Supercars in Popular Culture

From cartoon classics to blockbuster film stars, the supercar has captured the imagination of audiences in all forms of popular media

White Ferrari Tesstarossa in Miami

The supercar is a significant character in much loved cartoons, popular TV shows and in film. They’re often an integral part of the narrative, helping reinforce the driver’s persona or can become personalities in their own right.

Over the years, there have been some incredible car appearances that have influenced the supercar enthusiast of today. Here are a few of our favourites.

Animation

Whacky Races

How many times have you wished you had some outrageous weaponry to unleash on unsuspecting traffic? Wacky Racers was a huge hit for Hanna Barbera in the late 60’s which featured 11 different cars racing against each other in different races across America. Each race would inevitably involve a special gimmick that allowed a team to win at the detriment of Dick Dastardly and his sidekick, Muttley.

These cars have little basis in real life, although Penelope Pitstop’s Compact Pussycat has a hint of European elegance about it, taking its styling from Porsche or Bugatti and the Ant Hill Mob’s car looking very like a 1920s Rolls Royce.

Lightning McQueen

The Pixar movie Cars was a massive hit, bringing to life Radiator Springs, the Piston Cup and Lightning McQueen, a NASCAR style American muscle car. It combined heart, humour and some high-speed racing action introducing a new generation to the thrill of speed. With an extensive range of merchandise to support the film, who knows how many children now wish for a shiny red supercar that once had a Lightning McQueen duvet set.

Mean Machine

The Mean Machine from Wacky Races

Ligntning McQueen

Lightning McQueen from the Pixar movie Cars 

Films

Batmobile

Bruce Wayne loves a supercar. Each Batmobile iteration is designed to reflect the feel of each Batman, from the 1960s whimsy cartoon fun, to the dark and broody modern high production films.

The 1960s Batmobile was designed to be as close as possible to the original 1939 comic book that first introduced the world to the caped crusader. Long before computer aid graphics, this had to be a real working car, so the was based on an abandoned 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura concept car. Given only 3 weeks to produce the prop, the designer George Barris was fortunate to have access to the Lincoln that fitted the brief perfectly. The car was modified for production giving it the iconic bat shape and given that it could only manage 45 miles an hour, the footage was then sped up in post production.

When Tim Burton relaunched the Batman franchise in 1992, he decided the whole aesthetic of the character had to change to a more serious, gothic superhero which brought with it a new Batmobile. The Burton Batmobile was a long sleek art deco inspired creation with little consideration given to how the car might actually perform in real life.

The Christopher Nolan films then developed a more militaristic aesthetic with the Batmobile making it more of a tank than a car. In these films the car is a repurposed high tech concept attack vehicle which appears to be indestructible.

Interestingly, when the 2022 Robert Pattinson Batman hit the screens, the approach to the car completely switched to be more accessible. The production team returned to the idea of it being a real car and developed an amazing, grungy, home build looking Batmobile with an exposed engine, what looked like home brew nitrous kits, and a hand crafted exterior.

1960 Batmobile

The iconic 1960s Batmobile based on the Lincoln Futura

Tim Burton Batmobile

The Art Deco inspired Tim Burton Batmobile

Back to the Future

The choice of a DMC DeLorean for the 1985 Back to the Future blockbuster was an inspired one. The director, Robert Zemeckis, wanted something that looked like it was closer to a UFO than a car to the 1955 family in the film.

The original concept didn’t actually use a car at all. The first scripts had the time machine as a laser device and then a mutated refrigerator from the site of a nuclear bomb test. Eventually, the executive producer, Steven Spielberg and Zemeckis agreed a car would be the better choice as it could be mobile and began searching for a usable model. The DeLorean look was perfect with its stainless steel finish and the gull wing doors.

It also helped that the DeLorean was already notorious, having ceased production in 1982 with the very public downfall of the company. The film producers felt such a car could have been obtained by the mad professor character in the film in order to use it as his time machine. There would also be no threat of legal action as the DeLorean company was no longer trading.

Back to the Future DeLorean

The Back to the Future timemachine

The original DMC DeLorean

The original DMC DeLorean

James Bond

The cars used by Bond are characters in themselves. As with the Batmobile, one eagerly awaited detail from a new 007 film is what car he will drive, and what gadgets it’ll have.

Unlike Batman however, James Bond used cars that are available in the real world, albeit without the rockets and ejector seats. Here are a few of our favourites:

Aston Martin DB5

This is arguably the most iconic of Bond’s cars and the one that first became a star in its own right. It was first used in the 1964 film Goldfinger and then in a few more classic Bond films in the 1960s. It even had a revival in more modern films helping to contribute the symbolism and enduring popularity of the franchise.

Aston Martin has a close and iconic relationship with Bond, but they were not the original choice for 007. In the early Ian Fleming novels, Bond drives a 4.5 litre 1933 Bentley fitted with a supercharger to suggest his uncompromising, brutal style. Fleming however switched in the 1959 Goldfinger novel to a bespoke Aston Martin DB Mark III as he wanted a more sporty, responsive car for Bond to drive. When the Goldfinger film was produced, the producers and Aston Martin agreed the model should be the DB5 and a beautiful partnership was born.

Lotus Esprit S1

In the 1970s James Bond drove various makes and models as the cars became less important to the character. In the 1977 film The Spy Who Loved Me, the car was to become central to the plot once more, when James Bond required it to be able to convert to a submarine. The Production Designer Ken Adam and the franchise Producer, Cubby Broccoli wanted Roger Moore to be portrayed as a more modern Bond and turned to the Lotus Esprit. At the time, the Esprit was the fastest UK production car and looked the part. With its sleek futuristic design it was perfect and Lotus agreed to supply the production with a bespoke body shell which could be used for the underwater filming.

Aston Martin DB5

The first classic Aston Martin DB5

Chrysler ME Four-Twelve

Lotus Espirit S1 with bespoke body panels supplied by Lotus

Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante

Bond returned to Aston for the 1987 film, The Living Daylights. The V8 had a robust look which helped reflect a move to a more hard edged, less trivial Bond. It was a serious car for a serious spy. The use of an Aston Martin helped the franchise use the brand as shorthand for classic British elegance and excellence, something the modern films still achieve.

BMW Z Series

Controversially, Bond switched to German engineering for 1990’s with Broccoli partnering with BMW for a series of films. BMW, wanting a slice of the action, paid the franchise £80 million in order to supply 3 cars for 3 films. This was part of a global marketing campaign designed to raise the profile of their new roadsters. First using a Z3, then a Z750iL and finally a Z8, the brand harnessed the ‘Bond Effect’ and the exposure had a significant effect on sales and brand awareness.

Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante

The brutish Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante

BMW Z Series

The slightly uninspiring BMW Z8

Aston Martin DBS V12

When Bond was rebooted in 2006 with Daniel Craig, it was the ideal opportunity for Aston Martin to remind the world just how good they are as a global supercar marque. The DBS V12 was not due to go into production until 2007, but Aston Martin hurried through various prototypes in order for them to appear in the film and the supporting marketing material. It was a sharp, contemporary take on the classic Aston Martin shape and on the back of the publicity, it enjoyed good production numbers until 2012.

Aston Martin DB10

Thanks to the success of the DBS V12, Aston Martin did something unprecedented for the 2015 film Spectre. Breaking from the trusted model of promoting a current production car, they chose to develop a bespoke model just for the film. The DB10 has a production run of just 10 cars, with 2 of those retained by Aston Martin to use for promotions. The DB10 project was a collaboration between the Bond estate and Aston Martin to celebrate the 50 years since the Aston Martin DB5 and its place in British culture. As this was a bespoke design, Aston Martin used it as an opportunity to showcase a new design aesthetic with cutting edge features.

The exclusivity has pushed the estimated cost of the DB10 skyhigh and Aston Martin sold one of the cars at auction in 2016 for over £2.4 million, with the proceeds going to charity.

Aston Martin DBS V12

Aston Martin DBS V12 with added rockets

Aston Martin DB10

the beautiful Aston Martin DB10

TV Shows

Miami Vice

If there was any single TV show that installed a sense of longing to one day own a Ferrari, it was Miami Vice.

Sweeping shots of two uber cool detectives driving their Daytona to a backdrop of the Miami night, accompanied by MTV friendly music, this was a seminal show that had a huge impact on popular culture at the time. It really influenced fashion, the use of music in TV and helped directors like Michael Mann shape the way wealth and status were expressed on screen, This was an era of unapologetic excess, and with reflections of the Miami neon lights highlighting the shapes of the Ferrari Daytona, it was no surprise it has such a lasting impact.

When the series started in 1984, the producers sourced a fake Ferrari Daytona in order to keep costs down. Enzo Ferrari himself was so appalled by the idea of a fakery taking the glory, and the realisation that such a popular TV show was doing wonders for the Ferrari brand in the US, he struck a deal to supply the show with two brand new Ferrari Testarossa in return for them destroying the Daytona onscreen. The Testarossa then became a US star and the show contributed significantly to press coverage of the ongoing Testarossa, Porsche 959 and Lamborghini Countach battle to be the world’s number 1 supercar.

Ferrari Daytona

Crocketta and Tubbs driving the fake Daytona

Ferrari Testarossa

One of the 2 Testarossa gifted to the show by Ferrari

Kitt from Knight Rider

The Knight Industries Two Thousand, or KiTT is one of the most iconic supercars in TV history. It was a high tech car based on the 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans AM equipped with Ai to help the main protagonist in his adventures. It was essentially the show sidekick, capable of complex conversations, humour and witty comebacks. It came with a handy bullet proof exterior, turbo boost and could even use its medical scanner to diagnose and treat patients.

KiTT became synonymous with 1980’s pop culture and the decade’s faninaction with all things modern. With the development of the Tesla Cybertruck, we are now seeing some of the functionality of KiTT making its way into our vehicles. The Cybertruck is not quite bulletproof, but does boast a cold-rolled stainless steel, which is claimed to be dent and scratch resistant. Although not to the level of KiTT, the Cybertruck also comes with Ai technology, autopilot and self driving capabilities.

Who knows where we will be in 10 years and how much Ai technology will have made its way into our supercars.

Kight Rider KITT

The Knight Industries Two Thousand, or KiTT

Ai Car cockpit

The car had Ai technology inside 

Batmobile in London

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