Have New Cars Gone Haywire?
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
A car transporter picks up recalled vehicles from a dealership.
June 23, 2011 --
With "Cars 2" rolling into theaters, Lightning McQueen, the red racer at the center of the film, may have the most famous face -- or rather fender -- at the movies this weekend. "Cars 2" may be a movie all about cars, but with its release, we thought we'd take this opportunity to look famous cars in a broader range of movies. In this slideshow, explore some of the top movie star cars in American cinematic history. And once you're done, tell us some of your own in the comments section below.
Ghostbusters' Ectomobile (or Ecto-1)
This reconstructed 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor limousine/ambulance combination may not seem like the ideal means of conveyance for a ghost-trapping operation. But with seating for four and storage room for as many proton packs, what's not to love about the Ectomobile? Featured in the original 1984 film "Ghostbusters," the Ecto-1 was later joined by a fleet of other Ghostbusters cars, helicopters and even an airplane as the franchise expanded.
The General Lee from "The Dukes of Hazzard"
If trouble were brewing in Hazzard County, this orange, two-door 1969 Dodge Charger was likely at the center of it. Although series and subsequent film may have centered on the Duke family and their run-ins with county commissioner Boss Hogg, the real star of the show was the General Lee. Constantly involved in high-speed chases and gravity-defying jumps, the car may have always looked great on screen, but the same wasn't necessarily true behind the scenes. During production of the television series, producers went through more than 250 General Lees throughout the life of the series. Around 24 were used during the filming of the 2005 feature film.
Gran Torino from "Starsky and Hutch"
This bright red 1976 Ford Gran Torino may not be the most discreet for two crime-fighting detectives. But for four seasons on television in the 1970s (and a movie remake in 2004), this car helped officers David Michael Starsky and Kenneth "Hutch" Hutchinson crack down on criminals in style on the streets of Bay City, Calif. Affectionately known as the "Striped Tomato," coined by Paul Michael Glaser, who played Starsky in the television series and reportedly hated the look of the car, the Gran Torino became not only recognizable as the mascot of the show, but also broadly popular with fans of the series.
The car may be small, gray and ugly. The engine isn't quite as muscular as any of the other cars that appear on this list. And despite six movies, it still can't convince us that a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle could ever win a race even if it does have spunk. Still though, everyone's heard of Herbie. Famous doesn't always mean loved -- or even liked really.
This yellow 2009 Camaro may look like any other bee-themed muscle car, but in fact it's hiding a secret. This car is actually a sentient robot, known as an Autobot, from the planet Cybertron. (Or at least that's what the dealer might tell you to knock up the price.) Bumblebee, one of the most recognizable robots from the recent Transformers film trilogy, originally donned the look of a '76 Camaro before trading in for an updated model.
Kitt from "Knight Rider"
Although never technically a movie star (aside from a made-for-TV film in 2008), Knight Rider's KITT managed to talk its way onto this list. KITT, short for Knight Industries Two Thousand in the original 1980s television series, was more than a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am; it was a robotic automobile equipped with body armor, advanced scanners, a flame thrower, oil jets, a tear-gas launcher, an English accent and so much more. KITT was even equipped with that rarest of fictional 1980s technology: a phone.
James Bond's Aston
Just about any car from super spy James Bond could have made it onto this list: the Ford Mustang Mach-1 from "Diamonds Are Forever;" the Bentley Mark IV in "From Russia With Love;" or even the submersible Lotus Esprit S1 from "The Spy Who Loved Me." But one car stands above all the others: the Aston Martin DB5 originally featured in "Goldfinger." Sean Connery, the original James Bond, poses alongside the car during filming of the movie in this photo. If the luxury and the design of this 1960s-era Aston isn't enough to win you over, how about the machine guns, the bulletproof glass or the ejector seat in case you're about to roll off of a cliff (all non-standard safety features)?
1968 Ford Mustang GT
Take American film icon Steve McQueen, add this Mustang, and what you end up with is a recipe for one of the greatest car movies in cinematic history. The movie also made the Mustang an American motoring institution. During the famous chase sequence between the Mustang and a 1968 Dodge Charger, only two Mustangs were used. Only one survived and is still around today, though it's whereabouts are generally unknown. (A reproduction of the vehicle appears in this photo.)
The DeLorean from "Back to the Future"
If you're going to go through the trouble of going back in time, you might as well do it in style. When Doc Brown turned an ordinary DeLorean DMC-12 into a nuclear-powered time machine, he made history by turning this car into an icon. Although only about 9,000 versions of this model were ever produced, the modern-day DeLorean Motor Company still manufactures reproductions of this car, gull-wing doors and all.
There have been many versions of the Batmobile over the decades. From the original Batmobile based on the Lincoln Futura featured in the original Batman television series to the latest more muscular variant -- a cross between a supercar and a tank known as "The Tumbler" -- seen in "Batman Begins" and the "Dark Knight," all Batmobiles have had one thing in common: They are awesome. After all, who wouldn't want a car with a jet engine, rocket launchers, a grappling hook and a built-in motorcycle? It sure beats walking.
Those were our top 10 favorite movie star cars but there were a lot that didn't make it on the list. Which cars would you rank at the top? The Mach 5 from "Speed Racer"? The Alfa Romeo from "The Graduate"? The Trans Am from "Smokey and the Bandit"? The Mini Coopers from "The Italian Job"? Garth's Mirth Mobile from "Wayne's World"? Let us know in the comments section!
Cars are now more complex than airplanes -– at least when it comes to lines of software code -- and while that makes driving more convenient, it may also be causing bugs and breakdowns along the road, experts say.
At the same time, car manufacturers are outsourcing hundreds of thousands of bits of technology that go into a modern car, making it tougher to ensure quality control. This week, the General Motors CEO Mary Barra faced tough questions on Capitol Hill over the failure of an inexpensive ignition switch that may have led to the deaths of 13 people.
The switch turned the vehicle into accessory mode, which shut off power to airbags in the Cobalt, Saturn Ion and other vehicles. On Wednesday, David Friedman, acting administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency told a Senate panel that the failure “doesn’t make sense to me” and said that scrambled computer logic could be to blame.
It’s just the latest in a string of bad news for carmakers:
Last week, Nissan issued a recall for about 1 million Altima, Leaf, Pathfinder, Sentra and Infiniti models with a software glitch that could prevent certain airbags from deploying during collisions.
In February, Toyota recalled nearly 2 million brand-new Priuses for a software bug that could cause the car to stall.
GM in March recalled its new all-electric Cadillac ELR for a software glitch in its cruise control. It also just stopped selling the Chevrolet Cruze, but won’t say why.
Has something gone haywire under the hood?
“The complexity of software in a vehicle is daunting,” said James Freudenberg, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan and a leading expert in vehicle software.
“You can’t reboot it. You can’t open a window on your laptop and modify it in any way. It has to work in many modes of operation, not just driving down the road, but also when it’s cloudy, rainy, freezing or hot. It gets complicated very quickly.”
A car transporter picks up recalled vehicles from a dealership.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Freudenberg said that most vehicle software monitors sensors that provide diagnostic information on mechanical parts of the car and its engine. The average Ford in 2010 had 10 million lines of code, more than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
As the number of embedded systems (software that works inside other devices) increase, so does the possibility for unanticipated failures. That’s because engineers can’t test for every combination, Freudenberg said.
“Software has tens of thousands of variables that interact in all kinds of ways,” Freudenberg said. “There are bugs that only occur in certain circumstances, you can’t predict.”
While cars are safer than they were decades auto, automotive engineers have loaded up vehicles with lots of things that aren’t related to driving.
“A lot of people like convenience,” said Arthur Wheaton, faculty member at Cornell University’s lnstitute for Labor Relations. “It’s getting exponentially worse where we are putting tele-informatics into the car so that it can work with an iPhone or something else. Each one of these has forced the level of complexity through the roof.”
Wheaton noted that Detroit automakers are under pressure to keep costs down, as as a result, are outsourcing more of their software coding to programmers overseas. That makes it more difficult to integrate it into the rest of the vehicle and check for bugs.
“It’s difficult to dedicate the amount of resources to make sure it’s foolproof,” Wheaton said. “If you were trying to make it engineering perfect you would have to spend an outrageous amount of money.”
In the end, though, auto manufacturers end having to pay.