Nostalgia – the leading lady when it comes to cars that are stars

Cars Culture

It’s not just the human idols of the big and small screens which hold us in their grasp: for car enthusiasts, some of the the biggest stars of all have four wheels

We all have our favourite. Perhaps it’s the Aston Martin DB5 of a famous fictional British secret agent, the Ford Mustang GT fastback of Frank Bullitt, the 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ‘ECTO-1’ ambulance from ‘Ghostbusters’, the time-travelling Back to The Future DeLorean DMC-12, or the Gulf-liveried Porsche 917 piloted by Steve McQueen in ‘Le Mans’. But just what is it that captures our imagination when it comes to cars that share screen time with some of the world’s best-known stars?

James Bond Aston Martin DB5

It’s not just cars in movies either: TV four-wheeled stars pull on our heart strings, too. Think Starsky and Hutch’s Ford Gran Torino, the 1982 Pontiac Trans Am ‘Knight Industries Two Thousand’ (KITT), the A-Team’s 1983 GMC Vanudura van, or the ‘General Lee’ Dodge Charger from ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’. Heck, even Bodie and Doyle’s Ford Capri 3.0 S from ‘The Professionals’ was inspirational to Essex young guns. And who could forget how many times DCI Gene Hunt’s red Audi quattro was fired up in ‘Ashes to Ashes’?

Audi Ashes to ashes

But why do we bestow such affection and personalities on these vehicles – even when some seem to already have emotions of their own? The simple answer is nostalgia. Yep, our fond association with all these four-wheeled wonders comes down to good old-fashioned sentimentality. We can often narrow it down further than that and point to our childhood: that’s where the cosy warmth for these vehicles started.

Porsche 917

I know, I’ve experienced it. In the late 1970s I was only a little older than a toddler, but still have vivid memories of being taken to the cinema to watch all the Disney movies of the era, including those starring a Pearl White-painted and number 53-wearing 1963 Volkswagen Beetle with a canvas sunroof and fat tyres. The seven year-old me adored Herbie so much, as not only was ‘he’ a Volkswagen, but ‘he’ could do all manner of crazy stunts and had ‘emotions’, too.

Herbie front

As time passed, my sentimentality towards the little VW grew, and that number and those stripes became more iconic. I once judged a concours line-up and my inner geek was so excited as an exact replica of a ‘Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo’ car had been entered and I could examine it at close quarters. While there may be no shame in that, I’ll accept it might be classed as a little weird…

Herbie stripes

Earlier this year, things stepped up a gear. A friend tipped me off that one of the original, actual film Herbies – ‘H2’, the Porsche-engined racing car from ‘The Love Bug’ – was having a winter sleep-over at the Volkswagen garage where he worked, and asked if I would like to see it. The answer was obvious and when the day came, the excitement was palpable. And when we arrived? Off. The. Scale.

Herbie rear

And there’s no easy explanation for that. There’s very little reason why a souped-up VW Beetle which starred in the race scenes of a fondly-remembered but dated series of – let’s face it – children’s films, should ignite such excitement in a grown man. But that afternoon, I was not only stood next to one of the original film Herbies, but also one of my childhood heroes. For those ten minutes or so, I was that seven year-old kid again.

Herbie and mini Herbie

Why? It comes back to the N-word. Nostalgia, a priceless commodity when it comes to memories, but ironically partly responsible for ever-rising classic car values. And while we’re all as different as the cars we worship, most of us are linked by our sentimentality and wistfulness devotion to one big or small screen car star. Which is your favourite?

Herbie licence