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Metallicar Syndrome

Frank Devereaux: Now, I'd lay low, 'cause I love life and its infinite mysteries. But you two want to be dumb, that's fine. At least have the common sense to ditch your car.
Dean Winchester: Wh—uh, excuse me—what?

In Real Life, fugitives would most likely use inconspicuous-looking vehicles to travel around, otherwise, they'd get caught quite easily.

Not so in fiction.

If your protagonists, Alice and Bob, are of the Anti-Hero variety, they will drive a rare and/or unique-looking vehicle in order to show how utterly Badass they are. Somehow, the authorities never think to look for their pink-and-green SUV or purple-striped Ferrari, though ordinary Muggles might, if Alice and Bob are the We Help the Helpless type of anti-hero.

A subtrope of Cool Car and Unusually Uninteresting Sight. This trope is about how that kind of vehicle should be a liability precisely because it is so rare and/or unique, but somehow never is. A Cool Car can be cool and not fall under this trope (like Angel's Plymouth, for example)—keep that in mind before adding an example.

Named for the somewhat-rare 1967 Chevrolet Impala four-door (The Metallicar) that Sam and Dean Winchester drive on Supernatural; somehow, the authorities never mention their car when they send out alerts to catch them, even though this would help increase the possibility of capture because there are so few of that model left.

Compare Improbably Cool Car.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime 

  • Despite being an internationally-wanted criminal, Lupin III often drives the very rare Mercedes-Benz SSK. A Justified Trope; his desire to show off is at least as powerful a motive as the money from his spectacular capers.
  • Averted in A Certain Scientific Railgun, where the fact that Harumi Kiyama drives a very distinct Lamborghini Gallardo helps considerably when they're trying to find her on traffic cameras, since they recognize it immediately.
  • Exploited in Fullmetal Alchemist: Ed and the chimeras were being chased, so Ed transmutes their car to make it big, flashy, and purple (as opposed to how inconspicuous it was before) when their pursuers lost sight of them for a moment. The pursuers pass by.
  • Gin, one of the higher-ranking members of the Black Organization in Detective Conan, always drives a Porsche. Ai can even identify his specific model immediately, but it never keeps him from being spotted by anyone else.

     Comic Books 

  • Averted but Discussed early in Runaways, where Chase drives the Runaways around and one of them complains about how uncool his plain white van is; he responds that he got it on purpose because a plain white van is the most inconspicuous vehicle possible.
  • The Batmobile is Awesome but Impractical, since it gives away the fact that Batman (a hero who depends often on stealth) is in the neighborhood. Some versions have the ability to disguise their appearance as more normal cars, however.
    • Sometimes out and out invoked, as Batman scares criminals and regularly uses this fact to his advantage.
    • Batman also incurs this problem with his other various modes of transportation, such as the Batplane, Batwing, and other various bat-themed vehicles.
  • Characters in Sin City are often supposed to be hiding out from the cops or mafia, but when they choose rides, they usually get the Cool Car. This trope is actually justified in that most cars in the city are vintage muscle cars.
  • Of course, we have The Green Hornet and his car Black Beauty. Not just a Cool Car, but one specifically modified to be distinctive. The 2011 movie even gives the Hornet multiple identical cars in case one is destroyed. Near the end of the film it demonstrates color-shifting paint (from black to red), but it's still not the kind of car you see every day.
  • The Scaremobile from Scare Tactics is a one-of-a-kind mobile home. It fits their cover as a rock band, but it is hardly inconspicuous.
  • Subverted in one issue of GI Joe A Real American Hero Marvel; the ninjas Storm Shadow, Jinx, and Billy are rescued from federal agents in a daring airport raid, with the Joes driving off in a brightly-colored sedan. After leaving the airport, they drive through a car wash, which washes off the bright water-based paint and leaves their ride an inconspicuous dull grey instead.

     Film  

  • The black 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit.
    • This is actually an aversion, as the entire point of The Bandit's car is to draw Smokey's attention away from the tractor-trailer he is escorting. In perhaps a bit of irony, the Firebirds of that year/generation sold in very high numbers. Even though his was a brand-new and top-of-the-line model, Bandit would have probably still been able to blend in a bit with the thousands of other similar Firebirds and Camaros on the road if he had tried, and may have needed to work a bit to get noticed at first.
    • Snowman's rig, in one film, is pulling a trailer with a large custom-painted mural on the side, which is very out of place for someone ostensibly trying to blend in with the hundreds of other 18-wheelers on the highway hauling plain white trailers or ones with less-conspicuous industrial graphics.
  • Played with by the "black and white 1974 Dodge Monaco" from The Blues Brothers. It sounds like it should be a straight example, but it's actually an ex-police cruiser still in CPD colors, and the lack of a light-bar or the emblem on the doors isn't immediately noticeable from some angles. This doesn't actually help very much in the end, though.
  • Pretty much every car in The Gumball Rally.
  • Fozzie's Studebaker on The Muppet Movie is painted in psychedelic colors by the Electric Mayhem to help Kermit elude Doc Hopper. The paint job doesn't fool Hopper because he looks straight at the ones in the car, but it does hide it surprisingly well when they stop in front of a similarly-painted billboard.
  • Played with in The Cannonball Run, when a black Lamborghini tears past another competitor's car on its way to the finish line. The passed car's driver (Dean Martin) asks if it's in the race, and his co-driver (Sammy Davis, Jr.) looks at him like he's an idiot before screaming for him to catch it.
    • Likewise in the sequel, where two hot chicks in a Lamborghini are practicing for the Run by messing with the local cops. They even invested in a false paint job: after getting the local cops all worked up looking for a speeding Lamborghini of one color, they drop by a friendly construction site and have the fake paint washed off. Presto, now there's a DIFFERENT speeding Lamborghini with two hot chicks in it tearing around the local cops!
      "If I tell you boys something, you boys won't think I've been drinking, will you? The white Lamborghini has vanished...but there's a RED one behind me—correction, PASSING ME, and it's got two great-looking chicks in it!"
  • Subverted to the point of comedy in Drive. The opening scene shows Ryan Gosling picking up a modified car for use in a heist. He and the mechanic walk past 5 or 6 flashy American muscle cars while the mechanic quips, "Here she is, plain-Jane as can be, the most popular car in the state of California, the [modern day] Chevy Impala". Keep in mind that a 1967 Impala is the Metallicar.
  • Mentioned in The Dark Knight when Bruce needs to go rescue someone in daylight, and Alfred asks if he'll be taking the Batpod.
    Bruce: In the middle of the day, Alfred? Not very subtle.
    Alfred: The Lamborghini, then. [Bruce leaves] Much more subtle.
  • James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 could rotate the license plates to choose between 3 different versions to distract the villains. Even as the 1960s lacked computer databases of cars, even a thick-headed villain might have understood there couldn't have been too many silver Aston Martins in a given town, let alone in the relative poverty of most European countries at that time. A real London-based spy in 1964 probably would've driven a gray Morris Minor.
  • Subverted in the 2011 The Green Hornet film, where the car should be conspicuous, but turns out at the end to have camouflage technology that lets it hide from a police pursuit.
  • Subverted in Taxi, where the bank robbers escape in conspicuously red Mercedes-Benzes and then, after having the whole city searching for red Mercedes cars, they stop off at a garage and quickly repaint the cars in inconspicuous grey.
  • Played with in Johnny Dangerously, when Johnny and Lil are making their escape in a black...uh, white...uh, duckies-and-bunnies car that was previously covered in layers of shelf paper specifically so they could invoke the trope.
  • Averted in Need for Speed. Tobey drives a fairly rare Shelby Mustang with a distinctive paint job on his cross-country journey, and after escaping the police in Detroit, police chatter specifically says to be on the lookout for that type of car. Later on, when he stops to refuel, he almost gets arrested because a cop spots the car and decides to investigate.

     Live-Action TV  

  • The Impala from Supernatural, of course.
    • "Heart" (S02, E17): Madison lampshades this.
      Madison: You know, for a stakeout, your car's a bit conspicuous.
    • "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, E19): They leave the Impala parked right beside the prison (unless Deacon moved it there for their escape from wherever they'd left it parked when they went on the museum heist, either way, it should have been noticed), and continue to drive Dean's baby despite claiming they need to "go deep".
      Sam: "Deep", Dean? We should go to Yemen.
    • "What Is And What Should Never Be" (S02, E20): Despite the events of "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, E19), Dean keeps driving his 1967 Chevy Impala, but he did switch out the license plates, from Kansas "KAZ 2Y5" to Ohio "CNK 80Q3", which includes the rising sun from the Ohio State Seal and reminds us that Ohio is the Birthplace of Aviation.
    • This changes in season seven—leading to the page quote—when the Leviathans learn how well they can use society's infrastructure against the Winchesters. The Impala is hidden for most of the season and the brothers rely on a series of stolen cars. Dean is not happy.
    • "Freaks And Geeks" (S08, E18): A big blue van that's been spotted at multiple crime scenes is even more conspicuous than Dean's baby.
    • "Devil May Care" (S09, E02): The Impala is still parked right in front of the entrance to the secret underground bunker after half a season. It doesn't get moved inside until they find the bunker's garage two episodes later.
  • The A-Team's black van with custom red trim, though it got noticed as "the A-Team's Van" once or twice during the series. Not very often, though.
    • Face Lampshaded this once when Hannibal told him to keep tailing the episode's villain in his white-with-red-stripes Corvette:
      Face: He's going to know I've been following him in the 'Vette.
  • Referenced on The Muppet Show when Sam the Eagle complains that guest star Elton John "dresses like a stolen car."
  • Nash Bridges' Hemi Cuda (of which there are like 7 in existence). He drives it everywhere, even while undercover.
  • Perhaps justified on Burn Notice. The team tends to use fancy cars for their high-speed chases and wealthy cover identities. But they also go through a lot of cars—stealing (and then returning) new ones for almost every job and buying junkers when they're more appropriate. The exceptions include Michael's Charger, which really should have been recognized at some point. Of course, he blew it up, so that isn't going to happen now.
    • Most of the time, Michael isn't really hiding from anyone, so there's no point in tracking him down through his car. It's easier to just ask one of the many people who know where he lives.
  • In the Middle East Special of Top Gear, the hosts had to sneak across Syria. At first, they tried to modify their convertibles to more desert-ready conditions. They painted their cars in various colors and added some accessories. When they realized that it was too dangerous, they dressed up in burkas and drove down the roads. Their cars were still convertibles with crazy paint jobs and stuck out like sore thumbs.
  • Lampshaded on In Plain Sight after Mary's car is destroyed and she gets a muscle car as a temporary replacement. She wants to keep it permanently but her boss tells her that, working for Witness Protection, she cannot drive a car that people will notice and remember.
  • Torchwood: A covert, officially-nonexistent organisation that gets around in a large, highly-customized SUV with their name painted on the side.
  • In Doctor Who, the Doctor's TARDIS is mode-locked as a police box from 1963, which, while a common sight when the series premiered, has become increasingly anachronistic with each passing decade. Lampshaded in the revived series, where the Doctor finally explains that it's equipped with a Perception Filter that prevents (most) people from noticing this.
    • Parodied in "The Bells of St. John", where the villain does try to track the TARDIS and leads to a "serious embarrassment" when they accidentally mistook a surviving real Police Box in Earl's Court for it.
    • In one serial from the 80s, the 6th Doctor actually got around to trying to fix the chameleon circuit, but it just made matters worse: the TARDIS vworped into the middle of South-East London disguised as a Hammond Organ and just got less inconspicuous from there. He apparently gave up after that and left it on the police box setting.
  • Lady Penelope of [[Thunderbirds]] never seemed to suffer any problem with being a secret agent despite always riding around in FAB 1, a very distinctive, uniquely designed, [i]bright pink[/i] Rolls-Royce.

     Music 

  • Aversion: 50 Cent—"Gotta Make It to Heaven":
    In the hood they identify niggaz by they cars/So I switch off bass to stay off the radar.
  • The Killjoys' Trans Am, or Dangercar.

     Video Games 

  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City: The assassin Lance Vance and his immaculate white Lamborghini. Granted, he's driving it around a town that is analogous to 1980s Miami, but it's still a bit flashy for a career criminal with a price on his head.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned: Terry's alternate mode of transport is a restored and heavily customized 50s panel truck. It is colorfully adorned with The Lost's gang insignia and used to ferry his (very illegal) supply of weapons.
  • A Cool Starship example in Mass Effect 3 as, despite Shepard being a priority target and having a ship that's the only known vessel of its type in the galaxy, the Normandy is able to perform a Gunship Rescue in the middle of the Reaper invasion and later perform an emergency evac right in front of Harbinger without drawing any attention whatsoever. Justified as the ship is equipped with a stealth system that renders them invisible to sensors (but not visual inspection), as well as having a Reaper IFF onboard which marks them as a friendly target.
    • Lampshaded by EDI in the same game, who mentions that the Reapers have begun to figure out what they're doing, forcing her to try and impersonate a Reaper to keep their masquerade going long enough to bug out of the system.

     Western Animation 

  • Lampshaded on an episode of The Venture Bros.
    Hunter Gathers: You call parking a supersonic jet in front of a titty bar inconspicuous? Who taught you to be a spy? F***ing Ghallagher?


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