It’s the summer of 1958 when best mates Bo and Harley (played by a very young Nick Nolte and Don Johnson respectively) kick off a road trip from Georgia to California. With Bo driving and Harley as the mechanic, the pair dream of winning the Grand National drag racing championship in their hotted-up ’57 Chevy Bel Air, decked out in yellow with flames and sporting plenty of sniffer rake.
First published in the October 2023 issue of Street Machine
Their secret weapon is a custom ‘super injection’ system developed by Harley that offers a big burst of power similar to that of nitrous, but a flick of a toggle switch and flames from the Chevy’s exhaust are the only evidence for the pair’s spurious claim of 8.7-second quarter-mile times (on cheese-cutters!).
The mates swing by a local diner, where they’re befriended by a bubbly young waitress, Junell (Robin Mattson), who invites herself along on their road trip to chase her own Hollywood dreams. It’s soon apparent that Junell is a few stubbies short of a six-pack, but Bo buddies up with her anyway, and the pair are soon carrying on like an old married couple literally only hours into their ‘relationship’.
With the couple busying themselves in an abandoned house and Harley feeling like the third wheel, he commandeers the Chevy and slips into Macon County in the hope of match-racing for some extra cash, quickly mopping the floor with local thug and single-spinner pilot Tom (Eugene Daniels) for $50. Tom doesn’t take too kindly to Harley’s injection system, labelling him a cheat, and he and his cronies give Harley a touch-up, swiping both his outlay and his winnings. Local cheerleader Betty (Devon Ericson) comes to Harley’s aid and reunites him with Bo and Junell, with the foursome heading back to town to relieve Tom of their rightful cash.
Junell soon cuts to the chase by jamming a six-shooter in Tom’s face, demanding their money back and elevating Bo and Harley’s troubles tenfold. A low-key car chase escalates into a full-on police pursuit when the original trio literally run into the unhinged local sergeant, Wittaker (Robert Viharo), forcing them to lay low to escape the law.
With Tom and his sidekicks also hot on their tail and out for blood, the film reaches a messy climax when their beloved Chevy is stolen, and a case of mistaken identity puts Wittaker in hot water but sees Bo and Harley off the hook. The final kick to the balls is Junell deciding she’s not going to stick around either, leaving the boys with no wheels, no money and wondering how the hell a petite young blonde managed to completely upend their plans.
Although officially the sequel to 1974’s Macon County Line, Return to Macon County features a heavier focus on car action, and holds up pretty well for a film of this era. Nolte and Johnson were both in their career infancy and perform well, but it’s Robin Mattson as Junell who steals the show – her character’s seeming innocence and friendly persona masks some serious issues and remorselessness, all of which Mattson impressively portrays. Above all, however, the cars and soundtrack are cool and the driving sequences fun and exciting.
- 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
- 1949 Ford Custom
- 1955 Buick Special
- 1956 Cadillac convertible
- 1955 Oldsmobile 98
- 1958 Chevrolet Corvette
- 1955 Ford Thunderbird
- 1959 Chevrolet Apache
- Nick Nolte
- Don Johnson
- Robin Mattson
- Robert Viharo
- Eugene Daniels
- Devon Ericson
Body-rolling highway chases are complemented by some good ol’ fender benders and the odd smoky peg-leg burnout.
Two friends embark on a summer road trip with dreams of becoming California drag racing legends, but a wayward hitchhiker upsets their plans.
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COOL FLICK FACT:
One of the two matching yellow ’57s used in the film was discovered languishing in a Kentucky garage, where it had sat for decades.