John Mayhead – Since Valentine’s Day is all about romance, this time of year many of us will snuggle up with someone special and watch a romantic movie or two. For those of us who also love automobiles, the best romantic films are those that feature an interesting car or two. One man’s top 10 classic cars of the romantic movie genre, in no particular order:
Pretty Woman – 1989 Lotus Esprit SE
Richard Gere’s high-flying businessman Edward was bound to own an exotic “foreign” classic, but when both Ferrari and Porsche declined to be associated with a film linked to prostitution, Lotus stepped in. The gamble paid off – sales of the Esprit (actually a modified 1990 model SE) rocketed in the U.S. following the film’s release. With a tuned engine and carbon-fiber body, the silver Esprit had a top speed of 165 mph and achieved 0-60 in 4.7 seconds. As Vivian (Julia Roberts) so appropriately put it: “Man, it corners like it’s on rails!”
Notting Hill – 1967 Park Royal AEC Routemaster Bus
OK, so it’s not exactly a star in the film, but we love the old Routemaster, and we love “Notting Hill.” The bus used in the film (registration No. SMK665F) was brought into service as RML2665 in November 1967 by London Transport. In 1996, she was upgraded with a Scania engine and served on London’s streets for another 10 years before being retired. Now owned by the Bath Bus Company, SMK665F can be rented for special events and weddings.
When Harry Met Sally – 1976 Toyota Corona Station Wagon (Estate)
Meg Ryan’s character Sally drove what is probably the least-exciting car on our list. The RT119 Toyota Corona had the 2.2-liter 20R engine, a SOHC 2-valve motor that generated a modest 96 hp at 4800 rpm. With yellow/ beige paintwork and tan vinyl interior, it perfectly captured the film’s mid-’70s feel.
The Graduate – 1966 Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider
When a young Dustin Hoffman was cast as Benjamin Braddock, his uncle offered to supply the character’s car. The uncle was the legendary U.S. car importer Max Hoffman, and the car was the newly-released Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider. The rest was history – Dustin won the Golden Globe for New Star of the Year, Alfa sales soared, and Max became richer. Three cars were actually used in filming, all Euro-spec 1600 Spiders with a standard 108-hp aluminum twin-cam carbureted engine that allowed the car to accelerate from 0-60 mph in 9.6 seconds. Next time you watch the film, look for inconsistencies – in some shots the car has sun visors and a radio, but in other shots both are missing.
Dirty Dancing – 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
Patrick Swayze’s character Johnny Castle drove one of the most iconic American cars of all time – the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air 2-door hardtop. For gearheads, the film is memorable for the scene where Johnny locks his keys in the car and smashes the window with a pole. Continuity errors show that at least two cars (or windows) were used in the film, which could explain why owners in both the U.S. and Australia claim to own the original Bel Air.
Love Actually – 1992 Saab 900 XS
Colin Firth’s character Jamie famously learned Portuguese in order to woo his housekeeper, but we all know it was his Saab 900 that really attracted Aurelia, played by Lucia Moniz. The blue 1992 model contained a Saab H 1985cc inline 4 that generated 130 hp and propelled the car from 0-60 mph in 10.5 seconds.
The Love Bug – 1963 Volkswagen Beetle
With his big personality and amazing speed, Herbie cemented the VW Beetle as an iconic car around the world. Ironically, Volkswagen did not support Disney’s use of the car, and as a result all VW badges and logos were removed for filming. Many different Beetles were used, including a number of older oval rear-screen models that were modified to make them look like later cars. For racing scenes, one of the cars was fitted with a Porsche 356 Super 90, twin Solex 1600cc engine and drum brakes, Koni shocks and roll cage, and allegedly achieved 115 mph during filming. That car, number 2, is now owned by a UK-based restoration specialist.
The Notebook – 1946 Hudson Commodore
Of all the romantic films out there, “The Notebook” is the one guaranteed to turn even the most red-blooded alpha male into a total blubbering wreck. Through the tears and snot, you may be able to spot a fair collection of 1930s and ’40s American classic cars, but the one that really catches the eye is the 1946 Hudson Commodore Eight Club Coupe driven by Rachel McAdams’ character. The two-tone Series 2 Commodore had a 128-hp 8-cylinder engine under the hood and was a comfortable ride – Hudsons were known for their relatively opulent interiors.
Bridget Jones’s Diary – 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SE Convertible
Hugh Grant’s smooth-talking Daniel Cleaver may not end up with the girl, but he definitely has the coolest car. His 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SE Convertible in blue has the 2778cc inline-6 M130 engine and is an earlier “high grille” car.
True Romance – 1988 Porsche 911 Flachbau Cabriolet
In “True Romance,” Elliot Blitzer will probably be remembered for two things – having a bag of uncut cocaine tipped over his head just before the cops arrest him and driving a white Porsche 911 Flachbau (Flat Nose) cabriolet. The car was perfectly cast – it was ostentatious, noisy and flashy, matching Blitzer’s character as a movie executive and aspiring actor. It had Hollywood written all over it. Original factory Flat Nose 911s cost almost double the equivalent standard car (click here for a Porsche 911 buyers guide video), but many companies provided aftermarket body kits – whether or not Blitzer’s was the real thing is questionable. If Tarantino wanted realism, the car was probably a fake.