Why 'Top Gun: Maverick' Is Actually a Car Movie

That bike makes us smile, too, Maverick. (
That bike makes us smile, too, Maverick. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Some people will tell you that “Top Gun: Maverick” isn’t a car movie. Those people are wrong.

The 2022 sequel to 1986’s “Top Gun” doesn’t just have cool cars and motorcycles, but it also perfectly matches them to the characters who own them. It uses vehicles in an airplane movie to advance the plot, develop characters and deliver perfect doses of nostalgia at just the right moment.

Not sure what I’m on about? Allow me to explain.

Kawasaki H2

The Kawasaki H2 is dangerous, just like our favorite fighter pilot.
The Kawasaki H2 is dangerous, just like our favorite fighter pilot. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Even though the Kawasaki H2 was old news by the time “Top Gun: Maverick” reached theaters, it’s a natural choice for someone who isn’t happy unless he’s going Mach 2 with his hair on fire -- especially if that someone has more than three decades of history with Ninjas.

The Kawasaki H2 was the natural successor to the old GPZ900R that Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) drove in the original movie. In case the 998cc superbike engine wasn’t powerful enough, Kawasaki added a supercharger for not just more peak horsepower, but more power across the rev range.

According to Cycle World, a stock 2015 Kawasaki H2 put down 189.8 horsepower on the magazine’s dyno and burned down the quarter-mile in 9.62 seconds at 152 mph.

Unlike Maverick’s GPZ900R, the H2 isn’t exactly a scalpel; Cycle World reports that the bike weighs a portly 525 pounds. That’s heavy compared to bikes of similar engine displacement, but lighter than other purebred speed freaks such as the Kawasaki ZX-14 and Suzuki Hayabusa.

Is the H2 a practical commuter bike, and would anyone in their right mind ride one from the Mojave desert to North Island? Of course not. But Maverick is different. He doesn’t want speed; he needs it.

Porsche 911 S

The bartending business must be good. Very good. Too good to be true.
The bartending business must be good. Very good. Too good to be true. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

We all know that Maverick has a thing for Porschephiles. Charlie (Kelly McGillis), his love interest in 1986, drove a 356 Speedster (although the car used in the movie was a replica). This time, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) sweeps the old fighter pilot off his feet with a classic 911.

According to Robb Report, Benjamin’s car is an original 1973 Porsche 911 S. It isn’t fast (fun fact: it makes less power than Maverick’s Kawasaki H2), but damn, it looks good.

Penny’s taste in cars is a good sign for her future with Maverick, because they both appreciate the classics. Anyone who shifts their own gears on an air-cooled flat-six will understand why their significant other wants to spend all day (and all their money) wrenching on a fighter plane from World War II.

If you’ve been following classic 911 prices at all, you might be wondering how a bar owner can afford a house in San Diego, a 41-foot sailboat and a $200,000 911 S. Maybe it’s movie magic. Maybe the sailors of North Island are just really thirsty.

Ford Bronco

Rooster deserved more screen time in this rig.
Rooster deserved more screen time in this rig. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

It only makes sense that Rooster (Miles Teller) would get around town in a slow ride. Like the young pilot -- sorry, naval aviator -- the classic Ford Bronco is reliable but not in a hurry to get anywhere. It’s humble but effortlessly cool. It’s a shame that sweet truck doesn’t get more screen time.

Old Broncos have achieved wildly unattainable prices, unlike the new ones we recommend for military families. It’s a stretch to think that a young service member would own such a truck unless it was a family hand-me-down. Is this Goose’s old car? Who knows, but that would add a nice touch to Rooster’s character arc. After all, he does have a habit of clinging to the past.

According to video obtained by The Hollywood Fix, Teller has an old Bronco of his own in real life. It’s tastefully modified, including what sounds like a very strong V8. Based on how long it takes the engine to crank to life, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s an old carbureted engine. Nice touch, Mr. Teller.

Ford Expedition

The Ford Expedition has never looked so cool.
The Ford Expedition has never looked so cool. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Rooster’s Bronco isn’t the only Ford product that gets screen time in “Top Gun: Maverick.” When the unlikable Rear Adm. Chester Cain (Ed Harris) travels to Maverick’s remote testing facility to personally kill the Darkstar program, he arrives in a blacked-out Ford Expedition.

It’s a sensible choice. The U.S. Navy would certainly buy such a vehicle to transport a man of his rank. From a filmmaking perspective, it’s big, dark and imposing -- and brand new, just like the drones Cain plans to replace pilots with.

Kawasaki GPZ900R

Something old, something new in the secret Darkstar hangar.
Something old, something new in the secret Darkstar hangar. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

After 36 years, Paramount Pictures finally pulled the curtain on the sequel to “Top Gun.” Within the first minutes (and the first seconds of the trailer), Maverick rips the cover off his old Kawasaki GPZ900R and gives us the heavy hit of nostalgia we crave.

This bike was the hottest thing on two wheels in 1986. More than three decades later, it hardly looks like a fire-breathing sportbike. Maverick’s is covered in dust, stickers and scars that show its age.

But just like the guy behind the handlebars, the classic Ninja still has a purpose. It gets Maverick to and from work. It proves that he’s not as good at letting go of the past as he likes to believe. It certainly gives us just enough of a taste of 1986 to remember why everyone loves Maverick in the first place.

The San Diego Time Warp Is Alive and Well

Did all San Diego car dealerships close in the 1970s? (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Did all San Diego car dealerships close in the 1970s? (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Remember how “Top Gun” was inexplicably full of cars from the ’50s and ’60s? There was a first-generation Chevrolet Corvette, a first-generation Ford Mustang, a Mercedes 230SL and a classic Chevy parade outside the base operations building.

If the use of cars that were built 20 to 30 years before the movie takes place was a bit, the producers are playing the same joke on us in “Top Gun: Maverick.”

When Maverick gives Penny a ride home on his H2, we see three cars parked on her street. Apparently her neighbors are all classic-car enthusiasts, because they drive what looks like a Buick Skylark, an early Volkswagen Beetle and another 1960s Mustang.

I know that the dry San Diego climate is great at preserving old cars, but this seems excessive. It’s more likely that the street would be full of Teslas, people waiting for Ubers and those damn rental scooters people leave lying all over the sidewalk. That wouldn’t make for a very attractive movie set, though.

Maverick’s Garage Is Gearhead Heaven

I’m not saying Maverick is leaking classified information about the Darkstar program, but those are some very exclusive toys he has.
I’m not saying Maverick is leaking classified information about the Darkstar program, but those are some very exclusive toys he has. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

To love this movie, you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief. There are plenty of times when the far-fetched plot strays from reality, including a ludicrously expensive man cave in the Mojave Desert that cements Maverick as one of the biggest military motorheads of all time.

Let’s set aside the inexplicable 1946 P-51 Mustang that, according to Screen Rant, actually belongs to Tom Cruise and has a value in the ballpark of $4 million.

I’ll even believe that an officer of his age has a classic Jeep Wrangler and a row of classic motorcycles. Hell, I knew company-grade officers with collections like that back in the day.

It’s the Aston Martin DBR1 that’s hard to believe. As the Australian car publication Drive points out, that’s a race car from 1956 valued at -- wait for it -- $22.5 million. I know field-grade officers get paid well, but come on. Even if it’s a replica, the British newspaper The Sun reported in 2018 that prices for those are around £100,000 (worth $126,000 in 2024). That’s a pricey kit car for someone who lives alone in the desert.

Which Movie’s Rides Are More Iconic?

So, between “Top Gun” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” which film has cooler cars and bikes? Are you team GPZ900R or team H2 R? Do you like your leading ladies in convertible or hard-top Porsches?

One thing is for sure: The people in charge of props and sets for the 2022 sequel absolutely crushed it. I’d love to see what kind of wheels they’d pick for other characters. We deserve to know what Hangman drives -- I bet it’s something epic. Maybe we’ll find out.

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