9 fantastic car jumps to celebrate Leap Day 2020

Every four years, we add February 29 to the calendar, a celebration we call Leap Day. Well actually, it isn’t really a celebration, nor a holiday. But perhaps it should be.

Speaking of taking a leap, there’s nothing that puts a grin on any gearhead’s face like watching something with wheels take to the air. Maybe it started with aiming your Hot Wheels track down the staircase, or launching your pull-back plastic Evel Kneivel off the balcony—jumping cars and motorcycles are just something that gets in your bloodstream.

So, on Leap Day, why not celebrate some of the best jumps ever? Here are nine memorable times that cars and bikes took to the air. Might as well jump.

Longest ramp jump: Travis Pastrana, Subaru STI

If Leap Day ever needs a patron saint—heck, let’s nominate Saint Travis of Pastrana immediately. One of the jumpiest people on the planet, he started his career launching motorcycles through the air and is the current Guinness World Record holder for the longest-ever ramp jump.

The feat was performed on the last day of 2009, in Long Beach, California. Pastrana, who drives for Subaru’s Rally Team USA, launched his STI rally car some 269 feet over the Pacific, landing on a barge moored offshore. Having landed successfully, he got out, bowed to the crowd, and then backflipped into the water.

Most watched jump: Evel Knievel, Kings Island, Ohio

Speaking of the sainthood of jumping over things, we’d be remiss if we didn’t pay tribute to the greatest daredevil of them all, Evel Knievel. Picking just one jump from Knievel’s career is as impossible as, say, breaking just one bone recreating any of his jumps.

However, the time he cleared 14 Greyhound buses televised live on ABC’s Wide World of Sports surely was a highlight. Before a 52-percent viewership share—more than half the TV sets in the U.S.—Knievel jumped his Harley-Davidson 133 feet, clipping his back wheel on the last bus. The record would stand for 24 years.

Biggest dream: Ken Carter, rocket-powered Lincoln Continental

Perennially in Evel’s shadow, Ken Carter was a 1970s stuntman who very nearly made one of the greatest jumps ever attempted. His plan was to jump a rocket-propelled Lincoln Continental across the St. Lawrence river, a distance of one mile, landing gently in a bed of roses.

Obviously he would have been horribly killed in the attempt, as almost everything about his plan involved some pretty seat-of-the-pants planning. For instance, when he showed up to try out driving the rocket-Lincoln for the first time, his fire suit wouldn’t fit. So Carter launched himself at 200 mph in a t-shirt.

In the end, the stunt was ruined when the car shook itself to pieces on the wavy ramp, deploying its parachutes, and breaking the back of Kenny Powers, another stuntman who’d been drafted to replace Carter. If only Lincolns could fly.

Best rally jump: WRC Sardina, Micky’s Jump

WRC Sardina, Micky’s Jump
Brendan McAleer

Stunt drivers are one thing, but one group of people who are forever jumping their cars are rally drivers. Overboosted economy cars haul through the gravel, then take flight over a hill to (hopefully) land on all four wheels on the far side of it. The Scandinavians call it a yump.

If you ever have the chance to visit sunny Italy for the Rally Sardinia, be sure to hike up to Micky’s Jump and watch the show. You won’t see the cars before they reach the stage, just hear their buzzing motors, and then they’ll take to the air right before your eyes. It’s a motorsport must-see.

Best weekly jumper: The General Lee

1969 Dodge Charger General Lee Stunt Car profile

We’ve all felt the itch. Any time you’ve been at the wheel and seen a “Bridge Out” sign, well sir, your mind turns to thoughts of an orange Dodge Charger soaring through the air on primetime TV. I imagine Hellcat owners start hearing their own personal Waylon Jennings voiceover every time they pass an angled flatbed tow truck parked on the side of the road.

The Dukes of Hazzard and The General Lee proved, without a doubt, that plot can always take a back seat to a really good jump. Beats all you ever saw.

Best jump with worst soundtrack: AMC Hornet, The Man with the Golden Gun

Albert Broccoli put the Astro Spiral Jump on the big screen in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun.
Albert Broccoli put the Astro Spiral Jump on the big screen in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. United Artists

Officially called the Astro Spiral, the stunt that saw Roger Moore leaping an AMC Hornet between two rickety bridges has got to go down as one of the greatest practical stunts ever performed. And then some clown came along and played a slide-whistle over top of it.

The jump, computer-modeled in the early 1970s, was the feature stunt in The Man with the Golden Gun, which also featured a flying AMC Matador. It’s since been replicated by everyone from Chevrolet to Jaguar, but the original is best. Even with that dang slide-whistle.

Best silver screen parachute: Fast 7

No jump tribute list would be complete without an entry from the Fast and Furious series of films, all of which are very silly indeed, yet also good fun. As we wait for the latest one to kick sand in the face of things like physics and believable dialogue, here’s a tip of the hat to the stunt-riggers that really did launch a bunch of cars out of an airplane in the seventh movie.

Doing so was reportedly pretty tricky, with the cars needing to retain their engines and transmissions for better balance—no fake models. Camera operators had to jump out alongside the cars, putting the viewer right in the action. And, in the case of one car, the parachute failed to deploy and the car pancaked as it hit the ground.

Best real-world parachute: MGB

Years before the Fast and Furious franchise decided to take on the idea of a sky-diving car, plucky little British Leyland had a go. It threw a 1973 MGB out of the back of an airplane, and sent a parachuting driver after it while cameras rolled. The idea was to make a commercial creating excitement for the little British sports car.

Plenty of excitement was created when the first parachute didn’t open, and the MG ceased to be, smashing into pieces on the desert floor. Happily, the team had another go with a backup car, and this one landed softly enough to be driven away by the sky-diving driver. A 50-percent success rate ain’t bad, especially by British Leyland standards.

Best jump by a former cop car: Bluesmobile

Lastly, we must honor one of the hardest-working cars in movie history. Yes, Jake and Elwood are the titular Blues Brothers, but would the film be anything without the Bluesmobile? It would not.

The scene where Elwood jumps the car over the raising bridge deck set the scene for the level of automotive heroics we’d be seeing throughout the movie. Cop motor, cop shocks, and she even runs good on unleaded. You know what? After a jump like that, you don’t even need to get the cigarette lighter fixed.

Which jump would you add to this list, cinematic or real-world? Let us know below.

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    The absolute best jump stunt in a movie occurred in the original “Italian Job” where during a chase scene the Mini jumps through the open doors of a moving boxcar! No CGI back then, and the timing had to be perfect for the car to clear both doors while the train was moving. Wonder how many Minis they wrote off practicing…

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