Mapping out movie car chases

Car Culture
Opening car chase sequence from Quantum of Solace

The car chase is a staple of the action movie genre. They’re popular due to the fact they generate a great deal of intensity and excitement, both because of the speed of the vehicles involved, as well as the potential for collisions. In the end though the hero always manages to get away scratch-free!

How realistic are these car chase scenes? Leave aside the need for stuntmen, supplementary explosions, and special effects, and how likely is it that these car chases actually happened?  I’ve taken a look at some classic car chases and the routes they actually took, in order to give you the opportunity to recreate them. Take a look below. NB: Contains spoilers!

‘Bullitt’ (1968) – San Francisco

Bullitt poster
Bullitt car chase map

The famous car chase scene from Bullitt sees hero Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) in a 1968 Ford Mustang GT being up against a pair of hitmen driving a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T. This is regarded as the first car chase in modern movie history, and is arguably also the most celebrated, presenting 10 minutes and 54 seconds of pure intensity.

The San Francisco car chase begins near the Army streets in Bernal Heights and proceeds west towards York Street. The two cars then magically appear on 20th Street at Kansas Street in the Potrero Hills district. They continue north on Kansas Street for about two blocks before suddenly transporting to the Russian Hill/North Beach area.
From Filbert Street, Bullitt crosses Mason Street then heads northwest on Columbus Avenue. He makes a left on Leavenworth and heads south toward Lombard and the chase continues for one block on Larkin Street.

From here, McQueen tries to get the upper hand by attempting to follow the hitmen onto Chestnut Street. However he understeers badly and is forced to stop and back up in order to make the turn. Both then appear heading west towards Jones Street, before making a left onto Lombard Street.  They continue downhill arriving at Filbert Street before turning left to pass the Chinatown campus of San Francisco City College. Continuing north on Laguna Street they pass the famous Safeway supermarket and Fort Mason and reach Crissy Field near the Golden Gate Bridge.

The final stretch of the car chase makes a jump to Olmstead Street. At the intersection of Mansell Street they continue into McLaren Park. Shortly afterwards the chase ends when the Charger crashes in flames at a gas station on the corner of Guadalupe Canyon Parkway and North Hill Drive.

You can see the scene remade shot-for-shot here:

‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008) – Lake Garda to Siena, Italy

Quantum of Solace poster

Although the majority of Quantum of Solace is somewhat forgettable, the opening car chase sequence is most definitely not. It begins from Malcesine, a castle-topped town in the Province of Verona, and snakes north along the eastern shore of Lake Garda. The narrow, tunnelled and winding roads make for a thrilling opening chase. Bond in the Aston Martin DBS takes the SS249 lakeside road through Navene, which heads west around the north of the lake at Riva del Garda. He then takes the Gardesana –through tunnels and cornices.

The chase leaves the road at Limone Sul Garda to climb higher above the lake along the Tremosine – the steep mountainsides above Garda’s western shore – and then returns to the lakeside before reaching Salò.

Bond manages to somehow cover the following 200 miles to Cararra in only a few seconds to reach the Fantiscritti quarries. This is where the villain’s Alfa Romeo 159 crashes off the road on a mountainside overlooking the Mediterranean.

007 then drives coolly south in his debris-ridden vehicle to Medieval town of Siena in southern Tuscany.

‘The Bourne Identity’ (2002) – Paris

The Bourne Identity poster
The Bourne Identity car chase map

The Bourne Identity is all about high intensity, and the car chase around the wet streets of Paris is one of the most dramatic sequences in the entire film. It begins at the Gare du Nord – the busiest railway station in Europe – and follows Jason Bourne and Marie as they try to escape from the police in a beat-up old Mini.

As they exit the station they rush across the Place Vendôme, before arriving in Belleville way to the east of Paris. Bourne manages to lose the cops in a tight spot here as he turns right from rue du Transvaal down the tight Passage Plantin and onto the rue des Couronnes.  In an instant we are transported to the quai Louis Bleriot in western Paris which is where Bourne drives the wrong way down the road along the banks of the Seine, south of Pont Mirabeau.

On the Boulevard de Sébastopol he manages to lose the last police motorcycle before turning into the Hotel de la Paix on rue de l’Orillon.

‘The Italian Job’ (1969) – Turin, Italy.

The Italian Job poster
The Italian Job car chase map

The Italian Job, made in 1969 (as opposed to the 2003 remake), features a team of English crooks whipping around the streets of Turin in three classic Mini Coopers loaded with stolen gold.  The heisted bullion gets loaded out of the armoured van at the Palazzo, and immediately afterwards the Minis drive around the block and down the stairs. Next the trio zoom around the arcades within the Galleria San Federico.

Away from the inner city they take the back streets towards the Gran Madre di Dio church. As can be seen from the map, this church is directly in front of the weir on the River Po (which they later drive along).

The domed roof onto which the Minis drive is the Torino Palavela. The production team were nervous the roof would not support the weight of the cars, but everything went perfectly during the shot.  Just around the corner from the Torino Palavela is the famous Lingotto building, which has the Fiat test track on its roof. The ‘Three Mini’ jump was also filmed here on the roof of the factory.

Next the Minis race back up the river to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni near Corso Massimo d’Azeglio. This is where the missing ‘Blue Danube’ scene was shot, in which the Coopers dance around gracefully with the Italian Alfa Romeo Giulia police cars.

The iconic pipe sequence was actually shot in the Birmingham-Coventry Tithebarn main sewer located in Stoke Aldermoor in Coventry.

After leaving the city the Mini Coopers hitch a coach ride up to the St. Bernard Pass in the Italian Alps, and the final shot with the Herrington coach balancing precariously over a cliff is supposedly somewhere near Ceresole Reale.

What’s your all-time favourite silver screen car chase?  Let us know in the comments below!

Luke Rees is travel writer and film buff from London who would love to one day race Minis around Turin! He writes this piece on behalf of JT Hughes, a Nissan car dealer in Shropshire.

1 Comment

  1. Great idea, and excellent realization!
    The Italian Job really stands out as a masterpiece of cinematic car chases.

    Reply

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