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Cars Made Famous by Their Drivers

cars made famous by their drivers
Photo by Norio NAKAYAMA on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0.

If you think about some of the most iconic vehicles in television and movies, or those owned by celebrities, there are a number of cars that gained a lot of popularity because of their drivers. Here are eight cars that became famous because of their drivers.

1. Christopher Lloyd and the Back to the Future 1982 DeLorean DMC-12

Driven by Doc Brown throughout the Back to the Future trilogy, the 1982 DeLorean DMC-12 became an iconic car because of actor Christopher Lloyd’s portrayal of the manic scientist who created a time machine. By the time the car appeared in the film, it was already out of production, and the same vehicle is still used for comic cons, while many fans have replica time machines in their homes.

Only produced from 1981 to 1983, the DeLorean features the iconic gull-wing steel doors that continue to be used by other brands. The V6 engine with a manual transmission is able to achieve 60 miles per hour in just 8.8 seconds, a feature that Doc Brown put to good use in his time machine.

2. Elvis Presley and his Pink Cadillac

Image courtesy of Mr. Littlehand on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Image courtesy of Mr. Littlehand on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Elvis made his pink Cadillac famous, but he actually had two different versions of the iconic car. The first only lasted a year before it burned in June 1955. Presley’s second pink Cadillac was in a serious accident shortly after its purchase, but the icon continually paid to have this car repaired and repainted, gifting it to his mother who did not have a driver’s license.

Elvis’ pink Cadillac is a 1955 Fleetwood luxury sedan custom painted by a Presley neighbor in “Elvis Rose”, a color created specifically for Elvis. The roof of the vehicle was painted white, and the upholstery was replaced, in 1956 following its accident. With a V-8 engine, this Caddy could reach speeds up to 115 miles per hour, although Elvis preferred to drive it recreationally.

Today, the pink Cadillac sits in the automobile museum of Presley’s famous home, Graceland.

3. Steve McQueen and the “Bullitt” Mustang

In the 1968 movie Bullitt, Steve McQueen played a police lieutenant driving a dark green 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390, nicknamed Bullitt. The film features a nearly 7-minute action sequence in which the iconic car chases a Dodge Charger R/T driven by the “bad guys”, and McQueen infamously performs his own stunts while driving through most of the footage of the hilly San Francisco streets.

The fastback Mustang features a 390 engine in its 2-door body that can reach speeds over 105 miles per hour in a quarter mile. The manual transmission adds to the action of driving this vehicle, and some were used for drag racing, especially after the movie premiered.

Ford offered a Bullitt-honoring version of the vehicle in 2001 with a vanity nameplate and updated specifications. With 270 horsepower and a lower body, this new Bullitt removed the spoiler and fog lamps of modern Mustang GTs and was only offered in true blue, black and the traditionally dark highland green.

4. Jerry Seinfeld and his Porsche Collection

Typically recognized and praised for his comedy, you might be surprised to know that Jerry Seinfeld has one of the largest Porsche collections in the world at nearly 50 vehicles. His collection includes a Porsche 959, a 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder and the first Porsche 911 ever made.

The Porsche 959 is among the rarest and is worth an estimated $700,000. Only 337 copies of this model exist worldwide. It was produced from 1986 to 1989, and the aluminum and Kevlar lightweight body of this 2-door sports car features a 6-speed manual transmission that can reach 195 miles per hour and still be street-legal. Just eight additional models of the 959 were produced in 1992 and 1993, and the value of these is much higher, making them the most sought-after sports car in the world.

5. Shia LaBeouf and “Bumblebee”

Film star Shia LaBeouf’s beloved Chevy Camaro becomes Bumblebee, a robot in disguise, in the popular Transformers franchise. Bumblebee transforms quickly and moves through major cities, trying to defeat the dangerous Decepticon robots.

Although the original Bumblebee was a 1967 Camaro, LaBeouf’s version is actually a souped up concept model that went into production in 2009, two years after the movie in 2007.

Since that time, Chevy has paid a tribute to the franchise by producing a Bumblebee edition of their Camaro with both V-6 and V-8 engines, 21-inch wheels and black rally stripes traveling the length of the yellow vehicle. In addition, the interior of the Bumblebee Camaro offers yellow-stitched leather upholstery and an Autobot shield badge on the vehicle’s panels under the Camaro nameplate.

6. Samy Naceri and Peugeot 406 from the 1998 film Taxi

The French action-comedy film Taxi debuted in 1998, featuring the driver Samy Naceri and his white 1997 Peugeot 406, kicking off one of the most successful French film franchises. After modifying his Peugeot to deliver pizzas and taxi customers more quickly, Naceri’s character, Daniel, is apprehended and convinced to help catch a dangerous German gang in exchange for dropping driving charges he has accumulated in order to keep his license. His driving skills and stuns have made the Peugeot 406 – Taxi edition – quite famous.

Naceri’s white Peugeot 406 has a V-6 engine that allows it to zip through the city streets at up to 93 miles per hour. After the movie, the 406 became noticeable in France for its clean look and ability to be tuned for higher performance.

7. Dean Jones and “Herbie”

Doing most of his own stunt driving in several Disney family films and the resulting television show, Dean Jones and his adventures with Herbie, the 1963 Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of his own, are well-known even today. Beginning with The Love Bug film in 1968, Herbie wins races, bests everything in its path, even falls in love with another car in his series of movies before Jones and Herbie open a driving school on the TV show. 

Herbie, the VW Beetle from 1963, features an increased 40 horsepower engine and synchronized forward gears. Although he was known for racing, Herbie tops out at around 72 miles per hour.

The Beetle’s white exterior with red and blue racing stripes, signature number 53 and California license plate made Herbie and his driver recognizable to generations of children and their parents. In fact, many fans have painted their own vintage Beetles in the same style so they look like Herbie.

8. James Dean and “Little Bastard”

The beloved Porsche 550 Spyder that was customized by James Dean is known for being one of the unluckiest cars of all time. Dean’s customizations to the Spyder included tartan seats, the number 130 on the doors and engine cover and, red stripes painted over the rear wheels. These changes, along with the slick look and high power of the Porsche racecar, led fellow actor Alec Guinness to warn Dean about the vehicle before that fateful drive. Not only did the 24-year-old Dean meet his own demise just one week after he had begun driving the Spyder, the car’s unfortunate streak did not end there.

Known as Little Bastard, the car was sold to George Barris, the vehicle customizer who had recently completed work on the car. The Little Bastard came off its trailer without warning, breaking Barris’ leg in the process. Thieves who tried to strip the shiny silver shell also ended up hurt. After several incidents and another untimely demise caused by the Little Bastard, Barris decided to hide the car, but the California Highway Patrol wanted to host it in an exhibit of theirs. This ended up in another incident, as the garage housing the car burned down, while Little Bastard suffered almost no damage.

This isn’t everything, however: Little Bastard was on display in a high school exhibit as well, and another incident happened – the Bastard fell off display and nearly crushed a student – breaking the student’s hip in the process. The cursed car also fell off three different transport trucks. While it was transported back to Barris in 1960, Little Bastard disappeared mysteriously and was never seen again.

What’s the most memorable car made famous by its driver for you? Is it on our list or do you have one of your own?

Let us know in the comments below!