High speed, fearless drivers and daring automotive stunts have long been the hallmark of every great action movie. Here’s a look back at where the tradition really got going. Check out the cars (and one great motorcycle) from five of the most memorable movie chase scenes from the 1960s.
The Great Escape
The coolest action sequence of this iconic 1963 film happens when WWII POW “Cooler King” Hilts (played by Steve McQueen) tries to evade his Nazi captors on a German military motorcycle. Making a bid for the Swiss border, he leaps the bike over a six-foot barbed-wire fence — pretty spectacular stuff back in the day. The motorcycle was actually a Triumph TR-6 Trophy 650CC made to look like a German-made BMW. Although McQueen was a skilled rider, driver and racer, the studio insisted using a stuntman named Bud Ekins who also doubled for McQueen behind the wheel of the Mustang GT in Bullitt five years later.
The third film in the James Bond series introduced a new car for 007 — an Aston Martin DB5 tricked out with all sorts of super cool secret agent gadgetry. In the most memorable chase sequence from this 1964 film, Bond uses everything from smokescreens to the car’s iconic ejection seat to elude Goldfinger’s henchmen who, it should be noted, are all driving 1956 model Mercedes-Benz 220s.
No computer-generated imagery here and 45 years later the movie still stands up. This 10-minute sequence filmed in 1968 with hand-held cameras on the hilly streets of San Francisco is today known as “the granddaddy of all car chases.” In it, police lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) drives a Highland Green, 1968 four-speed Ford Mustang Fastback GT; the bad guys, a 1968 four-speed Dodge Charger 440 R/T.
The Love Bug
Herbie, the lovable little bug that later spawned more torturous remakes and sequels than John J. Rambo, wasn’t running from anybody in this original 1968 film by Walt Disney, but he and his washed-up driver Jim Douglas (played by Dean Jones) were definitely chasing something — respect. As the story goes, Disney chose the pearl-white Volkswagen Beetle to be the movie’s star after “auditioning” a dozen other makes and models, including Volvos, MGs and Toyotas. Supposedly, the Beetle was the only car in the lineup that prompted the crew to “reach out and pet it.”
The Italian Job
The original 1969 film that made the Mini Cooper even more iconic that it already was,The Italian Job is one of the best motoring films of all time. In the movie’s climatic car chase, three little Cooper S’s (painted red, white and blue and loaded with 4 million in Chinese gold) navigate the crowded streets of Turin, Italy. Up and down steps and through sewer pipes, the gang led by mobster Charlie Croker (played by Michael Caine) even does a lap around Fiat’s famous Lingotto factory rooftop test track.