The main character and enduring automotive hero of the Cars saga is, of course, Lightning McQueen. The first film in the Disney-Pixar trilogy raced into our collective hearts way back in 2006, at a time when NASCAR’s popularity was seemingly limitless. The digitally animated film was a bona fide blockbuster, earning over $460 million (approx. £350 million) worldwide and opening the door for two sequels. All combined, the three films banked more than $1 billion (£760 million). Through it all, however, there’s been a singular question burning in the brains of auto enthusiasts everywhere. Exactly what kind of car is Lightning McQueen?
It’s generally recognised that McQueen isn’t based on any one model, but the folks at DriveTribe weren’t satisfied with that. We know the films have a distinct NASCAR theme about them, so aspects such as the wheels, side-exit exhaust, and even the lip spoiler (albeit significantly larger than NASCAR-spec) are certainly tied to the racing series. There are still some very un-NASCAR designs to Lightning McQueen’s shape, with Chevrolet fans seeing Corvette influence throughout the design.
Gallery: Ultimate Lightning McQueen RC car
DriveTribe’s Mike Fernie did some digging and yes, Chevy was initially involved in the Cars project but that partnership never panned out, so obviously the design was altered. Corvette influence is there, but Fernie explains that Pixar designers turned to Le Mans for additional inspiration, with cues from the original Ford GT40 at the rear and a Lola prototype at the front. Fernie then posed the question to everyone’s favourite subdued motoring journalist and The Grand Tour presenter James May, who immediately identified the NASCAR and Corvette connection but also pointed out (and rightfully so, as far as we’re concerned) the undeniable windscreen and roofline of the Porsche 911.
So there you have it. The coolest animated car in recent memory is a NASCAR-based creation with Corvette proportions, a 911 roof, GT40 cues at the back, and Lola swagger at the front. For us, that’s enough of a melting-pot collaboration to simply identify this brilliant machine as, simply, Lightning McQueen.