If you are the kind of gnarly old Hollywood grand-daddy who seems to have been hewn from the very rock on which America was built – in other words, Clint Eastwood – your film career can probably be oversimplified to three or four props. In his case these might be: horses, guns, stubble and cars. Automobiles have always been central to Eastwood's machismo, as important to his masculine image as the once-ever-present cheroot hanging from his mouth.
This is never truer than in the veteran actor's recent film, Gran Torino, in which his character Walt's vintage 1972 Ford Gran Torino is emblematic not just of the character's pride in his past career in the motor industry, but also represents a lost hope in the iron and steam of America's now-crippled industry. By extension that becomes an almost clichéd subversion of the American Dream.
Clint's alliance with wheels can be traced back to 1971's Dirty Harry, in which he sits behind the wheel of a 1968 Ford Galaxie 500. With its concealed dual headlamps, the car resembled the furrowed brow of the actor's face; its strength and power was enough to handle the loose cannon of San Francisco's finest.
In 1978's In Every Which Way But Loose, Clint drives a 1955 Chevrolet 3100, a strong and sleek, almost comically identifiable, truck. And who can forget the pink Cadillac of 1989's Pink Cadillac, which isn't Clint's, and isn't Clint's kind of car, either? Everyone, apparently.
So why has Eastwood's car preference changed over the years? "When you're younger you like cars with a lot of flash, convertibles, that kind of thing, but when you are older you like cars with a lot of iron around them," he says. Grrr. Now we really know who Jeremy Clarkson is modelling himself on.