Dean Winchester: Wh—uh, excuse me—what?
In Real Life, fugitives would most likely use inconspicuous-looking vehicles to travel around; otherwise, they'd be recognized and caught very quickly.
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 types 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 Chevy Impala four-door (a.k.a. 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 definitely help increase the possibility of tracking them down.
- 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.
- Gin, one of the higher-ranking members of the Black Organization in Detective Conan, always drives a Porsche. The specific model is so rare that Ai can identify it immediately, but it never keeps him from blending in whenever no-one plot-relevant is around.
- Exploited in Fullmetal Alchemist: Ed and the chimeras are 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 lose sight of them for a moment. The pursuers pass by.
- 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. Subverted in The Castle of Cagliostro where Lupin drives a Fiat 500 (that just happens to have been hot-rodded to an astounding degree), which boomerangs back into this trope in subsequent episodes/films in which the Fiat makes an appearance as a Mythology Gag — even when some of the more (relatively) recent projects make it a modern 500 as a means of Product Placement, most of them keep it as the original 1957 model.
- 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.
- Justified and Subverted in Diabolik: the title character drives a black Jaguar E-Type because it's insanely fast even before he augments the engine, and, being the public enemy #1, he needs a fast car (hence why he has multiple Jaguars and will steal or buy others if given the chance); also, the police knows he tends to use cars of that model and will give chase and call for reinforcements upon spotting one, hence why he will drive a less conspicuous car whenever he had any need for stealth.
- Subverted in one issue of G.I. 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 cop colors (specifically, those of the Mount Prospect, Illinois PD), 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.
- The Cannonball Run:
- Played with when a black Lamborghini tears past another competitor's car on its way to the finish line. The passing 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. Earlier on the car had been sarcastically described as "cunningly disguised so it won't look like a race car".
- 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!"
- Mentioned in The Dark Knight when Bruce needs to go rescue someone in daylight, and Alfred asks if he'll be taking the Batpod:
- For added unsubtlety, it's a Lamborghini Murciélago — meaning "bat".
- 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.
- 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.
- Pretty much every car in The Gumball Rally. Justified in that only a race-bred exotic (like the antagonist's Ferrari California or the protagonist's Shelby Cobra) would have a hope of winning a balls-to-the-wall auto race across the entire United States. Though there were some teams relying on stealth or deception, such as van crammed with gas tanks entered by the team with the "no stops" strategy (they crashed early due to a mishap with their gasoline leaking and catching fire) and the Police Cruiser entered by the cops (which still gets pulled over at one point because, as can be seen in this picture (the fake patrol car is on the front)◊, the racers only change the decals on the sides and nothing else — so the officer noticed that it has different color, different light bar and is missing the bullbar — or as he calls it, "a funny-looking police car").
- James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 could rotate the license plates to choose between 3 different versions to distract the villains. Although 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.
- 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.
- In The Last Witch Hunter, Kaulder, who should be inconspicuous, is driving around in a 4-door, 550 horsepower, 200 mph Aston Martin Rapide. 37th Dolan lampshades it — it happens just after he finished saying that it's getting harder to hide him — and notes that the car's only saving grace is that it's black rather than stark red.
- Toyed with, but ultimately played straight in Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Daffy assumes The Alleged Car must be a spy car because it looks nothing like a spy car, which is actually sound logic. Turns out he's wrong, and the spy car looks like a spy car.
- Par for the course in The Love Bug, as nobody really sees a race-colored Volkswagen Beetle being used as a daily driver for a little old lady (in Herbie Rides Again) every day.
- 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.
- Subverted in Running Scared (1986). The protagonists' unmarked police car is so bland looking, it HAS to be a police car in the neighborhoods they patrol. They get it repainted to look like a taxi cab.
- Smokey and the Bandit:
- The black 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. 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. However, that year's model (and indeed, that car) were the first to feature the famous (or perhaps infamous) "flaming chicken" hood decal Trans Ams were later famous/notorious for.
- In the first film Snowman is driving Bandit's rig which features a large custom-painted mural on the trailer, an odd choice 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.
- This is actually Lampshaded by Junior earlier in the film and later when Bandit admits he's a show-off.
- Star Wars: Averted in The Force Awakens: the heroes are trying to sneak their way to the Resistance, but it's pointed out the ship they have is too distinct (both visually and in terms of traceable output) for such a task, so they try to get a less conspicuous one. Both the First Order and Resistance find them first, so they stick with the Millennium Falcon for the rest of the movie.
- Subverted in Taxi, where the bank robbers escape in some 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.
- Zoltan, Hound of Dracula: Even allowing for the fact that Veidt had an undead hound to transport with him, surely an ordinary van would have been a less conspicuous choice than a hearse. When Inspector Branco goes looking for anything suspicious, a hearse parked by itself in the middle of the woods certainly fills the bill.
- Genevieve's '57 Plymouth in Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard. Left parked in a bad neighborhood in Baltimore while she investigates a drug den, as by this point in the book she is a forensic medical examiner specializing in vampire-related cases, no longer being a private detective. After giving her opinion on the charnel house, she returns to the vehicle to find it in perfect condition apart from a fresh pool of blood under its nose...
- Demon Road: Okay, so the Charger is special... Trouble is, Demoriel remembers it as being Milo's car/daemonic symbiote, and Amber's parents have now seen it, during the climactic battle in the first book. But it stays with them for the whole trilogy.
- Invoked in Tribesmen of Gor: when Tarl has just escaped from prison, rather than running away or trying to blend in with everyone else he buys some gaudy clothes and puts loud bells on his camel, riding back into town under the guise of a merchant who wants to ostentatiously bring attention to himself. The townsfolk completely ignore him.
- Averted in part in Skulduggery Pleasant; while the Skeleton Detective frequently drives his Bentley, he does have other, cheaper, cars in caches hidden all over Ireland.
- Justified in Good Omens as Crowley, a demon, has a souped-up amazing car and drives like a (literal) bat out of Hell. He has magical abilities that keep him out of trouble with mortal authorities.
- 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 Lampshades this once when Hannibal tells 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.
- In the first season of Breaking Bad, Jessie Pinkman drove a bright red Monte Carlo lowrider with a vanity license plate bearing his street name. By the time his and Walt's meth business gets bigger and more dangerous, his car is destroyed in a shootout; he replaces it with a more subtle Toyota Tercel wagon, telling Walt he should "lay low."
- In Better Call Saul, Daniel Wormald is a pharmacist who made several deals selling stolen pharmaceuticals to drug dealers. After a few successful scores, he trades in his minivan for a gaudy yellow Hummer H2 with spinners, a "PLAYUH" vanity license plate, and a flame paint job. Mike tells him the Hummer might as well be a "flashing neon sign that says 'DRUG DEALER'."
- 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 Chuck, Sarah Walker's personal vehicle is a Porsche 911 Carrera, which she drives around while masquerading as an unassuming retail worker who sells hot dogs and frozen yogurt for a living. Chuck lampshades it when he first sees the car.
Chuck: Wienerlicious really pays well, huh?
- 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.
- 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.
- Parodied in "The Bells of Saint John", where the villain does try to track the TARDIS and leads to a "serious embarrassment" when they accidentally mistake a surviving real Police Box in Earl's Court for it.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Impala from Supernatural, of course.
- "Heart": Madison lampshades this.
Madison: You know, for a stakeout, your car's a bit conspicuous.
- "Folsom Prison Blues": 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": Despite the events of "Folsom Prison Blues", 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": A big blue van that's been spotted at multiple crime scenes is even more conspicuous than Dean's baby.
- "Devil May Care": 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.
- "Heart": Madison lampshades this.
- 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.
- Torchwood: A covert, officially-nonexistent organization that gets around in a large, highly-customized SUV with their name painted on the side. This one's actually Played for Laughs - even old ladies know about "bloody Torchwood!".
- In one episode of Titus, Christopher gives his father's truck a flashy new paint job. Later, the father is pulled over at a sobriety checkpoint, and blames Christopher, because, "You built me a cop magnet! I might as well be a black guy driving a large powdered doughnut!"
- 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.
- In the "narcocorrido" song "La Suburban Dorada" By Los Huracanes del Norte, this trope is what ends up spelling doom for a couple of Stupid Crooks on a drug run: they are driving the titular golden Suburban (because it's armored and has a massive engine) and when they run into a roadblock a dirty cop tells them that there is an APB on it and they should change cars immediately. The drug runners decide that Murder Is the Best Solution. The end result: the runners become the target of a massive Cop Killer Manhunt and it doesn't looks like they'll be able to get away by the time the song ends.
- The Killjoys' Trans Am, or Dangercar.
- Lady Penelope of Thunderbirds never seems to suffer any problem with being a secret agent despite always riding around in FAB 1, a very distinctive, uniquely designed, bright pink Rolls-Royce.
- Subverted in The Muppet Movie: Fozzie's Studebaker is painted with psychedelic colors by the Electric Mayhem to help Kermit elude Doc Hopper. This, at least, had a chance of working because Hopper had encountered Kermit and Fozzie before when the Studebaker was a tan color. The paint job doesn't fool Hopper or his assistant Max because Max looks straight at who's in the car, but it does hide it surprisingly well when they stop in front of a similarly-painted billboard. See the Page Image above.
- Feng Shui has a special Schtick called "Signature Ride", which provides the Player Character that chooses 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 of Rule of Cool, it is expected for the Signature Ride to be a powerful and rare type of car (or a similar type of "cool" ride, like a truck), and thus there are notes on the game that a Game Master has the final call whether or not people can track the Player Character through the car.
- GURPS has an advantage called "Signature Gear", which gives the Player Character a piece of equipment (which can be a vehicle) with plot immunity. In the Action supplement, such equipment can also never be traced/tracked by the party's foes. This change was made partly to allow the Player Characters to have cool rides and not be caught because of them.
- If a character in a piece of media had a toy line that can involve vehicles, this will become true of them whether they have one in-universe or not.
- In very nearly every incarnation, the Robots in Disguise are really bad at the disguise part.
- Transformers Generation One had Autobot vehicles with varying degrees of effectiveness: a yellow Volkswagen, a red van, and a 1979 Freightliner could probably be seen driving down any stretch of road in America without raising an eyebrow, but that same group becomes far more conspicuous when joined by a Porsche 935 and a Lancia Stratos Turbo 5 both in full racing livery. The Decepticons, meanwhile, prefer either sheer power or perfect infiltration in their alt-modes, choosing F-15s and micro-cassette recorders to go about their business.
- The Autobot cast of Transformers Armada was an eclectic mix of Formula One race cars, heavy utility vehicles, and sports cars, but also notably features one of the most common looking Autobots in franchise history with Sideswipe, a modest sedan. Unfortunately, Armada Sideswipe is infamous for being one of the worst toys in franchise history, with even his "boring car mode" being ridiculed along with his articulation, proportions, robot mode, gimmick...
- Transformers has an Autobot cast consisting primarily of concept sport-and-muscle cars, only a few of which ever made it to mass consumer production. In fact, Bumblebee's "Concept Camaro" alt mode would be far more inconspicuous in reality a few years after the 2007 film than it was in the original context. Optimus Prime turns into a fairly common Peterbilt 379... with an incredibly conspicuous flaming paint deco. The Decepticons, again, prefer American military vehicles and compact home electronics due to their initial goal of infiltrating the American government. In the sequel, they add heavy construction equipment to their arsenal, since it likewise would be inconspicuous in nearly any locale. Still, of the Decepticons that turn into cars, they manage to pick quite conspicuous alt modes: A Saleen Mustang itself disguised as a cop car and an Audi R8 parked in a poor part of Shanghai.
- In Transformers: Age of Extinction the Autobots are on the run and incognito, so keeping a low profile is absolutely paramount. Naturally, Crosshairs turns into a Corvette Stingray in a vivid green-and-black racing deco, and Drift turns into a Bugatti Veyron in black-and-electric-blue. Optimus begins the film wearing a very non-descript and nostalgic rusted out red '79 Freightliner truck mode, but once He's Back, he dons a brand new long-nose truck with the exact same ultra-distinct red and blue flame deco he had in the first three films. In the sequel they're joined by Hot Rod, who abandons his classic Citroen car mode to turn into a black-and-orange Lamborghini Centenario. This actually bites them in the tailpipe in The Last Knight, the authorities know to search for the Autobots and, in order to escape, they need Cogman and Sir Edmund Burton to run interference for them.
- Transformers: Prime features Knockout, a Decepticon who loves cars and would rather die than turn into something inconspicuous. As a result, his cover is blown almost immediately. Later on, Smokescreen has the same problem, managing to pick out the one sports car on the road and scanning it, donning a bright red-white-and-blue racing livery in the process. Incidentally, Bumblebee's choice of alt mode fits the real-world history of the film version's alt mode: he turns into what should, by all rights, be a very recognizable and conspicuous muscle car, but it also happens to be one of the most popular models on the road, letting him blend in with the crowd.
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City: The assassin Lance Vance and his immaculate white Lamborghini-sorry, Infernus. 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.
- Exaggerated Trope in Grand Theft Auto V online mode. You can drive anything from an armored car to several types of Weaponized Car and still escape the police by hiding from their sight for a few minutes.
- Averted in the singleplayer game. The protagonists' trademark vehicles are good all around but aren't particularly showy. Michael and Franklin drive some pretty average-looking sedans, and Trevor uses a rusty old truck.
- 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.
- Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Carbon and Undercover. To lower notoriety with the police, it's a simple matter of changing the visual appearance of the car. Even if the (usually egregious) paint job is the exact same as before, they won't bat an eye because of the different spoiler and rims.
- Justified in two different ways in Saints Row IV: first, the "police" are part of the simulation and don't have much depth of programming, and second, the plot is entirely about screwing with the simulation's programming anyway. The stolen ambulance that you painted bright Saints purple and outfitted with hubcap blades aren't considered noticeable because the simulation isn't built to notice it.
- The animated series of The Littles has recurring villain Dr. Hunter constantly driving around in a high-tech black van. It seemingly is the only van of this make and model in the whole valley, because as soon as any of the protagonists see it driving around, they instantly recognize it as Dr. Hunter's.
- 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 Gallagher?
- The second Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (the Real Life road race that inspired The Gumball Rally and Cannonball Run films) was won by legendary racer Dan Gurney and legendary auto journalist Brock Yates in a Ferrari Daytona that Gurney described as "cleverly disguised as a racing car" — painted in Sunoco colors (midnight blue with yellow pinstripes) and some additional sponsors' decals.
- A Justified Trope for the Mark II Jaguar with British criminals in the 1960s. There were many more ordinary cars to use as getaway cars but the 220 horsepower Jag was so popular because it was pretty much the quickest point-to-point car that could fit more than two passengers available. The bobbies also drove Mark II police cars to pursue said getaway cars. An interesting detail about the British police Jags: they had a black crackle-finish dash panel in place of the standard real wood trim. The factory did this simply by painting over the wood veneer.