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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 driving an elaborately customized showrod (usually done by George Barris) and inevitably available as a scale model kit (sometimes still, if the original tooling survives).

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.


Examples:

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 ended up being this. In 1941, a 1916 Model T was a reasonably common 25-year-old Alleged Car. By the 1980s, it was a museum piece.

Film
  • 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.
      • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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.

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 classic example.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Seventies, he'd prefer the seventies Mustang to a sixties one.

Webcomics
  • 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.

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.
  • 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.


Impractically Fancy OutfitAdverbly Adjective NounImprobably High IQ
Humongous MechaTravel CoolI Need No Ladders
Cool TrainThe Utterly and Completely Definitive Guide to CoolHellish Horse
Improbable Use of a WeaponThis Index Is Highly ImprobableImprobably High IQ
Hummer DingerMotor Vehicle TropesInvincible Classic Car
Cool CarVehicle IndexCool Horse
Improbable Hair StyleImageSource/PhotographyImprovised Weapon

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