Aaron DiManna
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Cars you Didn’t Know Were in ‘Apollo 13’

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A Saturn V Rocket, much like Apollo 13, taking off
Photo: Steve Jurveston via Flikr

There’s a strong argument to be made that the most iconic vehicle in any movie about the Apollo Space Program should be some variant of the Saturn V rocket. Then again, that brings up the larger conversation about whether spacecraft should be qualified as vehicles. Regardless of where you come down on that issue, the Academy Award-winning film Apollo 13 is chock full of legendary Chevrolet and Cadillac vehicles that aren’t just eye candy; they help to set the scene and sell the early 1970’s time period.

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The cars of the stars

All it's missing it Tom Hanks
Photo: Steve Glover via Flikr

The real-world story of Apollo 13 focuses on Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) as they launch off towards the moon in the rocket NASA named Apollo 13, and their subsequent struggle to make it back home. In addition to being a film about exploring space, there are more than a few Hollywood stars who got the opportunity to drive some ageless vehicles during production.

To begin with, Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn (Kathleen Quinlan) drive a bright red 1971 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray C3 during a scene in 1970. According to the IMCDB, there is also an anachronistic appearance of the same vehicle as Lovell speeds home to catch the live television broadcast of Neil Armstrong’s era-defining Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.

During a later scene that’s both inspirational and heartbreaking, we watch Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) view the Apollo 13’s launch from a distance. Mattingly, who was originally set to pilot the Command Module, was incorrectly diagnosed with German Measles, and immediately grounded and replaced by Swigert. During the rocket’s launch sequence, you can see Mattingly standing in front of his 1970 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray C3. Commenters on the IMCDB seem to think that the sports car was also anachronistic since “Bonnet Yellow” wasn’t an available color until 1971 at the earliest, and the takeoff didn’t take place until April 11, 1970.

Setting the Stage

If there’s one way to evoke the feeling of any given era, it’s through the cars that populate it. As such, Apollo 13 stuffed its streets with year-appropriate, nostalgically evocative vehicles. If you squint your eyes and turn up your screen’s brightness, you’ll be able to catch a 1963 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, a 1968 Chevrolet II Nova, and a 1968 Impala Wagon during some of the film’s nighttime scenes. In the daylight, though, you’ll have no trouble recognizing a 1968 Coupe de Ville Convertible and a 1968 Camaro at an Apollo launch event.

Between Chevy and Cadillac, there’s no doubt that iconic vehicles represent some of the most evocative imagery of the last several decades. With the automotive industry looking for its next big break, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing bold new designs emerging. Will any of them match the timelessly awesome design of pretty much every Corvette ever? Only time will tell.

If it’s good enough for Tom Hanks, its good enough for me: The Chevy Corvette