The Car’s the Star: 10 Fords that Found Fame in Film

The Car’s the Star: 10 Fords that Found Fame in Film

Posted at Fri, Jul 14, 2023 9:45 AM

Some people watch movies to see their favorite actors. Others prefer a particular genre – superhero sagas, action films or rom-coms where the meet-cute couple finds happiness as the credits roll.

At Mullinax Ford, our favorite flicks are those in which Fords claim the close-ups and deserve top billing. We’re talking car chases, road odysseys, stomping the gas pedal to outrun a T-rex. There’s no Oscar for vehicles, but these should have their tire tracks memorialized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

So grab some popcorn and let’s hit the cinematic road to review a few of our favorites.

1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback – Bullitt (1968)

OMG, is there a more perfect chase scene than Steve McQueen as Frank Bullitt rocketing through the streets of San Francisco in a Mustang GT? The bad guys – a couple of hitmen – pursue him in a Dodge Charger that eventually meets a fiery end. The two vehicles bounce up and down the hills, slam into intersections, sideswipe each other and leave their viewers’ stomachs churning in midair for a full 11 minutes. 

The studio ordered two identical Mustangs, both in Highland Green with 390 CID engines. One sustained significant damage but was later restored.

1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback - Bullitt

1966 Ford Thunderbird  – Thelma and Louise (1991)

We think this movie should have been called Thelma, Louise and a T-bird because, obviously, it could not have been made without the spectacular convertible driven by Susan Sarandon’s character.

And the ending? Goodness, such a terrible thing to happen to the car. We cried for days.

The studio chose the convertible because it made filming the actors inside easier – and because it is an absolutely perfect vehicle for a road trip. Five identical cars were used in filming – all showroom quality with no customization because that’s what Louise would have wanted.

Ford produced the Thunderbird from 1955 to 1997, with a brief revival as a luxury two-seat model in the early 2000s.

1966 Ford Thunderbird - Thelma and Louise

1992 Ford Explorer XLT – Jurassic Park (1993)

Move over, dinos. The Explorer XLT is just as ferocious as you were in this popular sci-fi blockbuster. And hey, it’s still around, and still one of the most popular mid-sized SUVs in the country. More than we can say for you toothy lizards.

Four XLTs, all brightly emblazoned with the logo of the don’t-mess-with-Mother-Nature theme park, were cast as tour vehicles in the movie.

They have some extra equipment you can’t get on the showroom floor, though. or even by special order, including a self-driving system (there was a track underneath; it did not really drive by itself), night-vision goggles under the seats and a water tap to keep passengers hydrated on their circuit of the (totally safe and innocuous) jungle full of rampaging extinct reptiles.

1992 Ford Explorer XLT - Jurassic Park

The Ford Mustang – James Bond: Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

The Mustang made its cinematic debut in a Bond flick. Who knew? Alas, the 1964 model meets an unfortunate end in Goldfinger.

The ’65 picks up 007 in the Bahamas in Thunderball while the 1971 Mach 1, with Bond at the wheel (actually famous stuntman Bill Hickman), stars in a chase through Vegas – including roaring down an alley on two wheels.

Ford Mustang – Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Ford GT40 Mk. II, Le Mans ’66 - Ford vs Ferrari (2019)

The action is on track, but the nail-biting drama is behind the scenes in this Oscar-winning film about one of the most historic races in automotive history. Determined to beat an Italian racing team at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, Ford develops the GT40 Mk. II.

The endurance race, the most prestigious of its time, was grueling but in the end, the Ford team left the Italians in the dust.

Long before the checkered flag though, the Italians insult the Americans, drivers and designers on the Ford team argue over the GT40’s shortcomings and rivalry boils over between... well, everybody.

Matt Damon and Christian Bale headlined the film, while Jon Bernthal (Shane Walsh in The Walking Dead) plays Lee Iacocca, considered the father of the Mustang and Ford’s CEO in the 1980s.

Ford GT40, Le Mans ’66 - Ford vs Ferrari

1973 Ford Gran Torino - The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Dude abides. And he drives a 1973 Ford Gran Torino four-door.

The Torino was produced for the American market from 1968 to 1976. In 1972, Ford modified the lineup: the base model was the Torino and more upscale models were called Gran Torino.

The Dude’s ride is anything but posh. After discovering it’s been stolen (while he was in his favorite bowling alley), he describes it to the cops as green and rusty with a large collection of Creedence Clearwater Revival tapes inside. Oh, and a briefcase full of ransom money he was supposed to deliver to the vaguely Germanic-speaking guys who pretended to kidnap the wife of a wealthy philanthropist who happens to share a name with our slacker hero.

Alas, the thieves take the money and crash the car into a wall. When The Dude can’t deliver the cash, the kidnappers torch the car in the parking lot of the bowling alley. RIP Torino.

1973 Ford Gran Torino - The Big Lebowski

1971 Ford Mustang Sportsroof and 1967 Shelby GT 500 - Gone in 60 Seconds (1974, 2000)

The original version of this film had a reputation for being rough on vehicles. By some accounts, more than 100 were damaged or destroyed during filming. Cars in the remake fared somewhat better – only five were totaled during stunt sequences.

The four-wheeled star in the first film was a 1971 Ford Mustang Sportsroof named Eleanor. Her big scene involved a jump that launched the car 30 feet into the air and propelled it 128 feet down the road. The driver sustained a compressed spine.

In 2000, Nicholas Cage was the human star/driver and Eleanor was played by a 1967 Shelby GT 500. Cage did most of his own stunt driving.

1971 Ford Mustang Sportsroof and 1967 Shelby GT 500 - Gone in 60 Seconds

Ford Mustang Boss 429 – John Wick (2014)

A badass assassin bent on revenge has to have an equally aggressive set of wheels. In the original, Wick, a former hitman, drives a Mustang Boss 429 that, in real life, is a Mach 1 with a Coyote V8 under the hood, plus some other embellishments. Also, it’s an automatic, not a manual.

Regardless, it’s so iconic – and Wick (Keanu Reeves) is so vicious – that even the bad guys at the chop shop refuse to dismember it and change the VIN.

The rest of the movie is, well, pretty gruesome as Wick avenges the death of the puppy his wife gave him before she died. He doesn’t get his car back until the sequel and has to drive a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 to get it.

Ford Mustang Boss 429 – John Wick

1932 Ford Deuce Coupe - American Graffiti (1973)

We’re going way back for this one. American Graffiti, George Lucas’ love letter to the Southern California teen culture of cruising and street racing, features a 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe hot rod. Now a pricy collector’s item, it’s a ride that a savvy teenager back in the day could cobble together from spare parts.

Paul Le Mat (as John) drove it in the drag-racing scene against a young Harrison Ford (as Bob) behind the wheel of a 1955 Chevy. Bob’s tire blows out and the Chevy rolls into a ditch and bursts into flames. Steve (a young Ron Howard) and John help Bob and his passenger Laurie (Cindy Williams) escape the burning wreckage.

Running through the film, an elusive blonde woman stays just on the edge of the action in a white 1956 Thunderbird convertible – a symbol of the protagonists’ hopes and desires, occasionally glimpsed, but never captured.

1932 Ford Deuce Coupe - American Graffiti

1979 Ford LTD Country Squire - National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Ah, family vacations! Dad behind the wheel, Mom in the passenger seat and all the kids making mayhem in the back of the station wagon. Unless they were too embarrassed to be seen in the car because Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) was driving the most unattractive Dad-mobile on the planet.

The “Wagon Queen Family Truckster” was in reality a 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire tarted up with wood veneer and vinyl cladding. 

Yes, it really was ugly, and the term family truckster has entered the lexicon as a humorous (and rather offensive) reference to a durable but horrible-looking station wagon or other family vehicle.

1979 Ford LTD Country Squire - National Lampoon’s Vacation

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