India Independence Day & Amitabh Bachchan’s coolest movie cars!

Here’s a run down of the best motors featured with Big B on screen

To celebrate the 73rdIndependence day of India I wanted to create a piece of content related to cars. Yesterday, as a tribute to Pakistan’s Independence day, I posted up a story and video on the Top Ten most important cars for the motorists and car enthusiasts of Pakistan. However I wanted to do something a little different for India.

Now in the 80s and 90s I used to watch a LOT of Bollywood movies – not so much now, as frankly, they were better back then. Technically the newer movies are brilliant, but they can’t match the 70s/80s/90s for stories, script and acting, particularly when it came to Amitabh Bachchan.

As some of you will have gathered, I was a huge fan, and still am. And as such, along with millions of others, I was hugely concerned and fearful when the megastar was recently admitted to hospital having been diagnosed COVID-19 positive.

Thank God he and his family are all recovered, and in a couple of months he’ll be celebrating his 78th birthday having already racked up over half a century in cinema – and still turning out great performances (witness the recently released Gulabo SItabo). Can you believe Sholay, quite possibly the greatest Indian movie ever, is 45 years old?!

So I could think of no better way to celebrate India’s special day than by combining my adoration for AB with my love for cars, and listing what I believe are his Top Ten Coolest Movie Cars.

10. Motorbike and sidecar in Sholay (1975)

And of course, just like the maverick characters that Bachchan has always played in the movies, straight away I’ve broken the rules, because at number 10 is not a car at all, but a bike. Actually it’s a bike and sideCAR, so there you go, ‘car’ is mentioned!

From what I can ascertain, it appears to have been a 1942 BSA WA 500cc bike, and is part of a memorable five-minute song sequence that establishes the bond and friendship between the two lead characters played by Amitabh and Dharmendra, through the song ‘Yeh Dosti Hum NahinTodenge’ (‘We will never break this friendship’). It’s the only time in motoring history that two blokes on a bike and sidecar were cool (not including Sidecar Racing).

9. Taxi in Khudaar (1982)

Again, not exactly a cool car, because the traditional black and yellow taxi was either a 1960s Fiat 1100 Delight made under licence in India or the Premier Padmini as it was later rebadged from 1974. Tough but crude with rear-hinged front doors in this guise.

Not that sensational really, but what is cool, is that as taxi driver Chhotu Ustad, played by Amitabh sings of his love and devotion to his pride, joy and bread-winning partner, in a dream sequence song that sees him fly over traffic and dance alongside the car. The special effects are… well whatever the opposite of cutting-edge CGI would be, abysmal really. But who cares, it’s an expression of sentiment that all car guys can relate to.

8. Lincoln Continental MkV saloon in Sharaabi (1984)

Now we’re really into the cool metal, the Conti was a seriously prestigious and stylish ride in the 60s and 70s with its imposing presence, long straight lines and effortless elegance. As the lead character of a movie titled Sharaabi – meaning ‘alcoholic’ –Amitabh’s Conti had a unique extra feature: lift the boot lid and it had a custom-fitted drink’s bar.

Okay, let’s not get into the absolute no-no and huge dangers of drinking and driving, things were different back then. But on any level, that first reveal of what’s in the back, just before the opening credits rolled, was a scene-stealer. Oddly, an opening song filmed around the car continued immediately after the credits.

7. 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle saloon in Do Aur Do Paanch (1980)

Two for the price of one here: not just the very cool white Chevelle, but also a gargantuan Chevy Suburban (where did they even get it?). In the movie’s climax when a school full of children is poisoned by the villainous ‘Uncle’ the two lead characters played by Amitabh and the late Shashi Kapoor, take on two very different roles. To try to keep the kids awake and active Shashi sings the dullest song in the movie, meanwhile Amitabh blasts off-road across country to the nearest hospital to pick up medics.

Actually the if the kids had seen him absolutely trash both the 68 Chevelle and the big white 1973 Suburban, they would have had more chance of staying awake with enthralment, as he pulls off Dukes of Hazzard style leaps. We’re not even going to ask why the hospital didn’t have its own driver, or how they managed to complete filming with presumably only one each of these cars whilst beating the absolute crap out of them – and clearly wrecking them in some of the jumps.

6. 1973 Ford Mustang Convertible Mach 1 in Don (1978)

The Ford Mustang is an automotive pop culture icon and mainstay in all its many forms, and it’s inevitable that Amitabh drove them in not one but two movies. In the original Don, he drives to a secret rendezvous for a briefcase swap, with Zeenat Aman along for the ride harbouring murderous intentions. In the brief sequence it appears to be an idyllic romantic drive in the country as the tall-riding Stang bounces along the very uneven tarmac at some speed, Don himself glancing over and smiling at his beautiful lady companion in a pair of retro-cool sunglasses I desperately want.

I couldn’t quite make out if this Mustang definitely had a ‘Mach 1’ inscription on the side, but with the bonnet strips and pins and the overall style of the car, it looks to be the real deal. Either that or someone – definitely a car guy – went to a lot of trouble to make it look like a Mach 1.

5. 1973 Ford Mustang Grande Coupe in Agneepath (1990)

Yes, okay, it may not be as cool as a Mach 1, but when after 12 years Amitabh was reunited with a 1973 Mustang, the moment climbs further up this list for two reasons. One, because it was a Grande – the luxury version of the Mustang at the time in black with black vinyl roof and therefore a very well thought-out personal ride for the gangster boss Amitabh was playing in this movie.

Secondly, after an assassination squad riddles the Stang with bullets from three separate cars and somehow completely fails to kill Vijay Deenanath Chavan (played by Big B), he calmly steps out of the car, survey’s the damage to it in disgust and indignantly turns to his assailants and demands ‘why’d you shoot the car?’. Which of course is what every car guy would do! Of course he then foolishly dares them to shoot him instead, which they do – but well… go watch the movie. It’s very good.

4. Thingymobile in Satte Pe Satta (1982)

It’s so frustrating how hard it is to find out anything about such a unique and extraordinary vehicle as the one featured in this brilliant Indian remake of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I initially thought it might have been based on a Jeep or Land Rover Series one – but it’s a huge contraption. Some help from friends has established with around 90% certainty that this was in fact a 1959 Chevrolet Impala with the entire body removed and custom seating and architecture added. The only giveaway seems to be the steering wheel and dashboard.

It was such an eye-catching and fun idea, and it really would be great to find out how it was conceived, who built it, what issues they had with it, and where it is now? This thing really should be in a Museum of Iconic Bollywood Props and Art!

3. 1970 Opel Manta in The Great Gambler (1979)

Aside from the Opel GT, the Opel Manta is probably the sexiest car every made by Opel/Vauxhall. And then you have Amitabh in a movie conceived and filmed very much in the style of an all-action Bond-like spy thriller, set mostly in Europe. As he gets picked up at Rome airport by the lovely Neetu Singh in a case of mistaken identity, she tosses him the keys to her Opel Manta.

After that it’s straight into a dramatic car chase and the inevitable jumping over of a stranded truck sequence that was a staple of such sequences in Indian movies a that time. This sort of jump was usually executed without the aid of a ramp but instead employing some nifty gear-shifting technique that no one had ever heard of before or has been able to fathom and replicate since!

2. 1974 Porsche 911 Targa in Shaan (1980)

This sequence so totally stuck in my head from the moment I saw it in the early 1980s. Amitabh and Shashi Kapoor’s characters are hanging out in a cool café as the pretty Bindiya Goswami drives up in a stunning 911 Targa. The duo are instantly captivated but for entirely different reasons. Shashi Kapoor is checking out Bindiya, whilst Big B is transfixed by the 911. As he eulogises about it, this sequence could literally be the world’s best advert for Porsche in India (why did they not make more of this?) and it’s another reason that in my younger years I so totally related to Bachchan.

In the movie they play a pair of hustlers, who then try to con the girl and secure the car, only to find that they’ve been hustled themselves, so there’s only a brief scene of Amitabh actually cruising in the Targa, but boy is it memorable.

1. 1969 Chevrolet Camaro RS in Kaalia (1981)

This sequence in which Amitabh scares the crap out of cars salesman Jagdeep in a straight rip off Ryan O’Neal’s demolition of a 1970 Mercedes 280 S in the 1978 movie, The Driver, absolutely ingrained itself in my psyche for several reasons. The incredibly cool silver and black Camaro, the shockingly precise and utterly captivating slow destruction of this gorgeous musclecar, the nonchalant but menacing manner that only Amitabh could carry off so well, and the fantastic driving – apparently mostly done by Bachchan himself because with the roof removed at one point, you can see him driving.

Plus of course the fact that which car guy hasn’t at some point fantasised about smashing through a showroom window? You feel a little sorry for Jagdeep who’s suave and professional demeanour unravels so rapidly, very sorry for the car – though it’s a worthy sacrifice – and you so want to be Kaalia himself in this utterly legendary sequence!

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