Classic Car Cinema

If you missed the Third Annual Festival of Speed in St. Petersburg this weekend, you missed a classic.

The cars that were registered for display were fantastic. Among them were Aston Martins, Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and even a rare McLaren F1. I spotted a Porsche Carrera GT and a Ferrari 360 Modena parked on the side of the road, not registered for display but merely driven to the event by car enthusiasts. So after spending 4 hours agog at the sheer flawlessness of road-going engineering that mankind has achieved, I couldn’t help myself but to make a list of movies in which automobiles play an inherent part.


While the Ronin in feudal Japan were samurai without a master, the setting in Ronin is contemporary France. The analogy pertains to a group of men and one woman who intend to steal a secretive briefcase from men who can be assumed to be international mobsters. The movie never really states who they are, nor what’s in the briefcase, but it doesn’t seem to matter. All that’s needed is the knowledge that the men who hold the case are bad, and the case is desired by the protagonists.

Robert De Niro plays Sam, an ex-U.S. intelligence officer with a seemingly endless ability to orchestrate operations such as these. There are several shootouts and a great deal of very beautiful European scenery, but the real action is the cars. Peugots, BMWs, a couple of Citroens, an Audi A8 with a nitrous system and even an early model BMW 5-series play a role in this film’s riveting car chases. It’s an exciting movie both for car enthusiasts as well as anyone who likes a good action film with a dose of feudal Japanese philosophy.

Gone in Sixty Seconds

The action in Gone in Sixty Seconds begins when Randall “Memphis” Raines (Nicholas Cage) finds out his brother, Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi), is in danger for taking on a job to steal a large number of cars. The reason Kip’s life is in danger is that he can’t handle the job.

Memphis must come out of retirement to save his brother. In the process he rekindles a romantic relationship with Sara “Sway” Wayland (Angelina Jolie), as well as friendships with several friends from his grand theft auto days. As it turns out, to save his brother he has to steal 50 cars in 72 hours. Detective Roland Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) is intent upon stopping him, and what unfolds is one man’s desperate attempt to save his brother’s life by stealing a wide variety of truly impressive cars.

Lamborghinis, Porsches, Ferraris, Aston Martins and even a Hummer are on the list, but more impressive are the classic cars: a beautiful Shelby GT 500, a 1971 Plymouth Hemi Barracuda, a 1971 Detomaso Pantera and a 1953 Chevy Corvette. Hollywood has the money and the ability to get its hands on classic cars such as these. When watching this movie, viewers start to wish for the same ability as well.

The Cannonball Run

To think a movie starring Burt Reynolds would ever appear on one of these lists would have been a highly far-fetched idea, but here it is. Now, admittedly, this is a campy, screwball comedy without a very complicated or artistically created plot. The characters are shallow but hilarious. But cars are the key here, and in that respect it’s an exhilarating movie, as well as a classic.

The plot is simple enough and arguably unimportant. Reynolds plays J.J. McClure. When McClure decides to enter an illegal, cross-country race, the events unfold. The cast is a bulletin board of infamous names, including Roger Moore and Sammy Davis Jr., and all of the racers are hunted by one vehement environmentalist who wishes to see all the race participants put in jail.

There are trucks, ambulances and American muscle cars, but the two exceptionally beautiful cars to watch for are the red Ferrari 302 and the infamous Lamborghini Countach. This is a movie that shows that there is a reason there is essentially no rear visibility in a Countach. Who looks at what’s behind them on the road when they are in a Lamborghini?

Le Mans

If you haven’t seen Le Mans, you’re probably not as big a car fan as you might have thought. It’s arguably the best racing movie ever made. Naturally, it stars Steve McQueen.

In real life, Le Mans in France is one of the most difficult tracks in the world with the possible exception of “Der Nurburghring” in Germany. It’s eight and a half miles of sweeping bends and tricky chicanes, and even to drive through it without crashing (as many have) is difficult, let alone setting a decent track time (most don’t).

Now imagine having to drive a track like that for 24 hours straight.

That is precisely what Michael Delaney (McQueen), along with his teammates, has to do. If that isn’t dramatic enough for you, there is the fact that Delaney caused a serious crash earlier in his career that killed the husband of a friend.

Of course, there are also the cars. A Ferrari 512M, a Porsche 912S and even a Lola T70 all appear in their beautiful early-1970s racing style.

Cars and movies can symbolize something more than mere transportation and entertainment, respectively. They can be works of art and in turn become incarnations of style, grace and perhaps even the brave nature of the human spirit.