We all have pivotal moments in our lives when we remember exactly what we were doing and where we were when something dramatic happened: the attack on Pearl Harbor, where we were when JFK was shot and our first drag race. I clearly remember going to see the movie Two Lane Blacktop. Starring singer James Taylor (with hair), late Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson, Laurie Bird and the late-but-cool Warren Oates, TLB was a cult hit 40 years ago. Of course, the real star for us car guys was the ’55 Chevy—old school before it was cool.
I never really knew the story of the car, but according to Walt Bailey, owner of one of the movie cars, three purpose-built ’55 Chevys were constructed by West Coast fabricator Richard Ruth: two identical main cars based on Ruth’s own ’55 Chevy street racer and a third stunt car. Of the three Chevys was used in the movie, one of the main cars was sold to a studio employee shortly after filming was completed, and the other two sat on the back lot until they were reused two years later in American Graffiti. The ’55 sold by the studio passed through several owners as a street-driven hot rod and eventually faded into obscurity until Walt located it after a five-year search.
After Bailey found what appeared to be the lost ’55 Chevy in Canada, Richard Ruth authenticated it as one of the two hero cars. Bailey brought the Chevy back to the U.S. where he and Richard returned the car to its onscreen appearance. The famous ’55 is still equipped with a tunnel-rammed 454 big-block Chevy, M-22 Muncie rock-crusher transmission and an Olds rear, fiberglass tilt front end, fiberglass doors, fiberglass truck lid and Lexan side and rear windows. The Two-Lane Blacktop ’55 is street legal, driven regularly and was featured on the extras disc of the 2007 DVD release of the movie. In 2009, the Two-Lane Blacktop ’55 Chevy was displayed at a James Taylor concert where Taylor had an opportunity to sit behind the wheel of the iconic ’55. When Taylor saw it for the first time in almost 40 years, he exclaimed that it looked just like it did when he drove it cross-country with Dennis Wilson.
This car, plus hundreds of other cool rods and customs, trucks and race cars, will be on display at the 9th Annual Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Thursday through Saturday, June 16-18, 2011. For more information and to buy tickets go to http://museum.nhra.com (http://museum NULL.nhra NULL.com)or, call 800.884.6472. Heck, we might even run it down the strip and show the movie. I haven’t seen it in 40 years.