Movie Cars: Two Lane Blacktop & American Graffiti's 1955 Chevy; Christine's 1958 Plymouth Fury

Greg Zyla
A reader writes: Greg, I enjoy your columns on movie and television cars. You did a column a long time ago on the Two Lane Blacktop 1955 Chevy and it being the same car used in American Graffiti. I also remember an article on the 1958 Plymouth that was the star in the Christine movie. Can you give us a run down on these cars and movies? How about other cars you remember that became famous thanks to the big screen? Calvin L., retired and loving it in Jacksonville, FL.
The author replies: Calvin, I’m happy to do so and glad you are doing well. It seems whenever I write about anything to do with Hollywood and cars, I receive many letters from readers about these popular vehicles. Most recent was the article I did on the Dodge Challenger from Vanishing Point in the Fall 2020 issue of Mopar Muscle Round-Up and the 1931 Dodge used in The Untouchables TV series centering on Eliot Ness in Auto Round-Up issue 1030. Notable is a letter I just received from Tim Ryan, Ephrata, PA, informing there is an Eliot Ness Museum in Coudersport, PA, where Ness lived until his death at the young age of 54. (See
Let’s start with some of the many star cars, including the most famous Volkswagen of all, namely Herbie from The Love Bug (first movie in 1968). Following several TV shows and movie follow-ups, perhaps its most popular movie is Herbie: Fully Loaded with Lindsay Lohan in 2005. The No. 53 Volkswagen Beetle became an instant ‘star’ and raced in NASCAR events with many drivers making cameos.
Some of the other movie star cars include Burt Reynolds’ ’77 Pontiac Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit; the stainless steel Back to the Future 1981 DeLorean “transporter;” the ultra-famous ’68 Mustang with Steve McQueen driving hard in Bullitt; Vin Diesel’s Fast & Furious blown Hemi ’70 Dodge Charger; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the ’61 Ferrari 250 GT; the’61 Alfa Romeo Spider with Dustin Hoffman speeding to stardom in The Graduate; those Mini Coopers in two The Italian Job movies; and last but not least 007’s V-12 Aston Martin DBS in the 2006 hit Casino Royale. (These are all movie cars, no TV car stars.)
As for those famous 1955 Chevy movie cars featured in American Graffiti and Two Lane Blacktop, both are iconic car enthusiast movies that to this day play well for all ages. American Graffiti, released in 1973, centers on teen life in 1962 including young love, cruising the boulevard and street racing all coupled together thanks to Wolfman Jack spinning records on the local rock and roll radio station. It became an instant box office smash directed by newcomer George Lucas and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. The movie had several storylines to keep moviegoers interested and included many soon-to-be movie stars including Richard Dreyfus, Mackenzie Phillips, Harrison Ford, Suzanne Somers, Cindy Williams and Ron Howard, the latter already a childhood star from his "Opie Taylor" days on The Andy Griffith Show.
Two Lane Blacktop, released in 1971 and directed by Monte Hellman, is today a cult classic with singing star James Taylor and the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson headlining. Laurie Byrd and Warren Oates co-star in a plot that deals with the foursome on a racing quest for pink slips. Oates and his 1970 GTO accept a challenge to race from out west to Washington, DC with lots of action along the way.
As for that good looking black 1955 Chevy seen in both movies, a west coast car builder by the name of Richard Ruth built three specific 1955 Chevys for Two Lane Blacktop. Ruth also has a bit part in as a gas station mechanic wearing a "Glendale Speedshop" shirt when Taylor and Wilson arrive for fuel at a gas station.
Of the three Chevys one was used as a camera car for interior shots, of which there are many, while the second and third 1955 Chevys were utilized for racing, street, and highway scenes. A third “junker” was built for a crash scene that didn’t make the final cut. The main Chevys featured 427 or 454 crate engines, tunnel ram intake and dual Holley carburetors. The transmission was a rock crusher Muncie M-22 hooked to 4.88 gears. A straight front axle and four-wheel disc brakes were also employed. Lots of fiberglass was used, and sliding Plexiglas was utilized for windows.
The same 1955 Chevy then appeared in American Graffiti although it was painted shiny black and driven by Harrison Ford. It featured a smaller hood scoop, chrome reverse wheels and different, non-slide windows along with a hinged trunk instead of the lift off used in Two Lane. Other than that, it is indeed the same vehicle.
American Graffiti’s storylines included Harrison Ford as Bob Falfa and his wicked ’55 coming to town to track down, bully, and then race the renowned ’32 Ford Highboy driven by king of the boulevard John Milner played by Paul LeMat. Milner’s yellow ’32 spurred renewed interest in hot rods and to this day ‘32 Deuces, both original and replica, are popular attractions at car shows everywhere.
The final Hollywood “star car” you note is indeed the brazen, red ’58 Plymouth Fury in the 1983 John Carpenter horror movie classic Christine. The movie did much to promote the Plymouth nameplate as to this day everyone loves seeing a red 1958 Plymouth Fury, although not a possessed one with a mind of its own.
In ending, there are more star cars for sure, but space has run out for this week. Let me know what your favorite television (not movie) star car is, and maybe we can put an additional Top 10 TV list. Thanks Calvin and enjoy your retirement. 
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