Drivers’ Cinema: Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), directed by Monte Hellman, follows The Driver (James Taylor) and The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson), a pair of young cross country drag racers as they challenge G.T.O. driver Warren Oates for pink slips in a race to Washington D.C. However, they never quite make it there. While our heroes (Taylor and Wilson) pilot a primer grey ’55 Chevy against our antagonist (G.T.O.) in his, you guessed it, 1970 Pontiac G.T.O., complete with Judge graphics and spoiler (note: not a real Judge).
The movie focuses on the journey across the states, embodying an existential outlook on life through drag racing. The characters appear to be drifting along through a meaningless society thanks largely due to the Vietnam War deeming them outcasts having never fully assimilated to life without war.
Laurie Bird plays the female hitchhiker in the film, drifting along as well, unsure of what the future may bring. Her free spirit personifies Americana culture of the 1970s where drinking, drugs and sex were safe and driving was dangerous.
The film is mainly shot on location from Los Angeles, where hot rod drag racing culture was born, all the way to Memphis, Tennessee. Two-Lane Blacktop features a plethora of big block dragsters, slingshot racers and plenty of muscle.
The audience is treated to a surplus of sequences in and around the ’55 Chevrolet One-Fifty and the ’70 Pontiac GTO. To be honest, the ’55 could be one of the most badass cars in American cinema. While three are said to have been constructed. One, according to IMCDB, with a big block 454 with aluminum heads, a tunnel ram intake and dual 4bbl Holley carbs. This was later determined too loud for filming in-car dialogue. A second was equipped with a quieter small block while a third was outfitted with a roll cage and various stunt equipment—the later was used in the famous Harrison Ford rollover scene in American Graffiti.
Other honorable American legends feature in the film include ’69 dodge Charger Daytona, ’67 Plymouth Fury, and if you keep scanning the background, a ’68 Dodge Super Bee.
The film is respectable in many ways and has earned a cult following for its honest depiction of American car culture during this time period. And rightfully so, every time I see the film I love being placed in the back seat of the ’55. The camera angles make you feel like you’re bobbing around with our heros from race to race.
Part of me wishes I had grown up in this era, and Two-Lane Blacktop helps fill the void. Proving that drag racing never get old; I just wish I could smell the burning rubber.
If you haven’t already, check out Two-Lane Blacktop for a glimpse into a lifestyle that could have only existed in America during the early 1970s.