At the moment of this writing, the most popular show on Netflix right now is somewhat unexpectedly a period drama set in the ’50s and ’60s about an orphan girl who becomes an international chess prodigy. It’s good! Even if you don’t know much about chess, like me, someone whose deepest foray into chess was pitting an Atari 2600 and an Apple II against each other in a low-stakes early pandemic-era battle. Also, if you’re more into cars than chess, you’re in luck as well, as the series features some well-considered car-casting. Let me show you.
I’ll do my best not to spoil anything major and try to keep the discussion to the cars or fairly innocuous or overtly obvious details, as best I can. That said, this all starts with a car wreck that’s crucial to the main character’s story, but since I mentioned she was an orphan upfront and that’s really not a secret, I think you’ll forgive me.
Oh, and I should mention that so far there’s only one car listed on the excellent IMCDB site for the series, so I’m giving permission for anyone who updates that to use these screengrabs I took if they’d like.
So, yes, it all kind of starts with a car crash, and in this case, it’s a Ford-on-Ford literal mashup, with what appears to be a 1948-ish Ford F1 pickup climbing up and over a 1949-1951 Ford sedan, which was, incidentally, the first new post-WWII design to be introduced by the Big Three.
Next up we see a four-door version of the car that inspired so many Hawaiian shirt prints and In-N-Out bathroom-hallway framed posters: a 1957 Chevrolet. Actually, the shirts and posters are more likely to be the Bel Air spec, and I think this state-owned sedan is likely the Two-Ten trim level, based on the lack of the chrome “V” on the nose and the lack of black rubber cones on those two round protuberances on the bumper.
This little worker bee seems to be a 1938-1939 Ford V8 pickup truck. I’ve always thought these looked like British Austins, based on the grille shape and their sort of diminutive feel, but these were absolutely all-American pickups.
Note the little dent in the rear fender to accommodate a side-mounted spare tire, too.
I’ve always thought these 1946 Chrysler Deluxe Business Coupes had a kind of gremlin (the little monster, not the car) looking face, with the wide-set headlamp-eyes and that big, grinning grille. I also like the unusual three-bumper-guard setup on these, too.
From the side, the odd proportions of the business coupe are obvious, a car that sort of resembles a fussy man’s hat.
The ’57 Chevys aren’t done yet, since whoever did the casting must have felt bad about not yet providing a real Bel Air-spec one to the hordes of Boomer viewers who will demand one, so here you go, in a lovely shade of metallic beach-realty-office-couch Dusty Rose and a cream roof.
This one is pretty dark, and it’s yet another Chevy—this time a ’56 Bel Air coupe, complete with a flame job and all the clichés. I promise this is the last mid-50s Chevy we’ll have to deal with.
Okay, now we’re talking! This is, of course, a Volkswagen Beetle, but there’s some weirdness going on here. This Beetle is in America, based in New York specifically, yet it’s a Euro-spec Beetle, which we never got here.
It’s a ’67, but has Euro-spec amber rear indicators, a VW 1300 badge on the engine lid — in the U.S. they just said VOLKSWAGEN, except the year before when they said 1300, but this is a ’67, not a ’66. And ’67 VWs in America all came with the larger 1500cc engine, too.
Also, in the U.S. those extra lights on the rear bumper were clear reversing lamps, not red rear foglamps.
Also, in this picture you can see it has the sloping, double-glass headlamps that in America we only got until 1966—Beetles got normal upright sealed beams here for ’67, along with the decklid without the central rib, a rib that’s missing on this car, too, making it a Euro-spec ’67.
Also, these scenes take place in 1967, and the Beetle isn’t really shown as being brand-new, so my guess is that the producers figured no one would notice it was a Euro-spec, bit too-new Beetle, and would just read it as any mid-’60s Beetle.
They figured wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic old VW, I just want to be clear that I’m not fooled.
Now we’re in Paris and, while there are not many street scenes, they did manage to populate the ones they had with some lovely cars, like that majestic Citroën DS, I believe a Pallas high-spec edition, likely a ’65 or close to that.
Heading at us is a ’66 or so Mercedes Benz W111 with the proper Euro-spec headlamps, even if they are obscured by the subtitles from all that spoken French there.
Now we get to what I think may be the actual hero car of the series, perhaps unexpectedly: this lovely Corvair coupe. This is a second-generation Corvair, the re-styled version that fixed all of those nasty things Ralph Nader whined about, and, personally, I think I prefer to even the iconic and influential original Corvair design. I think this one is either a ’65 or ’66.
The car gets a lot of good, loving screen time, with the producers clearly smitten by this wine-colored charmer. Corvairs are so tied to their “Unsafe at Any Speed” stigma that it’s easy to forget what sleek and advanced machines these were back in the day — rear-engined, air-cooled, flat-six, fast, some of the first production cars with turbocharging — these were the Teslas of their day.
Come at me.
And finally, we have the rarest car seen in the series, when our heroine goes to do brains-battle with the Soviets, a GAZ M13 Chaika, the fanciest car the Soviets built. They built these things pretty much unchanged from 1959 to 1981, so I have no idea if this is anachronistic or not, but, since they all kept that same Packard-inspired look, it doesn’t matter at all.
For a series that really has nothing to do with cars, someone involved seems to have cared about cars, because they’re well-cast and the interesting ones get some good screen time.
And that, of course, is always welcome in my escapist entertainment, no matter how highbrow it pretends to be.