Why do baddies always get the best movie cars?

| 25 Aug 2011

Villains seem to inspire movie vehicle designers more than heroes and the latest superhero epic Captain America: The First Avenger is a perfect example. From single-seat submarine to Flying Wing, the Nazis and particularly lead baddie Red Skull get the most spectacular machines.

In the original Marvel comics, Red Skull (aka Johann Schmidt played by Hugo Wearing) doesn’t have a car, but for the film director Joe Johnston gave vehicle designer Daniel Simon the challenge of creating the meanest set of wheels for the German general.

The result is a spectacular six-wheeler that’s clearly inspired by the pre-war Teutonic sensations from Mercedes-Benz with elements of 540K Spezial Roadster and G4 staff car featuring in this transport fantasy. With long, flowing wings, extended rear spats, Riva speedboat-style windscreen, and nine fire-belching exhaust stubs on each side, the Red Skull Spezial even has a ‘Birkin’ Bentley type supercharger in front of the radiator. The badge is the sinister Hydra emblem that looks very close to the 17/21st Lancers. 

Measuring more than 25ft long and 8ft wide, Red Skull’s demonic machine was built on a truck chassis by a British team at Shepperton Studios to Simon’s design. “I started thinking it could be a streamlined vehicle like an Auto Union but it really needed to be something more upright and majestic. Something that a dictator would drive – very dominant,” said Simon, who previously styled the vehicles for Tron. “I wanted it to have a mix of coachbuilt elegance and a military vehicle which is why we fitted in the toolboxes behind the front wheels.”

You can imagine the books and pictures scattered around Simon’s desk as he sketched, and I’m sure a visit to Jay Leno’s collection was also an influence. Hermann Göring’s famous 540K ‘Blue Goose’ immediately comes to mind. As well as pre-war Mercedes vehicles, Duesenberg and Bentley also influenced him.

Rightly pleased with the fantasy vehicle, Simon has yet to drive it. “Within the studio lot with a 700hp engine and 38ft turning circle, it just wasn’t practical but I did get to sit in it and start it.”

Being a sucker for what the movie world labels "Retro Futurism", I enjoyed Captain America although lead Chris Evans was too much of a college jock with a character bypass. But the sets and machines are fantastic.

Driving home in the dark, I started thinking about the greatest evil cars in the movies. Top of the list has to be Professor Fate’s Hannibal Twin-8 from The Great Race. Powered by a Corvair flat-six with auto transmission, this six-wheeler packed inspired gadgets including rocket performance boosters and elevating body.

Other candidates include the George Barris-built, Lincoln-based menace in The Car, the spiked VW Beetle in The Cars That Ate Paris; and Frankenstein’s Cimbria SS from Death Race 2000, which was also Corvair powered.

Any other nominations?