The Car Returns To
Story & Photos by Louis
June 2002 - The 55 Chevy featured in the Monte Hellman film
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.
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
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
The Car Returns To
Story by Louis
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
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
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
Here’s a few photos from Monday
(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.
Gotta change the jets.
With all the overgrowth now it's hard to
believe the track looked like this once.
Walt lines up against Mr. Bardahl.
Good luck Walt. Remember the mechanic put
up the tools against $300.
Here's the real deal...
Proud owner Walt Bailey on Lakeland's
Approaching the crosswalk from the
Parked in the pits approximately where the
car pitted in the movie.
Here's the office.
Staging the '55.
Barely visible start line.
"A little B Hot Rod '55 Chevrolet...
...the lights come down and the little '55
Chevrolet is out of the hole first."