Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Story Behind the Movie

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie the Potts Family
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the movie, has delighted child audience for more than 50 years. As it turns out, the movie is based on a true story.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang first debuted in 1968. The beloved children’s movie about a magical car with impressive powers still delights child audiences today, more than five decades later. But what is the real story behind Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Was it based on a true story?

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang poster
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang poster.

It seems it was. Loosely. But to find out how, we need to go even further back, to the 1920s, when race car driver Louis Zborowski, known as the “Count,” together with his engineer, built four aero-engine cars which he dubbed “Chitty Bang Bangs.” No one knows if the name was derived from the loud sounds the cars made, the name of aeronautical engineer Letitia Chitty (the first female fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and first female recipient of the Telford Medal), or a World War I song that is too rude to quote here. What we do know is that Zborowski died at the tender age of 29, during a race.

Louis Zborowski at the 1922 Grand Prix
Louis Zborowski at the 1922 Grand Prix

Zborowski didn’t live to see the fourth and final Chitty Bang Bang, also known as the Higham Special, break the world record for land speed. And of course, he had no idea that a young schoolboy sitting in the stands, watching him race, would go on to create his own version of a car with special powers. That boy was Ian Fleming. Sadly. Fleming too, didn’t live to see his creation brought to life.

Letitia Chitty
Letitia Chitty, first female fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and first female recipient of the Telford Medal.

Ian Fleming Writes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

The years preceding the movie’s debut were difficult for Fleming, in particular beginning in 1963, when he found himself in the middle of a mega stress-producing lawsuit over the James Bond books. Fleming suffered a heart attack during this troubling time. As Fleming was recuperating, a friend urged him to finish the children’s book he been working on. The book was based on bedtime stories Fleming told his son about a race car with magic powers. The car, of course, was named after the Zborowski vehicles, assuming the name Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

In Fleming’s version of the story, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the beloved car of the Potts family. After some loving restoration, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is transformed. The car, which seems to have nearly human senses, has the ability to sprout wings, become a hovercraft, and/or even track down some pretty nefarious kidnappers.

While Fleming lived to finish the book, he never saw it published. Fleming had died two months earlier. On his son’s 12th birthday—the son who inspired the story behind the movie that even today, is loved by so many other children.

Ian Fleming, British author
Ian Fleming, British author

Hollywood Calls

The book, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car was so successful that Hollywood wanted to turn it into a movie. All the details were hammered out: they had a cast and crew, the story had been rewritten as a movie script, there were some great songs by the Sherman brothers, and a scary antagonist called The Child Catcher that would give kids nightmares for decades. The only problem was the car—they needed to find a way to recreate the car in Fleming’s story—a car that could fly and otherwise do cool tricks.

For that the moviemakers approached Ken Adam, who had served as production designer on the Bond films, The Ipcress File, and Dr. Strangelove. Adam got cartoonist and sculptor Frederick Rowland Emmett to help him design the car, while Alan Mann was assigned to build the car according to specifications.

Eventually, six different versions of the car were created. Some were given wings. Others were hovercrafts. Most had actual engines so that they could be driven to different places for the purpose of promoting the movie.

Like “Steering a Battleship”

Of the six cars, one came to prominence as the main car used in the film. It was a work of art, beautiful to look at, and quite intricate. The car could drive, but the ride wasn’t as smooth as that of regular cars. In fact, actor Dick Van Dyke later said that turning the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car was not unlike “steering a battleship.”

Actor Dick Van Dyke
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang star, actor Dick Van Dyke.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was acquired by director Peter Jackson in 2011. Jackson expressed his intention to send the car off to air shows. That would give children a chance to ride in the car they had fallen in love with, the minute it appeared on the silver screen.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Table of Contents