During the period from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, gasoline was inexpensive, and new technologies paved the way for more potent engines. Detroit capitalized on America’s love for speed and introduced a diverse range of performance sedans and coupes that satisfied the market’s demand. These vehicles featured a rear-wheel-drive architecture and a large displacement V8 engine, and they were later dubbed “muscle cars.”

This period, now referred to as The Golden Era of Muscle, was a time of great excitement for American car enthusiasts. For a relatively small amount of money compared to European imports, one could obtain a flashy and robust vehicle that could be driven along a boulevard or taken to the track for thrilling quarter-mile runs.

What made it even better was the fact that these cars were simple enough for semi-skilled individuals to modify and tune to enhance their performance.

Behold the Captivating Theatrical Poster for Two-Lane Blacktop

Following the unexpected success of Easy Rider, Hollywood wasted no time in tapping into the youth-driven pop culture trends by adopting the muscle car as its own. Numerous films were produced during this era that depicted counterculture-inspired heroes and anti-heroes who utilized their muscle cars to express their identity and pursue personal freedom.

Among all the movies that followed this narrative theme, three stood out as the top of the genre: Vanishing Point, Bullitt, and Two-Lane Blacktop.

Two-Lane Blacktop was exceptional for several reasons. Firstly, it starred two non-actor musicians in the lead roles. Secondly, it had a plot-free storyline, presented as a pure stream-of-consciousness. Lastly, it featured one of the most famous movie cars in history, which would later appear again in a different film just two years later with completely different aesthetics.

That car was “The Driver’s” 1955 Chevy 150 gasser, and it takes center stage in this month’s episode of Rob’s Movie Muscle!

Take a Look at the Cast and Their Horse in this Promotional Shot for the Movie

In this publicity still from NBCUniversal, the cast of Two-Lane Blacktop pose alongside their trusty vehicle. Despite being produced on a shoestring budget and distributed by Universal Pictures, the film has gained a devoted following over the years, thanks to its compelling storyline and standout performances.

Penned by Rudolph Wurlitzer, based on a story by Will Corry, and helmed by director Monte Hellman, the movie was considered a commercial failure upon its initial release. However, its cult status has only grown since then, with many hailing it as a classic example of its genre.

The film features an all-star cast, including singer-songwriter James Taylor in the lead role of The Driver, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson as The Mechanic, Warren Oates as G.T.O., and Laurie Bird as The Girl. Each delivers a nuanced performance that helps to bring the story to life.

The plot follows two free-spirited hippies as they crisscross America in a modified 1955 Chevy, earning money by drag racing in various towns along the way. When they pick up a teenage hitchhiker, known only as The Girl, their journey takes an unexpected turn. Soon, they find themselves racing against G.T.O., a pathological liar who drives a 1970 GTO Judge in bright Orbit Orange.

Despite its humble beginnings, Two-Lane Blacktop has become a beloved classic of independent cinema, thanks to its unique vision and talented cast. If you’re a fan of film history or just love a good road movie, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Featuring Dennis Wilson and James Taylor as the Stars

Featuring renowned actors Dennis Wilson and James Taylor, the movie revolves around the lives of its characters with an emphasis on character exploration and social commentary, compensating for the lack of a complex storyline. From my perspective, the film serves as an allegory for the state of America during the 1960s, a period of political turmoil and youth alienation resulting from the Vietnam war.

However, let’s not get sidetracked…

The true centerpiece of the movie is The Driver’s 1955 Chevy, which steals the limelight and dominates nearly every scene. Both The Driver and The Mechanic pamper and obsess over the vehicle with great care and attention to detail.

The Driver and The Mechanic are Always Tweaking and Caring for the ’55 Car

Throughout the film, The Driver and The Mechanic are constantly tinkering and fussing over the ’55 Chevy, which serves as an unlikely hero car for a 1970s film.

During pre-production, associate producer Gary Kurtz approached car builder Richard Ruth to fabricate cars for the movie. Ruth had recently built a powerful ’55 Chevy for himself and even took Kurtz out for some street racing around LA’s San Fernando Valley. Kurtz was immediately sold on the idea of using a ’55 Chevy in the film and commissioned Ruth to build three cars for filming.

The first car was an authentic race car that would likely be too loud for recording dialogue inside, so a second car was ordered with a quieter engine for filming interior scenes. Lastly, a stunt car was built with specialized bracing and equipment for intense driving sequences.

Three ’55 Chevys, including two 150s and one Bel Air, were procured and delivered to Ruth’s shop, Competition Engineering, located on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood.

Featuring the ’55 Car and the 1970 Judge G.T.O

In addition to the ’55 Chevy, the movie also featured a 1970 G.T.O Judge. To prepare both cars for filming, Ruth started by replacing the original steel doors, trunks, and hoods with lightweight fiberglass units. The side glass was also removed and replaced with sliding Plexi windows.

Meanwhile, Universal Studios obtained three BBC crate engines from General Motors, including two 454 cubic-inch V8s and an L88 427 big-block, and delivered them to Competition Engineering.

For the 454 cars, Ruth installed a Weiand tunnel ram with dual four-barrel Holley carbs, aluminum heads, and a Muncie M22 Rock Crusher four-speed transmission with a Hurst shifter. The 427 stunt car had a single four-barrel Holley carb and a TH400 automatic transmission. All three cars were equipped with 1960s Oldsmobile Positraction rears with 4.88:1 gears, straight axles with coilovers, and four-wheel disc brakes.

Take a Ride to the Next Drag Strip in Two-Lane Blacktop

The stunt car was specially equipped with a unique braking system on both sides, designed by Ruth, which allowed the stunt driver to execute a skid and roll for a scene that was later discarded during filming.

Inside, the original interiors of the Chevy cars were replaced with black gasser-style environments featuring full roll cages. Custom aluminum mailbox-style air scoops were added to the hoods, while five-spoke mag wheels fitted with period drag tires were mounted on all four corners.

Ruth painted all three cars powder blue before delivering them to the production team. However, upon seeing the finished cars, director Hellman felt that the color was not suitable for the characters of The Driver and The Mechanic. He believed that the duo would prioritize the car’s mechanical performance over its aesthetics. As a result, Hellman ordered the cars to be repainted in a matte gray primer and artificially aged to give them a rough, rat rod appearance.

Director Monte Hellman Frames a Shot of the Chevy’s 454 Engine over the Shoulder of Technical Advisor Jay Wheatley

During the filming of Two-Lane Blacktop, principal photography began in August of 1970 and lasted for eight weeks. Despite the numerous high-speed driving scenes, few accidents occurred during the production.

However, there was one notable incident during the drag race scene that concludes the movie. James Taylor recalls that during one shot, a cameraman was in the back of the car, and it was accidentally left in reverse instead of first gear. Taylor was instructed to rev the engine to 6,500 RPM and release the clutch when filming started. As a result, the drive shaft snapped off and shot up through the floor between the cameraman’s legs. Fortunately, the cameraman was unharmed, and it was considered a miracle that he wasn’t killed.

Director Monte Hellman also composed a shot of one of the Chevy’s 454 engines over the shoulder of technical advisor Jay Wheatley.

One of the ’55 Chevy cars used in the movie was fitted with a camera rig for filming interior shots.

After the completion of filming, the three Chevys were brought back to Los Angeles and placed in Universal’s prop car lot for a period. The car that was used for interior shots was eventually sold to a studio mechanic, and we will delve into that car shortly.

In 1973, Gary Kurtz was hired as a co-producer for George Lucas’ iconic film, American Graffiti, which also featured performance cars. In the movie, Harrison Ford’s character, Bob Falfa, is portrayed as a newcomer to town who is searching for the fastest and most powerful hot rod that has never been beaten in a drag race. After reading the script, Kurtz believed that the ’55 Chevy from Two-Lane Blacktop would be the perfect car for Falfa to drive.

Harrison Ford Poses with a Friend and a Restored 1955 Chevy on the Set of American Graffiti

With Kurtz’s recommendation, transportation supervisor Henry Travers removed the two remaining ’55 Chevy cars from the Universal lot. They were painted in a glossy black finish and underwent several modifications, including the addition of full interiors, chrome bumpers, new hood scoops and windows, a hinged trunk, and chrome smoothie wheels. The stunt car’s left and right braking system was removed to allow Harrison Ford to drive it normally during filming.

While the cars were an ideal fit for American Graffiti, they did pose one problem. As the movie was set in 1962, Falfa was unable to open the hood of his car in the film due to the massive 454 engine, which did not exist until years later.

During the production of American Graffiti, Harrison Ford posed for a photo with a lady friend and one of the reborn ’55 Chevy cars on set.

The ’55 Car Lines Up for the Epic Drag Race Against a Deuce Coupe in American Graffiti

During the production of American Graffiti, the stunt car was rolled for the drag race scene in the film’s third act. It was subsequently dismantled and crushed.

The other car used in the movie was resold several times to collectors. However, one collector transformed it into a show car that looked vastly different from its appearance in American Graffiti. It is currently owned by a private collector.

As for the interior car used in Two-Lane Blacktop, it was purchased by a studio mechanic after filming ended. The mechanic removed the 454 engine for use in a boat and gave the car to his son. The son repainted the car white with a candy stripe down the sides and installed another 454 engine. In the late 1970s, the car was used again in Hollywood to record engine sounds for Burt Reynolds’ Trans Am in the movie Smokey and the Bandit.

Check out the Interior of the Car as It Looked During Its Latest Sale in 2015

After being used in Smokey and the Bandit, the ’55 Chevy changed hands multiple times before being located by avid Two-Lane Blacktop historian Walt Bailey in Canada. Bailey purchased the car and painstakingly restored it to its original Two-Lane Blacktop specifications with the assistance of Richard Ruth.

In 2015, Bailey sold the car at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona for $159,500. Today, it is the only surviving picture car from Two-Lane Blacktop that remains in its original movie appearance. Its preservation is a true gift to fans of both classic films.