Best Movie Cars - 1970s

Review by Brendan McAleer

The best part about the 1970s was, of course, the… the, ummm… errr… *crickets*

Well hang on, there must be something good we can come up with from a period when disco ruled the airwaves and fashion was questionable at best. Admittedly, as the decade wore on, the cars got progressively worse, but if we look to the silver screen, there are still gems to be found.

Forget the Millennium Falcon, here are the best movie cars of the 1970s.

1970 Challenger – Vanishing Point

At the launch for the newly updated Challenger, a pair of younger automotive journalists merely looked confused when I asked them which one was Kowalski. This will not stand.

Vanishing Point is one of the great all-time 1970s cult classics. Mostly, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but between the disenfranchised cop taking a bet for the hell of it, naked ladies on motorbikes, a blind DJ named Supersoul, and a massive police chase, it’s pure ’70s excellence. It also made the white ’70 Challenger a star, even though the car met an ignominious end – but I won’t spoil it for you.

1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Interceptor – Mad Max

Our Aussie editor Jacob nearly exploded when this one wasn’t included in the list of best movie cars from the 1980s – but that’s because the film was released in 1979. Moreover, Mel Gibson’s post-apocalyptic ride is pure ’70s outback, a black-on-black supercharged monster with zoomies, twin spoilers, and a Concorde-style front end.

In a world ruled by outlaw motorcycle gangs, this car took the fight to the wasteland and became an instant hit. It’s the perfect ride for an antihero.

1941 Lincoln Continental – The Godfather

Today Lincoln only wishes they built a car worthy of getting shot up by rival gangsters. Well, maybe the new Navigator is.

But I digress, the ’41 Continental that forms the backdrop for Sonny Corleone’s machine-gun execution is a supporting actor in one of the most celebrated scenes in American cinema. While its task was to be riddled with bullets, its reward is silver-screen immortality. A restored version might be the perfect machine to drive on this, the day of your daughter’s wedding.

1970 Challenger - Vanishing Point, photo courtesy 20th Century Fox1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Interceptor - Mad Max, photo courtesy Crossroads1941 Lincoln Continental - the Godfather, photo courtesy Paramount Pictures
1970 Challenger – Vanishing Point, photo courtesy 20th Century Fox; 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Interceptor – Mad Max, photo courtesy Crossroads; 1941 Lincoln Continental – the Godfather, photo courtesy Paramount Pictures. Click image to enlarge

1955 Chevy – Two Lane Blacktop

It takes two to drag-race, and it’s certainly worth mentioning the other car in this 1971 film, a 1970 Pontiac GTO. However, the main protagonist of the movie, aside from The Driver and The Mechanic (no names are ever mentioned), is the car, a primer-grey 1955 Chevy, all hopped up and ready to race.

The film has an odd, existentialist bent, like many 1970s flicks, and the car lives a nomadic, rootless existence, travelling from town to town looking to make money by drag-racing strangers. As luck would have it, the ’55 Chevy was destined to turn up somewhere else, in the hands of a guy named Bob.

1932 Ford Coupe – American Graffiti

Painted bright yellow and fitted with a Chevy 327, John Milner’s ’32 Ford was the embodiment of the Beach Boys’ Little Deuce Coupe, and of the cruising culture of Southern California in the 1960s. American Graffiti would be George Lucas’ first major success, and captured an era of automotive innocence that audiences craved.

Nearly every car in the film is worth mentioning – one of the ’55 Chevys driven by the main protagonist Bob Falfa was the same car that appeared in Two-Lane Blacktop – and most of the actors would go on to have extensive careers. Ron Howard, who played Steve Bolander and drove a ’58 Impala in the movie, most recently directed Rush, the 1970s F1 racing biopic. One interesting little tidbit: the license plate of the yellow deuce coupe, THX 138, is a nod to a science-fiction movie made by Lucas while still in film school.

1955 Chevy - Two Lane Blacktop, photo courtesy Universal Studios1932 Ford Coupe - American Graffiti, photo by author1970 911S - Le Mans, photo courtesy RM Auctions
1955 Chevy – Two Lane Blacktop, photo courtesy Universal Studios; 1932 Ford Coupe – American Graffiti, photo by author; 1970 911S – Le Mans, photo courtesy RM Auctions. Click image to enlarge

1970 911S – Le Mans

Over the years, Steve McQueen has become something of a King Midas where collector cars are concerned. This same car, driven for just a few moments at the beginning of one of the best racing movies ever, recently sold for auction for a whopping $1.37M.

However, it’s a perfect intro to the movie, which boasts some of the most realistic racing scenes ever captured on film. More than that, the shots of the little air-cooled rear-engined sports car scooting along the French country lanes made everybody want one. Air-cooled Porsche prices are through the roof already, but it’s not too late for some models.

Connect with