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two-lane blacktop

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The Car Returns To Lakeland 1
Story & Photos by Louis Kimery

June 2002 - The 55 Chevy featured in the Monte Hellman film "Two- Lane Blacktop" was originally constructed by Richard Ruth expressly for the 1971 film. There were other versions of the car used for "in car" scenes and such, but the main "star" car was a real street/strip 55 Chevy that pretty well epitomizes what a "hot rod" 55 was during the early seventies. No one "restored" these cars in those days, and most were built for speed. The trend to make them ultra slick high dollar show pieces would take another 20 years to materialize. This trend also jacked up their value to the point that seeing one as a purpose built street/strip car would be a rare sight indeed.

Allen McDaniel lives in the Tupelo, Mississippi area and saw the film when it was originally released. Apparently he has long been a fan of the film, and most likely, a bigger fan of the car. The film is no "Citizen Kane", but has developed a sort of cult status amongst car folk and independent film maker types. It starred Warren Oates, James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, and Laurie Bird. Only Oates had prior acting experience. The "plot" if that's what you call it, is that the two street racers (Taylor and Wilson) are plying their trade on the mean streets of Southern California until they encounter Oates, who they see as a mark and challenge him to a cross country "race" to Washington DC. The prize for the winner is to be the loser's car. This sets the stage for an "Easy Rider" like sojourn throughout the American west and into the south.

This journey eventually leads them into the Memphis area, where the rock musicians turned actors decide to do some legit drag racing in search of fast cash. When they arrive at Lakeland Raceway, they are surrounded by lots of period perfect drag machinery, and the race track where I saw my first real drag racing. When I first saw the film, I was astounded to see Lakeland prominently featured. I had no idea. About fifteen minutes of realistic race footage from Lakeland found it's way into the completed film.

Allen is a very nice fellow who has a passion for old cars (he has eleven) as well as the aforementioned film. Therefore, he chose to take a straight but plain Jane 1955 Chevy "210" sedan (like mine) and "convert" it into a "150" business coupe and duplicate the movie car. The car has a 468 cubic inch "Rat" motor with loads of go fast stuff added. Accuracy to the movie mobile was a priority, as Allen's "duplicate" features many of the exact same parts on its motor as the original car had. A quick overview reveals a Weiand tunnel ram intake with twin Holley 450 mechanical carbs, fenderwell exhaust headers, and a roller cam. The result is a real healthy exhaust note and some serious horsepower.

2LANE55 "Gotta change the jets." Allen McDaniel with his 2LANE55.

The car also has a fiberglass flip front end, and radiused rear wheel wheels for the race size rubber that is attached to the stock width differential. (it's a twelve bolt Chevelle unit) Ladder bars, no front bumper, a handmade aluminum hood scoop, and the prerequisite grey primer round out the "appearance" package. The interior features a roll bar, cut down "race" bucket seats, no back seat, (business coupes and hot rods don't do back seats) "racing" belts, a Hurst shifter for the Muncie four speed, and an old "cup" style tachometer on the dash.

Allen got almost every detail of the movie car precisely duplicated. However, he purposefully left off the straight tube front axle, and stuck with the Chevy's A-arm independent front suspension. He felt it was a better choice for a street driver.

We felt it was a given that we should do at least a few shots on the old abandoned drag strip where the original "Two-Lane" 55 gained it's 1 & 3/4 hrs. of celluloid fame.

Where's that 'Vette?
The Christmas tree is gone but many others have grown up around here.
Mother Nature is taking over the joint. A big block Chevy hasn't rumbled between these walls for years.

   

The Car Returns To Lakeland 2
Story by Louis Kimery

October 2004 - I couldn't resist, and had to pass on this account of my latest "last time ever" to visit old Lakeland International Raceway. Those of you that dig "Two-Lane Blacktop" might find it interesting.

This time my pal Greg Friend recruited Maryland resident Walt Bailey to bring his "Two Lane" camera car to the former Lakeland International Raceway. Dave Rasmussen (a friend of mine and Greg's) met Walt at the Route 66 fest in Springfield Missouri, and suggested he visit the hallowed grounds soon since there wasn't much left.

The stench of development is in the air near Lakeland, so Walt took Dave’s advice and headed for Memphis. The window of opportunity to get onto the track was only briefly open. When Walt arrived in town a week after talking to Dave, Greg promptly made the arrangements for the visit on Monday morning just hours before Walt was due to leave.

This was another proper reason to visit my old haunt though as Walt's 55 is the genuine "camera car" and had an integral part in making "Two Lane Blacktop" the cult classic it has become. Many of the films scenes were shot from this car aboard platforms mounted to it's flanks. It mattered enough to both Greg and I that we both split from work early on that afternoon and documented this car on it’s old stomping grounds.

Two-Lane '55 camera car at Universal Studios backlot.
Two-Lane '55 camera car at Universal Studios backlot.

This car is not the car that came to be used in “American Graffiti”. That car still exists, but is seriously “altered” from the look it had in the Lucas film. Unfortunately, it’s close to unrecognizable from it’s appearances in either “Two lane Blacktop” or “American Graffiti”. Too bad. However, Walt’s car is a real artifact from “Two Lane” and features most of the distinguishing features that identify it as a “Two-Lane” car.

This car is one of three that Richard Ruth built to be used in “Two-Lane”. It has the Olds rear end, the radiused wheel wells, the proper American 200S wheels, the sliding plexiglass side windows, and the fiberglass doors and trunk lid. The doors were miraculously recovered in Canada after having been removed years ago. The car does not have the tube axle that Ruth fashioned for the front end. It was replaced with a Camaro subframe at some point in the 70’s when a prior owner had “repurposed” this 55 for street duty with steel doors and a panel paint job over white during the disco era. It does have a rat motor, but it’s sans the tunnel ram intake and dual Holleys that the original had. There is some thinking that these items may be reinstalled at some point, but so far not. Walt has made a point of “weathering” the grey primer that now coats the sheet metal by “streaking” 409 household cleaner down it’s flanks. Greg had the notion to shoe polish the same class numbers onto the plexiglass windows that the car wore during filming. Even the California license plate duplicates the one from the film. The net result feels like James Taylor would jump behind the wheel at any moment and “put up the tools against $300”. More about Walt’s car can be seen here... www.twolane55.com

Greg got one of the Belz folks (the property owners) on the phone as he secured permission for our visit, and the word is that development is under consideration, but is still probably a couple of years down the road. "Multi-use" is what they called it. They say that the primary thoroughfare would likely be the actual drag strip, and that they sort of plan on naming it the "Main Drag". I guess it's better than being totally plowed under and turned into something unrecognizable. A small little acknowledgment that something exciting and significant once happened here. The Belz man also mentioned that the people that currently live in and around the old track are a "little weird", and seemed to be embarrassed by the history of the racetrack and of the amusement park that once defined Lakeland. They will likely be the biggest hurdle to recognizing what this place used to be. So much for dreaming about any sort of on track reunion.

I'll go back again if a photo begs to be taken at Lakeland, but as has been noted previously, this favorite hang out from an earlier era is on borrowed time. We found pieces of the bleachers on this visit, and Greg made it into the "hot car" pits with this cinematic relic. I was the only person on hand who had actually been to this place in it's heyday. The recollections of what it was and seeing what it has become are a bit surreal. It makes me feel like a time traveler, or even like an old coot. I'll stick with the former.

Walt was pretty stoked about being here and even took home a chunk of Lakeland's asphalt and a piece of the blue bleachers.

Here’s a few photos from Monday afternoon.....

(Webmaster's Note: These first five photos are fun Photoshopped marriages of our 2004 photo session and some movie screen shots.)

Walt and Greg in the pits with the Two-Lane crew.
Walt and Greg in the pits with the Two-Lane crew.
The pits sure looked a whole lot better years ago.
Gotta change the jets.
Two-Lane '55 circa 2004 running Lakeland circa 1970.
With all the overgrowth now it's hard to believe the track looked like this once.
Walt lines up against Mr. Bardahl.
Walt lines up against Mr. Bardahl.
Walt stages the '55 to win $300 and save his tools.
Good luck Walt. Remember the mechanic put up the tools against $300.

 Here's the real deal...

Proud owner Walt Bailey on Lakeland's two-lane blacktop.
Proud owner Walt Bailey on Lakeland's two-lane blacktop.
Approaching  the crosswalk from the staging lanes.
Approaching  the crosswalk from the staging lanes.
Parked in the pits approximately where the car pitted in the movie.
Parked in the pits approximately where the car pitted in the movie.
Here's the office.
Here's the office.
Staging the '55.
Staging the '55.


Barely visible start line.
Barely visible start line.
"A little B Hot Rod '55 Chevrolet...
"A little B Hot Rod '55 Chevrolet... 
...the lights come down and the little '55 Chevrolet is out of the hole first."
...the lights come down and the little '55 Chevrolet is out of the hole first."
striking a pose
flipped out
Final pass...
Final pass...

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