The Car: 1996 Audi S8 D2
The Movie: Ronin
The Driver: Larry (Skip Sudduth)
Pop culture often remembers or canonizes the cars of movies and TV shows because of the vehicles’ memorable aesthetic or perhaps the fact that it employs the use of outlandish gadgets. Sometimes both. It takes something pretty significant to make just a regular old car with no fancy styling or outlandish gizmos on it really stand out from the pack.
One such vehicle is the 1996 Audi S8, used to often breathtaking effect in John Frankenheimer’s action classic, Ronin. The film is about a group of shady mercenaries hired by an even shadier group so they can steal an anonymous case with unknown contents from an equally mysterious third party. That case isn’t going anywhere without plenty of shootouts and car chases happening first, of course. Enter the Audi.
At first glance, there’s nothing really special about the S8. It’s got some nice lines on it, but it doesn’t really stand out. This is likely one reason why a good driver worth his salt would choose it, allowing him to blend in with traffic fairly well.
The other reason to choose the S8, however, is because with the right driver behind the wheel this seemingly unassuming 4-door sedan becomes a beast of a getaway car. The first instance it is unleashed in the film is in the wake of an illegal firearms sale gone wrong. A brief shootout erupts, but is cut short as Larry and crew flee the scene, police in hot pursuit. The puny coupes driven by the fuzz, though, are no match for this car or its driver, which shouldn’t be surprising when you take into account the 335 horsepower, 4.2 liter V8 engine under the hood. Larry, the group’s wheelman, makes this beast scream through the streets of Paris, taking corners with such boldness that fellow mercenary Spence (Sean Bean) loses his lunch at the conclusion of the chase.
The second chase involves active pursuit of the infamous case, this time through the countryside outside of Nice and eventually into the city proper. It’s as impressive a high-speed chase as any that’s ever been committed to celluloid, topped only by the utterly insane chase in the film’s final act that features cars pursuing each other against the flow of traffic.
It’s sort of hard to put my finger on exactly why Frankenheimer’s use of the Audi S8 just feels so right. I think ultimately it’s just a matter of great sound design, terrific cinematography and some very impressive driving skills on display, with Sudduth himself doing the actual stunt driving in many instances. It helps that these chases look like chases that could actually happen and don’t feature a couple dozen explosions or outlandish crashes.
I suppose that “realistic appeal” applies to the Audi (and by extension the other cars featured as well) here. It seems cool and exciting precisely because it’s a mix of both exceptional engineering (that V8 is nothing to sneer at) and somewhat innocuous design that make it feel like I, too, could somehow find myself in the middle of a high-speed chase through cramped European streets.