There have been many famous cars featured in movies and television shows over the years. In some cases, the cars are as famous as the people who drove them on both the big and small screen. Mention a particular movie or TV program and people instantly think of the car in it. And no matter what a person’s age is, most of us are familiar with the most iconic cars in film and television history. Here’s a list of 12 of the most unforgettable on-screen vehicles.
12. The Mutt Cutts Van – Dumb and Dumber
It’s not the most famous vehicle of all time, but nobody who has seen the 1994 movie Dumb and Dumber can forget the infamous shag-covered mutt cuts van that actors Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels drive from Rhode Island to Colorado. Made out in the image of a dog, the van is hilarious to look at and exemplifies the stupidity of the two lead characters. In real life, the van used in the movie was a 1984 Ford Econoline van that was painstakingly customized to give it the shaggy dog appearance. Seeing Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels race across America in that van is unforgettable. Sadly, the van was abandoned half way through the film so that the two main characters could drive an equally funny vehicle—a tiny moped scooter.
11. The A-Team Van
It wasn’t fancy or high-tech, but the red and black van driven in the iconic 1980s television show The A-Team endured in the public’s conscious, as has the program. A 1983 GMC G-15 van, The A-Team’s vehicle of choice was shown in nearly all 97 episodes of the TV program, and, during the series run, it was subjected to a lot of abuse—including being shot up, set on fire, driven into lakes, run off cliffs and flipped over on countless occasions. Perhaps it was the fact that the van was featured in so many action sequences that audiences remember it so readily when asked to recall The A-Team. It could be argued that the van is as well remembered as Mr. T’s Mohawk or the show’s signature, and oft repeated, lines: “I love it when a plan comes together,” and “I pity the fool.”
10. Pontiac Firebird Trans Am – Smokey and the Bandit
The 1970s was the era of the car chase movie, and no film exemplifies the genre better than 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit. And the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am featured in the film is as well-known to audiences as the movie’s stars—Burt Reynolds and Sally Field. The Trans Am is even featured on many posters for the movie alone—without Burt Reynolds, who plays the title character of Bandit. With a simplistic plot about efforts to transport beer across county lines while being pursued by a Sherriff (Jackie Gleason), Smokey and the Bandit is short on story and long on car chases—and almost all of them feature the now-legendary Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, which audiences at the time could not get enough of.
9. Cadillac Miller-Meteor Hearse – Ghostbusters
The tricked out 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Hearse featured in the iconic 1984 movie Ghostbusters is memorable for all of the additions to it, which included flashing lights, sirens and an amped up radio system. The idea to use a hearse as the Ghostbusters’ vehicle of choice was actor and co-writer Dan Aykroyd’s, and his character in the movie can be seen modifying the hearse at the Ghostbusters’ headquarters (an abandoned fire station). Apparently Aykroyd thought having the Ghostbusters drive a hearse that had previously been used to carry dead bodies would fit with the film’s gallows humor and theme of helping spirits and ghosts of the deceased. However, it was all the modifications on the hearse that made the Ghostbusters vehicle truly memorable to moviegoers.
8. The Mystery Machine Van – Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
Arguably the best known vehicle ever to be featured in a cartoon has to be the Mystery Machine van from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Painted in multiple colours, and with the name “Mystery Machine” on the side, this van represented the late 1960s and 1970s esthetic better than almost any other vehicle of the time. It also carried Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo from one mystery to another each week on the popular TV show. A real life version of the van was developed for the live action movie that hit theaters in 2002. However, it is the cartoon version of the van that is most memorable to generations of children who grew up watching the lovable Scooby-Doo get out of one tight situation after another.
7. Ford Gran Torino – Starsky and Hutch
If the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit was the best-known movie car of the 1970s, then the 1975 Ford Gran Torino from Starsky and Hutch has to be the best-known television car of the era—with perhaps one exception shown further on in this list. Starksy and Hutch were two hard-hitting cops who cleaned up the inner city, and they drove around in a super cool red and white Gran Torino. Over the shows four year run—from 1975 to 1979—the Gran Torino driven by Starsky and Hutch became as iconic as the show itself and often outshone its stars, David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. People who watched this show instantly remember the red and white Gran Torino even if they can’t remember the actors’ names. A true testament to the car’s legendary status.
6. Volkswagen Beetle – The Love Bug
The 1968 movie The Love Bug is about the car featured in it—a 1962 Volkswagen Beetle named “Herbie.” For this reason, it is difficult not to recall the car when remembering the film. However, the Volkswagen featured in The Love Bug is so fondly remembered and beloved because of its distinctive paint job, signature number 53, and the quirky personality that was bestowed on the car, which has a mind of its own and operates independent of its driver in the movie. In fact, the Volkswagen Beetle from the movie was, and continues to be, so popular that it has become synonymous with that model of car and the Volkswagen brand. This was a case of product placement before it became common place in the movies. Herbie is still used to promote the Beetle and Volkswagen brands worldwide, and it remains an iconic movie car.
5. The Batmobile
The Batmobile is unique in that there have been many incarnations of the car, and every one of them is memorable and iconic in their own way. However, for the purposes of this list, we’re talking about the Batmobile from the 1960s television show that starred actor Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as his trusty sidekick Robin. The iconic car from the 1960s TV show was a modified 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura concept car that was originally priced at $250,000 but never went into full production. The show’s producers were able to get their hands on this one-of-a-kind car and the rest, as they say, is history. And while the Batmobile featured in director Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie was cool, as was the tank-styled version of the car in director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy about the caped crusader, it is this original Batmobile from the campy ‘60s TV series that is best remembered. In fact, the original Batmobile remains so popular today that it has its own website, complete with the car’s history, specifications and news on replica models.
4. Ferrari 308 GTS – Magnum, P.I.
Few cars are as associated with a TV show as the Ferrari seen on the 1980s classic Magnum, P.I. And the car was not only the ride of lead character Thomas Magnum (actor Tom Selleck), it also exemplified the cool Hawaiian location of the program with its palm trees, sandy beaches and sunshine. Even people who didn’t watch the program remember that Tom Selleck drove a red Ferrari on the show. The 1977 Ferrari 308 GTS was even featured in the program’s title sequence each week. And the car was also frequently used as a plot point, as when Higgins (played by John Hillerman) would threaten to take the vehicle away from Magnum to punish him for some foolishness he’d undertaken or trouble he’d gotten into. When people think of the 1980s, this Ferrari is one thing that comes to mind.
3. K.I.T.T. – Knight Rider
Probably the only television car from the 1980s better known than the Ferrari from Magnum P.I. is K.I.T.T., the artificially intelligent Pontiac Trans Am from the super popular show Knight Rider. While Knight Rider may seem cheesy in retrospect, it was a huge hit when it aired on NBC from 1982 to 1986, and it made a star out of both the series lead, actor David Hasselhof, and the Trans Am that the show was really about—K.I.T.T., which stood for “Knight Industries Two Thousand.” While the car’s main features were that it could drive itself, talk and go pretty fast (all features to be found in most cars these days), it nevertheless captured the imaginations of kids who could not get enough of the show or its signature car. K.I.T.T.’s image was emblazoned on lunch boxes, backpacks and t-shirts everywhere in the 1980s, not to mention that the car was a bestselling toy. And while David Hasselhof may have lost his edge over the years, K.I.T.T. remains as cool as ever.
2. DeLorean DMC-12 – Back to the Future
Who can forget the DeLorean time machine from the 1985 movie Back to the Future and its two sequels? As much a character in the film as Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), the Delorean DMC-12, powered by its Flux Capacitor, has become a movie icon and familiar to people the world over. The car from the movie now makes appearances at comic, sci-fi and fantasy conventions, and people line up and pay good money to have their photo taken sitting in the vehicle. It is also reported to be the most reproduced movie car ever—with people purchasing old DeLoreans so that they can modify them to replicate the time machine from Back to the Future. The movie was the best thing that ever happened to the DeLorean DMC-12, a car that was widely panned when released because of its stainless steel exterior and gull wing doors. The DeLorean Motor Company that made the car went out of business in 1982. However, thanks to Back to the Future, the car and company live on and are fondly remembered by movie buffs everywhere.
1. General Lee – The Dukes of Hazzard
The 1969 Dodge Charger from TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, with its distinctive orange paint job, is such a big part of the program that it has its own name—the General Lee. And no other car from film or TV is more iconic than this vehicle. The whole show, which aired from 1979 to 1985, was about brothers Luke and Bo Duke speeding around Hazzard County in the General Lee, doing good deeds and evading the bumbling police who were always in hot pursuit. Kind of like a TV version of Smokey and the Bandit, The Dukes of Hazzard was about cars and car chases, and the General Lee was at the center of it all. With doors that didn’t open and a seemingly limitless speed, the General Lee was seen each week performing breathtaking stunts and cool jumps, even, occasionally, driving on two wheels. The car always survived and never seemed to even get a chip on its paint job. And while the show has remained popular in reruns, the General Lee has remained legendary.