OK MotorPunks, here’s a poser that’s bound to divide opinion: what is the greatest movie car chase ever? Well, as the regular procurer of shagged-out BL relics you might expect me to be championing the 1969 British super grosser The Italian Job, and for shear entertainment value then yes, I would be. Some of our chums have claimed Ronin (1998), The French Connection (1971), Bourne Supremacy (2002), The Blues Brothers (1980) and more than half-a-dozen examples of high-octane Hollywood hoonery for the title. But really I think the ‘greatest’ ever car chase needs to be the one that actually kickstarted the whole genre; the one where the film’s lead actor actually did a good chunk of the stunt driving himself; that impossibly cool one starring two of America’s greatest ever muscle cars against the backdrop of a Technicolor 1960’s San Francisco … I think you know where I’m going with this.

McQueen’s 10 minute 53 second pursuit of the bad guys in the 1968 classic Bullitt took over four weeks to shoot using just six modified film cars (three Highland Green 390 V8 Mustang GT Fastbacks, although only two got used, and three 375bhp V8 Dodge Chargers in henchman black) and was Hollywood’s first ever big-budget choreographed high-speed car chase using an army of stuntmen.

 

It’s an urban myth that McQueen did all his own stuntwork on Bullitt. Steve only did about 10% of the driving himself – usually leaning out the open left window to get his famous fizzog into clear shot – and in a nice touch of realism they even left in a fluffed right turn (the Mustang is no Elise remember!) resulting in a smoky three-point-turn and a mile headstart for his nemesis in the Charger. In most scenes you can tell when there’s a stuntman at the wheel because the rear view mirror is angled down. With a 65bhp advantage and tweaked suspension, the Dodge stunt drivers were frequently told to slow down to give the hero’s Ford a chance to catch up; even so the cars were still hitting 110mph in some chase sequences through downtown San Fran. In these pre-GoPro (and Health & Safety) days most the in-car footage was actually filmed by a camera guy tied down into the back seat!

Bullitt, in my view, had the seminal big-screen car chase; it has America’s coolest leading man, in a sun-drenched 60s California and stars two of Detroit’s finest examples of automotive Americana. But I also like it because it isn’t perfect; it’s riddled with bloopers. Perhaps it’s just because I’m a pedantic, self-congratulatory car bore, but I like to know stuff like this … and probably why no one will go to the pub with me anymore. But anyway, check out the film clips for the following:

  1. Because this sequence was spliced together from a month of filming you might notice heavy damage on the passenger side of the ‘Stang can be seen before the incident that causes it actually happens.
  2. The Charger loses five wheel covers, with different ones missing in different shots.
  3. Shooting from multiple angles and creating a montage from the footage gave the illusion of high speed but also resulted in the hero and villains passing the same cars at several different times. How many times do we see that ruddy green Beetle!
  4. Finally, the actual route of the 10 minute chase is geographically impossible ’cause we did a map thing of it some time back. Check it out here.

So do you agree with me? Leave a comment below … after you’ve watched the clips, obviously.

2 Responses

  1. Tayne

    “Bullitt kickstarted the whole genre”
    Someone needs to do some research.
    Steve McQueen personally wanted to hire British director Peter Yates because of his 1967 film “Robbery”. Peter Yates almost turned him down because he didn’t want to be typecast as the car-chase director.
    Whilst the Robbery chase might not be quite as visually impressive you can see it’s influence in The Professionals and The Sweeney.
    I think its just edging ahead in the coolest chase stakes.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlFAn_8vuig

    Reply
  2. ZetecVan

    I would like to suggest that the car chase from the Ryan O’Neil/Barbara Streisand What’s Up Doc is the best car chase going. Filmed in 1972 in San Fransisco, it is a parody of the Bullitt chase.

    Our hero’s are on a bike (a push bike) and then a VW Beetle, being chased by the bad guys in an array of cars. With the film being a comedy, there’s a lot of comedic elements in there.

    Check it out on Youtube.

    Reply

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