5 Times TV Writers Got the Car 'Right'
As well as churning out humorous car related drivel for DriveTribe, I am a novelist. I've been self-publishing since about 2012 and have an impressive catalog of reasonably successful books out.
Now you might be able tell from the titles and covers, that my fiction tends to be fairly non-automotive related. And you'd be right. These are generally medieval fantasy titles where the only characterization available through vehicular choice - is whether to give a character a horse, a donkey or a cart. Yes, yes, you can say something about a character by describing the attributes and personality of their horse, but it's limiting. Ultimately, when it comes down to it a horse is a horse.
It's still my aspiration to get traditionally published at some point. Sadly medieval fantasy isn't in vogue unless your name's George R. R. Martin and you've written a million words on murder, torture and rape. What IS in vogue is more contemporary fiction.
To this end I recently started a project which I intend to seek agent representation for. It's a bizarre fantasy sci-fi hybrid about a female vampire that's being stuck as an eleven year old since the fourteenth century and is now, by a complex set of events navigating the British care system - much to her annoyance.
This story is set in the present day, and it's been interesting to write. There are different challenges writing a story based in essentially a fairly familiar version of our world. One thing that HAS occurred to me is the importance of choosing cars for characters. I have a number of drivers in this story and each of their cars has been given a certain amount of thought and consideration. I have a social worker called Rita Patel who drives a newish, black Audi A3. I have two contrasting carers working at the home. Nina, of African descent who drives a new, white BMW 3 series and Molly, a disorganized, disheveled, but kindly older woman who drives an utterly battered, on it's last legs Citroen Picasso complete with suspicious stains and fag burns in the seats. I don't need to tell you much more about these characters. I think just by the virtue of what they drive, I've told you a lot about their personality.
I suppose it's a bit like describing what sort of clothes a character wears. It can tell you so much, but in a much more 'showy' way than actually telling you what they're like.
As humans we judge people on what they wear and what they drive. Who here has ever considered buying a car, then at the last minute decided it didn't suit their character?
I was thinking about this the other day and I started thinking about how some story tellers really got the car 'right'. And how badly it could have gone if they'd gotten the car wrong. Here are five examples:-
1# Gene Hunt (Life on Mars) Ford Cortina
The original Life on Mars was a humorous and retrospective critique of 1970's Britain and 1970's policing. In the story a policeman Sam (left in this picture) accidentally goes back in time to 1970 something and has to carry on policing. Gene Hunt (right) is his 1970's boss. The gold Cortina GXL (even though the GXL of that era NEVER had quad headlights) personified Gene Hunt's character. He was a brash, no-nonsense cop who'd think nothing of beating the living crap out of a suspect and always carried a shooter and a bottle of whisky on the glove box. In Life on Mars policing isn't about justice and criminal investigation, it's a war on crime and the Cortina was Gene's battle wagon. The Mk3 Cortina was an iconic car in the first place. Anyone born in the 1960's will probably remember their dad having one. Life on Mars only made it more iconic.
Of course it could have all gone so wrong. If you'd wanted to paint Gene as a different sort of cop, or you'd been blase about the car - you might have chosen an Austin Maxi for him instead. He wouldn't have been able to fight crime with anything like the same style and panache and probably wouldn't have caught many criminals either....
2# Michael Knight (Knight Rider) Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
Image Source:- https://geekydaddy.com/2017/07/21/justin-lins-reboot-of-knight-rider-is-getting-closer-what-car-would-you-like-to-see-as-kitt/
Nothing was says 1980's more than David Hasselhoff and his talking car. It's ironic that now in the year 2019 pretty much all cars you'd buy new - can talk to you and you can talk back to them! Though sadly they don't have KITT's snarky personality or fun AI'ish sense of humor. Though, I wonder - how would we feel about driving around in a car which argued with us and questioned us when we made decisions? The fact is KITT exuded 1980's cool and was was perfect for the role. In this particular case, KITT almost went beyond being a character's car, but almost became a character itself. The Pontiac was a great choice. But how would the series have fared if Knight Industries has decided to build KITT into a 1980's Lincoln Town Car?
Yes it's still a coupe and that huuuuge body might have had more room for electrickery. But it just wouldn't have been as 'cool'. The Hoff could've still played the driver, but he'd have to have buttoned up his shirt and swapped the leather jacket for something sensible for it to have worked.
3# BA Baraccus (The A Team) GMC Vandura
Considering the A-Team were supposed to be on the run from the government, they didn't choose a very 'clandestine' vehicle. Instead they chose a black and grey, red-striped GMC Vandura to ferry themselves around in from mission to mission. How Colonel Decker never caught up with them I'll never know, as this van was as distinctive as the characters who traveled in it. It looked aggressive, it looked cool. It looked like it meant business. But what if the writer's had kept to the script and given them a more anonymous vehicle to drive around in? What if BA had driven an Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser instead?
These actually have seven seats in them! They're a huuuuge car with plenty of room for explosives, assault rifles, grenades and portable welding gear. It would have been perfect for the A-Team and might have looked a little less conspicuous on the road. I admit the car chases wouldn't have looked quite as spectacular and BA wouldn't have looked quite the part so much, wearing beige corduroy.
4# Doc Brown (DMC DeLorean) Back to the Future
Originally Back to the Future was going to feature a time machine built into a fridge. At around the time though, kids climbing into fridges, getting locked in by accident and suffocating was a thing. The producers decided to avoid controversy and risking copy cat deaths - they'd go for a car. The DeLorean was an inspired choice. John DeLorean was as much the mad genius as Doc Brown and is credited with being one of only two car manufacturers on the island of Ireland. The other of course being the rare, ill-fated Shamrock. The theories about John DeLorean's cocaine hidden in the chassis reminds you of Doc Brown's plutonium. The car was awful, but also irredeemably cool. The brushed stainless steel body panels, the gull-wing doors, it looked epic. Sadly it was slow, handled awfully and were generally put together in a pretty haphazard fashion. Yet that still doesn't stop me wanting one. How would the series have been if Doc had built his time machine into a Toyota Carina?
I admit it would have made the series much more dull. However, think of the times when the DeLorean's reliability let the character's down? It'd also have looked a bit less conspicuous in the 1950's - particularly if you could have found a good place to hide the plutonium chamber and the flux capacitor. Ultimately though, mad cap, disturbed genius Doc Brown just wouldn't have worked in a more sensible car.
5# Del Trotter (Reliant Robin Van) Only Fools and Horses
Image Source:- https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/only-fools-and-horses-reunion-nicholas-lyndhurst-david-jason-bbc-episodes-musical-a8787571.html
In a show full of quality jokes, the Reliant Robin was a huge, rolling joke. As a van it was pretty pathetic, it hardly carried any goods and would tip on it's side if you cornered hard or fast. It was a British 1980's icon and Del and Rodney simply wouldn't have BEEN 'Del and Rodney' if they'd had a decent van to wheel and deal their way through Peckham in. What if Del had actually been a serious businessman? He'd have wanted something reliable, that handled well, which you could fit an 8' x 4' sheet in it. He'd have wanted a Transit.
Okay, it wouldn't have had as much comedic effect as the Reliant but maybe, maybe it wouldn't have taken him ten years and seven series before he struck it lucky and made his millions. Maybe some of the madcap schemes he'd come up with would have actually worked! The thing is though, the series wouldn't have worked. The sheer ridiculousness of flat-cap and sheepskin jacket Del trying futilely to get people to take him seriously in his clapped-out old three-wheeler was what made the series.
What vehicle you give you character IS important! Imagine if Wayne's World producers had given Garth Algar a Chrysler Neon, or inspector Morse had driven a Vauxhall Viva instead of his Jag. Imagine the drugged up loser in 'Withnail and I' bombing about in an Austin Allegro instead of his ancient Jag. Would Mr. Bean REALLY have been so funny if he'd been driving a diesel Ford Focus? I see films and shows and read books, and sometimes, I can barely remember what car a character was driving. Sometimes though, the choices are so inspired and instill so much personality into a character - the can only be described as genius.