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Improbably Cool Car

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"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: The Next Generation 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 '60s were characters who would more likely have a normal family car or old clunker driving an elaborately customized showrod (usually done by George Barris, one of the few builders of such things willing to work on Hollywood's hurry-up-and-wait schedule on a repeat basis) 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 is especially common in a Period Piece since it's the "cool" cars from any given era that tend to get preserved or restored.

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, What a Piece of Junk. Contrast The Alleged Car. If the improbability of the car makes people wonder where the money came from, it can overlap with Suspicious Spending.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Inspector Ginko from Diabolik owns a Citroën 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 & 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.

  • White Sheep (RWBY): Jaune mentions that his Uncle Watts bought him a bleeding-edge car. Jaune has no driving ability, certainly has no license, and there are no garages or roads within two hundred miles of his home. He has no idea how Watts even got the car out there in the first place.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Incredibles: When Bob Parr is fired from his lowly office job at Insuricare and accepts Mirage's offer to work as a super again, he uses his handsome paycheck to buy a sleek new sports car. This, combined with his new optimistic attitude, long hours and one of Mirage's hairs stuck to his suit collar makes his wife Helen think he's having an affair.
  • Vinyl Scratch from My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – 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 cutie mark (which in human form he wears on his shirt).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Barney's Great Adventure: The interior of Mr. Millet's truck contains compartments for a fridge, a freezer, a grill, an oven, and a deep fryer, so that he can eat burgers and fries and milkshakes easily while on the road.
  • The Fast and the Furious:
    • In the original The Fast and the Furious (2001), Brian's superiors suspect Dom's crew of hijacking transport trucks because it would explain how they can afford all the expensive cars they drive. They're right.
    • The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: During the race that gets Sean Boswell expelled, the high school Jerk Jock who tries to take on Sean's secretly awesome Monte Carlo in a Dodge Viper is a Justfied case, as it's his rich dad's car. Sean's car plays it straight. While the exterior is crude and ugly, Sean's Monte Carlo has a full roll cage, racing slicks and a massive V8.
    • In Fast & Furious 6, After discovering Owen Shaw's crew have gadgets that can hack modern cars, Tej and Hobbs go to a car auction to buy bespoke classic muscle cars to take them on in. For the abuse they were willing to put them through to stop Shaw's convoy heist, less rare cars would have sufficed.
  • Nerdy Bully 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 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 (including a W12 Audi A8). He'd do a better job at not getting caught if he didn't always drive the most exclusive models available.
  • While his original form is a neglected Beetle in his solo outing, in Transformers (2007), Bumblebee comes into Sam Witwicky's ownership as a crusty 1977 Camaro (with a souped up engine under the hood), which Sam picks because he thinks it'll help him get lucky. It gets worse when he turns into a Camaro that wasn't even out at the time of the film's release.
  • 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. Possibly an inversion, given that the car is repeatedly demonstrated to be an old beater, and a long way from "improbably cool".
  • 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.
  • Harold and Maude 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.

  • 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.

  • Entertainingly averted in Twilight (though probably not intentionally). Bella's impossibly gorgeous, badass 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. This is also taken to a ludicrous extreme in New Moon. Bella finds a motorcycle (and a rare and valuable Harley Sprint at that) left out on somebody's curb as trash to be picked up and decides to restore it with Jacob.
  • 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.
  • Drew Carter, protagonist of Wars of the Realm, drives a pair of classic Mustangs. This is justified since his dad collected these cars and left them to him after he died. Jake's Charger isn't so easy to justify, however...

    Live-Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: Walter Denton's car is stated to be a jalopy. On the radio, one can leave it up to one's imagination or various uncomplimentary descriptions of the vehicle. However, on television, it was different. On the rare occasion when it's seen up close, or being driven on the street, it appears to be a vintage 1930's or 1940's roadster. If one looks closely, in an early episode Walter placed a custom badge naming his car the "Denton Special". Somewhat averted in The Movie Grand Finale however, when Mr. Boynton borrows the car four inner tubes go flat. The car is also visibly smoking when Mr. Boynton drives Miss Brooks home from Crystal Bay (Crystal Lake in the rest of the series).
  • 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 Continuity Reboot 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 a McLaren F1 which he crashed twice before he repaired twice and sold it!
  • The brothers Winchester on Supernatural roam around the States in a (apparently magical) 1967 Chevy 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 (and unfortunately) 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. When Dean resorts to Storming the Castle in the season finale, he decides to bring it back. "Dick knows we're coming, so we're gonna announce ourselves big."
    • Them owning that cherry of a car is Justified in three 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. Finally, it's a four-door sedan 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."
  • In Miami Vice, Detective Sonny Crockett drives two Ferraris throughout the series, first a Ferrari Daytona Spyder, (actually a kit car based on a Corvette) and later, the iconic white Testarossa. This is Justified as the cars being siezed by the police and used by Crockett as part of his undercover identity as drug dealer Sonny Burnett. Despite his highly conspicuous cars, none of the criminals he brings in ever suspect "Burnett" of being a cop.
  • In Nash Bridges, SFPD Detective Nash Bridges uses a 1971 Hemi Barracuda convertible as his cop car. Despite only seven being made, and each worth more than a million dollars, Nash is perfectly fine with using it for high speed chases down the streets of San Francisco. Unlike Don Johnson's previous role, the department didn’t buy it for him as part of his cover, it's just his personal car. Nash was given his 'Cuda by his brother who went MIA in the Vietnam War. But that just begs the question, how did his brother get ahold of it?
  • The Avengers (1960s) 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. The most available hearse for a teenager in 2010 would be a late '80s/early '90s Caddy, most of which were being sold out of funeral service by then and which use easy and (relatively) cheap-to-get-parts-for small-block Oldsmobile and 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 full of poverty. The school staff Earl tries to teach to fight back against him accidentally blow it up while trying to sabotage it.
  • For a time in The '60s, 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 (customized by Dean Jeffries, not Barris, and commissioned by MPC) 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: Urkel's Alleged Car could have been a Ford Pinto or Chevy Chevette, well worn examples of which were common sights in high school parking lots in America circa 1990; but that just wasn't weird enough for Urkel. 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, on Emergency!. It's not one of Porsche's supercars — it's actually a 1964 356 C Cabriolet, about the last "for the general public" car Porsche made — but it's still a much cooler car than one would associate with a paramedic and a family man like Roy.
  • 17 year old Dylan's pristine mid 70's Ford Bronco in Mare of Easttown stands out as an Improbably Cool Car so glaringly that Jason Torchinsky, then of Jalopnik wrote a full article about the matter. Broncos of that generation in good condition can easily fetch over $50,000 at auctions. Hardly first-car material, especially in low-income Easttown.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Feng Shui has a special Schtick called "Signature Ride", which provides the Player Character that buys it with a car of his choosing that handles better than a regular car (and will either be repaired or be replaced between sessions with little to no cost). Because the game run on a serious case of the Rule of Cool, it is expected for the Signature Ride to be a powerful and rare type of car (or a similarly type of "cool" ride, like a truck). The game even has a discussion side note for the Game Master about whether or not to apply the "Metallicar Syndrome" Trope as well (and the game assumes that the Game Master will normally have it set on "off").
  • In Powered by the Apocalypse games (Spirit of '77 and Monster of the Week being two prominent examples) Player Character classes (or "playbooks") that provide a car among the starting gear are automatically assumed to own a "cool" car or truck (especially in Spirit of '77, because of it being inspired by media like The Dukes of Hazzard and Smokey and the Bandit).

    Video Games 
  • In the Need for Speed games starting with 2008's Undercover and especially 2010's Hot Pursuit, the police force is loaded with all kinds of rare, expensive, high-class cars, such as Lamborghinis, Porsches, Pagani's, and even Bugattis. Ostensibly, this is because street racing has gotten so bad in the area that they pull out all the stops to 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, as in the original Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted games, the cops have Chevrolet Corvettes and other sports cars as pursuit vehicles. 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 top of the line Buffalo S (Dodge Charger SRT-8)... 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 in the hills to move away from his aunt.
  • Activating the "EVERYONEISRICH" cheat in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas gives every pedestrian in San Andreas high-end sports cars, even in rural areas.
  • 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.
  • Some of the residents of Panau in Just Cause 2 may be seen driving exotic cars especially in the more affluent areas, despite the fact that they look nothing like the people you expect to be driving them in the first place, i.e. they're dressed more like villagers than rich folk.

    Visual Novels 
  • Arnold’s car in Melody. How can he afford it on a construction worker’s pay? Then again, it is his most prized possession.

  • 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 

    Real Life 
  • Several police departments organize "Beat The Heat" events (racing police cars modified as drag cars) to give otherwise street racers a chance to legally race. To cut down on dangerous drag racing on the famous Strip, the Las 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. Top Gear (UK) were famously humiliated when their shiny supercars were beaten by sleepy looking squad cars and pickups.
    • Similarly, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol converted a seized Suzuki Hayabusa into a patrol unit. While it is indeed used for patrol duty, its main purpose was more for public relations so that the OHP could better reach out to the sport bike community and the youth.
    • In the city of Dubai in the SAE, the local police force maintains a fleet of high-end sports cars for patrolling tourist areas. It's not that you'd expect them to go on a Need for Speed-style chase any time soon though.
  • In Super GT, there's a team (APR) that actually races a heavily-modified, silhouette version of the Toyota Prius in the GT300 class. Yes, a Prius race car, and the car's using what is essentially a detuned Toyota LMP1 engine. And it's very fast too: While it haven't been able to get a championship title as of the end of the 2018 season, the lead car (the #31 car) has always been one of the fastest contenders in the class ever since APR started to field the Prius.
  • An Amazon operations manager named Kayricka Wortham was sentenced on 7/5/23 to 16 years in jail for fraud. She and 6 other people stole roughly $9.5 million from Amazon. Part of the reason why they got caught? Kayricka started driving to work in a brand new Lamborghini.
  • Similarly, CIA Mole Aldrich Ames first raised his superiors' suspicions when he bought two Jaguars within three years.


Video Example(s):


Barney's Great Adventure

A truck driver whose car has a freezer, a grill, an oven, AND a deep fryer?! SIGN. US. UP!

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / ImprobablyCoolCar

Media sources: