Vanishing Point (1971): ripper car movies

Based on a long car chase and featuring some sensational stunt driving, the 1971 car movie Vanishing Point is a cult classic


Starring Barry Newman, Vanishing Point is a little cracker centred on one of the great muscle cars of the early 70s in what the trailer describes as a “maximum trip at maximum speed”. Whether that’s a nod to the plot of the movie or the recreational substances used throughout it doesn’t matter — it works either way.

Vanishing -point -coverKowalski (Newman) is a car delivery dude who has to get a 440 RB-powered 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T from Denver in the mid-west to San Francisco, 2000km away. Thing is, he’s bet his drug dealer he can do it in 15 hours.


The reasons for this make up the sub-plot of the film — he’s a Medal of Honour winner from Vietnam, a former stock car and motorcycle racer who was kicked out of the police force for holding onto his ideals, and he lost his girlfriend in a surfing accident. What better catharsis than getting doped up and driving flat-out across the country in an R/T?

Naturally, this attracts the attention of the cops and they duly give chase to create a stage for the awesomeness of stunt driver Carey Loftin.

According to an interview in Muscle Car Review, five Challengers — the car chosen by Loftin for its torsion bar suspension and horsepower — were used in the film and he put them all to good use.

Vanishing -point -04The ‘Oh my god! The bridge is out!’ creek jump is one of the highlights, along with the carriageway-swapping freeway chase and the final climax, in which they wisely swapped out the precious R/T for a 1967 Camaro (unless you’re a Camaro fan).

Loftin praised the power of the 440, which filled the engine bays of four of the loaned cars; the fifth ran a 383 with an auto and was used behind the scenes for that climactic ending, to tow the Camaro. He said he chose the auto because if he missed a gear while towing the explosives-filled shell, it could have been disastrous.

Vanishing -point -03In the film, Kowalski encounters all manner of weirdos, including a rattlesnake catcher, a bunch of Episcopalians and a nude girl on a motorcycle, all the while egged on by blind radio DJ Super Soul (Little) who guides our hero along his journey with the aid of a police scanner.

These are all clues to past battles with his own demons and lead to his ultimate fate, as you might expect in a post-1960s existential offering that has earned itself cult status.

Vanishing -point -06


If you find yourself pondering the meaning of your own existence and like a jolly good car chase that involves seeing just what a 440 R/T can do (there were few mods other than stiffening the suspension for the creek jump), Vanishing Point was made just for you.

Vanishing -point -05CARS:

  • 1970 440 RB Dodge Challenger R/T
  • 1967 Camaro (explosive cameo)

Vanishing -point -02COOL FLICK FACT

White was chosen for the car simply because it stood out against the background