DriveArchive Article 158

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Why we buy our heroes’ cars

In 2014 a mystery buyer splashed out £15,100 to snap up a 1980s Audi Quattro. Nothing unusual in that, perhaps – iconic brands such as the Quattro are bought and sold across the UK and world every day. The only difference with this car was that it was riddled with bullets and the buyer was a fan of Ashes to Ashes.

Yes, DCI Gene Hunt’s car, riddled with holes from a deadly strafe of fire from the series’ 2010 finale, attracted 48 bids from enthusiasts. And it is by no means the only desirable car that you’ll find on the market if you want to mimic your film idols. The Bullitt Mustang GT; the 1975 Ford Gran Torino from Starsky and Hutch; and the Mini Coopers from The Italian Job, have all gained fame that just would not have existed without such exposure.

Why do cars driven on our television and cinema screens attract such attention? Why is it that we long to emulate them? We never hear of competition prizes where the winner can live the life of a banker, or a CEO – instead, the prize offers the chance to live the life of a film or music star, or even the lives of the characters they portray. If we’re not bothered about the small screen, then how about the very small screen, and the dream lives of social media personalities such as Dan Bilzerian and his array of hangers on? Many people would love to experience his thrill-seeking life in helicopters, jet skis – and cars.

Celebrities such as Bilzerian, the Kardashians, the Beckhams, Jay Leno and others rarely drive the cars that you and I could attain, but their influence extends beyond the actual make or model. Trends are also important; for example, some of the bigger car trends in recent years have included non-reflective matte paint, to the point where it is rare to see a glossy finish at many motor shows.

In 2013 Kylie Jenner was given a Ferrari 482 Italia for her birthday, but within a few days she had paid for the glossy white finish to become a matte grey with red rims. According to Blast Magazine you can even buy a matte finish Ferrari now, brand new from the production plant. Shows such as Keeping up with the Kardashians both promote the lifestyle and also the accessories around it, even if you’re not lucky enough to earn $70m a year.

However, some of us are lucky enough to have big money – or at least win it through the lottery. According to AutoExpress the cars that are most likely to be purchased by winners are probably the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 and Bugatti Veyron. Another might be the Aston Martin, and when we think the Aston we think of one character – James Bond.

There’s little doubt that the suave star has a certain image of danger and exoticism, and perhaps anyone buying one of ‘his’ cars might think they can be ‘him’ for just a brief period. Bond now drives an array of cars that range from the fast to the impossible, from flying vehicles to ones that converted to submarines. In 2014 the stunning DB10 from his latest film Spectre went on sale for charity. In fact, even his adversaries got in on the act: Mr Hinx ploughed through the streets of Rome in an outrageous Jaguar C-X75 concept car in pursuit of Bond. The supercharged, tubocharged 502bhp engine powers a hybrid-electric vehicle that you won’t be seeing on your streets any time soon, but you may see on your little boy’s bedroom wall.

Does that matter? Do we have to actually have the means or ability to buy a car for it to resonate? Why are some cars just so iconic? At the time of writing, there are more than 12,000 listings on eBay for the word ‘DeLorean’, including a classic DMC 12 from the UK. Read a review of the car, or an analysis of its lack of success at the time – there’s little way that it could become such a famous vehicle without its appearance in Back to the Future, as it was expensive and suffered from poor build quality. The company was a disaster and only made one car, but that car travelled to the Wild West and, er, 2015. When the new DMC arrives this year, will it achieve the same status as its forefather, despite its failure? Maybe so….

The DMC looks cool, and fast, and exciting, to the point where film enthusiasts will put up with some of its problems in the real world (no time travel, no flux capacitor) in order to live the Marty McFly dream. Similarly, cars such as the Dodge Charger from The Dukes of Hazzard, or the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit, evoke a certain feeling in people of a certain age who can remember them appearing on their TV screens back in the day.

Not only do those fans of nostalgia want to own such cars, but they’re also willing to put in the work to make them in the first place. In mid-2016 the Sun featured the work of James Brotherhood from Sussex, who had spent three years restoring a Chevrolet 1992 V8 van to resemble the A-Team van from the mid-eighties. Who would pay nearly £17,000 for such a vehicle under any other circumstances than mimicking the glory days of the A-Team? James decided to sell the vehicle on because he couldn’t use it as he wanted any more, having used it for hire in weddings and birthday parties. This could potentially become a thriving market for those wishing to borrow a vehicle for a weekend, or maybe even lease it for a year or two, if you don’t ‘own’ your heroes’ car.

Most of these cars are inherently cool, but we don’t just purchase cars that look good. It’s a quirky aside to the British nature that we also sometimes indulge in buying vehicles that are hopelessly uncool, for reasons steeped in popular culture.

Case in point: the Only Fools and Horses Reliant Robin. The ‘normal’ version of this car is fairly ugly and not particularly safe looking; it appears that it would fly over every time you travel around a corner. However, such a vehicle is bizarrely popular with some. A version of the car was put on the market in 2013 in Birmingham for £17,500 – more expensive than the A-Team van listed above. The main reason for its value was that it appeared in the actual programme, such as the ‘Heroes and Villains’ episode where Del Boy and Rodney dressed as Batman and Robin.

Other Robin Reliant versions have been used by footballers to reward the ‘worst player in training’ and snapped up by World Championship boxer Ricky Hatton.

We follow people that we love and hold in high esteem, even if they don’t actually exist. We buy their merchandise, we wear their clothing, and we buy their cars. Sure, you run the risk of slipping between ‘looking cool’ into an object of ridicule, but who cares. You only live once. Or twice, if you’re James Bond.

© John Baker 2017