Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) – ripper car movies

Their world is a two-lane blacktop. No beginning, no end, no speed limit!


Widely heralded as a cult classic, 1971’s Two-Lane Blacktop is often revered as the ultimate road movie. The premise is simple: two blokes, credited only as The Driver (singer-songwriter James Taylor) and his mate The Mechanic (Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson), are racing their way across America for cash in a tough, tunnel-rammed big-block ’55 Chevy, which boasts what must be the most fastidiously checked valves and jets of all time.

First published in Street Machine’s Yearbook 2023

Along the way, the duo are joined by a hitchhiker, The Girl (Laurie Bird), who ingratiates herself and her bags of crap into their car – neither of which seem to raise query or concern from the boys, despite her not being invited to join them.

The trio have some fleeting interactions with the appropriately dubbed GTO (brilliantly played by Warren Oates), a strange, desperate, compulsive liar who wanders the highways in a ‘Judge’ Pontiac, ferrying around a random collection of hitchhikers.

GTO’s overactive imagination sees him challenging the boys to a road race, and they decide to motor east to Washington, DC, racing for pink slips along the way, which they mail ahead for the winner to collect.

Midway through the film, character development takes a firm hold, with a strange love triangle emerging between The Driver, The Mechanic and The Girl, and an unspoken camaraderie developing between them and GTO, revealing the underlying shared loneliness and disillusionment the four share.

However, The Girl soon latches herself – uninvited again – onto some other poor random sucker, GTO peels off into the sunset to peddle more bullshit, and the boys and their ’55 get back to what we’re here for – drag racing action.

While The Driver’s famous line, “Make it three yards, motherf**ker, and we’ll have an automobile race”, has long since passed into hot-car lingo, the ending of the film is less than satisfying; I’ve spent decades wondering if any of them ever made it to Washington, DC to pick up their pink slips, and the other first-world conundrums brought up along the way never seem to get resolved.

VERDICT: 3.5/5

Brace yourself for an unpopular opinion, but Two-Lane Blacktop is a pretty weird and ordinary flick when it comes to ‘movie’ stuff like acting, production and storyline. But it’s these very oddities – and of course, the sight and sound of that wicked ’55 whining through the gears of its Muncie rock-crusher – that give the film its cult status and trump any critique I may have. The now-historic race footage and opening scenes featuring ‘Big Willie’ Robinson’s King Daytona are fantastic, while James Taylor’s portrayal of the steely, focused Driver surely gave rise to what became known as ‘race face’.


  • 1955 Chevrolet 150
  • 1970 Pontiac GTO
  • 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
  • 1969 Plymouth Fury
  • 1968 Dodge Coronet
  • 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle
  • 1964 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
  • 1970 Plymouth Duster


  • James Taylor
  • Dennis Wilson
  • Warren Oates
  • Laurie Bird
  • Harry Dean Stanton
  • Rudy Wurlitzer
  • Richard Ruth, David Drake


Monte Hellman


Some clutch-dropping, hard-shifting street and drag race action, along with plenty of background automotive eye-candy.


A pair of car-obsessed mates, drifting and racing their way across America, encounter a strange hitchhiker and an even stranger race competitor.


DVD, Blu-ray, streaming.

Cool flick fact:

Two of the three 1955 Chevys built for the film had their styling cues back-dated a decade from 1971 and were reused for 1973’s American Graffiti as Bob Falfa’s 1962-spec ‘field car.’