s unsettling contrast of horrific violence and Monty Python-esque silliness.
THX 1138 – Lola T70
George Lucas’s directorial debut is set in a dystopian future where emotions are suppressed and humans have become automatons. Robert Duvall portrays a man known only by a number, THX 1138, and when a mixup in medication rouses him from his trance-like state, he becomes romantically involved with someone. This is of course forbidden, and so THX must escape from the city.
Pursued by the violent and unforgiving police androids, he commandeers a police car, which the eagle-eyed amongst you might recognize as a Lola T70 underneath. Allegedly it was a genuine Lola too, an ex-race car in fact much like a few of the “Porsche” 917s dressed up in Le Mans, and this particular example was said to have seen action at the 24 Hours of Daytona with actor-turned-racing driver James Garner at the wheel.
George Lucas had connections to the racing world apparently and had managed to procure these unusual British sports cars and along with an ultra-rare Ferrari Thomassima II which featured briefly in the background of a scene. In escaping from a world where joy is forbidden, we could think of no better way to do it than in a Can-Am car you’ve stolen from your villainous overlords.
Duel – Peterbilt 281
While this Big Pete’ is not particularly tasteful or sporty compared to the cars above, it is certainly no less terrifying. Duel was Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut, a simple film showing a traveling salesman in a Plymouth Valiant hunted down by a vengeful trucker in remote Californian canyons. The unseen truck driver taunts and torments the salesman, coaxing him into overtaking the truck in the face of an oncoming car and attempting to push him in front of a moving train as well. What the Peterbit lacks in style, it makes up for in effectiveness. Think of this film as a precursor to Spielberg’s JAWS, only the shark is a rusty, murderous 18-wheeler.
Reality – Mercedes 600 Grosser
Chances are you’ll recognize the Grosser as the limousine of choice for long-running Bond villain Ernst Blofeld. But it doesn’t need films to imbue it with a sense of imperialistic evil. What makes the Grosser even more more sinister is that it has often been the limousine of choice for so many real life villains. Dictators and totalitarians such as Kim Jong Un, Nicolae Ceausescu, and Pol Pot have all ridden in luxurious Grossers all the while ruling over an impoverished population. What is it about this car that attracts evil? Perhaps it is the symbolism, the ultimate automobile for the ultimate ruler, who are almost invariably corrupted by power.
Dodge Charger: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
BMW E34 M5: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Renault 5 Turbo II: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Probe 16: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Lola T70: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Peterbilt 281: 1, 2, 3, 4
Mercedes 600: 1, 2, 3