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.