Stories of the underdog overcoming all odds to defeat the bigger and better foe are nothing new, especially in sports movies. The formula was perfected when Sylvester Stallone slurred his way to an Academy Award nomination in Rocky, which came out 1976. Almost a decade later this same formula was replicated in another movie, except instead of focusing on boxing and the heavyweight champion, it centered on a high school student taking on a group of bullies using the Japanese art form of karate.
Since it came out in 1984, The Karate Kid has become one of the most quoted films of all time, and despite its predictable and somewhat cheesy premise, it possesses an unmistakeable charm that still warms audiences to this day. Here, we take a look at an old-school car that was featured in the movie, and the role it played in the story.
What’s the story?
New Jersey native Daniel LaRusso and his mom relocate to Los Angeles in the hopes of greener pastures. There, Daniel begins a flirtation with Ali, a girl from his new high school. In doing so, he runs afoul of Ali’s ex-boyfriend Johnny and his gang of skilled karate bullies.
After one too many lopsided run-ins with his tormentors, Daniel is saved by his apartment building’s unassuming maintenance man Mr. Miyagi, who it turns out is a karate master from Okinawa, Japan. Mr. Miyagi goes with Daniel to talk to the bullies at the Cobra Kai dojo, which is run by the militaristic John Kreese. When the rival dojo refuses to back down, the two parties agree to meet at the All-Valley Karate Championships in a few months, where Daniel must face his bullies and his fears once and for all.
What about the car?
As part of Daniel’s training under Mr. Miyagi, he’s tasked with doing some seemingly mundane household chores. The most famous of these is when he’s told to wash and wax Mr. Miyagi’s fleet of old-school American rides—wax on, wax off. When Daniel asks the very legitimate question of where all those cars came from, his teacher simply answers “Detroit.” But of course.
As the two celebrate Daniel’s birthday, we find out that teenager’s efforts cleaning all those cars wasn’t for naught, as Mr. Miyagi asks him to choose one as his birthday present. Right away, Daniel gravitates towards the bright-yellow convertible in front of him—a 1947 Ford Super DeLuxe convertible. This particular model ran on a 3.9-liter V8 engine mated to a very old school three-speed manual gearbox.
As Daniel takes it all in, no doubt reeling at the prospect of owning his own car, Mr. Miyagi drops him a valuable bit of wisdom: “Just remember, license never replace eye, ear, and brain.”
Fun fact: The old Ford proved popular enough over the years that Hot Wheels actually came out with a toy version of it.
What does the car represent in the movie?
Though the movie revolves around karate, vehicles play a pretty symbolic role as well. The divide between Daniel’s working-class background and the well-off lifestyles of Johnny and Ali are demonstrated through their vehicles. Daniel and his mom ride into Los Angeles in a beat-up ’60s Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu wagon, which stalls and requires a jump-start right in front of Ali’s elitist parents. Talk about first impressions.
Johnny and his friends, meanwhile, ride on-screen in modern Honda motocross bikes. Because everyone had those in high school, right?
Did we ever see the car again?
The Super DeLuxe appears again in the sequels, but more notably, the car is still alive and well decades later in the follow-up series Cobra Kai, which premiered in 2018. Daniel, now a successful and well-off car-dealership mogul, decides to use Mr. Miyagi’s old house as his dojo where he builds a team to take on the resurgent Cobra Kai, now run by his old rival Johnny. From a working-class kid, Daniel now apparently has enough money to sit on a piece of LA real estate and Mr. Miyagi’s old cars. And yes, the Ford Super Deluxe is alive and well. It turns out Daniel inherited Mr. Miyagi’s mechanical touch, too, as he’s able to restart the car pretty easily.
In real life, actor Ralph Macchio (who plays Daniel) was given the car as a gift by Columbia Pictures after The Karate Kid III finished filming. He kept the car in storage for decades, and it was restored to working order so it could be featured in the new series, a job which included putting in a new Ford crate engine and a new paint job.
In a fitting tribute to the late Pat Morita (the actor who played Mr. Miyagi), Cobra Kai features a scene where Daniel visits his old mentor’s grave in search of guidance. As he goes back to his Audi S5 Cabriolet, Daniel suddenly recalls the valuable lesson on balance Mr. Miyagi taught him when he handed over the keys to the Super Deluxe. It’s a nice touch, and a pretty tearjerking scene if you grew up watching the movies.