In some cases, the most iconic character on the screen isn’t a person — it’s a tricked-out car. Some of the world’s favorite household names are famous TV and movie cars. Many beloved fictional heroes aren’t complete without their special rides. Cars from movies and TV shows are intelligent, futuristic or full of interesting characteristics. Though most cars in movies have science-fiction features, like lasers or rockets, they’re often based on real-life models.
There’s not much more fascinating than a car souped-up to fit a larger-than-life character. Big-screen stories have made certain models instantly recognizable. You’d know a Batmobile, Gran Torino or Quattrovalvole anywhere. Here’s our list of the most iconic TV and movie cars ever dreamt up.
Batmobile (Batman Series)
Everyone knows the Batmobile, Batman’s custom-built armored attack vehicle. It’s changed shape in the years since its first appearance in the 1939 Detective Comic #27. Back then, it was nothing more than a simple red car. Its biggest upgrade happened in 1966 when the producers for the “Batman” TV series commissioned a new Batmobile for the screen.
This new and improved Batmobile was based on the 1955 Lincoln Futura. The classic car had long fins and bubble canopies. The designer, George Barris, extended the fins to resemble bat wings. He also opened its wheels and gave it a fresh coat of dark black paint with red streamlines and a Batman mask on the hood.
The Batmobile is complete with futuristic gadgets you won’t find on a real Futura. It’s powered by an atomic turbine engine and helps Batman fight crime with its chain slicer, lasers, rockets, radar and police speaker. Of course, every “Batman” adaptation gives the hero a slightly different ride — but it’s almost always black with wing-like fins. It remains one of the most iconic movie cars almost a century after its first appearance.
KITT From Knight Rider
One of the most impressive TV show vehicles is KITT from “Knight Rider.” KITT is actually two different characters in the Knight Rider canon. The first KITT, Knight Industries Two Thousand, showed up in the original series starting in 1982. Even though famous actors like David Hasselhoff and Patricia McPherson joined the show, KITT stole the screen. KITT was the souped-up, talking, bulletproof partner to Michael Knight, who was set on fighting for public justice.
The revamped KITT, short for Knight Industries Three Thousand, debuted in the 2008 “Knight Rider” reboot series. This time, KITT was based on the Ford Shelby GT500KR. The real vehicle has a 90-degree DOHC supercharged V-8 engine and 540 horsepower at 6,250 RPM. It accelerates from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds. Meanwhile, the TV version can do everything from analyze DNA to light up the dark with infrared night vision headlamps.
General Lee (The Dukes of Hazzard)
Named after the Civil War Confederate commander, General Lee is the famous TV show car from “The Dukes of Hazzard.” On the show, down-home cousins Bo and Luke Duke use their tricked-up 1969 Dodge Charger to escape trouble in Hazzard County. They evade corrupt politicians and police officers during their misadventures.
The orange Charger featured a Confederate flag decal on its roof and the number “01” on each door. The car’s finishing touch is its custom air horn, which plays the first few notes of the song Dixie. Several replicas used for filming are still around today. It’s one of the easiest cars to spot thanks to its unique look.
Starsky and Hutch Torino
The Starsky and Hutch Torino was featured in its namesake 1970s action show. Throughout the show, David Michael Starsky and Kenneth Richard Hutchinson are detective partners. They patrol Bay City, California, in a red two-door Ford Gran Torino with white stripes. Its distinctive appearance earned it the nickname “Striped Tomato.”
The Gran Torino is one of the most recognizable famous cars from movies and TV. It’s not only the car of choice for Starsky and Hutch — it’s also the title of a Clint Eastwood film about a Korean War Veteran. The character protects his prized Gran Torino from a robbery and develops an unlikely bond with the would-be thief. Of all the cool movie cars out there, the Gran Torino is one of the best-known.
The model got its name from Turin, Italy, a city often compared to Detroit, Michigan. High-performance versions of the sedan are the base for Ford’s NASCAR entrants. Some famous drivers have used the Torino, including David Pearson, Donnie Allison and Bobby Isaac. The famous car sits somewhere between a luxury and sports vehicle.
Munster Koach (The Munsters)
One of the most unique famous TV cars is the Munster Koach, the mode of transportation for a sitcom family of monsters on “The Munsters.” The family contains Frankenstein’s monster, a few vampires and a werewolf. The car itself is a sort of Frankenstein creation, made from three Ford Model T bodies. To match the show’s theme, the car has a blood-red colored interior and a black pearl paint job.
The Munster Koach also features a 10 carburetor setup, along with 10 air horns and lanterns. But its most distinct feature is its custom hearse body, which takes its horror-comedy design to the next level. It was such an iconic car that it had its own theme song from Decca Records — “Here Comes the Munster Koach.”
Its basis on the Ford Model T makes it all the more notable since the Model T was one of the first affordable, manufactured vehicles on the market. The Model T paved the way for future car designs — it was the first to have its engine block and crankcase cast as one unit and the first to have a removable cylinder head. Made from durable vanadium steel, the original version of the Model T rolled out in 1908.
Green Hornet Car (The Green Hornet)
The Green Hornet has earned a place among the original crime-fighting superheroes. He was first a radio character in the 1930s. Since then, he’s appeared in plenty of comic books, TV series and movies. The Green Hornet is the alter ego of newspaper publisher Britt Reid. He wears a green overcoat, fedora and mask and drives a 1965 Chrysler Imperial he calls The Black Beauty.
The Black Beauty became one of the most famous TV and film cars thanks in part to its driver. In the 1960s TV series, The Green Hornet’s sidekick Kato is played by Martial Arts legend Bruce Lee. Lee’s character chauffeurs The Black Beauty when he’s not busy knocking down criminals.
On the show, the car had all the special features two superheroes need, including the Hornet’s Sting, which could open locked doors and set things on fire. It also had a knock-out gas gun, two rockets and a video surveillance device. It made a pretty useful tool for the crime-fighting duo.
The Saint Volvo (The Saint)
Another famous car comes from “The Saint,” a British spy thriller series from the 1960s. The show’s hero, Simon Templar, is an outlaw with Robin Hood motives, earning him the nickname “The Saint.” He steals from the rich and gives to the poor while driving a Volvo P1800. The model’s distinctive shape made it an immediate symbol for the character. The actor who played Templar, Roger Moore, loved the car so much that he bought one for himself.
Magnum P.I. Ferrari (Magnum P.I.)
“Magnum P.I.” was a crime drama on air in the 1980s. It starred Tom Selleck as a private investigator in Hawaii. Magnum lives a luxurious lifestyle in a beachfront house nicknamed “the Robin’s Nest” after its owner, a wealthy man named Robin Masters. Magnum also has access to Masters’ car, a Ferrari 308 GTS Quattrovalvole. Later seasons of the show include Masters’ other vehicles, like an Audi 5000 and a Volkswagen Vanagon.
The show’s most famous car is the flashy, bright red Ferrari, which fits the easy-going main character perfectly. Producers used three different Ferrari 308 GTS models, each of which had steel bodies and rear-wheel drive. Since Selleck is so tall, they had to adjust the vehicles to make room for him. They removed the padding from the seats and bolted them as far from the steering wheel as possible. Even still, the character almost always drives with the convertible top down to accommodate Selleck’s height.
The show’s action-packed plot caused a lot of damage to the Ferrari. It gets driven off the road, stuck in the mud, blown up with car bombs, scratched and shot at. Despite the damage it underwent, the car was impressive with 230 horsepower, a top speed of 155 miles per hour and a 0 to 60 acceleration of 6.1 seconds.
A-Team Van (The A-Team)
Another action TV series from the 1980s, “The A-Team” was a show about four former United States Army Special Forces soldiers. After serving time in military prison for a crime they didn’t commit, the team escapes to Los Angeles, California. There, they work as mercenaries as they avoid capture.
The show is famous for its cartoonish violence, simple plots and cast, including professional wrestler Mr. T. He plays Sergeant Bosco Albert “Bad Attitude” Baracus, the team’s strongman and mechanic. The other three characters include Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, Lieutenant Templeton Peck “Faceman” and Captain “Howling Mad” Murdock.
The characters rely on their 1983 GMC Vandura van. It has a recognizable look thanks to its grey and black paint, giant red stripe and matching red turbine mag wheels. The back of the van houses whichever tools the team needs — a mini printing press, an audio surveillance recording device and a disguise kit, for example. The van is the center of some noticeable continuity errors — in some scenes, it has an obvious sunroof, while in others, it does not.
The van has made some appearances in pop culture. If you look closely, you’ll see it during the racing scenes of “Ready Player One,” a Stephen Spielberg movie about a virtual reality world. The van, with its unmistakable red stripe, eventually crashes off-screen. Other vehicles you can spot in the race include:
- The Mach Five.
- The DeLorean.
- The Pursuit Special.
James Bond’s Car (007 Series)
Although James Bond drives several different cars throughout various adaptations, the most famous is the Aston Martin DB5. The British luxury grand tourer appears in the 1964 movie “Goldfinger.” It’s one of the best movie cars, thanks to its long list of gadgets, which include:
- Front-firing machine guns.
- A retractable tire-shredding blade.
- Bulletproof screens.
- Tracking location scanners.
- Ejector seats for unwelcome passengers.
- An oil sprayer.
- A smoke screen vent.
- Revolving number plates.
- An intelligence communication device.
- A mine dispenser.
The Martin DB5 does not show up in the film series but reappears in “GoldenEye” and again in “Casino Royale.” Bond actors who drive the model include Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. It’s also the vehicle in several James Bond-themed video games, featuring a different set of gadgets. You’ll find references to the Martin DB5 in various games and films — you can buy one in Grand Theft Auto 5 with the title “JB700.”
The DeLorean Time Machine (Back to the Future)
One of the top movie cars of all time doubles as a time travel device. The DeLorean, from “Back to the Future,” sends the characters through a time-jumping wormhole. The sports car features gullwing doors and a license plate that reads “outatime.” But its core component is the flux capacitor, which makes time travel possible.
Although the real car will not let you jump through time, it has a polished look. Its fame in the “Back to the Future” franchise and its short-lived production has made it a sought-after vehicle — despite complaints of its poor driving experience.
Mad Max’s Pursuit Special (Mad Max)
Mad Max, the title character of the movie and video game franchise by the same name, drives a Ford GT Falcon muscle car. He calls it the “Pursuit Special” or “The Last of the V8 Interceptors.” Its most recognizable characteristic is its supercharger. The filmmakers painted it black, gave it wheel arch flares and added exhaust side pipes.
In the films, “Mad” Max Rockatansky is an Australian policeman in a dystopian future. He uses his Pursuit Special to chase down violent motorcycle gang members, avenging his wife and child. Throughout his adventures, he ends up helping the people he comes across. “Mad Max” is known as one of the best action series of all time.
Bandit 1 (Smokey and the Bandit)
In “Smokey and the Bandit,” acting legend Burt Reynolds handles a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am to transport bootlegged beer across the country. If Bandit (Reynolds) succeeds in transporting the beer in 28 hours or less, there’s an $88,000 prize waiting for him and his comrade Cledus, played by Jerry Reed. With Reed driving the Bandit 2 — a semi carrying all of the beer — and Carrie (Sally Field) sitting passenger next to Reynolds, the team navigates the roads and runs from the law as the Sheriff (Jackie Gleason) is hot on their tail.
The star-studded cast mixed with the unmatched speed and acrobatics of the Pontiac Trans Am lifted this film into iconic standing. The movie helped boost Pontiac Trans Am sales and inspired a variety of tribute cars. The Bandit 1 was painted black with gold trim, including a giant bird logo on the hood and intricate snowflake design wheels. It was a sleek, sporty design the viewer could marvel at while Reynolds jumped bridges and jammed the accelerator to evade his pursuers. “Smokey and the Bandit” and the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am will both be remembered in nostalgic relation to one another for years to come.
American Graffiti 1932 Deuce Coupe
“American Graffiti” tells the story of a group of high school graduates savoring the last days of summer vacation. Some are staying in town, and others are happily going off to college. Before they do, they cruise around town in some awesome cars, impressing passersby and drag racing.
Often people think of that unique yellow car in American Graffiti — a 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe. This car and the 1955 Chevy are involved in the final drag race on a stretch of blacktop, where the Coupe wins, and the Chevy flips and ultimately explodes off the road. The movie also featured a 1958 Impala and a 1956 Thunderbird, among others.
Bullitt 1968 Ford Mustang GT
Steve McQueen plays lieutenant Frank Bullitt in this spy thriller — which is widely regarded to include one of the best and most influential car chases of all time. Bullitt’s 1968 Ford Mustang GT jumps and veers through the maze-like, steep San Francisco streets as he chases two hitmen in a Dodge Charger. It’s a scene that features no music and spans close to 10 minutes, with the primary sound effects being the raw power of the Mustang GT hopping over hills and crashing back to the pavement as McQueen — with the help of a stuntman — maneuver the powerful vehicle.
Christine (John Carpenter’s Christine)
“Christine” is the cult classic that brought the 1958 Plymouth Fury to life. With its deep red colors and sharp, violent appearance, the Fury was the perfect car for Stephen King’s novel of the same name, creating the foundation for the film. Christine shows the power of owning your first car, taken to an extreme level — Arnie Cunningman, a high schooler with few friends and a craving for popularity, discovers the dilapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury in a scrap yard, where he instantly falls in love. As the movie progresses, the car changing Arnie, eventually leading to his ultimate demise.
Not many movies give such a personality and focus on a car than “Christine.” Thanks to King’s story and the movie that followed, the 1958 Plymouth Fury will always be alive in our minds, just waiting to come to life again for the right driver.
The Ecto-1 (Ghostbusters)
The Ectomobile, or the Ecto-1, was the unmistakable car used in “Ghostbusters.” It was a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance conversion. When it first shows up in the movie, it’s painted black and in poor shape — Ray Stantz says he bought it for $4,800 and that it needs “some suspension work, and shocks, breaks, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission repair” and more. In the next scene, the Ecto-1 is painted its familiar white color, the Ghostbusters logo appears on the side and wailing, flashing sirens are on its roof.
Herbie (The Love Bug)
Herbie is the loveable, self-driving 1963 Volkswagen Beetle that stars alongside Dean Jones in “The Love Bug.” With red, white and blue stripes and the number 53 on its hood and side, Herbie is one of the most identifiable cars out there. People of all generations are familiar with Herbie, as Disney has continued to remake the classic film.
Something about the compact, fun design of the Volkswagen Beetle makes Herbie a loveable car. As the car flies past the competition and skips over water, the audience can’t help but root for him.
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Cars in movies and TV shows are often just as iconic and recognizable as the characters who drive them. These cars tend to include some aspects of real engineering along with fictional qualities and gadgets. With their classic shapes and weaponized attachments, famous movie cars help their drivers fight crime, escape bad guys and make their way around.
Most fictional cars are based on real-life models, like the Lincoln Futura, Ford Model T or Aston Martin DB5. Famous movie and TV vehicles gain new life through restoration projects — if you’re restoring a vehicle, place an order with Raybuck for restoration parts. Here at Raybuck, we support economical restorations with our exact replacement parts. We also provide knowledgeable support to help you get what you need.