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Twelve automotive tragedies from the big screen

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Ferris Bueller 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder replicaHagerty

Bad things often happen to good cars in the movies. Here’s a list of 11 scenes that still make car guys cringe with every viewing:

  1. 1970 Dodge Challenger (“Vanishing Point”): The ’70 Dodge Challenger (one of about five used for the film) meets a fiery end when the protagonist of the film (played by Barry Newman) drives it into a bulldozer being used as a police road block.

  2. 1967 Lamborghini Miura P400 (“The Italian Job”): The Miura is probably the most beautiful mid-engine sports cars of all time. And that’s what makes this scene so hard to watch. In the opening scene of the movie, mobsters destroy heist-plotter Roger Beckerman’s (Rossano Brazzi) Miura with a backhoe and push it over a cliff. A small consolation is the fact that an actual intact Miura wasn’t destroyed. Just body panels over an empty accident-bent chassis. Interestingly, when the producers went to clean up the mess the next day, the remains had disappeared. Neither the chassis tag nor any of the pieces have surfaced to this day.

  3. 1979 Porsche 930 (“Caddyshack”): This scene is an object lesson as to why you should never park your car with the sunroof open within a half-mile radius of where alcohol is being served:  Young Spalding Smails, suffering from a case of affluenza combined with Johnny Walker, staggers up to Dr. Beeper’s parked 930 and empties the contents of his upper GI tract into the open sunroof. The squishy sound-effect of Beeper sliding into the seat never fails to make one cringe.

  4. 1964 Aston DB5 Martin (“Skyfall”): In the rebooted James Bond world of Daniel Craig, Bond is seen to have won the DB5 in a card game in the movie Casino Royale. Its nose-mounted machine guns are put to good use in an attempt to repel an assault by the film’s villain, played by Javier Bardem.  Sadly, the car is strafed into Swiss cheese.  Happily, the car was actually a prop that was convincingly made to look like a real DB5.

  5. 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”): This scene is perhaps the most famous bit of classic car mayhem in all of moviedom.  In it, the Ferrari is seen placed on jack stands running in reverse in a hilariously stupid attempt to remove the miles that had been put on the car during the day’s class-cutting good fun in Chicago. In a fit of frustration directed at his misplaced-priorities jerk of a father, Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) accidentally kicks the car off the jack stands and it sails out of its glass enclosure into the woods below.  Happily, as with the Miura and the Aston, it wasn’t a real California Spyder.

  6. 1979 Porsche 928 (“Risky Business”): This scene reminds us all why we should use the hand brake. Those of us who are old enough to have seen this in theaters didn’t see this one coming: Tom Cruise is enjoying a night out with the typical “Pretty Woman”-like, non-drug addicted, non-inked, debutante-like (read nonexistent) hooker that Hollywood is so fond of (in this case played by Rebecca de Mornay), when de Mornay’s handbag strap pulls the gear shifter into neutral as she’s exiting the car. The Porsche rolls down a hill heading toward Lake Michigan with Cruise on the hood in a futile attempt to arrest the forward motion of the 3,800-pound 928. It ultimately comes to a stop at the edge of a wooden pier. Just as Cruise breathes a sigh of relief and starts to make his way to the driver’s door, the entire pier collapses, taking Cruise and the car for a swim in the lake.  Audiences everywhere gasped audibly. The scene at the dealership where the service manager enters the waiting rooms and asks, “Which one of you is the U-Boat commander?” is priceless.

  7. 1985 Corvette (“The Big Lebowski”): Like the entire plot of this Coen Brothers cult classic, the setup here is a bit convoluted. A 14-year-old kid named Larry Sellers has likely stolen Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski’s (Jeff Bridges’)  battered Ford Torino, possibly (but possibly not) containing a large sum in ransom money.  The Dude and his extremely anger management-challenged bowling buddy Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) head for little Larry’s house to try to interrogate the kid and recover the money. On the way in, they’re dismayed to find a red 1985 Corvette parked in front of the house, which they take as a sign that the kid has already started to blow the money.  When standard interrogation techniques prove fruitless, Walter moves on to the enhanced interrogation which includes taking a crowbar to the Corvette’s glass in full view of a very puzzled Larry. The Corvette turns out to be the neighbor’s car. He in turn freaks out and exacts rather uneven revenge on The Dude’s already dilapidated Torino.

  8. 1941 Lincoln Continental (“The Godfather”): You could always count on the hot temper of Sonny Corleone. The Barzini Family certainly did. They also knew that when Carlo, the abusive lowlife husband of Sonny’s sister Connie, would hit her, Sonny would respond by unleashing the Hiroshima of beatings on Carlo. The Barzinis (who wanted Sonny dead) of course also knew that the most direct route from Sonny’s fist to the jawbone of Carlo would take him through the toll booth at the Jones Beach Causeway on Long Island, where the Barzini’s hit men were waiting to go Bonnie and Clyde on Sonny with Thompson sub-machine guns.  The result was not pretty for either Sonny or the Lincoln. Neither were fit for an open casket funeral.

  9. 1957 Chevrolet 210 (“Used Cars”): This early Robert Zemeckis cult classic starred the great character actor Jack Warden in a dual role as twin brothers Roy L. Fuchs and Luke Fuchs.  And while Roy L. was just an amoral small-time used car dealer, his brother Luke was a classic evil schemer. Faced with the prospect of losing his prime real estate lot to a freeway onramp, Luke hatched a plot to get his brother’s lot. Knowing that Roy L. was both without a will, had no known offspring and had a bad ticker, he sent a stunt driver (played by the chubby dude who later played Switek on “Miami Vice”) to “test drive” Roy’s prized ’57 Chevy. Predictably, the insane ride had Roy L. immediately reaching for his nitroglycerin tablets which a sharp and well-timed turn of the wheel knocked out of his hands. Nearly every panel on the poor classic Chevy was smashed by the end of the ride. The “test driver” simply tosses the keys to a gasping, chest-clutching Fuchs and says, “I’ll think about it, old man.”

  10. 1979 Chevrolet Camaro  Z/28 (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”): The Camaro was owned by intimidating high school football prospect Charles Jefferson (played by the great Forrest Whitaker in one of his earliest roles). Jefferson’s little brother and surfer/stoner Jeff Spiccolli (Sean Penn) take the car cruising one night in the San Fernando Valley and wreck it. While surveying the horrific damage, Spiccolli pops the classic line, “My old man is a TV repairman, he has an awesome set of tools. I can fix it.” Ultimately, no repairs are undertaken. Rather, the damage is blamed on car thieves from a rival high school whom Ridgemont is playing in a big football game. An incensed rhino-like Jefferson is seen later delivering paralytic revenge hits in the subsequent game.

  11. 1964 Lincoln Continental (“Animal House”): Malleable Delta House pledge Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst) is entrusted by his older brother Fred with a brand new Lincoln Continental (curiously, a 1964 model in a movie that was set in 1962). An evening of extreme irresponsibility leaves the Lincoln unfit for return to Fred. Senior frat brother “Otter,” played by Tim Matheson, nonchalantly suggests the solution of committing felony insurance fraud: “We’ll swear to Fred that you were taking great care of his car, but you parked it out back one night and the next day, it was gone. The insurance company buys him a new car.” A drunk, teary Dorfman asks, “Do you think it will work?” “It’s gotta work better than the truth,” replies Otter. Adding insult to injury, the car is later turned into the sinister tank-like “Deathmobile” to disrupt the Faber College homecoming parade.

  12. 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE convertible (“The Hangover”): Which part of this seems like a bad idea?  Future father -in-law entrusts his non-Car Guy future son-in-law with his treasured Mercedes convertible for a pre-wedding jaunt with friends. Granted, they were supposed to be headed to sedate California wine country, but they go to Vegas instead. The extreme body damage that the handsome Benz suffers is predictable for anyone who has seen “Animal House.” The damage done to the interior by Mike Tyson’s pet tiger? That’s novel.

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