White Lightning 1973

YEEHAW! Yur gonna get sum fun shee-it in this 1973 flick that gave rise to a swag of other early 70s classics, such as Smokey and The Bandit and The Dukes of Hazzard.

White Lightning 1973 Cover

It’s a genre where sweaty southerners enjoy big-bore goodness in what was the golden era of muscle, commonly with hairy-chested Burt Reynolds the fast-driving, wise-cracking dude of the day. In White Lightning Reynolds demonstrates all of his dirt-driving awesomeness as Gator McKlusky, who’s released from jail (where he unscrews sparkplugs from a big-block) to help the feds catch moonshine runners while avenging his brother’s death.

Naturally, there are dozens of car chases, with Gator showing the good ol’ boys how it’s done in huge Yank tanks equipped with minimal shock absorption and skinny tyres. And there are some cool spine-compressing stunts — the highlight is landing a Ford Custom 500 on a river barge. There’s an earlier scene with the brown beastie under acceleration across a swamp bridge, riding high on the front springs — magic stuff. Also prominent among the metal stars is Rebel Roy, a green 1971 Mercury Monterey that fans of big-block road boats will love, but watch out for the speedway scene at around the 20-minute mark.

Here, there’s a collection of muscle cars you’d pull hot brake pads out with your teeth for the chance to own these days. They’re fitted with big rubber and howling around a dirt circuit at full noise. Keep an eye out for a Camaro, Mustang, Falcon and Fairlane. There are some other neat cameos, including a glimpse at a 1971 Pontiac GTO cruising behind a 1963 Studebaker Zip van emblazoned with the slogan ‘Legalize Marijuana’.

White Lightning 1973 1“If they legalise that shit it’s going to ruin moonshine liquor forever,” says Gator in perhaps the most reasonable argument of the debate so far. In the climax of the film, McKlusky uses a neat bit of driving to exact revenge on Ned Beatty’s corrupt sheriff, who discovers road boats don’t float.

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White Lightning is a fun rollick in the south with a serious overtone about freedom of speech and police corruption. It started Reynolds’s series of lucrative roles as a slick-talking, sheriff-antagonising, lead-footed ladies’ man. The car chases are fun, with real stunts that don’t rely on big explosions or special effects, and for us it places some of those cool old big-block road barges squarely in their era.

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  • 1971 Ford Custom 500
  • 1971 Mercury Monterey
  • Ford Galaxie 500
  • 1968 Chev Camaro
  • 1971 Pontiac GTO

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The scene where Gator lands his Ford Custom 500 on a river barge nearly ended badly. Stuntman Hal Needham landed short, on the edge of the barge, and Burt Reynolds swam out to help him. Although the original plan was for the car to land on the dirt, the footage of the car hanging off the barge was used.

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