Here are the top cars from Better Call Saul
There’s no argument; Breaking Bad was huge: the final season finale achieved viewing figures in excess of 10.3 million in America… a rise of 8.4 million over the previous season’s final episode. Apart from Breaking Bad becoming a cultural phenomenon, in part thanks to the sharp rise in smart TV purchases and streaming services, the series always had an eye for a fine automobile. This became even more obvious when El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie arrived in 2019. The spin-off achieved a 7-day Netflix viewing total of 25,734,392.
El Camino is of course the car that Jesse drives away in Breaking Bad at a crucial point in the plot (no spoilers here, for those few that still haven’t seen it), and its inclusion in the title hints at how important the automobile is in the dusty, dry desert townships of Breaking Bad country around Albuquerque, New Mexico. And in keeping with the attempt to not place any of the series in any definite points in history, thus avoiding each series dating too quickly, the cars become an interesting and important choice. Here, we see that the cars of Better Call Saul are taken from various points in the past and not the present.
As we reach season 5 of the spin-off series, Better Call Saul, it becomes apparent that the car is becoming ever more important by the end – especially as we concentrate more on the storyline of Nacho Varga (played by Michael Mando) with his expensive tastes from ill-gotten gains.
Of course, if we were to judge success on who drives what, we would be heading down a morally dangerous path, for lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) drives a battered Suzuki Esteem. Interestingly, when we first see Saul in the Better Call Saul pilot, he walks towards a Cadillac DeVille just as we might expect, as this is the car he drove in Breaking Bad. Yet this is long before those days – Better Call Saul is a prequel – and as he walks past the Caddy towards his Suzuki Esteem we can allow ourselves a wry smile as we wonder if crime really does pay. Well at least being on the edge of crime pays for Saul, that’s for sure.
The Esteem in question, with its infamous contrasting coloured rear door, is a 1998 Suzuki Esteem that has clearly seen better days. The Esteem itself ceased being available in the USA in 2012, and amid mixed reviews that hinted at its perfunctory blandness, the car was deemed to be slightly overpriced for what it was. Still relatively popular as a starter car, the Suzuki Esteem in faded banana yellow with one red door was the visual epitome of hard-done-by, stressed Saul at the time.
Chrysler Fifth Avenue
Probably less immediately noticeable is the car that the wonderfully named Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) drives. A dark funeral-esque M-Body version of a Chrysler Fifth Avenue from 1988, the car takes centre stage in Better Call Saul as Mike drives into the garage of Nacho to enquire about an upholstery refurbishment on his classic. A red herring enquiry of course, as we are soon to learn. In Breaking Bad, we first see the Chrysler Fifth Avenue as Mike drives to Jesse’s place in his role as ‘cleaner’, showing that he has hung onto the classic for some time, hinting that when he says the car has sentimental value, he was probably telling the truth.
The rather clumsily named Fifth Avenue was in production from 1979 until 1993 and the name references the prestigious Fifth Avenue in New York. Arguably we might relate to Mayfair in London as being of a similar ilk. The original Fifth Avenues were V8 powered, but from 1982 a 225 slant-six 6-cylinder engine powered the sombre looking car. Built for luxury as the name implies, the seats were supplied ostentatiously swathed in Corinthian Leather or Kimberley Velvet, with extra thick carpet. Many options were available and much confusing name swapping went on with the New Yorker – almost as confusing as Mike’s ever-changing jobs in each episode. The M-body Fifth Avenue was also notoriously known for being a popular choice for getting itself transformed into a stretch limo. Looking much the more cheerful car in any other colour than dark, it manages to adopt a dour appearance when black or burgundy is used. A fitting mode of transport for hired one expression ex-crooked cop protection.
Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Varga’s car is the best of them all. At first I wondered if it was a Ford Gran Torino, just like the red and white ‘tomato’ that proved to be such a hit back in the seventies for Starsky and Hutch. Yet despite some similarities, especially that paint job, it’s most certainly not that model.
While one could easily slip into analysing the political aspects of a smart Mexican guy wanting to better himself in an America that seems to be giving him only one route to money, let’s not. Nacho’s AMC Javelin is the pièce de résistance when it comes to classic fine looking cars in Better Caul Saul. It hints at where everyone else would want to be, what everyone else would ride if they had the money. Yet Nacho is no happier than any of the other characters that might lust after his lifestyle. Still, I suspect he must get a kick out screaming through the open New Mexico roads in that Javelin though on the rare occasion it isn’t at risk of his own life.
American Motors Corporation (AMC) built the Javelin from 1968 until 1970 and then again from 1971 until 1974. Interestingly, it wasn’t just a powerful gas guzzler – as a new owner you could spec your AMC Javelin out to be a muscle car if desired, but also a more frugal, economical version if more practical, but still keeping the sporty look that the profile gives. Such cars are known as pony cars in America.
Nacho’s AMC is a 1973 version – the same year that AMC put together a Trans-Am Victory special edition to celebrate the trans-Am victories of 1972 and 1973. As you can tell from the sound, the AMC Javelin car sported a V8 engine and had a top speed of 115mph with a 0-60mph of 7.7 seconds.
Images: gq-magazine.co.uk, reddit.com, tvguide.com
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