By Rob “Right Foot” Krider
Car movies like Bullitt, American Graffiti, and Gone in 60 Seconds, have all become cult favorites of racers and car fanatics for decades. These movies taught us all how to drag race, how to watch out for cops, and how to meet women. Some of these movies actually taught us to love cars. It certainly worked that way for me. I love all things automotive. I love the smell of burnt rubber, the power of gasoline, and the neck snap of huge horsepower. I’ve had this passion my entire life. One day I realized that this car lust had to come from somewhere. I wasn’t born with my right foot on the gas pedal. At some point I had to have been influenced toward automotive culture. Reflecting back at my formative years I realized there were some prominent films that I watched as a young boy that certainly influenced how I saw the world. These movies helped me form what I thought was cool, what I wanted to do when I grew up, and what kind of car I wanted to drive. Here is a list of some impactful car movies and how they made me the person I am today.
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore (the coolest 007), Jackie Chan (yes, I said Jackie Chan), and drunk rat packers Dean Martin & Sammie Davis Jr.
Directed by: Stuntman Hal Needham of Smokey and The Bandit fame
Written by: Brock Yates, columnist for Car & Driver magazine, who actually invented the real outlaw street race titled The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.
Best Line: “Where are all the hookers at?”
Best Scene: The opener where the two busty ladies in a Lamborghini Countach graffiti the 55 maximum speed limit sign.
Social Irresponsibility: A fair amount of drunk driving, which was apparently hilarious in the late seventies, early eighties.
What I Learned About Life and Cars: If you have large breasts you won’t get a ticket… unless you are stopped by a female highway patrol officer.
I was absolutely hooked from the opening scene of Cannonball run when a black Lambo stops on the side of the highway and a beautiful woman gets out and paints a big red X on the speed limit sign. I knew from that moment on that the coolest car on the planet was a Lamborghini Countach. Like most boys my age, I had a huge six foot poster of a Lamborghini hanging in my room. To this day I still love the way that car looks.
It probably didn’t hurt that the drivers of the Lambo had their breasts on display throughout the entire film. I was eight years old when this movie came out, so who could blame me for loving this film? Sure, watching the film now, Dom DeLuise’s Captain Chaos is a bit campy, but remember I was a little kid when I first saw this, so I loved Captain Chaos. He was hilarious, and when “he” donned the cape and drove, they moved to the front of the pack.
This movie certainly left its mark on me and I even owned a t-shirt from the film franchise. In the above photo, which is an absolute time machine to the 1980s, I am sporting my favorite Cannonball Run t-shirt. I’m waving a red flag as my little brother races up and down the sidewalk on his Big Wheel. Obviously, I was kind of a dork growing up.
Starring: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Bronte Woodard
Best Line: “The rules are… there ain’t no rules!”
Best Scene: The drag race through the paved Los Angeles river.
Social Irresponsibility: It’s okay to steal car parts to build your hot rod, as long as your intention is to swoon high school girls into having pre-marital, unprotected sex.
What I Learned About Life and Cars: If you find a junky car, you fix it up, win a race, and you’ll get the girl.
The thing about Grease is it’s the favorite movie of every girl I have ever met. But Grease is really all about cars and sex, two things I was very focused on growing up as a boy. This movie is the reason I took auto shop in high school. And that is where I learned how to rebuild engines, which is a handy thing to know how to do if you decide to race cars and continually blow engines up.
Every time I watched this movie I patiently sat through the girlie musical parts of the film waiting for the end of the movie for two important scenes. First was the big drag race in the L.A. river (win the race, impress the girl). Second was Olivia Newton-John changing from sweet virginal Sandra Dee to dressed-in-skin-tight-black bad girl. I instantly fell in love with Olivia Newton-John/Sandra Dee and haven’t given up on her yet. There is still time for us, Olivia.
SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, country music star Jerry Reed
Directed by: Hal Needham
Written by: Hal Needham
Best Line: “There’s no way, no way that you came from my loins. Soon as I get home, first thing I’m gonna do is punch yo mamma in da mouth!”
Best Scene: Every time the black Trans-Am made an outstanding, tire melting, J turn. Some of the best J turns on film are in the first Smokey and the Bandit.
Social Irresponsibility: Running from the police, destroying public property, and crashing cars is great family fun.
What I Learned About Life and Cars: You need a fast car, and it has to have a CB radio in it. I also learned if you pick up a hitchhiking girl and drive like a total maniac from the cops, chances are 100% you will get laid.
It’s hard to believe, but Smokey and the Bandit came out the same year the first Star Wars did, 1977. This film solidified two things for eternity, black Trans-Ams are cool and Burt Reynolds singlehandedly owns the mustache. This film also gave me a new love in my life, Sally Field.
One of the reasons this movie stuck with me so much (besides Sally Field) was I had the toys. I rolled my Smokey and The Bandit cars endlessly across the living room floor as I played car chase. It never got old. This film, like Cannonball Run, had sequels, which was great because I couldn’t get enough of The Bandit. In Smokey and The Bandit II, they smashed more police cars than I thought humanly possible. Nothing is funnier to a kid born in the seventies than cops cars smashed on top of more cop cars.
As an adult I got to live a combination of childhood fantasies by racing a black Firebird (a al Smokey and The Bandit) through the L.A. River (a la Grease) on the BBC television show Mud, Sweat & Gears. Turns out the old Firebird in stock form actually drove like a piece of crap. Obviously Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds heavily modified The Bandit’s ride. The stunts in this movie are legit. No such thing as CGI in those days, just stunt drivers with nerves of steel and huge balls. Hal Needham, Burt Reynold’s roommate, made the movie just so he could showcase a ton of stunts in a movie. Good call Hal!
Starring: Mark Hammil (Luke Skywalker), Annie Potts
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Hal Barwood and Mathew Robbins
Best Line: “It’s not even your car! It’s the school’s car!”
Best Scene: Mark Hammil stays up all night in the shop and re-paints the Corvette to its original red gold flake paint and wins in a badass car chase against, you guessed it, a black Pontiac Trans-Am.
Social Irresponsibility: When you are down on your luck, a prostitute will help solve all of your problems.
What I Learned About Life and Cars: If you take high school auto shop, you can build anything. Oh, and hookers will give you “one on the house” if you’re having a bad day and somebody steals your car (which is actually the school’s car).
The Corvette in Corvette Summer, for the record, was the world’s ugliest Corvette ever built. But remember I was a little kid so I loved it! I didn’t care that it had the goofiest looking hood scoops ever put on a car. And I didn’t care that the paint job was full blown 70s custom van gold flake. I just loved Luke Skywalker and his badass red ‘Vette. Simple as that.
Just like Smokey and The Bandit, I owned a toy from this film. I actually had a Corvette Summer Hot Wheel. I guess I probably shouldn’t have left it in the backyard for the dog to chew on. It would probably be worth something today. Oh well, the car was so ugly I can’t really see even displaying the toy in a collection.
I was so enamored with ‘Vettes after watching Corvette Summer and playing with my Hot Wheel that eventually I ended up buying and racing a Corvette, as mentioned in a previous post here on GearHeads4Life. Mine didn’t come with the ridiculous hood scoops, or a hooker with a heart of gold. But it did haul ass, just as promised by the movie, Corvette Summer.
THE GUMBALL RALLY
Starring: Michael Sarrazin and a whole bunch of other people you don’t know, but it did star Gary Busey (before he went crazy).
Directed by: Chuck Bail
Written by: Leon Capateos
Best Line: “And now my friend, the first rule of Italian driving. What’s behind me is not important.”
Best Scene: Ferrari Daytona drives into the back of a rolling big rig truck for a moving pit stop and to also hide from the police. Epic.
Social Irresponsibility: Driving through New York at sunrise at 120 miles per hour. Women trading sex for roadside repairs during the race. Hey, it was the seventies.
What I Learned About Life and Cars: Being a fast driver earns you respect. But there is always time to stop during a cross country race for some casual sex.
This is probably a lesser known film, comparatively to some of the other blockbusters on this list, however this is probably the most accurate car movie ever made. Additionally it pre-dates the rest of the films on this list. It is more accurate to the actual Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash that Brock Yates created, although Brock’s screenplay, Cannonball Run, was more cartoonish. If you haven’t seen The Gumball Rally give it a watch, it’s a great car movie.
The race goes from New York to Los Angeles, ending at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. As the teams get stuck in L.A. traffic near the finish line they choose to drive in the L.A. River (the same place the Grease drag race scene takes place and my episode of Mud, Sweat & Gears). A Ferrari Daytona and a Shelby Cobra thrash through the water in an epic race finale. The winner gets a gold plated gumball machine. In the movie the code word to start the process of this illegal cross country race is simply the word, “Gumball.” Even to this day, when I want to get ready to head to a race, I always tell the team, “Gumball!” Most people haven’t seen this movie, which means most people have absolutely no idea what I mean when I cryptically yell “Gumball” into the phone or send an e-mail with the subject line: Gumball.
I was so inspired by The Gumball Rally and Cannonball Run that I actually entered an all-out illegal street race called Beetleball, which coincidentally started at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Luckily for me, and society, it was limited to Volkswagen Beetles, which have a top speed of around 70 miles per hour. We weren’t exactly breaking any laws. The whole story on Beetleball can be seen on the Racer Boy blog at Speed:Sport:Life.com.
Starring: Kenny Rogers (when he wasn’t singing songs or selling chicken), Diane Lane and Anthony Michael Hall (of Vacation and Weird Science fame)
Directed by: Daniel Petrie
Written by: Mike Marvin and Alex Matter
Best Line: “That’s it, Brewster! Drive it ’til you hear glass and smell shit!”
Best Scene: Orphan kids are better at pit stops than professional NASCAR teams.
Social Irresponsibility: Grown man takes six orphans and drives away with them in his kidnapper motorhome. Turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to him as he breaks child labor laws to move up in the racing circuit.
What I Learned About Life and Cars: Being a foul mouthed kid is pretty funny. Like other car movies of the late 70s early 80s, win the race, get the girl.
This movie was essentially the Bad News Bears of car racing as it followed Kenny Rogers as Brewster Baker trying to move up in the racing ranks, using kids as his pit crew. It is probably overlooked by most people as one of their favorite car movies, but it had a large impact on my life (larger than I was willing to admit). I associated driving around in a motorhome towing a racecar as success (which is something I do on the weekends now). And oddly, I associated racecar drivers as cool guys who hung out in bars wearing jackets that had patches on them.
In Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (another influential car film for me, but much later in my life), Kurt Russell, playing the character of Stuntman Mike, is sporting the usual badass70s racer jacket, and coincidentally he is hanging out in a bar.
I didn’t even know that I was consciously doing it, but I always liked wearing a racing style jacket with patches on it and drinking beer, just like Kenny Rogers’ character Brewster Baker from the movie Six Pack. I watched the film recently and had an epiphany as I suddenly realized that I had essentially been shaping my entire life around Kenny Rogers, and I didn’t even know it. Oh well. Brewster Baker was a winner!
Just like Smokey and The Bandit and Corvette Summer, I had toys from Six Pack. I always ensured when I was playing with my Hot Wheels that the number 49, red and white, Ford of Brewster Baker won the race. Of course it would, it had children working as the pit crew.
Obviously, and somewhat shamelessly, my entire life was shaped by late 70s early 80s car movies. And the car film influence didn’t stop there for me. One of my team’s 24 Hours of LeMons cars was themed after Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 Death Proof. It was probably Kurt Russell’s jacket that did it for me.
So, the lesson here is, be careful what car movies your kid watches. My lifelong heroes are Burt Reynolds and Kenny Rogers. There are probably a whole new generation of car nuts who want to be like Vin Diesel. But the problem with Vin Diesel is that he sported a wife beater, as opposed to the appropriate jacket with racing patches on it.
Who is the most influential? Well, if ticket sales and burnouts make the decision then it isn’t even close, Burt Reynolds (Smokey and The Bandit, Cannonball Run, Hooper, and Stoker Ace) is the king of all car movies. I can wear a similar jacket, but unfortunately for me I can’t grow that mustache.