Countless internet-type people have told us which are the best and worst films and TV shows that centre around cars. They've also held court on which vehicular screen stars are the best, and which are the worst. But what about a list of the 'best worst' cars that have made it in front of the cameras? The ones we shouldn't like, but we really do? Here's a list of our ten favourite motors that aren't really that heroic, five from the world of film and the rest from TV-land.
1. Plymouth Valiant; as seen in the film: Duel (1971)
For reasons not entirely clear, if you've seen the first-ever feature film from the master of cinema, Steven Spielberg (yep, it he), then you'll want a third-generation Plymouth Valiant like nothing else. This might be because of its lovely square lines, its column-shift action, the over-riders on its chrome bumpers (which, later in the film, cause our protagonist serious issues with a broken-down school bus), the strip speedometer or the gorgeous V8 rumble it emits during the movie's iconic opening sequence, filmed from the point-of-view of its front bumper.
But let's be honest, it's a bloody rubbish motor. Fitted with the top 318ci (5.2-litre) V8 that the Mk3 Valiant could have, power was a reasonable (for the time) 231hp. And yet, our hero David Mann struggles to outrun a rusty old 1950s Peterbilt 281 in it. He can barely keep the thing at 100km/h in the movie, while its rear suspension is a live axle with leaf springs, meaning the handling was woeful; not the thing you need when a psycho in a rusty old semi-tanker is hunting you down. Not only that, but the radiator hose fails on him just when he doesn't need it to - surprising, given he's in a 1970 model Valiant and so it was only a year old at the point of the movie. Perhaps it's best that (SPOILER ALERT!) it descends into a ravine while in flames at the end of Duel.
FUN FACT: while Spielberg did endless casting of the lorry, to get just the right amount of menace from the Peterbilt 281 (and 351) model(s) that he eventually used in the film, he didn't care what the car was - only that it was red, so it would stand out in the long shots filmed in the Californian desert.
2. Peugeot 403 Cabriolet; as seen in the TV series: Columbo (1971-2003)
As shabby as the man who drives it, LA homicide detective Lieutenant Columbo's Peugeot 403 soft-top is the perfect set of wheels for this icon of an on-screen police character. It's also a curvaceous little French machine, which holds the distinction of being the first car styled by Italian house Pininfarina (then Pinin Farina) - beginning a 50-year association between the two European companies that would culminate with beauties like the 306 Cabriolet and the 406 Coupe. It was also odd to see a Peugeot used in an American series, given the French marque has never sold well in the States and, as at the time of writing, has no presence in the US at all.
And yet, as much as it's a bona fide classic and we accept that cars from the 1950s were no road rockets, it's a terrible choice for a man who investigates chilling murders. Unreliable and slow, the 403 spends much of its time on-screen in the series being involved in minor traffic accidents. It'll also reek of dog within, as Lt. Columbo often carries his unnamed Basset hound around in the Peugeot. Still love it, though.
FUN FACT: in a later 1991 episode of Columbo, it is stated that the roof has never been down during the detective's ownership of the 403. And yet, in at least two episodes (1972's Lady in Waiting and 1973's The Most Dangerous Match), you can see Peter Falk's character driving it with the top lowered.
3. Wagon Queen Family Truckster; as seen in the film: National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
There can be fewer more iconic crap cars than this one. The Wagon Queen Family Truckster in Metallic Pea is even set up as rubbish in the film, because Clark W. Griswold, Jr (Chevy Chase) is angry with car salesman Ed (an early role for Eugene Levy) as Clark 'distinctly ordered the Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon with the CB and optional Rally Fun Pack'. What he gets instead is this monstrosity, with its wood panelling, avocado paint, whitewall tyres and profusion of headlights.
So why do we like it? Well, it's so awful it's good, isn't it? As it actually lampoons (clue's in the film's title, folks) the genuinely shoddy standard of late 1970s American cars. Not only that, but it puts up with a heck of a lot of abuse in the film, including (but not limited to) screeching into a motel while the entire family sleeps within (yep, including driver Clark), rolling into a less salubrious district of St Louis and then being launched into the desert via a huge jump - following which it is badly repaired by a couple of thieving redneck mechanics. And yet it still gets the Griswolds all the way from Chicago to their eventual disappointment at Walley World in SoCal. Respect.
FUN FACT: the Wagon Queen Family Truckster was actually based on a Ford LTD Country Squire and designed by George Barris, the same man who did the Batmobile for the 1960s Batman TV show starring Adam West. The Truckster's extra pair of headlights, to make eight in total, reputedly came from a Crown Vic.
4. Ford Capri S; as seen in TV series: Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003)
Of *course* we should be talking about a yellow Reliant Regal here, but while the three-wheeled van of Trotters Independent Traders (TIT) was the obvious star of the show (and it put in some highly memorable performances, not least the one in Dates where Rodney, trying to impress Nervous Nerys, becomes involved in a high-speed car chase) we still don't want a Reliant Regal. However, a Ford Capri is a whole different matter: a stone-cold classic car.
Del Boy's 'Pratmobile', though, is far from the ideal example of the Capri. A lime-green Mk3 S with the 2.0-litre engine (rather than the Cologne V6), it has a hideous tiger-stripe interior, pink aerials and door mirrors, and no fewer than six spotlights. As Del bought it, it's likely to be a hooky motor anyway and, as Raquel angrily reminds him at one point, low-spec - she says he makes them drive around with the windows up on hot days, to make everyone believe it has air conditioning. However, so kitsch that it becomes desirable, it's the motor the Trotters own that we want the most. Lovely jubbly!
FUN FACT: the actual car from the show, registered CCR 412W, went up for sale at auction in 2013 for a reserve between £24,000 and £28,000. It didn't sell... bonnet de douche, Rodney, bonnet de douche!
5. Dodge Monaco; as seen in the film: The Blues Brothers (1980)
Sacrilege, surely, to put this in here? Well, we won't lie: one, this is one of our favourite films of all time, so we thought long and hard about putting the Dodge Monaco on the list; two, the movie features some terrific car-chase sequences, all involving this ex-police cruiser; and three, the Dodge performs some epic manoeuvres during the movie, including backflipping its way out of trouble over a bunch of pursuing Illinois Nazis. And let's not forget it has a 440ci (7.2-litre) motor, plus 'cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks'...
But think about it. Elwood picks up Jake from Joliet in the Dodge, annoying his brother - who asks where the real Bluesmobile, a gorgeous Cadillac Sixty Special, has got to. Elwood reveals he traded that car in for nothing more than a microphone, so his savvy in used-car trading must be suspect; he probably picked the Monaco up at auction for a few bucks, meaning it is almost certainly on its last legs. Even serving police officers refer to it as a 'shitbox Dodge' at one point, and then - at the end of the film, admittedly following a lot of punishment - it simply falls apart. Oh, and it has a broken cigarette lighter, too.
FUN FACT: the first film held the record for the most cars smashed up in a single movie (with a grand total of 103). It held that honour until 1998, when its own sequel - the risible Blues Brothers 2000 - deliberately surpassed its total of wrecks by one.
6. Rover 213 SE; as seen in the TV series: Father Ted (1995-1998)
We couldn't do a list like this and not include something from home, eh? There aren't many cars seen on-screen in Father Ted, but when they do show up, they're invariably rubbish. And that's the case for the blue grey 'SD3' Rover 213 SE in the classic episode Think Fast, Father Ted. Given to Fathers Crilly, McGuire and Hackett to be raffled off in order to replace a leaking roof at their home, the Rover plays a key role in a couple of terrific sight gags: one when Ted tries to gently work out a dent in the front wing and goes a bit too far, and another when the replacement SD3 (procured from dancing priest Father Finnegan) ends up with a completely crushed rear half after Father Jack pops out for a bit of drink.
But the car itself is ignominious. A rebadged Honda Ballade, the SD3 came with low-powered 1.3- or 1.6-litre engines, and it didn't set anyone's world on fire when new, when all it had to take on were the lamentable Ford Orion and Opel Belmont. Furthermore, the only other famous SD3 was the one that belonged to Hyacinth and Richard Bucket, so it tells you all you need to know about this forgettable Rover. If anything, Ted's bodywork re-moulding improves the 213, rather than makes it worse.
So why is it here? Well, we're a sucker for an underdog, that's all we can say, and there's something about the original Rover 200's angular lines that nowadays almost looks graceful.
FUN FACT: Father Finnegan was inspired by real-life cleric Cornelius 'Neil' Horan, the very priest who disrupted both the 2003 F1 British Grand Prix and the 2004 Olympic men's marathon in order to espouse his views that the end of the world was nigh. We mean, right about now, it feels as if he was correct, but...
7. Salmson AL-3; as seen in the film: Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)
You need to watch this film irrespective of the car because it's by an absolute master of visual comedy, French director Jacques Tati, and while many consider the ambitious if odd Playtime (1967) to be his masterpiece, we reckon his 'Holy Trinity' was made up of this film and the ones that immediately preceded it (Jour de Fête, 1949) and followed it up (Mon Oncle, 1958). M. Hulot's Holiday, to give it the English name, is a simple but ingenious and utterly hilarious film about a bumbling man going to the French seaside for his annual vacation.
His car is the laughable little Salmson AL-3, a rickety old jalopy from 1923. It is shown to be painfully slow and out of date in the film itself, which dates back almost 70 years as it is. But the reason it works and why we love it is because it's the perfect car for the clown-like Hulot, right down to its comical horn, which, at one point, fails to move a sleepy dog from its path. Salmson, by the way, is a French engineering company that was founded in 1890 and is still going today. However, its car-building era only lasted from 1920 until 1957, after it (ironically enough) went bankrupt in the very year Les Vacances hit cinemas.
FUN FACT: Tati's creation M. Hulot has been acknowledged to be the inspiration for none other than Rowan Atkinson's famous buffoon, Mr Bean, himself the driver of a fairly poor BL Mini 1000. Now, we adore Atkinson (and, specifically, his performances in Blackadder), but for all his brilliance, Mr Bean's Holiday (2007) is a very poor, very pale imitation of Les Vacances.
8. Pontiac Aztek; as seen in the TV series: Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
One of the greatest TV shows ever committed to production merits repeated viewing and the producers had a fantastic eye for detail in terms of the cars featured in it; for instance, a Toyota Tercel shows up at one point. But it is main protagonist (antagonist?) Walter White's wheels that takes the starring role. What car would one of the baddest men in cultural media have? Why, he'd have one of the baddest cars that has seen the light of day. And we're not talking 'baddest' in a good way, either.
The Pontiac Aztek (yep, the 'k' is a deliberate error) was a travesty of styling, a cartoonishly ugly car that was a sales disaster for its (at the time) failing parent company. But what better car could there be for old 'Heisenberg' to drive? Given that, at the start of the series, he's a meek and mild chemistry teacher who favours drab-coloured clothing and a quiet, ordinary family life. You see? Its appearance in Breaking Bad might have come three years too late for the Aztek, which was canned in 2005, but it has nevertheless given this monstrosity of a vehicle a cult 'cool' factor all of its own in subsequent years.
FUN FACT: the Aztek was built in Mexico, which is a totally coincidental yet neat little tie-in to the show, which is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
9. Volkswagen Beetle; as seen in the: Herbie film series (1968-2005)
We're going to get a lot of opprobrium for this one. But, leaving aside Herbie him(or her)self for the moment, let's be honest - the original Volkswagen Beetle was rubbish. Brought to life by history's most fascist of fascist dictators and made as a disposable personal transportation device for the masses, the 'Bug' somehow became the world's best-selling and longest serving car, with more than 21.5 million of them built between 1938 and 2003. But they're awful. Slow, noisy and with a rubbish chassis; if you can see through all the romance, they're just terrible cars.
The thing is, Herbie is probably a big part of the reason the Beetle endured for as long as it did. Seriously, who could dislike that sweet, white, sentient Volkswagen, with its iconic white, blue and red livery and 'No.53' decals? How many real-life Beetles were adapted to look like Herbie?
FUN FACT: in that completely weird 1997 reboot of the original The Love Bug film, Herbie's owner is played by none other than Bruce Campbell, the star of the phenomenal Evil Dead series.
10. Rover 825; as seen in the TV series: I'm Alan Partridge (1997-2002)
Alan Gordon Partridge: one of the greatest of all gifts to the world of comedy. While Alan has been with us across numerous series, both on radio and TV (almost all of which are pure gold), many will still say the peak of Partridge was with the second and third series, both called I'm Alan Partridge. And because the man behind it, Steve Coogan, is a petrolhead in his spare time, he picked just the right cars for Partridge's narcissistic and hubristic character.
None was a better fit (like a string-backed leather driving glove) for Alan than his Rover 800, used in the 1997 series. A vision in champagne, it provided the canvas for the magnificent 'Cook Pass Babtridge' slogan, and then also set up the episode where his long-suffering assistant Lynn tells him he's got to downsize both his production company and his car. Leading to a car enthusiast's dream gag sequence about Rover 'rebadging' the Metro as the 100, 'you fool!' If you want a Rover 800 today, the chances are you want a light metallic bronze one. Preferably with some graffiti up the side of it.
FUN FACT: the 825 appears in the opening episode, A Room with An Alan. By the time Alan is doing three laps of Norwich ring road, having been into B&Q to buy a bag of tungsten-tipped screws he's never going to use, he's been forced into a third-generation Rover 200 (R3). Making the 200-series the only car to feature twice on our list (in a way).