Last weekend, through no fault of my own, I watched the 2017 feature remake of 1977’s iconic motorcycle cop show, CHiPs.
It is another in a long line of largely unnecessary feature film adaptations of old TV shows, and while CHiPs follows a well-trodden cop-buddy-comedy theme, it is the first of the genre to feature Erik Estrada, so there is that.
Now, this is Drive, not Watch, so I won’t go into too much detail about the character development and mise-en-scene of this ‘blockbuster’ but will say there are a few laughs to be had, as well as some pretty cool motorcycle and car stunts.
Aim for mid- to low-brow popcorn humour and you’ll be OK.
The standout moment for Australian viewers though involves none other than a black Holden Commodore SS. It even has Chevy badges on it, so the legitimacy checks out.
In all seriousness though, I have to admit there is a real feeling of pride in seeing the export-spec VF2 Chevy SS on the big screen, especially given that for its three minutes of fame, it gets driven properly.
The SS is used as a getaway car from a bank robbery and despite losing the sunroof and rear window to gunfire, there are a number of big launches, plumes of tyre smoke and some decent drifts to let the black Holden show its strengths.
It’s like a visual representation of everything we miss about Australian car manufacturing in one succinct slice of cinema.
Watch the full scene here.
Word is, the car used for the film had the Tremec six-speed manual transmission too.
At the end of the scene though, our hero driver, Michael Peña, reaches for a Molotov cocktail and laments that he must now ‘end’ the car’s life. And to be honest, it is a sad moment.
More ‘Wilson’ sad than ‘Goose’ sad, mind you, but right before the car is set alight, I noticed something and shouted to my very unimpressed daughter, “that’s not a C-Pillar from a Commodore!”
The drive car, the stunt car, is all 6.2-litre, rear-drive, Aussie goodness, but the car that is set on fire, is nothing more than a Chevrolet Malibu. Not even a new one, a 2013 Chevy Malibu (which was sold here as a Holden Malibu), a car for which no tears will be shed.
Now call me picky, but I find this strange.
The production budget for CHiPs is (estimated by IMDB.com) to be around US$20-million. At the time of production, a new SS would have run about US$50,000, which leaves $19,950,000 to make the rest of the film.
Adding a second-hand Malibu would cost the production a further $10k, assuming that it was a perfectly good car.
My point is, why use two cars when one will do?
Could it be that the supercharged Aussie was too good a car to destroy? A case of simply calling O’Brien’s to replace the glass, and you are back on the road.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen some Aussie metal coming to a sticky end either. The Homeland TV series routinely destroyed export Ford Territorys, and plenty of colourful Pontiac GTO nee Holden Monaro models have been crashed, crushed and blown up to aid explosive plot lines.
Even the VE Commodore, which landed stateside as a Pontiac G8, isn’t immune, with a Karma Grey sedan copping a hail of bullets from Hydra agents in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
So what spared the manual SS in CHiPs?
It’s not uncommon for film and television production to swap out the hero car for a less-expensive model or even a mockup for an explosion or other catastrophic stunt.
It was a replica shell on an MG chassis, and not a $20-million 1962 Ferrari 250GT California that sailed out the window of Cameron’s house in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Kowalski met his end, not in the white Dodge Challenger seen in the rest of Vanishing Point, but in a more basic Camaro.
The third Transformers film famously used cars that were flood-damaged write-offs, donated to the production as part of the insurance company’s deal to underwrite the movie. So next time you see Optimus Prime slice through a red E28 BMW, don’t cry, the poor machine was already done.
It’s not always this way though. Plenty of perfectly healthy and desirable cars are destroyed for the benefit of an audience of entertainment in all manner of films. When John McLane went to Russia, A Good Day to Die Hard wrecked 132 cars in one scene alone.
And while there was at least one Porsche and a bunch of Benzes in the mix, it’s safe to say there wasn’t a Commodore.
As it turns out, the star and director of CHiPs, Dax Shepard, is a solid car guy with plenty of GM history in his family tree, so he may have felt that toasting the SS was a tad unnecessary.
As a fun fact, he actually performed the driving stunts for that chase scene, and is rumoured to have kept the car after the production ended.
So let’s hope that means the modern classic status of the last Aussie V8 can now be officially recognised, and JNO-831 can enjoy many more years as a screen-used Hollywood veteran.
What did you think of the Commodore in CHiPs? What is your favourite Australian-made star of the silver screen?
Let us know in the comments below.
James has been part of the digital publishing landscape in Australia since 2002 and has worked within the automotive industry since 2007. He joined CarAdvice in 2013, left in 2017 to work with BMW and then returned at the end of 2019 to spearhead the content direction of Drive.