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It’s an absolutely iconic scene: Richard Gere’s Edward Lewis is forced to borrow his accountant’s Lotus Espirit. He doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift and soon finds himself stalled out in downtown LA. Julia Roberts’ Vivian Ward mistakes his stopping for an invitation. He’s not looking for a prostitute, but finds out she’s a car enthusiast and pays her to drive him home.

The Lotus plays a significant role. Vivian identifies it immediately. She gushes, “Man, this baby must corner like it’s on rails…Doesn’t it blow your mind? This is only four cylinders!” She admits to Edward that she grew up as a car enthusiast and keeps up with Road & Track.

Edward responds, “Ever driven a Lotus? You’re gonna start right now.” Vivian hops into the driver’s seat, promises, “I’m going to show you what this car can really do!” and gleefully peels out. And of course Edward begins to fall in love.

During the 1989 film, audiences fell for newcomer Julia Roberts. They also developed a soft spot for the Espirit. Lotus’ North American sales tripled in 1990. But the movie almost featured a Ferrari instead.

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in a Lotus Espirit for Pretty Woman film
Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in the “Pretty Woman” Lotus | Buena Vista via Getty Images

In the final screenplay, the above scene read almost exactly as it appeared. But Edward Lewis’ ride was only described as an “exotic new sports car.”

Instead of waiting for the picture car team to hunt down a car, the film’s producers realized they had an opportunity for some product placement. Their minds went to Ferrari first. So the team contacted Maranello and Ferrari asked to see full script.

Rumor has it that Ferrari was “Outraged anyone would even suggest placing a lady of disrepute into one of their cars on screen.”

Ferrari refused to donate any cars to the production, and then went one step further. The company put the word out to dealerships that no one could sell a car to the movie, even if the producers offered to pay full price. Yup, Ferrari blacklisted the film.

Silver Lotus Espirit sports car.
1989 Lotus Espirit | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

And I’m not shocked. This is the image-obsessed automaker that blacklisted the Kardashians from ordering its special editions because they don’t “take care” of their cars. Justin Bieber landed on the blacklist for forgetting where his Ferrari was and leaving it with a valet for three weeks. And 50 Cent is banned because when his Ferrari broke down, he took a picture of it getting towed.

What’s interesting is that “Pretty Woman” got the same answer from Porsche. This might be because 1983’s Risky Business, starring a 928, left a bad taste in their mouth. I mean, Tom Cruise’s Joel Brickman uses the car to outrun a pimp after sleeping with a prostitute.

The filmmakers began considering American cars, but then a production assistant named Sandy Isaac said, “maybe a Lotus Espirit will work?” The producer had never heard of the car. So Isaac specified, “James bond drove one.” The producer was indeed familiar with the recent Roger Moore film, so they gave Louts a ring. The rest is, as they say, history.

Find out why Ferrari blacklists to celebrities but sells to warlords, or see the original trailer for Pretty Woman in the video below:

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