Saturday, October 24, 2015

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ( 1968 ) - The Story of the Motorcar

The Classic Movie Blog Association is currently hosting the Planes, Trains and Automobiles blogathon from Oct. 19-24th and we decided to take a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most iconic movie cars ever built - Chitty. 

In 1967, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli assembled a stellar cast and crew to film Ian Fleming's children's story "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" in a grand musical version that would rival any film Walt Disney Studios could make. The book was originally a three-volume series written by Fleming in 1964 for his son Caspar and told the story of an eccentric inventor, Caractacus Potts, who rebuilds an old racing car for his children. As the family drives the car around town they begin to find that it is a magical car, capable of flying and floating. 

Roald Dahl was hired by Broccoli to write the screenplay to the film and he weaved elements of Fleming's book into a marvelous fantasy story centering around Potts, the motor-car, and Baron Bomburst, a mad German who wants to steal the car for his own collection. 

Count Zborowski's Chitty 1 in 1921
Chitty is undoubtably the star-attraction in the film, even though it boasted a splendid cast including Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Lionel Jeffries, Gert Frobe, James Robertson Justice, Benny Hill, Robert Helpmann, Anna Quayle and Adrian Hall and Heather Ripley as Potts two children. Fleming took his inspiration from a series of aero-engined racing cars built by Count Louis Zborowski in the early 1920s which was nicknamed Chitty Bang Bang . The name of the car was coined by the sound the airplane engine makes as it starts and runs. Zborowsi built four different Chittys in his lifetime but the Chitty 1 was his most famous model. Built with a 23-liter 6-cylinder Maybach aero-engine it nearly reached 120mph on one occasion. Eventually the car was purchased by Arthur Conan Doyle's sons. 

In the film, Jeremy and Jemima discover that their favorite "playcar" at Mr. Coggin's junk yard is going to be sent to the fiery furnace as scrap metal, and so they rush home to plead with their father to purchase the car instead. Mr. Potts is a poor inventor, but after Lord Scrumptious buys his invention of whistling treats for dogs, he gleefully returns home with Chitty in tow. And then for two days he hides himself in the garage rebuilding the motor car using scrap material found around the house. What results is a magnificent testament to what an eccentric inventor can create with a little bit of ingenuity and a heap of skill. 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's production designer Ken Adams ( Goldfinger, Dr. Strangelove ) worked with British cartoonist Frederick Rowland Emmett to create a new look for Chitty, a marvelous design that combined elements of a ship with a flying machine. 

Seven different Chittys were built for the film including one fully functional road-going model with UK registration GEN 11. Alan Mann Racing in Hertfordshire built this car and fitted it with a Ford 3000 V6 engine. Dick Van Dyke claimed that the motor car "was a little difficult to maneuver, with the turning radius of a battleship". Nevertheless it turned hundreds of heads in whichever village it traveled through. 

Pierre Picton with his GEN 11
After the movie was completed, Pierre Picton, Dick Van Dyke's stand-in driver for the film, purchased two Chittys, auctioning one in the 1970s and keeping another, which he drove to numerous charity races up until 2011, when he decided to have that one also auctioned. At one point, Michael Jackson desired to purchase the car, but Picton refused, wishing to have Chitty remain in Britain. Director Sir Peter Jackson purchased the car for $805,000 and currently plans to use it for charity drives. 

The remaining Chittys were constructed as props for the various scenes requiring transformations. One Chitty was built with wings, another with the hovercraft attachment; there is a smaller road-going version and an engine-less model for trailer use, as well as the "junk" model which the children initially discovered. 

Most of these were later equipped with engines and used to promote the film worldwide. Two of these Chittys are in Florida today. One resides at the Denzer Car Museum in North Miami, another is owned by a private collector. The National Motor Museum in Beauleiu, UK also houses one of these models. 

In addition, many fans of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang built their own versions of the beloved motor car, many of them being exact replicas. So there are plenty of Chittys across the world!

To conclude our look at this fine four-fendered friend, here are a few specifications to give you a start so that too could construct your own Chitty: 

Length : 17' 7" 
Height : 6' 3" 
Width : 5' 9" 
Maximum Speed : 100 mph
Features : 

  • Ejector seat with parachute
  • Built-in Chittyfied GPS
  • Hovercraft capabilities
  • Flies for hours without supervision

Be sure to head on over to the Classic Movie Blog Association's website to read more reviews of your favorite films featuring planes, trains and automobiles. Thanks for stopping by!


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  2. I haven't seen this movie all the way through. Didn't see it when I was a kid, and when my son watches it he watches the first part solid then skips round and then stops. I keep telling myself I should watch it from the beginning to the end someday, but I always forget until the next time my son gives it his treatment. I wonder if he is fascinated with that snazzy car.

  3. Awesome post! I just love knowing about those famous movie cars and their fate. And aren't you the sly one - picking an automobile that acts as a kind of plane for the blogathon!

  4. What a cool post! I love you how you focused on the car--I had no idea it was such a storied vehicle!

  5. One correction. Caractacus is unable to buy the car after he attempts to sell toot sweets to Mr. Scrumptious, an event which ends in disaster. When hiding from an angry customer at the fair he accidentally ends up as part of a musical performance (Me ol bamboo) and the audience throws money as they applaud.

    This was such a great write up! Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was one of my favorite childhood movies!