By on March 17, 2014

Big_Lebowski_Torino_Crash-550pxBefore the Clint Eastwood film (but after the cheezoid TV show), the most well-known Ford Gran Torino in cinema history was the beater ’73 sedan driven by Jeff Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski. This film, which took quite a while to go from box-office dud to sacred document of the Lebowski Jihad, was released in 1998 and was set in late 1990 or early 1991 (a period during which I was also in Southern California and living a fairly Dude-ish lifestyle myself). The choice of a ’73 Gran Torino by the Coen Brothers makes some interesting statements for those who obsess about movie cars, and Monday is always the best day to discuss such things.
Big_Lebowski_Torino_Impound-550pxLooking at 1990/1991 from the perspective of 1998, you’ve got a nasty recession being observed via dot-com boom-tinted glasses, the first one-sided ass-kicking dished out by the US military since Vietnam from the point of view of an ascendant hyperpower, and so forth. At the same time, the latter years of the 1990s saw cars that could knock of 200,000 miles becoming commonplace, with carburetors and mechanical ignition systems dead as global Marxism-Leninism. With all that in mind, The Dude’s car had to be something from the Malaise Era, for symbolic location along the Malaise-Gulf War-Hyperpower continuum as well as for the fact that unemployable Los Angeles loadies could be expected to drive 18-year-old midsize sedans.
Big_Lebowski_Torino_Brochure-550pxSo the question here is: What would be this car’s equivalent today? If you’re just going by straight model years, a 2014 movie set in 2006 with the protagonist driving an 18-year-old midsize Ford sedan would give us a 1988 Taurus… and it’s easy to picture the 2006 Dude clanking along in a hooptified first-gen Taurus.
10 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' GredenHowever, the runup in global commodities prices in the second half of the first decade of the century meant that larger cars were worth a fair amount at the scrapper, which means that even the ugliest Taurus floated a bit above the very bottom of the car-value barrel. That’s why I think that The Dude of 2006 would drive an early Hyundai Excel. What do you think?

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94 Comments on “If The Big Lebowski Were Filmed Today, What Car Would The Dude Drive?...”

  • avatar

    1998 Stratus. The Hyundai speaks of cheapness, but also economy and frugality. The Dude needs to drive one of the cockroaches of the road.

    • 0 avatar

      “The Dude needs to drive one of the ‘cockroaches of the road©’.”

      Hmmm… one of our esteemed commenters, Geozinger, has that phrase copyrighted. You, sir, now owe him a beer!

      So, I suppose the “Dude” must drive a Cavalier? I was thinking either a Taurus/Sable or some sort of ubiquitous W-body.

      For the record, I have never seen the movie or will in the future.


      • 0 avatar

        If I ever get into a room with you guys the blood – I mean drinks, yes, drinks – will flow. No worries.

        I also thought a Taurus would be a good choice.

        I hadn’t thought of a Cavalier but the truth is that if we are talking about the late 90s small GM suckage, then the Pontiac Sunfire wins that contest hands-down. You can learn about the hard realities of the world by lookinig at who drives one of those these days…

        • 0 avatar

          “You can learn about the hard realities of the world by looking at who drives [a Sunfire] these days…”

          That is some of the most poignant truth that I’ve ever read on the internet.

          The Sunfire has replaced the mid-80s Dodge Caravan as the conveyance of the destitute.

          • 0 avatar

            I’m seeing fewer and fewer Sunfires, but still see a TON of battered, smoking, squealing (mostly puke purple) 1996 to 2000 Chrysler and Dodge minivans floating around here.

          • 0 avatar

            A comment I read somewhere maintained that ‘no other contemporary automobile says, “I park this car on my lawn” like a Sunfire.’ That pretty well sums up the demographic.

        • 0 avatar

          Thing is, American cars are rare in LA compared to Asian imports, and it’s been that way for 20+ years now.

          The Dude would drive a ’98 Nissan Sentra. Cheaper than a Honda/Toyota, reliable enough, and seen around LA in fantastic quantities.

        • 0 avatar

          “I hadn’t thought of a Cavalier but the truth is that if we are talking about the late 90s small GM suckage, then the Pontiac Sunfire wins that contest hands-down. You can learn about the hard realities of the world by looking at who drives one of those these days…”

          “The Sunfire has replaced the mid-80s Dodge Caravan as the conveyance of the destitute.”

          I can vouch for this. My mother is still driving her ’99 Sunfire GT. A 66-year-old woman with significant debt and no savings despite decades of making good money as a registered nurse. She likes to smoke, drink a lot of coffee, play VLTs, and buy expensive, useless items for herself and her descendants. She’s already cashing out the minimal RRSP savings she has and paying high tax rates on it even while grossing over $80k. Now, she’s worried about how she’s going to be able afford a decent lifestyle if she can’t go back to work soon, before the eight months of accumulated sick time she had at the start of her chemotherapy for lymphoma runs out. Old Age Pension and Canada Pension Plan together barely cover the mortgage payments.

          The Sunfire was purchased with cash in 2002 as a 3-year-old lease return when she finally left her terrible relationship with her husband of at least 25 years. I have absolutely no idea how long it actually was because the anniversary isn’t something that anyone would celebrate, but I’m pretty sure they were married when they created my older sister. My youngest brother had finished high school and left home by the summer of 2002, so my father offered her half the value of the house to leave as well – $80k – and she took it, buying that car and a nice bungalow for a total of $140k. I have no idea how she can still have a mortgage with these numbers.

          The Sunfire was purchased from an old family friend who sells cars at a GM dealership. I was living in another province at the time and told her to look at buying a new Civic or Protege or something, but she found the experience of dealing with salespeople to be unpleasant so she turned to her friend. The used, low mileage Sunfire GT was half the price of those other new cars, in a land of absurdly high compact car resale value. I don’t know if she got a good price, but it seemed cheap enough at the time. It was still the nicest vehicle she had ever owned.

          The Sunfire is a terribly unrefined vehicle but with over 200k miles on it, it has been reliable. I feel I’ve maintained it well for her and it isn’t abused and doesn’t look beat. She washes the thing frequently and it hasn’t experienced any collisions. It also lives in an insulated garage. It does have a couple of door dings and a small spot of rust at the back of the rear wheel well; probably due to the design of the fuel filling assembly because it’s right below that and there is no trace of corrosion on the other side. It’s still in winter mode right now, so it’s currently sitting on fairly new studded winter tires and has Pennzoil Platinum 0W-20 in the oil pan. Her summer tires also have plenty of tread left so it doesn’t fit any stereotypes in that regard.

          I’m nothing like her. I inherited my father’s personality instead. That’s not a good thing for anyone. I can only see things getting worse for her in the near future. “Destitute” and “hard realities” may be the terms that come to mind when people see this thin, frail-looking, unhappy old woman wearing a cancer cap and smoking in her Code 60 Gold Metallic Sunfire.

          As for The Dude, a J-body doesn’t seem big enough. I think a mid-sized Buick or Pontiac beater would be more his style.

      • 0 avatar

        Ovoid Taurus. Common as cold sores at a porn shoot. Totally unloved. Invisible to police. Cheap, but solid enough that even a slacker/stoner could keep one going for 200K+ miles.

      • 0 avatar

        Why will you never watch the movie, Zackman?

        • 0 avatar

          Well, for a car movie, how could you beat “Smokey and the Bandit”, or the original “Vanishing Point”? All else is just another crime-type police chase/car wreck flick to me. Plus, now I’m ‘waaaay beyond the demographic!

          • 0 avatar
            Sam P

            “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” – The Dude

          • 0 avatar

            @Zackman- it isn’t really a car movie per se; it’s an odd but good and memorable comedy. It’s just that the Gran Torino helps personify The Dude. It’s just a classic. So much awesome in this movie. John Goodman pulling out a gun during an argument during a bowling game is something you’ll probably never see again. Or the German Nihilists.

    • 0 avatar

      It seems to me that the “Cockroach of the Road” title would be more befitting of anything in GM’s W-body.

      • 0 avatar

        You know, my first thought was a 98 Bonneville, but I thought – given the logic above that a large car would be worth too much in scrap to keep – that I needed to go mid-size.

        • 0 avatar

          On the majority of interstate ice skid videos I’ve ever seen over the last decade, Sunfires and Cavaliers stand out as prominent players. And I don’t think it is necessarily the car. Last week while there was still ice and snow on the back roads I met a teal Cavalier. The driver was was a holding cigarette, a cell phone, and the wheel. With her huge sunglasses, she must have had the seat completely vertical and all the way to the dash. It was scarier than meeting the late Ms. Emerson back in the early 90’s when she got a new Fleetwood every year. The Dude is inherently too classy for a Sunfire/Cavalier.

          • 0 avatar
            Firestorm 500

            Around here they don’t even hold on to the steering wheel. You are lucky to live where you do.

    • 0 avatar

      The car must be late 80’s and a less than grand grand tourer (think poor man’s El Dorado). The Hyundai is good, but it lacks pizzaz, as does the Taurus. I like a K-car for the role. It’s a piece of shit that saves the day in embarrassing fashion. Sound familiar? Make it a LeBaron for the tacky two door flair.

  • avatar

    The stereotype is alive and well around here.

    It’s the tilt-hood LeSabre.

    It would also look hilarious driving around with said hood elevated over a buckled front end, post dumpster impact.

  • avatar

    Murilee’s posts really tie this whole site together.

    The answer has to be Panther, right?

  • avatar

    I’m thinking late 80’s Lesabre (with the flip forward hood) with severely faded and flaking paint. Due to their typically cushy first owner experience, but not great resale or fashion value, there were a good number of these lying around waiting to be consumed by automotive bottom feeders until they were ultimately used up.

  • avatar

    It doesn’t quite fit the ages right, but I think we could let a Fox Body Ford LTD slip in based on it being capable of lasting just a little bit longer than the Torino could, maybe?

    That said, the 1rst gen Taurus could work as part of some vague Reaganomics/Dubya paralleling, or something. A big FWD GM (like Crabspirits suggested) would probably be more realistically fitting though.

  • avatar

    ’88 LTD Crown Victoria or ’88 Grand Marquis, of course. ’87 you could still get a two door.

  • avatar

    It’s a little newer than 18 years, but I’m thinking a ’91 Ford Explorer. They sold a ton of them, and by the mid-2k’s they had achieved beater status. I read a book a while back on the founding of facebook, which was around the same time, and evidently Mark Zuckerburg’s first car in CA while he was working on facebook was a beater Explorer.

  • avatar

    Very rough looking ’85 Fox-Platform Ford LTD

  • avatar

    Mid 90’s Caprice.

  • avatar

    1990 Mercury Marquis. Peeling vinyl roof.

  • avatar

    Donk-era Impala.

  • avatar

    Ford Tempo Sedan, beat to $hit

    Flat gray Plymouth Acclaim with what’s left of a quarter top?

  • avatar

    89 Chevy Corsica.

  • avatar

    1990 Chevy Lumina with the typical early 90s GM peeling paint.

    • 0 avatar

      I like the Lumina / Corsica with peeled failed paint idea. the W-bodies certainly soldiered on, but the smaller platform cars were worth less, and similarly just kept running void of maintenance.

      A lesser known dead brand might make for more of an oddity off the same platform. Perhaps an Olds Achieva, or Grand Am.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      +1 on 1990 Chevy Lumina with peeling paint and cracked plastic. Tough enough to still be running but ugly enough to fit the movie. An early 90s Lumina would not only have galvanized steel showing, but the air conditioning would likely not work due to the switch from R-12 to R-134a, forcing lots of open window motoring. I’d expect a wheel cover or two to be missing and some major dents. Nobody spends money repairing the cosmetics of a 15+ year old Lumina.

  • avatar

    It can’t be a Hyundai Excel … none of them made it that far. If he’s a Ford loyalist I’d vote Aerostar, the default family mover of the late 80’s.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know, Seth Rogen’s wastoid character in Knocked Up drove a ratty Excel, and that was filmed around the time Murilee’s proposed neo-Lebowski would be set.

  • avatar

    I can easily see the Dude rolling around in a first-gen Caravan. Plenty of space for hauling a new rug, sliding door makes it real easy to toss a ringer full of dirty undies, and guaranteed to have a tape deck for the Creedence.

  • avatar

    Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon. Late 80s, obviously.

    In a really horrid color, because just faded/peeling paint isn’t enough.

  • avatar
    Don Mynack

    Pontiac Grand-Am, the one with the crappy plastic all around the sides, and in teal blue. Just a horror show of a vehicle.

  • avatar

    I can think of a few options:

    Pontiac 6000
    ’87ish Caprice (wagon or sedan)
    K-Car or the mid-80s Charger derivative
    mid-80s Chevy or Ford van

  • avatar

    92 Crown Vic or a 90s era Impala/Buick Roadmaster.

  • avatar

    I think of big when I think of The Dude…and mediocrity. My pick is a ratty, early- to mid-’90s Eagle Vision preferably with a fender or doors of different colors.

  • avatar

    A dodge intrepid or lhs would be my choice, they sucked, but had room and a certain style and you could find one cheap, but this being calf, more likely a import say Mazda 626 , or a old subie wagon, or galant

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    A Crown Vic that had once been a police car and later on, a taxi.

  • avatar

    Chevrolet Celebrity (not a Eurosport)

  • avatar

    Circa 1990 Ford Tempo in duck-egg blue, or 1991 Dodge Monaco.

  • avatar

    The Dude would drive a 96 Caprice. It was made in fairly large numbers, not fancy, will survive like a cockroach after the nuclear holocaust and was also durable enough to see taxi and police service.

  • avatar

    How about a nice 87 Cutlass Ciera?

  • avatar

    Dodge Dynasty? Or an early cab forward LHS/New Yorker. 92-95 Taurus/Sable is another good option, along with the later ovoid ones.

  • avatar

    88-93 K-car based Chrysler New Yorker. Totally derivative, invisible to cops and cheap.

  • avatar

    I might be wrong in this, since I am too young to have much of a clue on what car culture actually was like in the late 80s/early 90s, but I can’t agree with most of these assessments. When I think of the Dude’s car, I think it was chosen as something that was at one point iconic, and now it’s just faded into oblivion and now all that’s really left are minimum effort just get the damn thing running examples. Possibly reflective of the Dude himself.

    The Hyundai is just too Jessie Pinkman. It’s not befitting of the Dude. Taurus maybe, but it’s just iconic in the wrong way. I see too many examples of beige cars that never had an ounce of notoriety.

    I want to say a beat up 1989 Pontiac Firebird. Gone are the glory days of Knight Rider, but there’s still enough $500 crap versions that any mechanic can go find any spare parts needed in the junk yard. It’s not enough of a cruising car though, so maybe the Bonneville is close enough?

  • avatar

    First gen Chrysler LH cars, in my mind I see the Eagle Vision with faded baby blue paint, but any of these cars would do.

  • avatar

    1989 Chevy Lumina APV (All Plastic Vehicle).
    You know, the dust buster van. Invisible to the cops. Lots of room to party in the back! Tons of plastic panels and trim to discolor and dangle. And plenty of cargo space for your favorite rug.
    Oh, and thanks for the clip Murilee. Movie magic and comedy gold.

  • avatar


  • avatar


    Ford Tempo
    C-body Olds/Buick
    Dodge Dynasty
    Chevy Lumina

    Come to think of it, I see more Corsicas running around these days than I see Luminas.

  • avatar

    The Dude lived in California. Considering what the roads of CA looked like in the ’80s, his choice of beater would have been Japanese. A 1st or 2nd generation Camry would have been appropriate for his character.

  • avatar

    Only watched about half the movie, so I am not completely with the Zeitgeist of the Lebowski myth. Maybe an 80’s AMC Eagle Limited wagon with the vinyl wood mastic decals; faded red-brown? Alternately being california and all… a W123 (300D or 300CD), collapsed shocks and sagging springs? Maybe a diesel?

  • avatar

    A semi-related question – would The Dude still listen to his CCR on tape, or would he have advanced to CD? For that matter, would his preferred choice of driving music still be CCR?

  • avatar

    W Body Cutlass Supreme sedan.

    You are welcome.

  • avatar

    1988 Geo Metro.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Since the Torino was Ford’s mid-sixes car of that era it would only make sense for the Dude to drive a well worn late 80’s early 90’s Taurus. Preferably in a brownish-gold with new head gaskets since they were covered under the recall and did not cost the Dude any of his hard earned cash.

  • avatar

    A Taurus definitely doesn’t have the devil-may-care, vaguely masculine quality that the old Torino has. It just doesn’t fit his personality.

    I think he’d be driving a late 90’s Yukon. Or maybe, just maybe a 2000 Monte Carlo.

  • avatar

    If we’re talking about an arm-out-the-window V8 crusier for the everyday man, I nominate 8th Gen Ford F-150. Peeling paint. Badly cracked windshield. Dented, oxidized door mirrors. Rusting fenders.

    A vision of perfection.

  • avatar

    A used 1997 Crown Vic PI, for gash sakes. Ford RWD, V8.

    Hyundai Excels were off the road and crushed well before their 8th birthdays. By 1998, were as rare as ’71 Hemi Cuda convertibles.

  • avatar

    Dodge Dynasty. With New Yorker badges. With three hubcaps, none matching. One of these hubcaps must be from Pep Boys.

    A Chrysler New Yorker would just be too much. A LeSabre is too common. Fords didn’t offer the same level of Malaise-Inspired class.

    And it can’t be a Hyundai Excel. They’d never be able to find a working one.

    A Dynasty is perfect.

  • avatar

    Most everyone has this wrong. In the film, the city of LA is just as big of a character as The Dude himself. And anyone who lives here knows that foreign cars have been FAR more popular than domestics for 20 years or so.

    The Dude would drive a Nissan Sentra.

  • avatar

    Most of the burnouts and stoners I knew circa 2006 drove early ’80’s Subarus. An early Ciera would be a suitably Coenesque touch but an RWD Delta would be better. It would have to look conspicuously anachronistic to the time. Sealed-beam headlights for sure. ’87 Grand Marquis? ’85 6000 LE in bleached two-tone maroon? Trashed brown ’86 LeBaron convertible? Perhaps the Malaise hangover is simply too strong and our Dude winds up with a slightly more reliable leftover from that era… a Valiant?

  • avatar

    ’88 Dodge Dynasty. About eight years ago one of my close friends bought one for $200 and drove the snot out of it. Great car, dirt cheap to own and maintain, comfy, and plenty of room for a single dude. I thought about a non-SHO Taurus, a Crown Vic, Hyundais, and nothing comes as close to dude-ness as the Dynasty.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    The Dude, cast in a movie set in the year 2006, drives a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice Classic wagon. The woodgrain appliqué has peeled away almost entirely. The velour interior is covered in spilled McDonalds shake stains thanks to years of hauling around several different families’ kids. Since White Russian stains are almost identical to vanilla shake residue, The Dude simply pours his drink into the back seat or on the carpet, should he ever be pulled over by the police.

    The Dude, having now owned this wonderful wagon for two years at this point, always forgets about the door-mounted seat belts, which cause a variety of mirthful scenes every time The Dude slams – slams – slams the driver door (several times to get it to latch, you see). In one scene, the seatbelt spills The Dude’s fresh White Russian all over the front of his bowling shirt. In another, the seatbelt knocks the roach right out of the clip, burning a hole in Walter’s pants.

    The wagon also has ample room for a rolled up rug.

    The wagon is mostly rust, so it does not burn easily.

    Which is a good thing, as it will do duty again as a “family man’s” car, since we’re once again informed by The Stranger that Maude is pregnant with a Little Lebowski.

    Roll Credits.

  • avatar

    in the real world, the nissan sentra might be the way to go but in the movies, i would see a modern day dude as driving a run-down chrysler product. say a cabforward full size or an old town and country mini-van.

  • avatar

    Old topic…but that is kinda what I am about to say… I dont know if the Dude would even exist today…he was a mark in time. Maybe the real question is what band would he hate instead of the Eagles??? Or all the technology….the widespread use of the internet….the movie just wouldnt happen…he could of just found the same rug on Ebay…. BUT!!!! if a car mus be chosen…this it would most certainly not be a foreign front wheel drive car. Now i have not read every post…this dude is much to busy…lol…but I believe a modern day equivalent would be something like the Ford Crown Victoria (box style) or even a Chevy Caprice….something big, something rear wheel drive, and something easily and cheaply bought…. no minivans….no hatchbacks….just a good old four door sedan….easy as cake….;)

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