By on October 6, 2011

Over at CNN Money, Alex Taylor III makes an astute observation about Bill Vlasic’s new book “Once Upon A Car,”

When Hollywood has tried capturing the auto industry on film, it aimed at realistic drama but wound up with suds… What filmmakers have lacked is believable characters and realistic dialogue. Until now, that is, thanks to a new book, Once upon a Car, by veteran Detroit newspaperman Bill Vlasic. Vlasic knows the industry in and out and enjoys near-universal access to its key figures. He recounts a tale filled with shrewd insights into their characters and conflicts told through verbatim accounts of their conversations. It’s the first nonfiction auto book that reads like a screenplay.

This, in a nutshell, is what I found so appealing about Vlasic’s book: it avoids the temptation to turn Detroit’s drama into a morality play, allowing the story to unfold in a personal, organic fashion. In my review of the book, to be published shortly by The Wall Street Journal, I argue that Vlasic’s approach holds a valuable lesson for automotive journalists of all stripes. Taylor, on the other hand, thinks Vlasic’s story is the perfect basis for a movie, and even goes so far as to make some casting suggestions (Al Pacino as Sergio Marchionne, Tom Hanks as Bill Ford, Tom Cruise as Alan Mulally, Sean Connery as Bob Lutz, Tom Wilkinson as Rick Wagoner). We already know there’s an auto industry video game simulation in the works, so I wonder, does the drama of the past few years make the auto industry a worthy subject for a great movie? At least worthier than, say, “The Prince Of Motor City“? If so, would you rather see a historically accurate film based directly on sources like Vlasic’s book, a fictionalized account with real-life characters, or a fictionalized film-à-clef interpretation? Also, wouldn’t Kyle McLaughlin make the better Rick Wagoner? Discuss…

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24 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Is It Time For A Movie About The Auto Industry?...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan




  • avatar

    It’ll never happen with the suggested principals, no matter who you cast to play them or however strong the story. Can you spell “lawsuit”? Hollywood would be better off making a movie about the early titans of the industry who are all long-dead. There were strong personalities among Henry Ford, William Durant, Ransom Olds, the Dodge brothers, Walter Chrysler, Henry Leland, Alfred Sloan, et al. There are several biopics there that have never been made.

    • 0 avatar

      I would agree about the value of a film about the early history of the auto business, back when the industry was new and full of wide open possibilities and larger than life characters. A film about the current industry would flop, not because of legal issues but because corporate intrigue is so hard to make exciting.

  • avatar

    Rattner: Leland Orser
    Nardelli: Bob Newhart
    Marchionne: Dustin Hoffman
    Ford: Tim Allen
    Mulally: Aaron Eckhart
    Lutz: R. Lee Ermey
    Wagoner: Tommy Wiseau

  • avatar

    They could just re-dub Gung Ho to refer to a Korean automaker instead of a Japanese one.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz


  • avatar

    I seem to recall hearing that “Go Like Hell” and a DeLorean Biopic are both in production.

  • avatar

    I’d like to see someone make a movie about Ralph nader and General Motors revolving around “Unsafe at Any Speed.” Now that would be interesting!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Elmore Leonard wrote a book about a PI in late 1960s Detroit where the Ralph Nader v. GM thing was a back story. Damned if I can remember the name of it, I’ve been wanting to re-read it for years.

  • avatar

    “Woman’s World”, 1954 was nominally about the auto industry. It’s really about 3 execs who are being considered for the top job at Gifford Motors.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Gone in 60 Seconds.

  • avatar

    Seriously, if you do anything of the sort, I’d rather see it as a documentary, along with it’s historical past, bringing it to the present day, ala Ken Burns or someone equally as good.

    I think it would be quite interesting to see how the industry got to where it is today, it’s significance to the culture around us and how it has involved etc.

    That would be of interest to at lease me.

  • avatar

    Oh please . . . Just leave it alone

  • avatar

    Oh, come on guys, what about Wheels?

    Rock Hudson, AMC Javelin concept what more do you need? Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find this miniseries, saw it long ago.

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    ……..having read neither book nor review, I’d tend to side with the majority here……today’s CEO’s, colorful in their own way, are probably not ready for tinseltown……..besides, casting those 1920’s coots will be far easier, nobody remembers what they looked like anyway! And screenwriters can play fast and loose with their private scandals, litigation be damned.
    ……..that lead-off image, however……..I must have that car for my collection!…..the world’s first single seater, fender skirted raceabout, complete with pop-up, or possibly non-existent, headlights, and a first-of-it’s-kind bottomfeeder grille. Whoever made that baby deserves a cameo in the movie.

  • avatar

    Yes. Arthur Hailey’s “Wheels”. They did make a TV mini series in the late 1970’s, but I don’t remember it doing very well, although the book was quite good.

    If Leslie Nielsen were still alive, he’d be the perfect Maximum Bob, as attested to by Educator Dan’s avatar! Sean Connery? Nope, not enough white hair!

    The rise and fall of the U.S. auto industry would make a great story, perfect for a dramatic movie, but to make it work, you can only focus on one or two, perhaps three characters, because an ensemble piece like “The Longest Day” or some other star-studded cast picture that would do well are rare.

  • avatar

    Gung ho? Loved that film

  • avatar

    Another great picture, apparently not available to buy & rarely shown on TCM: “An American Romance”. An immigrant designs a safer car like Tucker, gets disillusioned by the major brands & sets himself up in business. If you ever get the chance worth watching.

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