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Lights, Camera, Traction: Hollywood's Greatest Driving Sequences

Over the years, movie makers have done a fantastic job of portraying cars on film. Their work has provided a source of inspiration to many, and in some cases even ignited a passion for all things automotive. A great driving sequence can capture the intensity of a race, the brutishness of a V8, or the elegance of Italian design, and it is with this in mind that we have decided to round up some of our favourite driving sequences ever to grace the silver screen.

Françoise Hardy, who sadly passed away earlier this month aged 80, on the set of Grand Prix (1966). Source: The Gentleman Racer

Grand Prix (1966)

From the moment Saul Bass’s title sequence begins, you know this is the racing film you’ve been waiting for. The words “Grand Prix” emerge from the darkness of an exhaust pipe; close-ups of tyre tread and carburettors cascade across the screen as the cacophony of engines rises. For many, Grand Prix is one of the great racing films, with its combination of a soapy, yet coherent plot (not guaranteed in car movies) with extraordinary track footage. Director John Frankenheimer wanted realism and authenticity, and with over ten million dollars to play with, that is what Grand Prix (for the most part) got - along with three Academy Awards in 1967.

Steve McQueen was originally approached to star in Grand Prix, but did not gel with producer Edward Lewis; while McQueen was later disparaging about the film, his Le Mans is clearly indebted to it. Grand Prix remains a classic of the genre - and we would defy anyone watching the sequences at a rainy Spa to claim otherwise.

Bullitt (1968)

Flying hubcaps, roaring V8s, and staccato impacts of suspension bottoming out on steep San Francisco streets: it could only be Steve McQueen’s 1968 classic Bullitt, the story of grizzled detective Lieutenant Frank Bullitt fighting his way through a confusing web of Chicago mob intrigues. The chase scene where McQueen’s highland green 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback tails a Dodge Charger is eleven minutes of muscle car bliss. It won Frank P Keller an editing Oscar in 1969 and has gone down in cinematic history, despite amusing continuity errors, mysterious double-declutching, and an unrealistic number of flying hubcaps.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Quentin Tarantino once said that the opening sequence of a film should be the best scene you can possibly deliver to your audience. Clearly director Marc Forster agrees, as the opening scene of Quantum of Solace is up there with the very best. The film experienced a few issues during production, namely a writers strike, but the criticisms that were levelled at the film were perhaps a little unfair. Sure, it's no Casino Royale, but it's still an enjoyable watch.

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Beloved by teenagers the world over and feared by parents looking to prevent their children - largely male, ages 14-30 - from being sucked into the Los Angeles street racing scene of the early 2000s (now as much as then), The Fast and the Furious is the most guilty of pleasures: a mindless car-based action flick following the dilemmas of an undercover cop, with B-movie grit and ambitious A-grade stunt work. The cast are improbably good looking, the cars impossibly fast, and the action blasts through a Southern California awash with nitrous oxide and gangs of 1995 Honda Civics liberating stereo equipment from passing trucks.

The main cast of The Fast and the Furious // Source: GQ

There are so many great driving sequences in the franchise (at least before Dom and the crew ended up in space doing all kinds of ridiculous side missions), but one of the most popular is when Brian pursues Dom at the end of the first film, and the quarter mile drag race that ensues.

Ronin (1998)

Directed by John Frankenheimer, "Ronin" features some of the most exhilarating car chases ever filmed. The standout sequence sees Robert De Niro and Jean Reno racing through the streets of Paris in a BMW 535i and a Peugeot 406. The chase is noted for its high speed, tight city streets, and the lack of background music, which amplifies the sound of engines and screeching tires. The film's commitment to practical effects and real stunts sets it apart.

Drive (2011)

Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" offers a more stylized and atmospheric take on the car chase genre. Ryan Gosling's character, known simply as the Driver, executes a meticulously planned getaway in the film's opening sequence. The chase is notable for its emphasis on strategy and evasion rather than speed, featuring taut, quiet moments punctuated by sudden bursts of action. The film's neo-noir aesthetic and synth-heavy soundtrack add to its unique charm.

The Apex Team

The Apex Team

The Apex Editorial Team @Custodian: Archie Hill - Interviewer & Editor, Archie Hill Jeremy Hindle Charles Clegg - Editors, Archie Hill - Production, David Marcus - Transcription.