The Impala from “American Graffiti” and the Thunderbird from “Thelma and Louise” prove that movie cars don’t need gadgets or crazy customization to be memorable. Which one is the bigger film star?
American Graffiti’s ’58 Chevy Impala
Steve (Ron Howard) loans Terry “The Toad” (Charles Martin Smith) his prized ’58 Impala to use while Steve’s in college. It may not have been the movie’s famous Deuce Coupe, but it was enough to impress Debbie with its tuck and roll interior. On their date, they manage to survive a store robbery, the theft of the car and “The Goat Killer,” only for Debbie to learn it’s not actually Terry’s car.
Surprisingly, there was only one car used in the film. It was sold to Mike Famalette, then a teenager, shortly after filming, complete with the tri-power carb setup and dents from Toad’s fender bender. He put it in storage when he joined the Marines. The car was rediscovered in the early 2000s and restored with the help of some friends so it could make the rounds at car shows. Profiles in History will be putting the car up for auction soon with an expected sale price between $800,000 and $1.2 million.
Thelma and Louise’s ’66 Thunderbird
In this cinema classic, a vacation turns into a run from the law after Louise (Susan Sarandon) shoots a man trying to rape Thelma (Gena Davis.) They spend the rest of the film driving their ’66 Thunderbird toward Mexico as they evade the FBI, learn how to rob convenience stores from JD (Brad Pitt) and get revenge on a lewd trucker by blowing up his rig, all while experiencing true freedom for the first time in their lives.
Five cars were used during filming; one of these, featuring signatures from Brad Pitt and Geena Davis, sold for $71,500 at a Barrett Jackson auction back in 2008.
The Impala’s sale price speaks volumes on its importance, but it cannot compare to the impact of the Thunderbird’s literal leap into cinema history. In the iconic final scene, the two find themselves surrounded by cops at the edge of a canyon. They decide to “keep going,” driving off the edge to avoid capture. In the original cut, the car is shown falling into the Colorado River, and, since it was a practical effect, a car really was launched off the cliff to get the shot. This bittersweet ending prompted director Ridley Scott to attempt a rewrite allowing one of the characters to survive, but in the end, their deaths were kept in the film.
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