CC Cinema: The Cars Of “Driving Miss Daisy”

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Driving Miss Daisy is one of my top 10 favorite movies–and that’s saying a lot, considering that I was about ten years old the first time I watched it. You’d think I’d be more into Die Hard- or Lethal Weapon-type movies at that age. Don’t get me wrong: I liked those movies too, but this one, sans action-movie explosions and car chases, is quietly and competently excellent. That it is also a prime car-spotting film is just a happy bonus.

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As the movie is about Daisy Werthan, an elderly lady being forced to use a chauffeur after wrecking her 1946-48 Chrysler (and in spectacular fashion), cars play a prominent role. After the Chrysler’s demise, her son, Boolie, (played by Dan Ackroyd, who proves he can be excellent in a non-comedic role) hires chauffeur Hoke (played by Morgan Freeman), to drive her around. As much as vocal, stubborn Daisy hates the situation, she can’t fire Hoke, who is being paid by Boolie!

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Boolie himself drives a beautiful, bottle-green Cadillac Series 61 Sedanet, the first of many Cadillacs to appear in this movie.

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I have always loved the 1948-49 Cadillac Sedanets, and it was great to see this one early in the movie. In this misty, early morning image, we can see the hind end of Daisy’s replacement car, a 1948 Hudson Commodore. It is implied that it was provided by the insurance company, so perhaps that is why it wasn’t a new Chrysler or Cadillac: As Daisy remembers fondly in the immediate post-crash scenes, “You should have let me keep my LaSalle. It never would have behaved this way, and you know it!” To which Boolie replies, “Mama, cars don’t behave, they are behaved upon.”

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The Hudson is the most prominently featured car in the movie, and even people who have never seen the movie likely know about the maroon Commodore. In 1947-48, the independent U.S. automakers stole the Big Three’s thunder with the ’47 Studebaker and Step-Down ’48 Hudson. While the Hornet, with its six-cylinder “Twin H-Power” carburetion, is a blue-chip collectible today, the Commodore Eight was the top-of-the-line.

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Plenty of cool background cars can be seen, including this ’41 Ford pickup. There appears to be a couple of ’33-’34 Fords further down the street, with the Hudson approaching from the extreme right. If this shot was black-and-white, you’d be hard-pressed to think it was anything other than an original vintage picture.

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Indeed, throughout the film extreme attention to detail is paid to ensure historical accuracy. In 1955, when the Hudson is traded in on a new car, Boolie and Hoke must go to Century Motors to pick up the brand-new Cadillac. Pretty cool dealership, eh?

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We are even treated to a look at the showroom interior, which contains a beautiful sapphire-blue Eldorado, shown here on the left; however, as a restrained Southern lady, Daisy would never want something so ostentatious as an Eldo.

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Instead, the replacement is an all-black Series 60 Special. I’ve always loved the 1954-56 Cadillacs, due partly to a similar black ’55 I saw at a summer car show when I was in first grade. The ’55 model may be the best, though, with its chrome side strip that turns 90 degrees into the quarter panel instead of ’54’s faux air scoop.

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The Sixty Special gets a lot of screen time as it is driven on a trip to Mobile. Despite having this nearly-new luxury car, frugal Daisy does not allow Hoke to run the air conditioning. Boolie sees them off in his new Eldorado Brougham; apparently, the Werthans’ business was doing well if Boolie could purchase a $13,000 Brougham!

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Interestingly, two Sixty Specials, a ’55 and a ’56, were used in the role of Daisy’s first Cadillac (unless you count the earlier, unseen LaSalle). Judging by its oblong jet-tube exhaust ports in the bumper, it’s the ’56 model we see here.

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This movie was very realistic in its portrayal of era-appropriate vehicles, which is something seen  less and less in today’s movies. Lately, it seems that if a movie is set in, say, 1967, the producers figure, “Ah, we’ll use 1960-1975 cars and no one will notice.” Well, we car guys notice!

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Although it doesn’t appear for more than a couple of seconds in the movie, I just love this red 1963-64 Coupe de Ville.

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Here’s another one, apparently a black Sixty Special, at the left side of the picture. Atlanta was quite the well-to-do, cosmopolitan city back in the early ’60s. The images and choreography of this movie are excellent–and, I feel, provide a very accurate picture of 1940s-1960s Southern life, even though that era was long over by the time I came into the world.

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Here we can see Daisy’s last two cars, the ’65 Calais and the ’70 Fleetwood Sixty Special. I always thought the ’65 was a Sedan de Ville, but thanks to imcdb.org (which is also the source of these great screen shots) I now know otherwise. I wonder if there were any other cars between the ’55 and ’65? The white ’70 had only a brief appearance, shown above, and was not used in any action scenes. All we see of Daisy’s last Cadillac is its tail poking out of the 1920s-era garage.

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Also mirroring real life is that at the end of the movie we see Boolie abandon Cadillacs in favor of a W109 Mercedes-Benz, specifically a circa-1971 300SEL. It was a sign of the times, and a neat little acknowledgement of the changing automotive tastes during the early ’70s.

All in all, Driving Miss Daisy is a fine film, as evidenced by its Best Picture Oscar in 1989. It’s a picture I’d enjoy even if all those great cars weren’t in it, and I highly recommend checking it out.

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All movie images are courtesy of the Internet Movie Car Database (imcdb.org). More cars from this movie can be seen here.