These films have been carefully selected on the grounds of their capacity for excitement, drama, thrills – and whether I happen to like the cars displayed on screen. Enjoy…
7) Rotten to the Core (1965)
A somewhat Janus-faced comedy from the Boulting Brothers, still shot in black and white and featuring several members of their “rep company” but with Charlotte Rampling as the female lady and a guest-starring role for an Amphicar 770. A Triumph Herald engine powered these offbeat machines, which were regarded as a poor boat and a worse car – but they did possess a certain “Swinging London” appeal. Another highlight is the superb central performance from Anton Rogers as a Peter Sellers-style criminal mastermind.
6) Edgar Wallace Presents: Circus of Fear (1966)
Yes, even in 1966 an Austin J4 van was fairly useless for high-speed dashes from the scene of a crime – and they were also renowned for their lack of handling and road-holding. But what does that matter when one takes part in a desperate chase along the M4 outside of Hayes, pursued by two bell-clanging Wolseleys of Justice?
5) The Man in The Back Seat (1961)
Trite but true – a budget of several billion dollars is no substitute for imagination, as anyone who has endured a blockbuster with an apparent running time of several years and the entertainment value of a page from Ceefax will surely agree. The plot focuses on two hooligans played by Keith Faulkner and Derren Nesbitt, who mug a bookie (Harry Locke) – and panic they might have seriously injured him. They crawl through London in an Austin A125 Sheerline, looking for a safe place to leave him – and all the while haunted by the possible sighting of police cars and their own consciences.
4) The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
The film that served as a reminder of how easy it was to take Roger Moore’s talents for granted, for his dual role in The Man Who Haunted Himself is a performance in the David Niven class. It also boasts the incredible score from Michael J Lewis and that final reel battle between the two sides of “Harold Pelham” – the staid businessman in his Rover 3.5-litre PB5 Saloon – ‘damn fine motorcar’ – and the Lamborghini Islero S of his bounderish doppelganger.
3) Hell Drivers (1957)
Cy Enfield was faced with a major challenge when planning Hell Drivers – a 1955 “Parrott Nose” Dodge tipper lorry was not renowned for its speed. He resolved this issue by the cunning employment of camera undercranking, which only adds to the picture’s nightmarish qualities. Stanley Baker, Patrick McGoohan, Herbert Lom, Sidney James, Alfie Bass, Gordon Jackson, George Murcell and Sean Connery all speed through a rural wasteland at approximately 100 mph, all desperate to earn the wages doled out by William Hartnell. And that is before we consider the incredible set for the transport café – sample menu chips, lard, eggs, spam, lard, and sausages – with extra lard.
2) Robbery (1967)
In the beginning, you establish anticipation. The middle should confuse people, so you’re not sure where everyone is going. The end is where the good guys come out best’. That was the formula of Peter Yates when devising a crime drama and Robbery, based on the London to Glasgow heist of 1963, opens with one of British cinema’s finest chases. The battle between the gang’s Jaguar 3.8 Mk.2 and a mocked-up London Metropolitan Police S-Type is equal – if not superior to – Yates’s work on Bullitt, much of the action taking place in a grim and dilapidated West London. A special mention should go to the stunt drivers – Frank Henson in the Mk.2, doubling for Clinton Greyn, with Joe Wadham of Action 99 Cars in the squad car – and look for the moment when a Vauxhall Viva HB strays into the shot.
1) The Fast Lady (1962)
It would take a motor vehicle of true splendour to outshine a cast that included Stanley Baxter, Leslie Phillips, Julie Christie, James Robertson Justice and Kathleen Harrison. Fortunately, the 1927 “Red Label” Bentley 3 litre – albeit with a 4 ½ litre engine at the time of filming – Speed Model Open Tourer with Vanden Plas coachwork was just such a car. And no matter how many times you might have seen that excerpt on Screen Test during the late 1970s (extra points for spotting Frankie Howerd and Bernard Cribbins) it still never fails to charm. Anyone who grumbles that surely the police had more effective ways of foiling a bank robbery than flagging down a 35-year-old car is evidently a curmudgeon, for who could not delight at the pursuit? Asides from the eponymous heroine, we have a 1954 Bentley R-type Continental Drop Head Coupé with coachwork by Park Ward (loaned to Independent Artists by Harry Lewis Motors of Staines) and, of course, the hoods in a Jaguar Mk. VII. The getaway driver is the ubiquitous Mr. Wadham and Action 99 Cars provided the production’s other automotive star – Wolseley 6/99, registration 716 TPD. This mighty patrol car graced Carry On Cabby, Doctor in Distress, You Must Be Joking and many other fine pictures. The Fast Lady also benefits from the work of another famed stuntman, Jack Silk – who at one point ‘dons a blonde wig’ to double for Ms. Christie!
Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA