Those of you who’ve followed the ‘Retropower Heroes’ series of articles will already be aware that the criteria for consideration is pretty loose, and that’s something of an understatement. Over the last few months we’ve covered all manner of cars from a multitude of different eras and disciplines, not to mention Pikes Peak, one of the most daunting hill climbs ever devised.
Not today, though. No, today we’re not going to be focussing on a car, a plane, an individual or even a specific motorsport event or category. Today, we’re going to take a look at the finest car chase ever committed to celluloid, which is, we’ll readily admit, quite a claim.
Car chases have been a feature of films ever since the internal combustion engine first spluttered into life, which makes a great deal of sense when you consider it. Cars are, after all, inherently fascinating things and have been from the very beginning, and they only become more compelling when a multitude are introduced to the mix.
So successful has the cinematic car chase become that it can be quite hard to nail down a definitive list, and the task only becomes harder if you include slightly ‘hammier’ scenes like those found in films like The Blues Brothers. A top ten would have to include cinematic icons as Steve McQueen’s hubcap-shedding Mustang in ‘Bullitt,’ Kowalski’s hairy chested Challenger in ‘Vanishing Point,’ and the weirdly moustachioed Countach from ‘Cannonball Run,’ all of which are brilliant, fully paid up classics…and considered so for a good reason.
Still though, for our money the ultimate car chase can be found at tad closer to home and stars a roster of more prosaic (yet no less interesting), real world machinery, namely the scenes featured in John Frankenheimer’s cult classic, ‘Ronin.’
There’s a very good reason why those chases in ‘Ronin’ are consistently ranked among the finest ever committed to film, and that’s realism. There are no barrel rolls or flips, no cars crashing down ravines and bursting into flames mere seconds later. No, what ‘Ronin’ does well, very well indeed, is cater to proper, fully paid up petrolheads like you, me, and everyone at Retropower.
It doesn’t hurt that Ronin is at heart a very, very good film, complete with stirring performances from Robert De Niro, Sean Bean and Jean Reno, or that its plot is both well written and fast paced with plenty of plot twists. You could (and you should) show it to your non car-obsessed mates and there’d be no complaints.
All good, cogent reasons, but not why we’ve opted to make the film a Retropower Hero. No, for that we must take a look at the cars themselves, all of which would have been common street furniture at the time and remained so up until a decade or so ago.
The star of the show is undoubtedly the Audi S8 used as the principle getaway vehicle in the opening chase. It’s a model that dates from just before Audi’s mid-noughties revival, before Ingolstadt’s finest was viewed as the perfect equal to its chief rivals from Munich and Stuttgart, and before Audi had attained a less than pristine reputation. In 1998 your average performance Audi buyer knew a thing or two about cars, basically, and could probably give you a workmanlike explanation of the principles of Group B rallying and Audi’s ‘Umluft’ system to boot, neither of which are necessarily the case in 2019.
It’s also hard to deny that the S8 used in ‘Ronin,’ the D2 model with sure-footed Quattro all-wheel drive, hasn’t aged brilliantly. Big, understated and remarkably restrained, it’s enough to send you rushing off to eBay big, mid ’90s Audis…which is precisely what we’ve spent part of today doing.
The big Audi was the star of the show, no doubt about that, but it was ably aided by a supporting cast of interesting Euro-metal (some of which even survived to the end). The most obvious examples of this are the BMW E34 535i; just a vaguely fast, common or garden BMW 21 years ago, yet now a sought after example of the best looking of all 5-Series generations and a Retropower favourite. If only we’d stashed a couple when they were ten a penny…
Other notable ‘Ronin’ automotive stars include a Citroen XM and Peugeot 605, both which come off worst in a battle with the S8 in the film’s first chase scene. There’s also Peugeot 406 which tries its best to keep up with the E34 while hammering through the streets of Paris, not to mention countless 205s, ’80s Fords, and even a Lancia Delta.
Whether or not you find these kinds of cars interesting rather depends on your particular petrol predilection, but one thing’s for certain, both the chase scenes in ‘Ronin’ are sublime. There’s no CGI, no cheesy music or asinine one liners, and certainly no endless, Fast & the Furious style gearboxes, just a succession of late ’90s cars being flung about like there’s no tomorrow by professional drivers (one of whom happened to be ex-F1 ace Jean-Pierre Jarier).
Both of the film’s car chase scenes can be viewed here, though you should still try to watch the whole thing if you get a chance – it’s ace.