Days of Thunder turned 30 years old this year. The movie is about the lives of NASCAR racecar drivers. Tom Cruise was the lead character. The black Mello Yello sponsored number 51 Chevrolet Lumina was a supporting character. Tom Cruise would go on to act in many other movies, but what happened to the Chevrolet he drove?
The genesis of the movie
Many may not know that the genesis for the Days of Thunder movie sprung from Tom Cruise’s relationship with Rick Hendrick and the late Paul Newman. At a track one day, they were all talking, and the discussion came about that a movie should be made to give fans a better understanding of a driver’s life. After convincing financial backers and NASCAR, the movie was given the go-ahead.
Tom Cruise would go on to play Cole Trickle, the movie’s lead character. Interestingly, Mr. Cruise likes to perform many of his own stunts. So, for the movie, he did drive an actual NASCAR racecar. Yes, a real one. The Mello Yello car he drove in the movie was not a show car, or movie prop. Instead, it was the real deal fabricated by Rick Hendrick. In fact, Mr. Hendrick fabricated many cars for the movie. It is speculated that between 35-50 cars were used to make Days of Thunder. One of them was the number 46 Chevrolet City Lumina. The other was the number 51 Mello Yello car.
The Chevrolet Lumina
The movie came out in 1990. So, did the Lumina. It was a brand new offering from Chevrolet. The front-wheel drive car replaced the Chevrolet Celebrity. The Lumina, however, would be a short-lived nameplate for the automaker in the United States. The last Lumina’s were made for the 2001 model year. The movie, however, lives on in the hearts of many automotive enthusiasts to this day.
After the movie’s production, some of the cars used for filming continued to race. So, the Lumina that Tom Cruise drove was later driven by other NASCAR drivers. According to our friends at Drivingline, the car would go on to have the professional drivers from the race series attached to it.
The Lumina racecar driven by Tom Cruise
So, what happened to the car driven by Tom Cruise? The number 46 Chevrolet City Lumina is in the possession of Rick Hendrick. As for the Mello Yello car… A black Lumina that claimed to be, “just like the one” in Days of Thunder showed up for sale in 2018. According to the ad, that Lumina underwent a restoration by Laughlin Race Cars. The advertisement claimed that the chassis was set up for road racing, versus only turning left at an oval track. The car has a Chevrolet 502 cubic inch V8 that pumps out 650 hp.
My determination, however, is to find the actual car Mr. Cruise drove for this article. So, I reached out to people involved with movie car collections and museums from Tennessee and Indiana, to Illinois and California. There seems to be an acknowledgment that there are replicas at play in the mix with original cars. This makes it difficult to identify a legit car from filming. But, there also seems to be no clear understanding of the specific car that Mr. Cruise drove or what happened to it. One firm told me that even if they had any knowledge of the car, they could not share ownership information. That is fair.
There is, however, another thought that must be considered as well. It is conceivable that Mr. Cruise may have held on to the car. It is not unusual for actors to become emotionally attached to a car from a movie meaningful to their career. So, the mysterious car could actually be in a garage belonging to the actor. For now, however, the whereabouts of the specific car will have to remain unknown.