You may not know about the Iranian Paykan, but as a Roadkill fan, you’re familiar with some parts of its ownership. It was a stubborn, cramped, poorly operating automobile and its owners almost categorically loved it. At times both the official and unofficial car of Iran for the last half-century, the Paykan—a locally built Hillman Hunter—has a story that entangles with the history of Iran over the last half-century. And the documentary “Iran’s Arrow: The Rise and Fall of Paykan” by automotive engineer Shahin Armin and filmmaker Sohrab Daryabandari tells its remarkable tale.
For all the story’s depth, the Paykan itself is wholly unremarkable. If you put it next to a half-dozen mid-1960s European sedan designs, few would be able to pick it out. Yet, the license-built Hillman Hunter brought motorized transportation to the masses in Iran during the country’s 1960s industrialization. Because of their affordability, nearly everyone in Iran owned a Paykan shortly by the mid-1970s.
That kind of widespread ownership (“Your uncle owned a Paykan, you owned a Paykan, your neighbor owned a Paykan”) only partially existed in the United States. The only parallel to the Paykan was Ford’s Model T, but the Paykan’s history spans more time (38 years in production) and more significant changes in the country than the Model T ever did.
Its design and use reflect those major changes; Armin and Daryabandari unpack the story beautifully with clever narrative, colorful interviews, and affectionate humor laced with backhanded compliments. After all, Iranians were aware the Paykan strove for (and fell short of) mediocrity and many loved their cars like a family member despite, or maybe because of it. As we all love the Rotsun, we can understand having affection for a car that can’t. Love of the Paykan created a national birthday song, generated its own underground economy of illicit taxis, and brought about “freedom on four wheels” to name but a few major points.
This is a great telling of the Paykan’s history and if a car—especially a beat-up one—has ever meant anything to you, you’ll find many familiar feelings in “Iran’s Arrow.” We saw it in Chicago at the School of the Art Institute as part of the Docunight series, which shows documentaries from and about Iran across North America.
You can find two more Docunight showings this week of “Iran’s Arrow.”
Thursday, October 5
Plano, Texas: Angelika Film Center, 5 p.m. (Info)
Monday, October 9
Charlotte, North Carolina: UNC Student Union Movie Theater, 7 p.m. (Info)
We couldn’t find a trailer for Iran’s Arrow on YouTube, but here is footage from Iran’s Hillman factory in 1968, with weird horror movie/tv detective music over all the scenes of spot welding and paint booth action. Skip to 16:51 for the triumphant start up.