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Five cars that stole the show on the big screen

Hollywood vehicular royalty.
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Often the biggest star in a movie isn’t the one with their name in the title. Will Smith, Kate Winslet and Tom Cruise are big stars, but the cars they drive frequently get as much attention as they do. Many of the bestselling cars in history vaulted to iconic status after appearing as product placement on the big screen. It’s called “brand awareness,” and Mike Jackson, GM North America vice-president for marketing and advertising, said that the right car in the right movie “represents the perfect intersection of entertainment, marketing and design.” It can also lead to big sales, as these examples show.

1963 VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE HERBIE IN “HERBIE THE LOVE BUG”

Herbie

Andrea Hiott, author of “Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle,” called the coupe the “world’s most huggable automobile.” It was that characteristic that landed the Beetle the role as the anthropomorphic car star of the 1968 Disney film “The Love Bug.” Before filming, producers assembled a dozen autos, including a pearl white Volkswagen Beetle, and watched people interact with them, kicking the tires and moving the steering wheel. The reaction to the Beetle was different. It was the only car people reached out and caressed, as if they were meeting a friend. The movie’s popularity helped push U.S. VW Beetle sales to an all-time peak with 423,000 units sold that year. By 1972 the “people’s car” broke the Ford Model T’s 40-year record as the bestselling car in the world.

1968 AUSTIN MK I MINI COOPER S IN “THE ITALIAN JOB”

Mini Cooper

The chaotic, climactic car chase of 1969’s “The Italian Job” made Mini Coopers iconic, but it almost didn’t happen. When the film was in preproduction, Fiat, sensing the film’s promotional value, offered an unlimited supply of Fiat 500s — and a cash bonus — if producers used the Italian cars instead of the Minis. It was a tempting offer but the filmmakers wanted a car that symbolized Britain, and that was the Mini. The cheeky auto chase showcased the compact car’s versatility as they darted in and out of drainpipes, cascaded down flights of stairs and jumped across rooftops, and led to a bump in sales. Later, the film’s 2003 remake propelled a 22 per cent increase in Mini sales over the previous year, despite star Mark Wahlberg’s quip that driving a Mini Cooper is “like driving a really high-powered go-kart.”

 

1977 PONTIAC FIREBIRD TRANS AM IN “SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT”

smokey and the bandit

The Pontiac Firebird Trans AM was successful before the release of “Smokey and the Bandit,” but the popularity of the Burt Reynolds road-trip movie made the charismatic car a four-wheeled superstar. Pontiac agreed to provide the cars for the production — four 1976-models with 1977 front ends and decals — in a deal that would make product placement history. The movie’s cool cars and action made it the second highest grossing film of 1977, next to “Star Wars,” but it wasn’t just the movie that raked it in. Trans Am sales leapt from 68,745 units sold in 1977 to 93,341 in 1978. A year later that number ballooned to 117,108. Movie-driven sales were so strong Pontiac actually delayed new Firebird designs until 1982, two years later than originally planned.

CHEVROLET CAMARO IN TRANSFORMERS

In the animated “Transformers” series, Bumblebee was an alien robot able to transform into a Volkswagen Beetle. Michael Bay, director of the 2007 live action movie, feared the Beetle would draw unfavourable comparisons to “Herbie the Love Bug,” so he switched the design to a Camaro muscle car. General Motors made and supplied a one-off, operational concept Chevrolet Camaro featuring Autobot shields on the sides and wheel caps. The success of “Transformers” and its 2009 sequel, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” created a demand for the tricked-out Camaro. Chevy responded by putting the cars, which had been out of production since 2002, back on the line. The gamble paid off, and by the end of the year Chevy transformed the old brand and sold 60,000 units.

Chevrolet Camaro

TRANSFORMERS

JAMES BOND ASTON MARTIN DB5

James Bond has driven many cars over the course of his cinematic superspy career. Pierce Brosnan tooled around in a BMW Z3 and Roger Moore put the pedal to the metal of an AMC Hornet in “The Man with the Golden Gun.” However, the car most closely associated with 007 is the sleek, silver Aston Martin DB5. According to Hagerty Classic Insurance, it is, “believed that half the world’s population would recognize a James Bond Aston Martin DB5,” especially the ones equipped with Q Branch modifications like ejection seats, machine guns and tire slashers. Sales of the suave sports cars jumped by 50 per cent after the release of “Goldfinger,” earning the Aston Martin DB5 the nickname, “The Most Famous Car in the World.”

Aston Martin Aston Martin

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