Journal: Drivers' Cinema: 32 Hours 7 Minutes

Drivers’ Cinema: 32 Hours 7 Minutes

By Benjamin Shahrabani
February 25, 2014

In 1933, Erwin George “Cannonball” Baker drove a Graham-Paige model 57 Blue Streak 8 across the country and averaged over fifty mph. He set a 53 hour 30 minute record crossing the country that stood for nearly 40 years. Starting in 1971, the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash named in his honor, also known to many as the Cannonball Run (and of course also made into a movie series starring Burt Reynolds, and a host of other early 80’s movie stars) was a completely unofficial, unsanctioned, and illegal coast to coast race memorializing that feat and also in stout defiance of the newly instituted national 55mph speed limit. The Cannonball Run was the brainchild Brock Yates, of Car and Driver fame, and the idea was that participants would drive coast-to-coast, across the USA as fast they could…and of course try not to get caught.

The Cannonball Run was staged five times between 1971 until Yates ended it in 1979 because of growing safety concerns. It was resurrected as the U.S. Express by different organizers as a similar race across the country. When the final U.S. Express was run in 1983, participants David Diem and Doug Turner claimed to have crossed the country in 32 hours, seven minutes in their Ferrari 308. That record seemed destined to stand for all time until filmmaker Cory Welles, whose family was close to Turner, set about proving if the record was indeed possible.

In the film 32 Hours 7 Minutes, Welles rides along in the backseat of a well-used 2000 BMW M5 (the famous and for many beloved E39 body style) piloted by Alex Roy and David Maher, participants of several Gumball 3000 and Bullrun ‘rally’ style races, to see if the record was achievable. When setting the record in 1983, Diem and Turner’s Ferrari 308 would’ve had to average well over 80 M.P.H.

Any stop whatsoever brings down the average, so more than a few people were skeptical in 1983 when the duo claimed such a low record time. Not to mention that their Ferrari was stock. The 1983 Ferrari, while it looked fast, was saddled with a 240 horsepower engine, and 0-60 mph was in the neighborhood of 7-seconds. Quick for the time, but you can again see why people might not have believed it.

The first part of 32 Hours 7 Minutes is pure documentary set-up to explain why we’re here and the ride we’re about to go on. We learn about the early history of the event from participants that took part in the races back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s great stuff and fascinating to see the wild characters, clothes, and cars (even a motorcycle!) that ran in the early races.

Welles later connects with Roy and Maher who are both game to see if the record can be broken. With much reconnaissance work done and the BMW M5 kitted out with so many electronic gadgets (not including Welles’ equipment that was needed for filming) that one would think that the Bimmer’s fuse box would melt, the trio set off from New York City to the Santa Monica Pier in California. In spite of also using aerial recon and lead and chase cars along the way, things don’t always go to plan making for more than a few exhilarating and high-drama moments. And one gets to experience all of this, the most interesting part of the film, vicariously, through one’s TV screen, with no risk of getting a speeding ticket!

Whether the trio break the record is almost beside the point. Movies about racing and cars are hard to get right. However, with more editing more focus could have been brought. Instead of almost an hour of set-up, it may have been more interesting to see more about the preparation, the car, and what makes these drivers ‘tick’, something gone into more depth in Alex Roy’s own book, The Driver: My Dangerous Pursuit of Speed and Truth in the Outlaw Racing World. 32 Hours 7 Minutes is far from perfect, but it is compelling.

As a postscript to this documentary, a team piloting a 2004 Mercedes CL55 AMG claimed to have broken the transcontinental record in 2013, in 28 hours and 50 minutes, averaging 98 miles per hour. That’s an average of almost 100 mph!

To buy the DVD, click here.

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9 years ago

Little late to the show but here we go. The only reason that this movie was released was because of the legal issues that Alex and Corey were/still going through. So she released the film to avoid these legal problems and in doing so released the wrong film. Corey was too close to the story and has a vast number of cuts that were not as good as the one that JF Musial of Drive Network on youtube (who also helped Alex with his record run) created . That is the film that should have been released and it was a disappointment after following this project for so so many years only to have this version released.

Johnny Canada
Johnny Canada
10 years ago

Other automotive sites claim that Alex Roy invested $800’000 of his own money into the film to receive a 5\% royalty. Hard to collect anything when the film has been delayed, butchered, and disavowed by Roy himself. The lawyers are involved and Roy’s perpetually pissed when anyone mentions the film.

Now watch those kids in the Mercedes CL55 slap together some footage with a cool soundtrack create something special for about 800 bucks.

10 years ago

I bumped into Alex Roy last April at 24 Hours of Lemons @ Monticello Motor Club. He had some choice words about the film, it’s low quality, wandering narrative, and the legal wrangling and disappointments from the film. Somehow he pulled off the drive (with 200+ extra pounds of person and camera shit), but the film was such a fail. I can’t advise supporting the producers by buying this DVD. Also, any definitive proof of the 28:50 time?

10 years ago

This movie is interesting, but the footage and production quality is rather low. Alex Roy is/has been engaged in legal battles with Welles. The intention of having her along was to get some good footage and produce a movie in a joint effort – but Welles did not hold up her end of the deal. She dragged her feet in production until Alex gave up hope, then went behind his back and released this movie without his knowledge.

I would encourage people to NOT support this version of the movie by purchasing it. It’s worth a watch, but there are alternative methods of obtaining it.

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