10 Famous Cars and the Drivers Who Drove Them

Delorean DMC-12
The Delorean DMC-12 played an integral part in the plot of 'Back to the Future'. flickr.com/photos/daspunkt/

There are so many examples out there of cars that have become iconic -- cars that have become characters in and of themselves -- that this list of famous cars and their famous drivers wasn't easy to compile. Sometimes, the car served as a mere plot device; in others, it's the purpose of the work's existence. For the sake of complexity, this list comprises examples from television, the movies and real life. (In several of these cases, the title exists in multiple forms of media, such as TV, film and comic books; we focused on whichever version best illustrates the spirit of the list, since in many cases, the car changed along with the format.) And for the sake of simplicity, we discussed the actor playing the role of the character driving the car, rather than the actual character, except in cases in which the car was the more important character, and it really isn't simple at all, especially when most of the driving was done by stunt professionals. A little confusing? Maybe ... but it's entertaining, too.


10: Shia LaBeouf and "Bumblebee"

Bumblebee is a little different from film to film; however, he's always bright yellow and always a bit of a smart mouth, too.
(Creative Commons/flickr/blackplastic)

Director Michael Bay's "Transformers" live action film adaptations of the comics and cartoons have been compared to feature-length General Motors commercials. That's in large part because the human star of the first three installments, Shia LaBeouf, is BFFs with his Chevy Camaro, which happens to be a robot in disguise known as Bumblebee. Bumblebee goes on to star in the upcoming fourth film (due out in 2014), even though LaBeouf does not. LaBeouf and Bumblebee had a good run together, however, as they (and a crew of stunt drivers) raced through major cities, attempting to keep the evil Decepticons (the Transformer bad guys) from blowing everyone up.

Although LaBeouf spends quite a bit of time behind the wheel on camera, most of the stunt driving was left to the pros -- the better to navigate crashes, explosions, massive evil robots and the like. And although Bumblebee is a car, and cars shouldn't really change whenever they feel like it, he's also a Transformer, and is, therefore, granted some liberties. To that end, Bumblebee is a little different from film to film, showcasing the latest and greatest Camaro upgrades that Chevy could come up with between each new film's release. Always bright yellow, always a bit of a smart mouth, and always with the hope of getting Chevy fans to their local dealerships.


9: Dean Jones and "Herbie"

Actor Dean Jones drove Herbie in the early Walt Disney family films.
(Creative Commons/flickr/Sam Howzit)

Herbie is a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle that may or may not be responsible for the Beetle's ongoing overall perception as a friendly, affable car. Herbie starred in several eponymous live action Walt Disney family films in the 1960s and a TV show.

That's not to say the human component of the team wasn't up to speed. Dean Jones is the actor who played race car driver Jim Douglas in the "Herbie" films and television series, so he spent quite a bit of time behind the wheel. He appeared in Broadway stage productions as well as a bunch of film and television roles prior to his stint with Disney, but none of these parts prepared him for stunt driving. Jones did most of his own high-speed driving in the "Herbie" films, which tended to take a turn toward somewhat slapstick stunt sequences. He once told an interviewer that while filming in Paris, the stunt coordinators didn't tell him (or the unsuspecting locals) that they were filming in everyday traffic [source: HerbieMania].


Lindsay Lohan (at the time, also a Walt Disney protégé) drove Herbie in the 2005 film "Herbie Fully Loaded"... but it just wasn't the same.

8: John Schneider, Tom Wopat and "The Dukes of Hazzard" General Lee

The General Lee
The General Lee
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Every time the General Lee comes up for sale, it's a noteworthy event. It's estimated that only 20 or so of these 1968 and 1969 Dodge Chargers remain out of the hundreds that were destroyed during "The Dukes of Hazzard" seven-season, 145-episode run. So, "the" General Lee? We can run with that, considering that a few cars were obliterated during the stunt-heavy filming of each episode, but it made for some action-packed television back in the early 1980s. It seems only fitting that the survivors can duke it out for the title.

Actors John Schneider and Tom Wopat, who played the Duke cousins of Hazzard County, Georgia, co-owned and co-abused the infamous orange Charger, putting it through its paces in a nonstop frenzy of jumps and high speed chases. In retrospect, it's a wonder that even 20 of the production cars survived, since the show's stunt crew tended to flog each one like they'd stolen it. The best known of the surviving General Lee specimens was brought home by John Schneider, better known as Bo Duke himself. Schneider sold it at auction in 2007, after it had been restored with a few new upgrades from the Dodge parts catalog, including a 725 horsepower Hemi engine and Viper brakes.


7: Christopher Lloyd and the "Back to the Future" 1982 DeLorean DMC-12

"Back to the Future" DeLoreans draw a crowd wherever they go.
(Creative Commons/flickr/Pop Culture Geek)

Christopher Lloyd, as Doc Brown in the "Back to the Future" film trilogy (as well as its spinoffs) perhaps understood the potential of the ill-fated DeLorean better than anyone. He was able to take a short-lived car model and make it eternal by turning it into a time machine. The gull-wing doors were cool, sure, but the flux capacitor was even cooler. And it blew Marty McFly's mind.

The 1982 DeLorean DMC-12 was already discontinued when it appeared in the 1985 film. The cars were built during 1981 and 1982, and then the DeLorean Motor Company went into liquidation. Parts and equipment survived the liquidation, enough that in 2008, the company began building new DeLoreans using old stock. The new/old vibe of the DeLorean helps it maintain a small but rabid following, no doubt further helped along by its status in the movie. (Fans of one geeky thing tend to overlap with fans of another geeky thing. Not that that's a bad thing.)


Christopher Lloyd did plenty of driving on screen, but the stunts were performed by stunt drivers. Perhaps that's why the DeLorean time machine is still alive and well. The same car, which was under a full restoration through almost all of 2012, appeared in all three films and occasionally warps around to comic cons and fan gatherings [source: TopGear].

6: Matthew Broderick and the 1961 Ferrari 250GT California Spyder

Not the movie car replica -- this one is the real deal.
(Creative Commons/flickr/erdero)

Oh yeah ... oh yeah. It's actually Cameron Frye's father's car, but he never drives it. So Ferris Bueller decided to take it for a spin instead. Matthew Broderick, as Ferris Bueller, spends a whirlwind, yet memorable day behind the wheel of the car, chauffeuring his best friend and his girlfriend around downtown Chicago. And he makes sure the audience knows, "It is so choice."

(If the 1986 John Hughes coming-of-age classic, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," is one of your favorite movies, you might not want to read any further.)


It's fairly commonly known by now, but the Ferrari that was driven (and destroyed) in the movie wasn't an actual Ferrari. It was a kit car built from a modified MG. (The Ferrari parked in the garage was the real deal, though.) Several of the replicas were built just for filming and only one remains. It crops up at auction now and then. But Matthew Broderick has gone on record as saying actually, no, it's not choice at all, because it rarely started and wasn't reliable enough to cope with the teenagers' on-screen shenanigans. However, he stopped short of suggesting that it deserved the sad fate it suffered in the film. The dream Ferrari wasn't all it was cracked up to be, but that's the film business. Hope we didn't shatter your adolescent dreams.

5: O.J. Simpson and the White Ford Bronco

With O.J.'s friend and former NFL teammate, Al Cowlings, at the wheel, the now infamous low-speed chase wound its way through Los Angeles and ended at O.J.'s home in Brentwood.
(Creative Commons/flickr/Lanyap)

So, to be fair, O.J. Simpson wasn't actually driving his white Ford Bronco during the infamous police chase. He was in the back seat threatening to shoot himself in the head, since he was wanted for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. At the wheel was O.J.'s friend and former NFL teammate, Al Cowlings, who held steady at 35 miles per hour through Los Angeles, with the police following a safe and steady distance behind. The low-speed chase certainly worked out well for television helicopters and the news networks as they followed the Bronco to O.J.'s Brentwood home, where he was then arrested. If you don't know what happened next ... well, we don't have space to cover it here.

The chase happened on June 17, 1994, and even though O.J. wasn't driving at the time, the Bronco was already pretty well known for belonging to him -- and its fame has only grown. Allegedly, the white Bronco is being rented out as a limo service of sorts [source: Preston]. Isotoner gloves not included.


4: The Merry Pranksters and "Further"

The "Further" bus
(Creative Commons/flickr/Joe Mabel)

Writer Ken Kesey wanted to celebrate the success of his novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and perhaps gather some material for another book. So he and his friends acquired a 1934 International Harvester school bus, named it "Further," painted it in a mess of wild colors, dropped some acid and hit the road. Although they may have taken the drugs while painting the bus, too, come to think of it.

So that's how Kesey and his friends, known as the Merry Pranksters, spent a mind-altering chunk of 1964 traveling across the country, inspired in part by another novel, Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." At the wheel for most of the trip was Neal Cassady (who allegedly didn't even have a driver's license at the time, but that was okay, because Cassady was legendary [source: Kerr]. He'd inspired one of the characters in "On the Road." And the Pranksters actually encountered Jack Kerouac en route, but it didn't go too well. As if the Pranksters' journey wasn't meta enough, what with the authors and subjects gleefully and hazily swapping roles, Further's journey was published a few years later in a book by journalist Tom Wolfe. "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" captures a moment in American history nearly as much as its inspiration, "On the Road."


3: Steve McQueen and the "Bullitt" Mustang

The "Bullitt" car chase scene is still widely regarded as one of the best movie car chases of all time.
(Creative Commons/flickr/Podknox)

The movie "Bullitt," is a 1968 action-drama starring all-around suave guy Steve McQueen as a San Francisco police lieutenant. The car is a dark green 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390, and it's almost as well-known as its driver -- a role which helped propel the Mustang to decades of near-legendary status. The film's plot is action-charged, to the point that it focuses on a seven-minute chase scene between the Mustang and a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T driven by the antagonists. It's a scene that's still widely regarded as one of the best movie car chases of all time.

Steve McQueen, unlike most stars, was known for performing his own stunt work, too -- and that's just part of what made him such a stud. He was an actual race car driver and motorcycle rider in his free time and he owned a garage full of enviable vehicles. It's the photogenic Mustang in "Bullitt" that showed off McQueen's skills to a wider audience, though. A segment of the chase was, in fact, performed by a professional stunt driver. Though McQueen objected, the hilliest and twistiest stretches of the sequence -- what San Francisco is known for -- were just too much for his lead foot to handle. Regardless, Steve McQueen and the green '68 Mustang are forever linked in Hollywood history.


2: Elvis Presley and his Pink Cadillac

One of Elvis Presley's pink Cadillacs on display at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenn.
(Creative Commons/flickr/AleksandraR)

Elvis Presley owned a lot of Cadillacs, but by most accounts, the pink ones were his favorites. He actually had two pink Caddys. The first was a 1954 that caught on fire in June of 1955. He promptly replaced it with a blue Fleetwood sedan that was even more promptly repainted pink, a special custom shade called "Elvis Rose." (Blue, a perfectly suitable shade for suede shoes, just didn't cut it on the car.) The second pink Cadillac lasted only a couple months -- Elvis' band mate Scotty Moore drove it into a pickup truck that September. It wasn't totaled, though, so Elvis had it repaired and freshly repainted and gave it to his mother. He then bought himself another new Caddy to replace the pink one, even though he also continued to drive the pink one since his mother didn't have a driver's license. He later added a white Cadillac (with a pink roof) to his ever-expanding fleet.

It's a testament to the power of pop music that Elvis Presley and his pink Cadillacs are so intertwined in the public consciousness, even though it seems like he didn't spend all that much time driving them. They were always being repainted, being repaired, or out on loan to a friend or family member. But now the famed pink Caddy rests at Graceland, where it's admired by several hundred thousand guests each year.


1: James Dean and "Little Bastard"

This isn't Dean's actual car -- but it's a good replica.
(Creative Commons/flickr/zbdh12)

James Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder tops the list of the most famous cars for its infamy -- it's widely considered to be the most unlucky car of all time. Dean was only 24 when he was killed driving his beloved Porsche. He'd just bought it, and George Barris, a car customizer who was well known around Hollywood, had just finished some bodywork and interior work. Actor Alec Guinness experienced something of a prophecy when he saw Dean's car (aka "Little Bastard") and warned Dean he'd die in the fancy, fast sports car within a week. And that's exactly what happened. Dean's neck was broken in a car crash exactly a week later, on Sept. 30, 1955, as he was driving Little Bastard to a racetrack in Salinas, Calif.

Since Dean was driving fast on his way to race at an event, and since it was well known that living on the edge was part of his fierce persona, on-screen and off ... well, people drew their conclusions. But that can't explain what allegedly happened next. Little Bastard was sold to Barris, the car customizer. Some time after, it broke a mechanic's leg when it came off its trailer unexpectedly. The car was parted out, and three known accidents occurred in cars that had Little Bastard parts. Thieves tried to strip the shell, but they were hurt in the process. This much has been corroborated by friends of Dean [source: Jalopnik]. Later, a garage burned down while the car was stored inside. A safety exhibit at a high school ended with a student being nearly crushed to death beneath the car when the display stand collapsed. It then proceeded to fall off three transport trucks. Some of these reported events are disputed, and James Dean's family found the rumors disrespectful to his memory. The few known remains of Little Bastard are scattered around the United States at various auto museums, but no new incidents have come to light.

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Famous Cars and the Drivers who Drove Them

As Top 10 lists go, this was a tough one. In some cases, it's hard to separate an actor from the role he played on-screen (hello, Ferris Bueller). And some of the choices were challenging, if not controversial. I've actually seen some of the cars mentioned, as well as others that were contenders for a spot on the list, at the Volo Auto Museum in Illinois. (Rumor has it the museum has parts from "Little Bastard" in the collection, too. I don't remember seeing them, but at least they didn't curse me.)

Slipping "Bumblebee" into the bottom spot might have raised some eyebrows, since the comics, television series and the 1980s action figures no doubt carry more cultural weight than the new films. I have my reasons. As I was writing this article (literally, the same week), "Transformers 4" was filming in my neighborhood in downtown Chicago. Cars were briefly staged in a vacant lot around the corner, and as I was walking to work one morning, "Optimus Prime" was sitting right there. The production crews were working throughout the city for a good chunk of the summer, but I got to spend a few hours watching an action scene as it was filmed right on my street. I even spotted "Bumblebee" from my rooftop, doing a three-point turn like it was no big deal. I'm not really a summer blockbuster kind of girl, but this was fun. And while "Transformers 4" might not achieve legendary status like most of the films on this list, it'll probably get me into the theater next July.

Related Articles

  • Hagerty Insurance. "A chance to see the pink Cadillac." May 19, 2012. (Sept. 17, 2013) http://www.hagerty.com/classic-car-articles-resources/Features/More-Articles/Car-Profiles/All-articles/2010/05/19/A-chance-to-see-the-Pink-Cadillac
  • Herbie Mania. "A Conversation With Dean Jones." (Sept. 13, 2013) http://www.herbiemania.com/deaninterview.htm
  • Jalopnik. "The Curse of James Dean's Little Bastard." Dec. 31, 2008. (Sept. 17, 2013) http://jalopnik.com/5113390/the-curse-of-james-deans-little-bastard
  • Jon, Ann. "Chevrolet Camaro: A Transformers Movie Star." MSN Autos. (Sept. 13, 2013) http://editorial.autos.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=435766
  • Kerr, Euan. "The harsh reality behind the Merry Pranksters 'Magic Trip.'" Minnesota Public Radio. Sept. 2, 2011. (Sept. 12, 2013) http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/09/01/magictrip
  • Marcus, Bennett. "Matthew Broderick Wouldn't Recommend That You Buy the 'Bueller' Ferrari." Vulture. April 9, 2010. (Sept. 17, 2013) http://www.vulture.com/2010/04/matthew_broderick_wouldnt_reco.html
  • Moviefone. "Christopher Lloyd Talks 'Back to the Future,' Doc Brown and Playing Captain Kruge." Aug. 22, 2012. (Sept. 17, 2013) http://news.moviefone.com/2012/08/22/christopher-lloyd-back-to-the-future-interview/
  • Peele, Robert. "Ferris Bueller's 'Choice' Ferrari for Sale." NYTimes.com. March 31, 2010. (Sept. 17, 2013) http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/31/ferris-buellers-choice-ferrari-for-sale/?src=mv
  • Preston, Benjamin. "O.J. Simpson's White Bronco Police Chase Happened 19 Years Ago Today." The New York Times. June 17, 2013.(Sept. 15, 2013) http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/o-j-simpsons-white-bronco-police-chase-happened-19-years-ago-today/
  • TopGear.com. "'Back to the Future' DeLorean is restored." Feb. 18. 2013. (Sept. 17, 2013) http://www.topgear.com/uk/car-news/Back-to-the-Future-DeLorean-is-restored-2013-02-18
  • Valdes-Dapena, Peter. "'General Lee' auction back on again." CNN Money. May 17, 2007. (Sept. 17, 2013) http://money.cnn.com/2007/05/11/autos/general_lee_back_on/