The Car: The Condormobile
The Movie: Condorman
The Driver: Woody Wilkins/Condorman (Michael Crawford)

I can’t really blame anyone for not remembering the Condormobile, as I doubt hardly anyone has ever seen the film it’s from.

Given the current glut of blockbusters based on or inspired by comic books, it’s difficult to imagine a time when Hollywood was skeptical at best when it came putting four color heroes onto movie screens. That aversion makes Disney’s 1981 action spy thriller Condorman all the more of a curiosity, as it was a fairly silly film centered around a costumed hero, but one that didn’t even have the benefit of being based on a licensed hero. No, Condorman was an original creation and a bit of a strange one at that.

Michael Crawford (yes, the same Michael Crawford who go on to play the title role in the Broadway classic The Phantom of the Opera) plays Woody Wilkins, an unassuming comic book artist who gets caught up in a plot of international espionage between the CIA and the KGB. Woody, who insists that his comic books be infused with a sense of realism, has the CIA craft a condor-themed winged flight suit, speed boat with laser cannons, and a super car that would make James Bond green with envy.

The Condormobile makes only a single appearance, unfortunately, but when it does at last show up as Woody and defecting Russian agent Natalia Rambova (Barbara Carrera) are fleeing the pursuit of the villainous Prognoviach (a group of KGB agents who apparently terrorize the countryside in their sleek, tricked-out Porsches), it ends up being one of the most memorable parts of the film. Armed with no less than four rear-mounted laser cannons, a rear-mounted flamethrower, a camera system (hey, that was super high-tech in ’81), and a retractable hood ramp that can send cars careening over it should they try to ram the Condormobile head-on. The sleek car is propelled by a small rocket engine, it seems, and the aesthetics of the car, of course, match the yellow and brown condor motif of the comic book character’s suit.

In other words it’s pretty much everything that you could ask for in a superhero’s super car.

Learned gearheads might recognize the Condormobile as it was based on the frame and design of the Sterling Nova, a kit car that, even without all the laser cannons and condor insignia added on, looks enough like a comic book car in its own right. The design looks like a melding of a 1969 Corvette Stingray and the Ford GT40. Its most unique attribute, though, is the dramatically opening canopy that essentially combines the doors and roof into one. The rest of the car featured a fiberglass shell with a chassis and mechanicals based on the Volkswagen Beetle.

Other known appearances of the Sterling Nova include Roger Corman’s satirical camp classic Death Race 2000, as well as Cannonball Run II.

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