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Just Can't Top This: Spotlight on Convertibles

Lights! Camera! Top Down

Hollywood has carried on a long-running love affair with the convertible. Those who consider themselves students of the studios can prove it with this pop quiz.

June 25, 1998|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unlike other stars, convertibles did not make it big in movies because of their box-office looks, action-adventure moves or moist pout.

It's simply easier to film whatever violence, anxieties or passion might be unraveling inside a car when there isn't a lid blocking the camera. Better lighting. Broader angles. Greater believability when forelock or head scarf is flicking in the wind. Even if the breeze is generated by a studio fan.

Hardtops are certainly hard on stuntmen making train-to-car transfers and skidding on a Simonized car roof. Remember Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief," romping across the French Riviera in a Sunbeam Alpine two-seater? Wouldn't have worked with a truck.

As a result, cars once thought to be mere extras and small elements of movie-making have become major props, carriers of story lines, even characters central to the plot. "The Yellow Rolls-Royce." "The Great Race." Herbie ("The Love Bug") Goes Everywhere. In "Le Mans," the cars had more screen time than Steve McQueen.

Among disciples, recognizing the make of movie car, recalling its year--certainly laughing at the filmmaker who would have us believe good guys in a Suzuki Sidekick can outrun bad guys in a Mercedes E-Class--are all part of the fun and the love affair.

But let's revert to convertibles, and test the wealth of your trivia concerning movie stars that went topless and still retained their dignity.

Grading will be on the honor system, with five points for each correct answer: 100 to 80, you understand cars more than your marriage; 80 to 60, you've been a subscriber to Road & Track since 1952; 60 to 40, you need to pay more attention to late-night movie channels; 40 to 20, back to driver ed.; 20 or lower, time to trade you in.

Answers appear on WXX, except for one, tough, final answer that could win you a Highway 1 commuter mug.

1. "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986) was a horror movie for car lovers. The title character, played by Matthew Broderick, went joy-riding and managed to recycle his best friend's father's toy--a 1961 Ferrari California Spyder--into a beater. You might know the car's end, but where was this Ferrari built?

2. James Bond is a rogue of impeccable trademarks. Beluga caviar and Bollinger Champagne. Savile Row suits and equally well-tailored women. Sobrani cigarettes in a platinum case, and a Walther PPK pistol under his arm. Also cars, especially the classic 1964 Aston Martin DB5 2+2 with all those paramilitary options. But can you name two of many convertibles that were shaken, stirred and enshrined by Bond movies?

3. In "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), Joe Gillis (William Holden) asks Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) about her monster '20s landau--leopard-skin upholstery and gold phone--with chauffeur Eric von Stroheim on the listening end. She says they are motoring in an Isotta-Fraschini. How much does Miss Desmond say she paid for the car?

4. What was the mechanical problem that kept Bobby Cooper (Sean Penn) and his 1966 Mustang convertible under house arrest in a whacked-out Arizona mining town in Oliver Stone's 1997 "U-Turn"?

5. Who was the celebrity donor who provided several of those wonderful '40s Tuckers that appeared with Jeff Bridges in the 1988 film biography "Tucker: The Man and His Dream"?

6. OK, so we all know it was a blue '60s Ford Thunderbird convertible driven to distraction and destruction in "Thelma & Louise" (1991). But did the car belong to Thelma or Louise?

7. "Two for the Road" (1967) was really three for the road, with Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn the love interest and a '50s MG-TD to keep car enthusiasts awake. Just how did that little two-seater meet a fate worse than theft?

8. "No Edsel . . . but seriously in need of a tuneup," was critic Leonard Maltin's verdict on "The Pink Cadillac," a 1989 vehicle, as it were, for Clint Eastwood and Bernadette Peters. No prizes for guessing the make and color of this ragtop, nor that it was a 1959 Cadillac. But what was the peculiarity of that year's design?

9. How's this for a change of character? In real life, Paul Newman is loyal to his charities, marriage, youngsters in need, spaghetti sauce and car racing. In "Hud," he was a crude, insensitive, amoral, lazy, disrespectful, drunken, avaricious, disloyal, irresponsible, son-of-a-bitter-rancher, and a sexually arrogant poacher of human rights. He also raped Patricia Neal. So what were Hud's wheels of choice that eased a little of this 1963 black western from its noir?

10. Who drove the 1956 Ford Thunderbird in "American Graffiti" (1973)--and drove Richard Dreyfuss into a hormonal lather? And what was her name in the movie?

And here's the contest:

Highway 1 commuter mugs will go to the first 50 readers mailing correct answers to a final question. Send your responses to Highway 1, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. All entries are due by July 8, and the answer will be published in the July 30 issue.

Pencils ready? Contestants ready?

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