The features that distinguished the toy car of the Object Retrieval project have been worn away, but we can still identify it as a toy modelled upon the Ford Sunliner Convertible. From the early 1950s, many different models of the Ford Sunliner were made. The first in line was the Ford Crestline Sunliner. The hood of this model is distinctively arched. The boy who owned the toy exhibited by the Object Retrieval project was hospitalised in 1963, so the toy car was modelled on the Ford Galaxie Sunliner, which was first produced in 1960. The Ford Galaxie Sunliner differs from all previous models. The front of the car is flatter, and has the name of Ford written in capital letters on the front, with Sunliner written on the side of the car.
The Ford Sunliner was markedly present in the late 1950s and early 1960s French cinema. There it represents an American way of life. In a number of important French films of the 1960s, Ford Sunliners are owned by men aspiring to be like the gangsters of 1950s American films. In Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1962 Le Doulos, it is Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character, Silien, who possesses a Ford Sunliner. All the main characters in Le Doulos drive different brands of cars, but all of them drive American cars. Silien has a Ford Sunliner; Faugel acquires towards the end a Mercury Monterey; and the character played by Michel Piccoli drives a white Chevrolet Bel Air. At the end of the film as Silien returns to his newly acquired country house, he is driving a white Ford Sunliner convertible, unaware that death awaits him. Faugel - who arrived before him to the counrty house to warn Silien of the danger - is driving a Mercury.
The Ford Sunliner also features at the end of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 film, Vivre sa vie. As the main character, Nana, is sold by her pimp to another group of pimps, it is interesting to note that Nana’s pimp owns a Peugeot, and she is being sold to the new up-and-coming gang who owns a Ford Sunliner Convertible. The travelling shot between the two cars in the last sequence of the film accentuates the flagrant differences between the two gangs through their respective cars. Nana’s pimp owns a black, hard-top Peugeot 404, whereas the new gang have a white Ford Sunliner Convertible. The owners of the white convertible, however, shoot Nana, after which Nana’s pimp shoots her again before driving off.
Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 Alphaville begins and ends with Lemmy Caution, the main character, driving a white car as he enters and departs the eponymous science-fiction city. Critics have sometimes assumed that the film features a Ford Galaxie Sunliner - in part because Lemmy lies and says his car is a Galaxie. The car Lemmy drives at the opening of the film is, however, a Ford Mustang. The car he takes to leave with Anna Karina is not the same car but it is not anymore than the first one the Galaxie he has claimed to have. That second car has the name Valiant visibly written on the front. It looks to be a white 1963 Plymouth Valiant. Caution’s reference to the Galaxie seems significant because it suggests the way the futuristic film could be occurring in another galaxy and seems to suggest that Caution associates his vehicle with a spaceship as well as with the gangster lifestyle: like the French gangsters who drive Sunliners elsewhere in this era’s cinema, Caution not only wears a trenchcoat but is not afraid to use his gun. In part because Caution survives, the Ford Galaxie he pretends to have ultimately serves as an imaginary spaceship for his escape - even though no Galaxie is ever to be physically seen in the film.
In the French films from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, all the men who own or claim to own Ford Sunliners have the same behavioural pattern. First of all, they all have the same dress code: a trench coat, which is rarely taken off, a matching hat, and of course, a gun. The ultimate accessory is, however, the Ford Sunliner.
Although the toy car exhibited by the Object Retrieval was modelled after the Ford Sunliner, its features remain generic, less marked than the type of car it is representing. Many brands used similar designs for their cars around the 1960s. Just have a look at the Cadillac models of the time, the Chrysler New Yorker, or the Chevrolet Impala. The design of these cars is distinctively American. By evoking these cars and these images of "modern" Americana, the French cinema raises questions about aesthetics, modernity, the future, and especially, the past. The widest cars ever built, Sunliners are about excess but they are also, in representation, about masculinity, about European anxieties about the past and future, and about crime. What did the little boy of the Object retrieved by the Pathology Museum know about those things? One can only guess, and hope that, like Lemmy Caution, he escaped.