Two great influences on 1960’s film combined in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: the story came from Ian Fleming, creator of superspy James Bond; and the setting, composers and lead actor Dick Van Dyke came from Disney’s classic Mary Poppins (1964).
The result was a quirky children’s adventure story complete with precocious tots, bombastic song and dance routines and a flying car called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts (Van Dyke) is a widower with a penchant for things mechanical. He and his children – Jeremy (Adrian Hall) and Jemima (Heather Ripley) – rescue an old car from the scrap heap and create a new vehicle with the ability to fly and float – They call this car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because of the noise it makes.
Potts takes his kids and the truly scrumptious Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes, pictured above) – daughter of candymaker Lord Scrumptious (James Robertson Justice) – out for a picnic, where he spins a tale of the car’s magical abilities to float and fly.
Trouble looms in the form of Baron Bomburst (Gert Frobe, pictured below), the monarch of the small but wealthy principality of Vulgaria, who hates children and employs a vicious Child Catcher, played by Sir Robert Helpmann in a brilliant role that guaranteed thousands of children sleepless nights in the late 1960s.
The baron is after the magical car and wants the vehicle and its inventor kidnapped. The Baron gets the wrong man, abducting Pott’s loony father (Lionel Jeffries) instead, forcing Potts, kids and Truly to fly to the rescue.
When it was released in 1968, with a running time of almost two and a half hours, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was one of a few theatrical films to include an interval. It came just before the car takes flight for the first time as Caractacus, Truly and the children head off to rescue Grandpa, driving straight off the edge of a cliff.
While not the spectacular success that Mary Poppins was (or that the Bond franchise was, for that matter), the film performed admirably, earning an Oscar nomination for its title song.
Six cars were used in the filming of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The car used for the hovercraft scenes was lighter since some of it was constructed from aluminium instead of brass. It also had its engine removed for the flying scenes, so that it would be light enough to hang from a helicopter.
The fully-functional road-legal car used in most of the driving shots was built by Alan Mann in Hertfordshire in 1967 and was fitted with a Ford 3000 V6 engine and automatic transmission. It was bought by Lord of the Rings director, Sir Peter Jackson, for £500,000 in 2011 and is located in New Zealand.
The car on display at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England, was used in the film for close-up shots. Originally trailer-mounted, it had an engine fitted after filming for promotional purposes. Since 1980, the car has been owned by JCB chairman Lord Bamford.
Dick Van Dyke
Sally Ann Howes
James Robertson Justice