Classic Cars on Screen

Classic Cars on TV and in Films

Classic cars have been seen on TV and in many films over the last 30 – 40 years. At the time, some were not actually classics but were cars of the time. Some were sports cars, some were American muscle cars, others a little more ordinary and some were just downright unusual.

Lotus Elan

The Lotus Elan on telly is probably most associated with Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) on the Avengers. She drove two types, in 1966 she drove an Elan S2 with the registration Mark HNK999C and in the 1967 run, an Elan S3 with the registration mark SJH499D. The Lotus Car Company used a model who looked rather like the Emma Peel character to market the Elan S2. Performance wise, the Elan summed up the feisty, intelligent and independent character of Emma Peel. It was fast, small and powerful. The Elan has featured in many other films and TV programmes but only in a small way, for example, Modesty Blaise and in the Inspector Couseau film of 1968. In the latter, Clouseau (Peter Sellers) borrows a yellow Elan to chase an amphibious car … with fairly predictable results!!

The Elan S2 and S3 had a 1.5 litre 105HP engine which gave a 0-60 time of around 8 seconds and a top speed of about 110 – 115 mph. The S3 cockpit was a little larger than the S2.

Ford Mustang GT390 Fastback

The film ‘Bullitt’ was released in 1968 and featured the iconic Ford Mustang GT390 Fastback. The film starred Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Vaughn. Steve McQueen was the lucky actor who drove the car (and of course his stunt doubles Bud Ekins and Loren Janes). It featured in what has been dubbed perhaps one of the best screen car chases ever. It certainly set the standards for subsequesnt TV and fil car chases. The chase lasts for a shade under 11 minutes in the film. If you watch closely, you see the mustang pass the same cars repeatedly, but who really cares? Also, various bits of the two vehicles used fell off and so the sharp eyed will spot those subtle changes and continuity failures too.

Ford Gran Torino

One of the iconic classic cars on TV during the 1970s featured in the slightly tongue in cheek cop series Starsky and Hutch. Hutch drove a battered second hand car, much to the disgust Starsky, whose bright red Ford Gran Torino with a white go-faster stripe over the roof and down each side was the choice of wheels for most of the chases. The first series ran a 1975 Gran Torino whilst they updated to the 1976 version for the rest of the series which ran until 1979. In reality, the Gran Torino wasn’t a great car, compared with other genuine muscle cars, it was like a carthorse, however, it looked the part and that was all that was really needed.

Dodge Charger

In the later series, the Dukes of Hazzard, the featured classic car on TV was indeed a muscle car, a Dodge Charger … well 300 or more of them actually as they were regularly destroyed in the copious car chases. The one customisation that remained throughout was the air horn!

Jaguar Mk II


Inspector Morse ran on UK TV from 1987 until 2000. Morse drove a Jaguar MkII which was in production 1959 to 1967. The one which featured as Morse’s classic car on TV was the smallest engined version, 2.4 litres. Frequently it had to be pushed into shot as it was unreliable! As with it’s forerunner, the MKI it was sumptuously fitted out inside with leather and walnut trimmings. The engine was essentially the same as the mark one 2.4 litre but generated a little more power. The larger engined Jaguar MkII versions were 3.4 and 3.8 litres. The top speed of the Morse MKII Jaguar was theoretically 102 mph. In real life, both sides of the law appreciated the speed and size of the car and in many UK TV series of the 1960s, the Jaguar MKII was used by both sides.

Lotus Seven – The Prisoner

Patrick McGoohan, lead star in the cult TV series the Prisoner, chose the Lotus Seven for the series. The director wanted him to drive a Lotur Elan but McGoohan reckoned that the Seven reflected the maverick character of ‘Number Six’. It probably did, as well as it fitted well with the ethos of the series where people were numbers not names.Sharp eyed viewers will have noticed that it wasn’t the same car each time. The Lotus Seven itself was in production from 1957 to 1972. In 1971 though, the rights were sold to Caterham Cars who had been the distributor for the car and in 1973 it became the Caterham Seven. Kit versions and assembled versions are available today so you can still buzz around pretending to be Number Six!

The Lotus Seven was popular amongst clubman racers as it was road legal and did not have to be trailered to meets. The first generation looked rather like you would expect a 1950s Hooray Henry sports car to look, resembling racing cars to a degree. The interesting thing about the Lotus kit cars was the way they overcame the purchase tax rules. The law expressly forbade that the manufacturer could include assembly instructions, so Colin Chapman devised a set of disassembly instructions – buyers of Lotus kits just had to follow these in reverse. Neat!
Performance wise, the Lotus Seven production models had a top speed of around 90 – 100mph, its design was not streamlined and the front wheel arches in later models created lift too. It was excellent in the acceleration stakes, 0 – 60 in a shade over 7 secs.

The car first used in the Prisoner was a series II Cosworth built in 1965 powered by a Ford 116E Cosworth Mk14 fast road version 1498cc engine and returned 20mpg at most. The front brakes were disc and the rear drums. The registration number was KAR 120C which belonged to Caterham Cars. The original in the series was their demonstration model.

Caterham jumped on the Prisoner bandwagon in 1990 and produced a limited edition Caterham Seven, which retained as much of the ’65/7 styling as possible, but was street legal and had a few extras like indicators! If you want one, it’s not that expensive. It also comes with a badge fitted to the dash with the edition number and signature of Patrick McGoohan and a certificate of authenticity. The company stated that only 500 Prisoner specials would be made and as yet, that number has not been reached.

So there you have it, a small selection of classic cars on TV.

Switch to our mobile site