The 10 Wildest Stunt Cars In History
They might not get the same recognition as actors or directors, but the film industry’s army of stuntmen and women has for decades been one of the most vital parts of moviemaking. An action movie might be excellently scripted, beautifully shot, and star the hottest A-listers in the business, but without those all-important stunt sequences, it’s destined for failure. Traditionally, movies and TV shows have been the primary outlet for death-defying car stunts to make their way onto our screens, but over the past couple of decades, a whole new breed of stuntmen emerged.
Video platforms like YouTube have provided a way for daredevils to showcase their work directly to an audience, often racking up hundreds of millions of views in the process. Pioneers like Travis Pastrana and the late, great Ken Block were at the forefront of this new wave, enthralling a new generation of enthusiasts while continuing to push the boundaries of what can be achieved on four wheels. Of course, none of these achievements would have been possible without the cars themselves, many of which have been cemented into automotive folklore as a direct result of the iconic stunts they’ve been involved in.
Dodge Charger ’69 – Dukes of Hazzard
Aired between 1979 and 1985, the "Dukes of Hazzard" saw Luke, Bo, and co embark on a series of high-octane adventures behind the wheel of their trusty 1969 Dodge Charger. The show’s many stunts and jumps might have made it an instant hit, but it had an unintended side effect for its star car. During the production process, an estimated 300 cars were destroyed, reports Motorious. Eventually, the film crew’s supply of ’69 Chargers to destroy dried up, so they had to improvise. In later series, some of the stunt cars were in fact not Chargers at all, but rather AMC Ambassadors that had been dressed up to look the part. A handful of Chargers from other model years were also used.
A few examples were also kept well away from the stunt team, so they could be used for driving shots. Only three reportedly survive to the present day, with one of them, owned by the actor who played Bo Duke, being damaged in Hurricane Ida in 2022 (pictured above). Another is owned by golfer Bubba Watson, a self-professed huge fan of the show, who painted over the controversial Confederate flag on the car’s roof. After buying the car in 2012, he announced he would repaint the roof with a stars and stripes American flag, saying "I don’t want to offend anybody […] the car is American history, so why not the American flag on it?" (via ESPN)
Ford Hoonicorn – Ken Block
The recent passing of Ken Block has prompted an outpouring of grief from fans and fellow industry stars, many of whom reflected on just how influential Block’s "Gymkhana" stunt driving film series had been for them. The garage of Block’s Hoonigan Racing Division contained more than a dozen vehicles, but it’s the Hoonicorn that stands out as one of the stuntman’s most iconic ever. The original incarnation of the Mustang-based Hoonicorn featured in "Gymkhana 7" and packed a V8 engine making 845 horsepower, but for "Climbkhana: Pikes Peak," an updated version of the car was unveiled that packed an unbelievable 1,400 horses.
The Hoonicorn V2, as it became known, featured an all-wheel-drive system and two huge Garrett turbochargers to enable it to shred all of its tires at once. Drifting the car up Pikes Peak created some of the most iconic images to ever come out of the series, including the shot where Block barely avoids driving the car off the edge of a cliff while drifting around a corner at high speed.
Mini Cooper – The Italian Job
Most movie stunt cars go through a rigorous conversion process before they’re sent off for filming, but for "The Italian Job," things were a little different. Lead stunt coordinator Rémy Julienne reportedly ordered that the back seats be stripped out of the car, along with anything else that could add weight or fly about during filming. Reinforced sump guards and roll bars were then fitted, and the car was put straight to work driving through sewers, over an aircraft museum, and through the tight Italian streets.
There were no modifications made to the engine at all, nor any other major part of the car. The red, white, and blue Minis used for driving were all versions of the Cooper S, but 25 "regular" Minis were also reportedly bought as sacrificial stunt cars. The three original Minis were brought back from Turin to London after filming finished, but it’s unclear what happened to them after that, or if any survive intact today.
Pontiac Trans Am – Smokey and the Bandit
Another iconic classic, "Smokey and the Bandit" was so successful that it saw sales of the Pontiac Trans Am jump by 25,000 in just a single year, according to Hagerty. Five Trans Ams were supplied by General Motors for filming, and none of them completed the punishing shoot intact, with the sole survivor having to be pushed onto set to film the last scene. One of the cars was totaled by the stunt where Bandit jumps across a river using a broken bridge. In order to make the jump, the stunt car was fitted with a 700 horsepower motor and a NASCAR transmission, and the intense forces crumpled the car’s body after just one take. Luckily, the stuntman got the shot exactly right the first time.
Another memorable stunt sees Carrie jumping over a wall and into a children’s baseball game, and apparently, the shoot didn’t go to plan. Burt Reynolds explained in an interview, "I saw kids in front of the car disappear — we (jumped) right over them" (via Hagerty). The film might have been hard on the cars, but the 1980 sequel was reportedly even tougher — a total of 10 Trans Ams and 55 Pontiac Bonnevilles were destroyed during production, each one again supplied by General Motors.
Aston Martin DBS – Casino Royale
The "James Bond" movie franchise has been responsible for many of the industry’s greatest car stunts, and one of the most memorable to emerge from the more recent films was "Casino Royale’s" Aston Martin DBS roll. The stunt set the Guinness World Record for most barrel rolls in a car, a total of seven, but originally, the crew was only aiming for two or three, according to the official "James Bond" website. The DBS was driven by Adam Kirley, who realized "it was just a case of holding on for the ride" when the car rolled considerably more than expected. Suffice it to say, the car was totaled by the stunt.
The production DBS hadn’t been released at the time of filming, so Aston Martin reportedly produced two prototype DBS cars for close-up filming and a further three for stunt use. Initially, the car wouldn’t roll, jumping off the ramp and leveling out before hitting the ground. To get the desired effect, the film crew’s special effects lead had to fit the car with a compressed nitrogen cannon that triggered at exactly the right moment to initiate the roll. It worked even better than expected, leading to the record-breaking stunt that made its way into the final cut of "Casino Royale."
Mercedes 450SEL – C’était un Rendez-vous
A cult classic piece of cinematic history, "C’était un Rendez-vous" is a short film that depicts a car racing through the streets of Paris in the early morning. Listen to the soundtrack of the film and you’d think that the car being driven was a Ferrari 275 GTB, but that’s not actually the case. The car in question is in fact a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL, which was reportedly chosen by director Claude Lelouch because its soft suspension would lead to a clearer, more stable image. The sound of the Ferrari was then dubbed in afterward to create the illusion of an Italian exotic blasting through the narrow Parisian streets (via Hagerty).
The whole film was shot in one take, with the director behind the wheel of the car. He claimed to have reached speeds of over 140 mph during filming, and was apprehended by police shortly after the film debuted. He was later let go, and reportedly even got to keep his license, despite running through 18 red lights over the course of the eight-minute film.
Subaru WRX STI – Travis Pastrana
Alongside Ken Block, Travis Pastrana rose to fame as one of the biggest pioneers of high-octane stunts for the internet age. On December 31st, 2009, Pastrana set the Guinness World Record for the longest ramp jump of a rally car, achieving 269 feet (81.11 meters) over the water of Long Beach Harbor. The stunt was conceived in conjunction with long-time action sports sponsor Red Bull as part of their "New Year No Limits" event, and saw Pastrana jump from the harbor’s edge onto a specially-prepared barge with a ramp on each side.
The car used to complete the feat was a Subaru Impreza WRX STI VT9, which had been built by Vermont SportsCar and featured a 400 horsepower Boxer engine. To keep it stable in the air, the car reportedly featured added ballast to even out the weight distribution to match Pastrana in the driver’s seat. Pastrana also performed a similarly hair-raising jump in "Gymkhana 2022," where he leapt his Subaru wagon over a bridge gap, above a hovering helicopter.
Chevrolet Nova – Death Proof
Quentin Tarantino has a reputation for ensuring all the stunts seen in his films are practical rather than CGI-enhanced, and one of his most dangerous stunts can be seen in 2007’s "Death Proof." A Chevy Nova is driven directly into a Honda Civic in one sequence, with the man behind the wheel being Buddy Joe Hooker, a stuntman who’s worked on the production of everything from "Godfather III" to the TV show "Dexter." Hooker got the crash right on the first take, which meant there was a spare stunt car left after filming that had initially been earmarked for destruction in the sequence.
Road and Track reports that the spare Nova was offered to Hooker after filming concluded for just $500, and it became the stuntman’s son’s daily driver through high school as a result. Under his son’s ownership, the car was modified to produce 425 horsepower at the wheels, but kept the original vinyl wrap that was used during filming. As far as high school daily drivers go, it doesn’t get much cooler than a film star classic muscle car.
Jaguar F-Pace – Terry Grant
Although he originally envisioned being a racing driver, Terry Grant’s propensity for drifting and donuts when he was young meant that he ended up getting asked to do live stunt displays more often than he raced. Fast forward a couple of decades later, he’s one of the world’s leading live car stunt performers. In an interview with Top Gear, he says he has 32 stunt cars, and since he’s now in a partnership with Jaguar Land Rover, most of his vehicles come from the JLR range. In particular, his F-Pace is one of his most famous vehicles, as it’s the one he used to set a world record for the world’s largest loop-the-loop in 2015 (via Jaguar Heritage).
A year later, Grant set another record by piloting the car up the whole of the famed Goodwood hill while balancing the car on two wheels. If just driving the car up the hill wasn’t enough, fellow stuntman Lee Bowers also rode along in the passenger seat, and climbed out of the moving car to stand on top and wave at the crowd halfway up.
AMC Hornet – The Man With The Golden Gun
Arguably the single greatest stunt ever pulled off in the "James Bond" franchise is the river jump in "The Man With the Golden Gun," where an AMC Hornet is launched over a river in Thailand, doing a barrel roll in the process before landing on the other side. To ensure the stunt went smoothly, it was computer-modeled beforehand, being the first of its kind to do so, reports Jalopnik. The producers of the film went to such great lengths to develop the stunt that they even patented it, to prevent any other action films from replicating their achievement.
The stunt was pulled off in a single take by Loren "Bumps" Willert, who took off from the ramp at a precisely calculated 40 mph and instantly made the Hornet one of the coolest "James Bond" cars ever in the process. The stunt car, complete with its original central seating position and roll cage, was put up for auction in 2017.