50 Years of Movie Mustangs
Over the past five decades the Mustang has appeared in hundreds of big-name Hollywood films
In some cases, it was product placement. In others, it was a matter of the producer, or even one of the starring actors, requesting a Mustang because of its cool factor. For the past 50 years, starting with a James Bond film in 1964, the Mustang has appeared in hundreds of movies as a starring role, and if you include the sometimes just fleeting glimpses in the background the movie list jumps into the thousands.
As Ford noted in a press release during the Mustang's 45th anniversary, "Filmmakers often use the Mustang as a way to help define a character because there is something about its styling and what the brand means that symbolizes quintessential American cool. If a filmmaker wants a character to look cool, clever, and tough, a great way to convey that is by putting him behind the wheel of a Mustang."
Ford also acknowledged that Mustangs have appeared in over 500 movies, from Steve McQueen's Bullitt in the '60s to Will Smith's I Am Legend in 2007, not counting recent films like 2013's Getaway and this year's Need for Speed. Details about those films and others, along with TV sightings, can be found at the Internet Movie Cars Database (www.imcdb.org) website, which lists well over 4,500 Mustang appearances in movies and TV. The majority is background eye candy, but here we're focusing on the major roles that have put the Mustang on the road to Hollywood stardom.
Ian Fleming's third James Bond "007" movie marked the new Mustang's first appearance in a major motion picture. Filming began in January 1964, several months before the Mustang's introduction, with the chase scene involving Bond's Aston Martin and a Mustang convertible filmed around May or June 1964 in the Swiss Alps. According to research by Wolfgang Kohrn, the white (or yellow, depending on the film tint) Mustang was supplied by England's Alan Mann Racing, which was already building Mustangs for the European rally circuit.
In the chase, filmed in Furkas Pass, James Bond (Sean Connery) duels with the Mustang in his DB5 sports car. The scene is perhaps best known for one of 007's high-tech "tricks"—wheel spinners that extended to shred the tires of another car. The Mustang, driven by Tilly Masterson (actress Tania Mallet), was the recipient of the tire and sheetmetal shredding device. Thankfully, according to Kohrn's website (www.ponysite.de), the actual damage was filmed on a plastic mock-up in the studio. A former Alan Mann employee told Kohrn that the convertible was given to a woman in Europe. Enthusiasts continue to search for the actual movie car.
In 1967, Sonny and Cher were at the height of their popularity after topping the charts with "I Got You Babe." With their long hair and outlandish clothing, the pair asked "King of the Kustomizers" George Barris to build a pair of his-and-her Mustang convertibles for the movie Good Times, released in 1967. While the film itself reportedly lost money, the Mustangs were immortalized as AMT plastic models.
No movie has done more for the Mustang's image than Steve McQueen's 1968 film Bullitt. Enthusiasts who have sat through late-night TV showings can attest that the movie's plot is rather plodding until it reaches the chase scene, where McQueen's Highland Green '68 Mustang fastback battles the villians' black Dodge Charger over the hills of San Francisco. Thanks to Kevin Marti's Ford production database, we know that Ford supplied a pair of '68 Mustang GT fastbacks, sequentially numbered with 390s, to Warner Brothers for the movie. Some say that McQueen requested a Mustang for his character, Lt. Frank Bullitt; more than likely, it was part of Ford's product-placement agreement with Warner Brothers.
According to Brad Bowling's "Chasing Bullitt" article in the July '07 issue of Mustang Monthly, Hollywood car builder Max Balchosky modified the Mustangs for the stunts, which included jumps and hard landings during the chase through San Francisco. He also gave the Mustangs their iconic look, possibly at McQueen's request, by removing the running horse emblem and GT foglights from the grille and adding American Racing five-spoke wheels.
One of the Mustangs was damaged so badly that it was reportedly scrapped. The second car, 8R02S125559, was sold to a Warner Brothers employee who kept the car for a year before selling it through a Hemmings Motor News ad and shipping it to New York. In 1972, the second owner sold the Mustang to an anonymous buyer, who still owns the car in survivor condition today. Even though several people have tracked him down in an attempt to buy the only surviving Bullitt Mustang, including Steve McQueen himself in 1977 and actress Drew Barrymore who wanted to use the car in her role for 2000's Charlie's Angels, the current owner has rejected all offers and prefers to remain anonymous.
In 2001, Ford recognized the ongoing popularity of McQueen's Bullitt Mustang by creating an '01 Bullitt GT with vintage cues and more horsepower. The Bullitt Mustang returned for 2008-'09. There are also numerous Bullitt tributes, including a restomod version built for Steve McQueen's son, Chad, by Gateway Classic Mustang.
Diamonds Are Forever:
The Mustang made its second James Bond appearance in the 1971 film Diamonds Are Forever. This time, it was a brand-new '71 Mach 1, which unfortunately participated in the film's well-known blooper. In a trick driving scene, the Mach 1 enters a narrow alley on its two-passenger side tires. When it emerges at the other end, it's on the driver side. Oops.
As reported by Paul Hewitt in the Jan. '98 Mustang Monthly, six Mach 1s were used for the filming, most with the base 302 two-barrel engine. However, the hero car, needed for close-ups with Sean Connery, was powered by a J-code 429, which also provided the torque needed for tire-smoking acceleration and spins during the police chase scenes. Owned for many years by Mike Alameda, the Mach 1 was an early production car used for Ford's dealer intro show in Las Vegas, where filming for Diamonds Are Forever took place.
Gone in 60 Seconds:
While the Mustang's appearance in Bullitt and the James Bond films resulted from Ford product placement, the Mustang's role as "Eleanor" in the original Gone in 60 Secondscame about because independent film-maker H.B. "Toby" Halicki wanted to use the last of the Mustang muscle cars and not a Mustang II. So Halicki built a '73 SportsRoof himself, stripping the sheetmetal from a '71-'73 and rebuilding with a rollcage and stiffer chassis components for the rigors of filming the wild chase scene—at 40 minutes, one of the longest in movie history.
The film was not a box-office or critical success, but it became a cult favorite and a monetary success for Halicki thanks to the outrageous automotive stunts and nearly 100 crashes on film. Working on a budget, Halicki played the starring role and also drove other cars for the chase and crash scenes.
Halicki's widow, Denice, owns the original Eleanor today, still banged up and crumpled from the stunts. She retains the rights to the movie and was involved in the 2000 remake that starred Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, and a new "Eleanor."
A '68 Shelby convertible in the 1988 film Bull Durham was significant mainly because of its role as the primary transportation for fading major league baseball star Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner. The Highland Green Shelby also appeared on a movie poster with Costner and co-star Susan Sarandon. Costner personally owned a green GT 350 convertible at one time.
Like the Shelby in Bull Durham, a '83 Mustang convertible served as the main ride for a well-known celebrity in 1999's True Crime, this time Clint Eastwood, who played a journalist and recovering alcoholic.
Gone in 60 Seconds (2000):
Of the hundreds of movie Mustangs over the past 50 years, none made more of a pop culture impact than "Eleanor" from the 2000 remake of Toby Halicki's 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds. Rather than a stock-appearing Mustang like the '73 SportsRoof from the original film, remake producer Jerry Bruckheimer requested a modified version of the '67 Shelby.
"We were looking at a GT 500," production designer Jeff Mann told Mustang Monthlyfor a November 2000 article. "It's a bitchin car, no doubt, but did it really stack up against all the other vehicles (in the movie)? That's when Jerry opened the doors for me to come up with a variation."
Illustrator Steve Stanford created the Eleanor look on paper, then Chip Foose turned it into reality, fitting the car with an R-model type front valance, PIAA lights, fiberglass hood, molded-in side exhaust, and wheels that resembled the magnesium versions used on racing GT-40s. Once the prototype pieces were completed, the project was turned over to Ray Claridge's Cinema Vehicle Services (CVS) to build the 12 Eleanors, starting with used '67 and '68 fastbacks purchased from around Southern California. The cars included a "hero car" for close-ups and versions with modified engines and suspensions for stunt work.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, and Robert Duval, the remake of Gone of 60 Seconds opened on June 9, 2000, and topped all movies that weekend. Although not critically acclaimed, it eventually earned $237 million worldwide, a number that Halicki could not have imagined in 1974.
More importantly, the new Eleanor inspired Mustang owners and aftermarket companies alike to build the fresh restomod look, copying the muscular appearance on everything from '65-'66 Mustangs to late-models. CVS rode the wave by offering kits for converting '67-'68 fastbacks. In Texas, Unique Performance bought up '67-'68 fastbacks and built them into GT 500Es with Carroll Shelby's blessing, a venture that eventually led to a lawsuit by Denice Halicki for copyright infringement. Obviously, Eleanor had become big business.
And Eleanor still means big dollars. At last May's Mecum Auction in Indianapolis, the original "hero car" from the movie sold for $1.3 million. Car enthusiasts still love Eleanor.
The Princess Diaries:
Actress Anne Hathaway's teenage character, Mia Thermopolis, drove a '66 Mustang convertible in the 2001 comedy that added to the Mustang's movie mystique. One of two identical cars owned by Disney at the time, the Silver Blue six-cylinder Mustangs appeared in several scenes and were also utilized in several Disney TV shows.
The Saleen Mustang got into the acting business when a silver S281 convertible was utilized as actor Josh Hartnett's ride (with Harrison Ford as his partner) in 2003's Hollywood Homicide. The Saleen appears throughout the rather corny detective movie, but the real excitement happens near the end with a chase through the streets of Hollywood. Just close your eyes when the Saleen crashes head-on into an Escalade. Steve Saleen took advantage of the exposure by offering a Hollywood Homicide edition.
A Cinderella Story:
Like The Princess Diaries, a Mustang convertible (a '65 in this case) serves as the main transportation for a teenage girl, in this case popular actress Hilary Duff.
War of the Worlds:
Yes, Tom Cruise drove a real '66 Shelby GT 350-H, 6S1886, in Stephen Spielberg's 2005 film. The Shelby is owned by Gino Lucca, who rented the car to the studio through his Picture Cars East, a company that supplies vehicles to movie, TV, and commercial shoots.
I Am Legend:
An '07 Shelby GT 500 gets plenty of exhilarating screen time in this 2007 film starring Will Smith, who plays the sole survivor in a post-apocalypse New York City. "There is no doubt that the Shelby GT 500 is the co-star in the first part of this story," said Brian Daly from Ford Global Brand Entertainment, which placed the Mustang in the movie. The sights and especially the sound of the bright red supercharged GT 500 ripping through the deserted streets of New York City makes this one a must-see—at least for the Shelby part.
As seen elsewhere in this issue, 2007's Transformers saw a Saleen S281 Mustang as part of the Decepticons' ranks. Known as "Barricade," the lone Ford product really stood out in a sea of General Motors–sponsored sheetmetal.
Just that fact that one of the main characters (played by popular actor Morgan Freeman) has "driving a Shelby Mustang" on his bucket list of things to do before he dies makes this brief Mustang appearance significant, even though the red fastback is obviously not a real Shelby.
Then–Shelby American president John Luft knew the company couldn't lose when a '13 GT 500 Super Snake was cast in the 2013 movie Getaway. With the main character (Ethan Hawke) confined to the Shelby awaiting directions to save his wife with the aid of the Shelby's owner (Selena Gomez), the silver Super Snake gets plenty of camera time, including chase scenes and the "Shelby" logo embroidered on the headrests.
Need for Speed:
A custom '13 Shelby Mustang plays a major role in Need For Speed, released earlier this year. Starring Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, the movie is a DreamWorks-produced, special effects-filled adaptation of Electronic Arts' Need for Speed video game, culminating with a winner-take-all race between two rivals. Also notable: The '15 Mustang makes its first movie appearance at the end.
While we're limited for room here, a good search online will ultimately show dozens more movie Mustangs, including Death Race, Fear, The Thomas Crown Affair, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and Furious 3: Tokyo Drift, Starman, and many more.
|Mustang Movie Timeline|
|May-67||Good Times||'66 custom convertibles|
|Dec-71||Diamonds are Forever||'71 Mach 1|
|Jul-74||Gone in 60 Seconds||'73 "Eleanor" SportsRoof|
|Jun-88||Bull Durham||'68 Shelby GT 350 convertible|
|Mar-99||True Crime||'83 convertible|
|Jun-00||Gone in 60 Seconds||'67 "Eleanor" Shelby GT 500|
|Aug-01||The Princess Diaries||'66 convertible|
|Jun-03||Hollywood Homicide||'03 Saleen S351|
|Jul-04||A Cinderella Story||'65 convertible|
|Jun-05||War of the Worlds||'66 Shelby GT 350H|
|Dec-07||I Am Legend||'07 Shelby GT 500|
|Jan-08||Bucket List||'66 Shelby GT 350|
|Aug-13||Getaway||'14 Shelby GT 500 Super Snake|
|Mar-14||Need for Speed||'13 Shelby GT 500|