Improbably Cool Car

What can I say? There's some big tippers on my paper route.

"Who buys a fifty-thousand dollar car for a sixteen-year-old kid? Just who are you trying to impress!?"
Ms. Hatzilakos, Degrassi note 

Similar to the Cool Car, but there's no logical reason for the character to have it. They don't fight crime, they're not wealthy, they've never shown a particular interest in cars or any mechanical aptitude, and yet their daily driver is something right off the showroom floor of the local Porsche dealer? How did that happen?

This trope often manifests itself one of two ways. Either it's a brand-new luxury-sports car with at least a high five-figure sticker price or it's an impeccably preserved classic car (old-school 1960's muscle cars and large convertibles are popular choices).

In many cases this can be attributed to blatant Product Placement for the former and writers choosing memorable cars from their youths for the latter.

Another variant seen mainly in high-concept youth oriented comedies from The Sixties were characters who would more likely have a normal family car or old clunker driving an elaborately customized showrod (usually done by George Barris) and inevitably available as a scale model kit from AMT or Revell (sometimes still, if the original molds survive).

This can get jarring when, despite looking awesome, the car in question will be characterized or described as a jalopy; sort of the automotive version of Hollywood Homely. This may be an attempt to connect with the Small Reference Pools of like-minded viewers who will understand that something built in Detroit 40 years ago is an "old car" while ignoring the fact that it obviously isn't suffering from the usual old car problems of body rust and worn-out parts and would be worth a small fortune to any number of collectors.

Perhaps it's unavoidable simply because any car that's both a classic and fit for filming is likely to have been restored, and the owner they rent it from probably isn't willing to have it changed or made to look like a wreck.

This trope is also a frequent sight in shows and films with Ordinary High-School Student characters who attend an Elaborate University High, where the use of a Cool Car for the personal transportation of a 16-year-old might just be accurate.

Compare Metallicar Syndrome. Contrast The Alleged Car.


Anime and Manga
  • Odd manga example: in Ah! My Goddess, the character, a Japanese student, winds up having a WWII-era experimental Japanese fighter plane.
  • Rally Vincent's Shelby GT500 is an extremely rare and valuable car for a semi-employed half-broke teenage bounty hunter to own. Apparently, even Kenichi Sonoda agreed since she can't replace the Shelby after it gets destroyed and buys a Mustang II Cobra in the Gunsmith Cats Burst sequel.
    • Of course she might have inherited it from her father.

Comic Books
  • Inspector Ginko from Diabolik owns a CitroŽn DS since well before he had enough money to pay for it. Justified as it's a present from his mentor, who was rich enough to buy it.
  • Archie's car overlaps this with Long-Runner Tech Marches On. In 1941, a 1916 Model T was a reasonably common 25-year-old Alleged Car. By the 1980s, it was a museum piece.
    • The '65 Mustang convertible it was replaced with has gone through the same process. Time to scan a '90s Civic into the AJGLU 3000.
  • Spirou and Fantasio's fictional Turbotraction. Extremely cool car for a journalist living in the 50's Belgium. A gift for having brought back the stolen blueprints of said car.

  • Many movies where the female protagonist drives an early Ford Mustang, presumably as an allegory for her own untamed character.
    • Like Niobe from The Matrix with an early Pontiac Firebird.
      • Being the Matrix, any car in it is an Alleged Car. Niobe was clearly making herself noticeable if she chose that. Covert Matrix drivers end up in Yugo vehicles, one assumes.
      • The Operator can get her any car he can conceivably code in the Matrix, the only limit is how much Agent attention the chosen model would attract.
  • The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: The high school Jerk Jock who tries to take on Sean's secretly awesome Monte Carlo drives a Dodge Viper. The Viper apparently belongs to the jock's very rich father. Sean's Monte Carlo almost seems to be played straight, though. Its' more justified later in the movie, since the crew/gang Sean joins, finances their highly customized racing cars through shady deals with the Yakuza.
    • In the original The Fast and the Furious Dominic's crew are suspected of hijacking transport trucks because it would explain how they can afford all the expensive cars they drive.
  • Any movie featuring David Spade will probably have a rare vintage Chrysler muscle car somewhere.
  • Also, the Mini Coopers used extensively in The Italian Job remake. Justified for the chase scenes, as they were chosen for their size so they could be driven down subway tracks and through storm sewers, and extensively remodeled to carry several thousand kilos in gold in reinforced trunks. Not so much in the opening scenes, where a legitimate safecracking expert has one just for zipping around.
  • Jerk Jock (jerknerd?) Kent in Real Genius drives a Citroen DS. Citroen never had much of a presence in the USA and the "Goddess" would be at least a decade old at movie time and a pig/money pit to keep running (okay, he IS an engineer).
  • A few important characters in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, despite being rather ordinary high school students attending Extremely Average High School High, drive pricey and/or incredibly slick and rare cars which middle- and working-class kids would be quite unlikely to own, as noted in the Criterion DVD commentary. Examples include Pickford's 1970 GTO Judge, and a rare 1970 Plymouth Superbird which appears briefly in the background. Some of the better cars belonging to named characters, however, are driven by the few slightly older, non-high school students. In 1976, most muscle cars were at least four years old and thought of as cheap gas-guzzling used cars, but rusted out sixties sedans would probably have been more believable.
  • Charlie Bartlett depicts a Mercedes 600 Grosser in use as a chauffeured vehicle by a non-car-enthusiast owner in the early 2000s. While she is filthy stinkin' rich, a single repair bill for one can approach the cost of a three-year lease on a Lincoln Town Car so they're normally only owned by people like Jeremy Clarkson who are both loaded and smitten with that particular model.
  • Bo Burnham 's character in Sin Bin is a High School student who drives a $100,000 vintage Jaguar E-Type.
  • Inverted in The Lincoln Lawyer. In the book, defense attorney Mick Haller's titular Lincoln Town Car is a late model, replaced every 3 years. The movie uses a boxy 1980s model that likely wouldn't stand up to the several hours a day on the L.A. freeways he puts it through.
  • This trope can be played quite subtle. The Transporter needs a fast and reliable car that's luxurious enough to impress his clients but unsuspecting enough to not stand out in the crowd at the same time. For these reasons, the German luxury cars he drives are a perfectly sensible choice. What doesn't make sense is that he always chooses to drive the biggest and best flagship models. He'd do a better job at not getting caught if his producer and his contacts in the industry stopped getting him into the most exclusive models available.
    • Even this can be excused as part of Frank's personal cover; a serious car enthusiast. As such, he'd be almost expected to want the newest version of his preferred class of toys.
  • It's A Wonderful Life features another inversion with George Bailey, a prominent citizen and owner of an (albeit small) financial institution in 1946 driving a circa-1920 open car. Granted that having a flashy car isn't a priority for him and no new cars were made from 1942note  to summer 1945note ; still, a 1938-41 Ford, Chevy or Plymouth would've been more likely.
  • Scent of a Woman twice. First, the Dean's car, which is undeserved enough to provoke a student prank. Second, the Ferrari, which Slade manages to get for a test drive.
  • ''HaroldandMaude sees Harold being given an XK-E Jaguar to replace his old hearse, which was taken from him because it was seen as part of his unhealthy obsession with graveyards. He then customises the Jag into a hearse.

  • Entertainingly averted in Twilight (though probably not intentionally). Bella's impossibly gorgeous, Bad Ass brooding vampire love interest Edward Cullen drives... (drumroll please) ...a Volvo. A new and rather expensive Volvo with most of the optional extras, but still a Volvo. Although the way he drives it's probably for the best. Played straight with Bella's classic 60s Chevy pickup, but more or less justified as it was a gift from her dad.
  • Justified in one of Patrick Robinson's books. A Navy officer drives a Jaguar. On the other hand, he didn't buy it, he apparently received it in a trade.
    • If said officer was assigned to JAG, he probably just appreciates the irony of his car's and his job's abbreviations being spelled and pronounced the same way.
  • Inverted in The Dresden Files. Harry's Blue Beetle is very much The Alleged Car, even though it's pointed out more than once that as a wizard, Harry could easily get a much better car through various means.
    • Justified in that Harry is Walking Techbane (known side effect of magic) and anything more up-to-date than a Beetle would die horribly as soon as he got within 10 feet of it.
    • His choice of car is further justified with his preferred Everyman mindset, as he started out as the only wizard in the phone book and, given his druthers, would gladly return to that given what he went through getting to and continues to (barely) survive in his current situation.

Live-Action TV
  • Averted in Seinfeld. Jerry Seinfeld is a Porsche fanatic in real life, and the apartment set is peppered heavily with Porsche memorabilia, but his TV persona drove innocuous Saabs, and before that, BMW 5 Series, and before that a '72 Cutlass Supreme. However, Kramer drives a spotless 1973 Chevrolet Impala, improbable for a car that presumably spent 20 years parked curbside in Manhattan (although it does show up in season five, before which he owned a 1986 Ford LTD).
    • Kramer's Impala is actually an experimental Impala built with an Oldsmobile dashboard and an airbag (one of only 1000 made, all of which were in its original metallic green, seen under the light green respray coat), while George's car is a 1983 Chrysler Lebaron Town and Country convertible, one of only 500 made that year.
  • Justified in Life, where the ordinary cop character drives a flashy Bentley thanks to a large legal settlement. The car is crushed by a tractor at the end of the pilot episode.
    • In the second episode, he gets a '87 Buick Grand National. Yes, Buick used to make Cool Cars.
  • Mr. Bean's lime green/yellow Mini Cooper is a weird sort of inversion; they're quite rare and sought after now thanks to BMW going the In Name Only route with the brand, but in The '90s when the show was being made it was a fairly reasonable choice of car for a lower-middle class bachelor who doesn't do much motorway driving. Rowan Atkinson, who played Mr Bean, is actually a Cool Old Guy with Improbably Cool Cars, including an old but pretty McLaren F1 whom he crashed twice before he repaired twice and sold it!
  • The brothers Winchester on Supernatural roam around the States in a 1967 Impala. It's absolutely gorgeous — and should have gotten them caught a dozen times over, considering that they're wanted men. In season seven they finally have to leave the car behind as the new Big Bad made sure that all his minions all over the US are on the lookout for it. It is heartbreaking. When Dean resorts to Storming the Castle in the season finale, he decides they can forget stealth. "Dick knows we're coming, so we're gonna announce ourselves big."
    • Them owning that cherry a car is Justified in two ways. One, the car was handed down to Sam & Dean from their father, who bought it in The '70s when it was just another used car in a lot. Dean is also shown to take meticulous care of the car, even down to practically rebuilding it from scratch a few times. Having a friend/father figure who owns a junkyard makes that easier. He's so anal about keeping it in its original state that he practically wept when Sam installed an MP3 player in it.
    • Three ways; it's also a four-door which, in American collector-car circles makes it worth substantially less than an otherwise identical two-door (as in, start with half as much and go down from there).
  • Stephen Colbert parodies this with his build-a-bear parody - Build-a-car workshop. It's a tank on monster truck wheels, has a sail and a sidecar attached to it,an American flag on the back and "You steer it with your balls."
  • Nash Bridges' 1971 Hemi Barracuda convertible. One of only seven made, and worth more than a million dollars. How many honest San Francisco Police detectives could afford one?
    • Or even dishonest ones? A million dollars is a lot of bribes.
    • On the show, it's established that the 'Cuda used to belong to his brother. Now the question is how he got it.
  • The Avengers was legendary for the cool vehicles driven by its stars. Steed favored Rolls Royces or Bentleys while his female partners drove a white MGB (Cathy Gale); a powder blue Lotus Elan (Emma Peel) and a Cobra (Tara King).
  • Eli's early '60s Cadillac-based hearse in Degrassi The Next Generation. Most hearses in Canada at that time would've been based on Buicks (which were made in Canada, Caddys weren't), and the most available hearse for a teenager in 2010 would be a late '80s/early '90s Caddy, most of which are just now being sold out of funeral service and which use easy and (relatively) cheap-to-get-parts-for small-block Chevy engines.
  • My Name Is Earl has, in our only view of the local high school, an obnoxious student with a mint 1967 Chevy Camaro despite being sixteen and in a town implied to be mainly rundown and poor.
  • For a time in The Sixties, George Barris-customized cars were almost de rigeur for Sitcom characters who were in any way eccentric. The Munsters' Koach (sic), the Monkeemobile and the '60s Batmobile came out of this.
    • The Monkees definitely fall under this trope, portrayed as a struggling band - their car must be pretty pricey.
  • One episode of In Plain Sight lampshades this when Mary has to replace her old car which was wrecked in a shootout. Her sister's rich boyfriend owns a car dealership and he hooks up Mary with a great looking vintage muscle car. However, Mary's boss quickly points out that the car is way too noticeable. A US Marshall working for Witness Protection cannot stand out and Mary is forced to return the car to the dealership.
  • Green Acres has a borderline case - Oliver could afford his Lincoln Continental convertible but it doesn't fit the rural lifestyle he's chosen. And it's always that year's model so he's traded them in but never went to a pickup or station wagon.
    • This is justifiably a case of "Like owner, like car" in that the whole series premise revolved around how badly Oliver himself fit into the rural setting.
  • Family Matters: Extraverted Nerd Urkel's Alleged Car could have been a Ford Pinto, rusty and dented examples of which inhabited every High School parking lot in the land circa 1990; but that just wasn't weird enough. Hence the Isetta.
  • Being a bit of a car fan, Steve Coogan knew enough to subvert the 'Cool Mustang' in Saxondale by giving the middle aged protagonist a '72 Mach One Mustang. Since the character is an ex-roadie who's still stuck in The '70s, he'd prefer the seventies Mustang to a sixties one.
  • One wonders how paramedic Roy DeSoto afforded a Porsche, even a used one, on Emergency!.

Video Games
  • In the Need for Speed games starting with 2010's Hot Pursuit, the police force is loaded with all kinds of rare, expensive, high-class cars, such as Bugattis, Lamborghinis, Porches, Paganis, and even Bentleys. Ostensibly, this is because street racing has gotten so bad in the area that they pull out all the stops and crack down hard on the racers, but really, it's just a Hand Wave for extremely high-speed supercar police chases.
    • It even exists before that as well. In many Need for Speed games, at least those that take place in America, you can drive cars that were never exported to the states such as the Nissan Skyline, Holden Monaro, Opel Speedster, and Renault Clio to name a few.
  • In Grand Theft Auto V, Franklin's car is a performance variant of Dodge Charger... while he complains about having to live with his aunt. Probably should've spent your ill-gotten gains on a deposit on an apartment instead, dude... Though, he later gets a nicer house up on the hills to move away from his aunt.
  • In Gran Turismo, you can purchase cars such as the Ferrari FXX, unreleased Acura NSX, concept Toyota GT 86, and let's not forget the Vision GT cars.
  • Driver: San Francisco both justifies and plays it straight:
    • On the one hand, most of the game takes place in Tanner's coma, so the abundance of rare cars is explained by the streets being filled by cars he remembers from the real world. The few segments in the game which take place in the real world have far more common cars fill the streets.
    • On the other hand, Tanner uses a 70's Dodge Challenger as his standard patrol car, which is rare, valuable and unlikely to be given to a detective for his job. Even if a police department did get their hands on an abandoned classic muscle car, it would be better to auction it off and then buy several cheaper and easier-to-maintain cars in its place, like the Camaro that Tanner borrows from Jones near the end of the game.

Web Comics
  • Misfile gives us Ash's Monster XR, a custom-built all-wheel-drive V-8 powered rally car combining the best aspects of three similar versions of the Merkur XR4Ti/Sierra Cosworth. Its justification is that Harry brought it with him from the UK as a project car and he sold it to Ash as part of a deal to clear out space in his growing auto garage business. The engine, missing in the original timeline, was a gift from Ash's mom. Neither of which address the fact that it's based on a car that could not be legally imported into the US within the timeframe of the story.
    • Perhaps just as unlikely is Logan's first generation RX-7 with a Pineapple Racing rotary engine w/extra rotor, and probably an upgraded suspension. It was his father's.

Western Animation
  • Vinyl Scratch from My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Ė Rainbow Rocks is a high school student who works part-time at a guitar shop, yet at the climax of the film, she pulls up in a nice looking convertible. And if that weren't enough, said convertible can transform into a fully functional DJ booth, complete with four bass speakers and light show.
    • In the first film, Flash Sentry is seen with a black sports car which resembles a modern Chevrolet Camaro or Dodge Challenger complete with custom decals of his cute mark (which in human form he wears on his shirt).

Folk Lore
  • There was an urban legend about a kid who went shopping for his first car, looking at every car anyone was trying to sell from the footpath or driveway of their house as well as the budget used car yards, when he finds a middle-aged woman selling his dream car for a buck. He pays, drives off, hears a rattle and takes to a service centre, believing he may have found out why she was so happy to get rid of the car. The service personnel dissemble the car until they find a man's wedding ring loose in an a/c vent. The kid returns it to the woman, who says he can keep that too. It was her husband's and he had left the ring and car when he left her for a younger woman, then called later to ask her to sell the car and send him the money she got for it.

Real Life
  • Truth in Television - In high schools for rich neighborhoods, there are sometimes two parking lots: one full of nice cars, one full of crappy ones. The crappy ones belong to the teachers, and the nice ones to the students.
  • Suitably, Las Vegas NV has Police Drag. (no, not the chorus dancers) To cut down on dangerous drag racing down the famous Strip, the Vegas police, fire department, and other city authorities maintain tricked-out and modified cars they challenge the youth of the city to pit themselves against on a track.
  • Corvette ZL-1 (all of 2 made), and 1964 Corvette Grand Sport (5 built).
  • The Pagani Zonda R Clubsport. A car that you will never see on the road since it ignores all government regulations on road cars nor will you ever see in a race since it also ignores all the rules of competitive motorsport. It is a car built simply to see what is possible when all the rules are ignored. A car that simply shouldn't exist because no sane manufacturer would make one, yet it does.
    • Same applies to the Zonda Cinque, only five of the standard, and five of the roadster versions were constructed. All of them going to museums.
  • Thrust SSC, like most land speed record vehicles, is one of a kind. Seriously, how many people do you know who would be foolish enough to drive a car that breaks the sound barrier?
  • The Bugatti Veyron. Being the fastest road car in the world that, if driven at top speed, can potentially drain a full fuel tank in twelve minutes and was sold at a huge loss (it sold at about one fifth of its production cost) and was basically created just to see if it was possible.