Every Car and Motorcycle in ‘Top Gun’

Channel your inner Maverick, but please wear a helmet.
Channel your inner Maverick, but please wear a helmet. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

In 1986, Paramount Pictures dropped one of the most star-studded automotive movies to grace the big screen at the time. It had classic European sports cars, the latest Japanese technological masterpiece and plenty of American muscle.

Most people didn’t notice because there was a very distracting plotline involving fighter jets, nonstop dogfights, a faceless enemy and a forbidden romance. But make no mistake: “Top Gun” absolutely counts as a car movie.

Join me on a drive down memory lane to revisit our favorites -- and maybe discover a few hidden gems along the way.

Kawasaki GPZ900R

Maverick was sticker-bombing vehicles before it was cool.
Maverick was sticker-bombing vehicles before it was cool. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

As we’ve already established, Maverick is one of the biggest military motorheads of all time. The motorcycle the character rides in “Top Gun” isn’t just another run-of-the-mill crotch rocket, it was cutting-edge technology in 1986. The new-for-1984 Kawasaki GPZ900R was such a hot item that -- according to a Hagerty interview with Mike Vaughan, then director of marketing for Kawasaki -- Tom Cruise was dead set on using the bike for the movie.

Good choice. The GPZ900R featured several engineering innovations that resulted in excellent handling and enough power to reach 151 mph, just short of the speed at which an F-14 achieves liftoff, according to Hagerty. By the time “Top Gun” hit theaters, the GPZ900R had already made a name for itself and was the perfect choice for a young, tower-buzzing fighter pilot.

Today, the airfield at Miramar belongs to the Marine Corps, not the Navy. Fighter Weapons School has long moved on, and the F-14 has been replaced -- first by the F-18, then by the F-35. The parking lots of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, are still packed with motorcycles, though, and you’d better believe that every single rider feels at least a little bit like Maverick when they ride along the flight line.

Porsche 356

Did Charlie know that her 356 Speedster was a replica?
Did Charlie know that her 356 Speedster was a replica? (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Charlie’s little black convertible is one of the most misunderstood movie cars. It’s commonly mistaken for a classic 911, and I’ve even heard a few blasphemers call it a Beetle (congratulations, you’re on a Porsche Club of America watchlist). So what is it? That’s complicated.

The on-screen character is a Porsche 356 Speedster -- the first sports car the German automaker produced, according to Porsche. These cars have tremendous historical significance and come with appropriately eye-watering prices. The last one sold on the popular auction site Bring a Trailer fetched $380,000.

Naturally, any film studio would be hesitant to let a stunt driver screech around city streets in such a car. That’s why Charlie’s 356 was portrayed by a replica (albeit a very good one). It’s a model 356 Speedster built by a Canadian company named Intermeccanica, according to the classic car experts at Hagerty.

Everyone in San Diego Drives a Cool Car

Note to non-Californians: Not every intersection is this cool.
Note to non-Californians: Not every intersection is this cool. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

For most people, Maverick’s Kawasaki and Charlie’s Porsche are the only unwinged vehicles in “Top Gun.” Let’s take a closer look, though, because there’s a lot more to see.

During the famous chase scene in which Charlie speeds after Maverick through downtown San Diego (fact check: there is no way a 356 keeps up with a GPZ900R), there seems to be a gathering of cool cars at the intersection Charlie blows through, nearly causing a pileup.

In one shot, we see a fox-body Ford Mustang convertible, a Pontiac Trans-Am, a Datsun 240Z and a Porsche 911. I know southern California has a rich car culture, but what are the odds?

Later, when Charlie chauffeurs Maverick around following Goose’s death, the two arrive in her 356 Speedster (you wouldn’t want Maverick’s service khakis getting wrinkled and bug-splattered on his bike). In the background is another Datsun; this time, it’s a 280ZX.

Is it realistic to think that every car in the greater San Diego metropolitan area is a sporty coupe? No, but it sure makes for great scenery.

Wait, What Year Is This?

Apparently, Top Gun student pilots love old cars.
Apparently, Top Gun student pilots love old cars. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

If the prevalence of sports cars bothers you, just skip past the volleyball scene. There are a few shots here that make us question whether the year is 1986 or 1966.

While some people are distracted by glistening shirtless fighter pilots (so much baby oil), I’m wondering why everyone on base drives such old cars. In the background, you can see a Mercedes-Benz 230SL, a classic Ford Mustang, an early Chevy Corvette and a little-known Chevy 210.

Mercedes ceased production of the 230SL in 1967. The Mustang is a first-generation body style with headlight shrouds that lead me to believe it’s a 1965 or 1966 car. The Corvette is a first-generation model, likely made between 1960 and 1962 because it has dual headlights and no heavy chrome in the grill. According to the auction site Classic.com, Chevrolet built the 210 from 1953 to 1957.

Fortunately, some more period-correct cars are in the mix. A white Camaro and Maverick’s Kawasaki confirm that it is indeed 1985; there are just a lot of classic-car enthusiasts in the Navy’s ranks.

This building hasn’t changed much since 1986, but the cars parked out front sure have.
This building hasn’t changed much since 1986, but the cars parked out front sure have. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

But wait, there are more oddly old cars on base. When Maverick and Goose meet Goose’s family at the base operations building, they’re greeted by a string of ’50s Chevies. What gives? Was everyone in the Navy driving 30-year-old cars? I guess it’s a movie mystery.

Speed Is Speed

For a movie about fighter jets, there sure are a lot of awesome cars in “Top Gun.” Whether that influence came from Tom Cruise (who we now know to be an insatiable gearhead) or someone else on the film production team, these cars are thoughtful additions to the movie. Just about everything with wheels is interesting and adds to the beautiful backdrop of San Diego’s perpetual golden hour.

Fast cars, motorcycles and jets all scratch our need for speed. Just remember which one you’re allowed to be inverted in.

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