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Adrenaline Refueled: The Cars of the Transporter Series

transporter

There are films where a car is the central focus. There are films where the cars become the star. There are films with ordinary cars in great chase sequences and those which are nothing but chase sequences, with as many supercars as possible.

And then there is The Transporter franchise (known internationally as Le Transporteur), a hybrid of martial arts and European car movies which began as film partly inspired by BMW’s ‘The Hire” series, is now having its fourth movie setting up a second trilogy. Written and produced by the French film-maker Luc Besson, and known for launching English actor Jason Statham into action hero stardom. Statham was “Frank Martin” and he has been replaced by both Chris Vance and Ed Skerin as the eponymous hero of this franchise.

The Transporter films all follow a mercenary in a tailored suit who likes to drive very fast and kick people in the face. And who has rules. The recurring motif of the trilogy is that The Transporter is a man who lives by rules (leaving aside that the plot of each film is always predicated on his having to break them).

His rules as a driver for hire are: never change the deal; no names; and never open the package. His rules for the car, which include wearing your seat belt and never drinking coffee inside, begin with the uncompromising: “Respect a man’s car, and the man will respect you.”

Given what Statham does with the cars – driving them off multi-storey parking garages, across rooftops, straddling alleys, off bridges into lakes, into the back of moving trains, and so on – his definition of respect is obviously fairly flexible. But what cars does he respect? Over the course of the three films he drives several, but with the exception of a Lamborghini in Transporter 2, most are powerful, but understated, top-end road cars, rather than flashier Ferraris, McLaren F1s or Bugatti Veyrons.

In the first film, his car is a 1999 BMW E38 753i, a vehicle with a set of firsts to its name. The series, produced between 1994 and 2001, introduced xenon headlights (that completely blind anyone coming in the opposite direction) and were the first European cars with integrated sat-nav. The flagship 750 model had been James Bond’s car two years earlier, in Tomorrow Never Dies. Statham’s 753i, however, benefited from an upgraded V8 engine which offered a marked increase in torque and 282 hp. Unfortunately, it was blown up at a French petrol station by a briefcase he had been asked to transport.

Cross about this, our hero then puts the hurt on the bad guys with some choice choreography by famed action director/choreographer Corey Yuen, and drives off in a stolen Mercedes W140. This car, one of the S-class, offered a number of innovative safety features, such as side airbags, Brake Assist and Mercedes’ Electronic Stability Program, a computer-aided system which helped to stabilize the vehicle in tricky driving conditions. Usefully, it also had an Adaptive Damping System to bolster the shock absorbers when the car was being driven aggressively, which is the only way Jason knows how to drive. Most of them didn’t feature a kidnapped Triad leader’s daughter tied up in the back.


In the sequels, Jason opts for the top of the line W12 model of the 6-litre Audi A8, which he starts out by driving much more sensibly, because (in Transporter 2) he is ferrying a small boy around. Soon, however, he is taking advantage of its top speed of 335hp to tear around Miami, chasing drug-dealing baddies and evading what seem to be hundreds of police cars. The baddies attempt to blow this car up, too, but Jason manages to remove the explosive. In fact, the vehicle makes it to the end of the film in one piece, since he decides to chase the airplane the chief villain is fleeing in with the man’s own Lamborghini Murciélago Roadster, no doubt reasoning that since its styling was modeled on the B-2 stealth bomber, it would be at home on a runway.


For Transporter 3, Jason is back in France, but sticking with the A8, though it is an armored 2008 post-facelift model. This included helpful features such as Side Assist and Lane Assist, which warned of cars in the blind spot and put on the indicators if you forgot to.

The movie may be a fine testament to the Audi’s resilience, but it is nothing compared with what the car has to go through in the series. The TV show used the same car but really put it through the wringer in terms of crashes and explosions as opposed to the movies where Frank emphasized keeping the car mint. The new movie upgrades the car to the S8 which just means a sportier body and refined special features as befitting this light reboot.

Author: Stefano De La Cuesta

Stefano is a 2013 Communications and Film graduate of Lake Forest College. Stefano has been a fan of cars since seeing countless car chases in movies and TV leading him to follow up on the culture surrounding them and the automotive industry. Always looking for new outlets to share his enthusiasm and passion for serious discussion about everything from Automotive to Arts, Stefano believes that anything creative, "good" or "bad" has something to say and can be enriching experiences that help us further understand the world.

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