Iconic Movie Cars That Weren’t Even Real

Iconic Movie Cars That Weren't Even Real

Cars and movies go together so naturally. They have been a part of pop culture as long as either one has been around, and that is about the same amount of time. But the car you want is not always available so producers have to fudge things a bit from time to time. In some productions, the car called for in the script is rare and the risk of damage to a car on set is too great. Other times the car is just too expensive and the cost to rent or otherwise procure the vehicle is also too high.

Producers have a few tricks they can employ to get a good car to stand in for the original. One option is to find a replica. Some of the replicas available are faithful recreations and nobody will notice the difference, with the possible exception of the most ardent of car and movie critics combined. Producers sometimes have to create a car that doesn’t exist, employing car builders or custom shops to fit made-from-scratch body panels on an existing vehicle or chassis. Modern productions can use computers and we should really be thankful for all the hard work that went into these special effects in the older films. You may be familiar with these 10 cars, but they weren’t even real.

Gung Ho – Assan Motors Corporation

Assan Motors Fiat

The 1986 movie showcasing the clash of cultures between American workers and Japanese businessmen is not one of those films that get watched over and over, passed down through the generations. It is mostly forgotten, really. However, it does feature a stellar performance by Michael Keaton and it is directed by Ron Howard, a couple of Hollywood heavy-hitters. But in the movie, a Japanese company takes over a Pennsylvania car factory to produce their Assan vehicles. Not much is needed to know about it after that. Roger Ebert said of the film, “Comedy shouldn’t try to be funny; it should allow us to find the humour for ourselves. “Gung Ho” doesn’t give us that chance.”

Producing a film about auto manufacturing requires both autos and a factory. To fulfil both requirements, Howard opted to fly the cast to Argentina to overtake a Fiat factory as a stand-in. The Japanese cars being built were actually European Fiat 147, or Spazio in South America, according to IMDB. So the cars were real, they just weren’t Japanese and the Assan motor company is completely fictional.

National Lampoon’s Vacation – Wagon Queen Family Truckster

Wagon Queen Family Truckster

Perhaps the most lovable of all American family man goofs is Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase in the Vacation series of movies. These films are perennial favourites that never seem to tire no matter how much time passes. Not only are they full of comic hijinx, but they also utilize prop comedy rather adeptly, including cars.

In one of the opening scenes of the inaugural film “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” we find our dad-hero arriving to pick up the new car he had previously ordered from the factory, only to discover it has not been delivered. Through a fraught negotiation with a slimy stereotype of a shady car salesman — played expertly by Eugene Levy — Griswold ends up with the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. This giant American wagon appeared to be an amalgamation of every terrible styling cue conjured from the depths of the eighties. It is hideous to the point of absurdity and that is why it fits so perfectly in this film.

The Family Truckster isn’t a real car, though. Producers gussied up 5 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire wagons for the film, according to Hagerty, and examples of the car have come up for auction a few times over the years. For many, especially those growing up in the eighties, the Family Truckster holds a special place as a placeholder for every family’s nightmare experience of traipsing cross country in the family station wagon we love to hate.

Cheech and Chong – Weed Van

It is hard to underestimate the cultural impact of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong and their cannabis-filled movies. The low-budget flicks established a whole new film genre, the stoner comedy. The first of these films, “Up In Smoke,” debuted in 1978 and has since become a cult classic and spawned a generation of spin-offs, parodies, and homages to the original. And while cars and motorcycles feature prominently in many scenes of the movie, the van made of Weed is centre stage throughout most of the film.

Part of the plot, for those who have not yet been enlightened to the low-brow comedy genius that is Cheech and Chong, involves the duo going to Tijuana to unsuspectingly smuggle pot across the border in a big, green van. However, the pot is being smuggled ingeniously — the van is made from the sticky icky. The weed van is part of the inane nature of the unbelievable, yet hilarious pot devices employed in the film. Of course, a van could not be made from cannabis, or could it? It is made from a 1966 Chevrolet Step Van modified with the rear quarter panels of a 1954 Cadillac and a bunch of fibreglass-looking substances to approximate weed panels, according to its one-time owners. It is obviously a farce but it is also a lot of fun, and sometimes that’s all a movie is meant to be.

Ferris Bueller – Ferrari 250 GTO

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is one of many films from famed writer and director John Hughes and is now one of his most-loved movies of the period. Ferris Bueller follows the titular character through a single day in which the young high school student skips class and heads off on an adventure throughout the city of Chicago. In the film, Bueller convinces his best friend Cameron, played by Alan Ruck, to take his father’s most prized possession, a red Ferrari 250 GTO California Spyder. From then on, the car features prominently throughout the film until its demise toward the end.

Today, the 250 GTO is among the most valuable cars on the planet, with one having sold as recently as 2016 for $17 million, according to Gooding and Co. Even in the eighties, it was a valuable car, so a vehicle of much lower value would have to be used in the film. The car in the film is a Modena Spyder, which is a faithful recreation of the original Ferrari, per The Drive. The replica had been built before the script was written, but 3 more were built specifically for filming, with one with no engine made specifically to be destroyed on film. The functional cars were well done and powered by Ford V8 engines and are today highly valuable. Although auction prices are a fraction of the real thing, the Modena from the film recently sold for nearly $400K, a comparative bargain.

Miami Vice – Ferrari Daytona

Miami Vice - Ferrari Daytona

Slipping “Miami Vice” into this list is a bit of a cheat as it is a TV show rather than a movie, but the story, as well as the car, are so great they are worth talking about. Ask anyone alive in the era what the most eighties thing of all eighties things is, Miami Vice is likely to be the answer. In the first two seasons, vice detectives Crockett and Tubbs drive a 1972 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spyder. We reported that this car is a replica built on a Corvette chassis and powered by a Chevrolet V8. It was blown to pieces at the end of the second season.

The script did not originally call for the car to be blown up. Ferrari is well known for aggressively protecting its intellectual property, and it has done that for decades. Ferrari had originally turned down producers who wanted to feature their car in the show and that is when producers chose a replica. However, Ferrari later sued as they considered the use of the cars as Ferraris was trademark infringement. In the end, Ferrari relented and offered to donate two brand-new Testarossas to the show if they removed the replicas from production, according to Rosso Automobili Magazine. It was probably a good public relations decision for Ferrari as the show was a huge success and the iconic Ferrari became an indelible mark of the eighties for fans of Miami Vice everywhere.

C’etait un Rendez-Vous – Ferrari 275 GTB

This short French car film is a gem, but not terribly well known outside certain circles of proper petrolheads. The film is only eight minutes long and does not even feature a car, except that it does. No car is ever shown on screen, but it is definitely a film showing a drive across Paris with a soundtrack to match the high-speed thrill of racing through winding city streets. Dig around the interwebs and you can find much written about this little Parisian movie, a lot of which is conjecture. However, Hagerty dug up some dirt about its origins and production and enlightened us to some juicy details.

This was filmed in 1976, long before anything digital existed and before videotape was a meaningful alternative to anyone outside of broadcast TV. The filmmaker, Claude Lelouch, fitted a camera to the front of a car and drove a winding and often perilous-looking 10 kilometres through Paris in the early hours of the morning before traffic congested the city. The thrilling footage is enhanced by the roar of the V12 pushing the Ferrari through the medieval streets. But that is where things go a bit sideways. The camera was hanging off of the front bumper of a Mercedes 450SEL and the sounds from a real Ferrari were added later.

It is a fascinating little film and worth viewing. It is also well past the time something like it could ever be made again.