Sharoma Shitmobiles in TV

Shitmobiles in TV

Shitmobiles are a comedy staple. In film and TV they show up to highlight both a character's lack of wherewithal and their lack of care or consideration; whether for the environment, their passengers or the people around them. Shitmobiles are approaching a comedy trope. Film and TV, insecure about capitalism, often has to mock the working class origins or simple poverty of a character using this hyperbolic vehicle. Of course, the luxury vehicle represents the very worst of capitalism's excess. The SUVs which a large middle class drive are the number seven biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Edward Bernays, may he forever be branded a scumbag, saw all this coming. Advertise a lifestyle. Make the people feel pathetic without a brand new luxury vehicle to drive to work in. However, not all of us care. Some of us want the most efficient conveyance possible, though we still make sure it is well maintained. Poor people need to get around too. Even the unemployed need a vehicle to get to interviews or, in America, literally anywhere else, since that country (and the countries which emulate its economic culture) has been given over completely to the car. Our cities choke and from above all you will see is endless space devoted to carparks. The simple fact is, it's hilarious to see Shitmobiles represented on TV. We all have memories of rusted wrecks, coat hangar aerials and cars up on bricks across the many council estates and housing projects which contain ordinary working people. So who was the first to display in media a Shitmobile? Well, read on to find out!

1. Mike's 1957 Morris Minor Convertible

Year of appearance in Film: 1972

Featured in: Bless This House

Bless This House is a wonderful piece of nostalgia and is in many ways a 'Carry On film without being a Carry On film', sharing many of the same stars (Sid James, Peter Butterworth), produced by Peter Rogers, directed by Gerald Thomas and filmed at Pinewood Studios. Mike Abbott, Sid's son, picks this car up at the very start of the film "For 12 quid, but he wanted 15!" (£123 in 2023 money). In many ways the car is the star of the show and lays down what will be the main themes of Shitmobiles: thick, black smoke and a tendency to backfire. It also loses random parts, such as the easily detached wing mirrors and a rear bumper which keeps falling off. Notable in this film is the daughter Sally's line regarding pollution and the environment: "In 50 years, this planet won't be worth living on!" or words to that effect. She wasn't far wrong, writing as I am from an area covered in the smoke of global warming induced forest fires and the pollution of so many oversized trucks and SUVs. Her environmentalism is written as a joke, with her cry for an end to non-disposable containers being a particular source of confusion and amusement to everyone else. Back to this psychedelic car: it was still registered in 2011!

2. Bob's 1974 Vauxhall Chevette

Year of appearance in Film: 1976

Featured in: The Likely Lads

Bob Ferris's Chevette starts the film as a well kept and shining example of Vauxhall's economy car. Before long it has its wing mirrors ripped off by some lads while it was parked outside Terry's tower block. Bob then crashes it into a caravan and smashes the driver side window with a rock. It then loses its wheels parked overnight, once again outside Terry's tower block. Bob is proud of his car, although it's a small economy car and perhaps doesn't sit comfortably ouside his new detached house (an upgrade from the smaller semi-detached house in which he lives during Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?).

3. Del Boy's 1971 Reliant Regal

Year of appearance in TV: 1981

Featured in: Only Fools & Horses

Del Boy lives in a council flat and does not have official employment. He is an illegal market trader and the source of much comedy is his 'crappy three-wheeled van' which nevertheless rarely fails him (until the 1996 Christmas special, at least). The audience of Thatcherite Britain is encouraged to laugh at Del Boy's poverty. His vehicle isn't even a real car - in the UK, you could drive a three-wheel car on a motorbike licence - and it's prone to backfiring and emitting thick (presumably) lead-filled smoke. The public grew to love this car, proving for the first time that Shitmobiles are both more memorable and have more character than any other kind of car.

4. Oz's 1969 Ford Zephyr

Year of appearance in TV: 1983

Featured in: Auf Wiedersehen, Pet

"Channel yer Inner Oz!" my best friend has often said to me. It is sage advice. Oz does not care about anything, least of all what you think of his car, a remarkable product of Dagenham's Ford works and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Ricky's old 'Yorker in Trailer Park Boys, with a different coloured door and shades of green and blue beneath a dirty black. The 1969 Zephyr doesn't last long, being abandoned on the Autobahn to Düsseldorf due to a seized engine: "The bottom of the sump's dropped off! The oil has all run out!" Oz is probably unemployed when he acquires this vehicle, since the plot of the show is the quest for work abroad.

5. Buck's 1977 Mercury Marquis Brougham

Year of appearance in Film: 1989

Featured in: Uncle Buck

The late, great John Candy plays Buck Russell, a lovely man, enjoying his care-free life and appearing very committed to his Brougham. Sadly, he is horrendously ostracized by his middle-middle class sister-in-law, who shows him zero respect until the very end of the film, when the character has been so beaten down by banal suburban life that he is now resolved to 'get a job'. It is a wonderful film but the end message is cruel and unhealthy. You didn't like Buck as a person, but you'll show him love as a worker? Buck was happy as he was at the start of the film. By the end, his old carefree life is doomed. Without realising it, this American approach encourages the audience both to keep working, to fear unemployment and to mock those who are unemployed. How can you tell who's unemployed? Well it's America! Look at their car. Once again, the American filmmakers garner many a laugh from the beater Buck is forced to keep driving due to his irregular (and to them, insufficient) income. Buck's Brougham is a classic '70s Shitmobile, complete with oversized aerial and an explosive exhaust emitting thick sooty smoke. This is definitely a theme of Shitmobiles.

6. Onslow's 1978 Ford Cortina

Year of appearance in TV: 1990

Featured in: Keeping Up Appearances

Onslow lives on a council estate. In his front garden is a wrecked 1972 Hillman Avenger 'garden ornament' in which lives a dog. Presumably not far from his house are the group of garages in which he parks his running car. Yes, it's another product of the Ford Motor Company! That's 3/6 for Ford so far. Onslow's 1978 Ford Cortina, like Buck's Brougham, is prone to backfiring, especially on Hyacinth's more middle class estate. Brilliant! Like Buck, Onslow is unemployed, enjoys the greyhounds and seems content with life. He enjoys a bacon butty in bed (who wouldn't?) and overall is much happier than his put-upon brother-in-law. His car works, it gets him where he needs to go. It also has random shades of blue on a black body. Starting to see a pattern here?

7. Del Boy's 1976 Ford Capri Ghia

Year of appearance in TV: 1991

Featured in: Only Fools & Horses

Deridingly called the Pratmobile by Rodney, another Ford creeps into the list. It's hilarious how Del mispronounces Capri. This car lives up to all the Shitmobile stereotypes and serves as an unnecessary reminder that Del Boy is poor. When brand new, this would have been a desirable vehicle, despite the colour. In this picture you can see the block of garages where people on council estates could park their cars.

8. Father Ted's 1981 Ford Cortina

Year of appearance in TV: 1996

Featured in: Father Ted

In series 1 (1995) Ted is seen driving this light blue Ford Escort Mk. III. In series 2 and 3 he is driving a worn out blue Ford Cortina Mk. V, a sign of his priestly poverty and overall alienation from the comforts of modern life. Fans of the show may more easily remember this 1985 Rover 213 which he proceeds to wreck with a small hammer. Coincidentally, it's also a sky blue Rover 213/216 car in which Richard drives Hyacinth around in Keeping Up Appearances.

9. The Dude's 1973 Ford Gran Torino

Year of appearance in Film: 1998

Featured in: The Big Lebowski

Putting together this list has inspired me to rewatch this film, as I haven't seen it in 20 years. This vehicle has its own Wiki in which you can read more about it. It has been noted that the car below was perhaps inspired in part by this one, such as the missing door and elements of green paint. Notably, the car contained an extensive Creedence Clearwater Revival tape collection.

10. Ricky's 1975 Chrysler New Yorker

Year of appearance in TV: 2001

Featured in: Trailer Park Boys

The Shitmobile. In my opinion, this is the greatest car in all of TV and film. It's a 1975 Chrysler New Yorker, missing the passenger door. Originally a shade of green, Ricky almost completed a black paintjob on it. It's been through so much and it epitomizes everything a Shitmobile should be. It is in fact a legendary vehicle. Read its Wiki for more information! As for Ricky, yep, he's also unemployed and constantly mocked by anyone outside the park, mostly the police, for his car's dilapidated condition. He sticks by it though, and the car manages to last almost two decades on screen. Of particular humour to me is the use of a dedicated 'clearing stick' to remove detritus and household objects from the body of the car. When not being driven, the Shitmobile is Ricky's home and he washes in it, does laundry in it, grows weed in it and cooks food on it: usually a toaster oven containing chicken fingers (the good kind) can be seen on the roof or bonnet. Music comes from a sole Kim Mitchell 8-track tape. In one of the car's final appearances, Ricky is seen driving it to a job interview. The person with the power to hire him takes one look at this car and decides he shouldn't be given a chance. Of particular note is the operation of the car's transmision:

"Now, this is a little different than most transmissions. First up, drive doesn't work but third does. Neutral is park, Reverse is second. If you want to use reverse, put it in drive. And the accelerator sticks so be careful but don't be afraid of it, you gotta give it to her or it's gonna stall."

11. Jim Lahey's 1976 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham

Year of appearance in TV: 2001

Featured in: Trailer Park Boys

Also known as the Fuckmobile after Fucky the Drunk Clown, Ricky's name for Lahey. This car starts the series in excellent condition. In an early episode Mr. Lahey is even seen waxing the hood! Throughout the show it becomes increasingly beaten up, even supplying donor parts to Ricky's New Yorker. In the first film it is flipped, crushing the roof. In season 6, Lahey returns to the park and the car is missing its roof entirely. Apparently a 1977 model, in even worse condition, was swapped in for use in the show. Either way, this car goes through much of the same trauma as Ricky's New Yorker, serving as a bedroom and kitchen. This vehicle also has its own Wiki.

12. Twiggy's 1992 Toyota Carina II

Year of appearance in TV: 2009

Featured in: The Royle Family

Twiggy's 1992 Toyota Carina II 1.6 XL meets the requirements of a Shitmobile well enough: it's old, rusted and overloaded with luggage. Jim even employs a urine container (Piss Jug in Canadian parlance) to relieve himself en route, which he ceremoniously dumps out of the window in transit.

13. Gary King's 1981 Ford Granada Ghia

Year of appearance in Film: 2013

Featured in: The World's End

Simon Pegg probably didn't study the history of the Shitmobile when he wrote this film. His character, Gary King, is unemployed and the fact that he still drives the car he bought at the end of high school is a source of great amusement to his class-conscious, middle class crawling buffoons of 'friends'. He should be commended for keeping it on the road and avoiding excessive waste, yet they are bemused by his comprehensive list of replacement parts the car has needed since 1989, when he acquired it. It also has the trademark backfire and black colour. When new, this would have been a very nice car indeed!

Seven of the 13 Shitmobiles were Fords! (Mercury was a Ford marque.) This post has more information on the cars of Onslow's world. Shitmobiles are perhaps the same as Chods. To quote Andrew Butler:

"So what exactly is 'Chod'? - Well it's a word that's been used in recent times to describe a vehicle either in a dodgy state of repair, usually at least 20 years old, now noticeably rare and in most cases - crap. Nothing with a prestige marque is Chod. It's always mundane manufacturers such as Ford and Vauxhall, and the bread-and-butter cars such makes produced way back when."

I find it interesting that two of my chosen Shitmobiles were Ford's 'Ghia' trim level, which was at the time their most luxurious offering. This demonstrates a wider trend in recent times of applying prestige marketing to cars working people were able to buy. Have you seen a Shitmobile on TV or in a film which isn't represented here? Submissions are more than welcome!

Honourable mentions to: John Shuttleworth's Austin Ambassador Y-Reg in 500 Bus Stops; Barbara's pink Mazda 626 minicab in The League of Gentlemen; Adrian Mole's Austin Montego in The Cappuccino Years; the Lawyer's Volkswagen Corrado in Trailer Park Boys.