There are of course plenty of great car movies for us enthusiasts to enjoy and geek out about. I’m also sure we all have an opinion about which is the best – and about which just aren’t worthy. Being an easily influenced child up through the eighties, the original Cannonball Run will always have a special place in my Hollywood Universe.
Cannonball Run hit the box offices in 1981. The screenwriter was legendary automotive journalist Brock Yates, who was of course also the man responsible for the actual real-world outlaw cross-country road race “Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash”, which he first conceived in 1971, and then ran three further times up through the seventies. The movie ended up being largely based on the 1979 race, with even several teams and characters from the movie being loosely based on actual car enthusiasts having taken part in the outlaw race.
As we obviously all know, the lead role of J.J. McClure is played by Burt Reynolds with an impressive all-star supporting cast including the likes of Dean Martin, Roger Moore, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Chan and Farrah Fawcett. However, despite becoming an immediate commercial success as the sixth highest grossing movie of 1981, the critics did not approve. Reviews were horrendous to say the least. And yes to be honest, the Cannonball Run is decidedly corny, stereotyped and just overflowing with clichés.
But all of that doesn’t really matter… it’s all about that intro! Never before, never since and probably never again will any automotive movie ever achieve such a perfect intro. It’s dead simple really. American wasteland, long arrow-straight roads, a heavily be-spoilered black Lamborghini Countach LP400S piloted by two hot chicks in glitter catsuits, and then of course two cops in a Trans Am doing their damnedest to reel the Lambo in. Oh, and then the soundtrack! We can’t forget that soundtrack. And no, I’m not talking about the backing music either. We’re talking lead vocals here. That deep-chested, crisp, thunderous rasp emitted from the Lambo V12 being worked hard. Nothing compares! At least not to my 7-year old mind at the time.
Ever since, I have desperately dreamt of owning a car that sounds just like that obnoxiously blaring V12 Countach. Even if it were just a Fiat 127, which through some bizarre automotive miracle ended up with the same spine-tingling soundtrack, then that would be just fine by me too. I need that sound in my life – which I suppose explains why I keep revisiting the intro to Cannonball Run on quite a regular basis…
As for the rest of the movie, sure it’s a cliché. But then again, I highly doubt anyone has ever sat down to watch Cannonball Run expecting a deep, intellectual, life-changing movie experience which they could spend the next couple of weeks contemplating. Take it for what it is; light-hearted, high-octane comedy. Do that, and surely two curvaceous chicks gunning a black Countach is a good thing? Add an into-swimming-pool-jumping Hawaiian-Tropic-liveried Chevy Monte Carlo driven by two redneck-NASCAR-enthusiasts, a red Ferrari 308 GTS piloted by two priests in the form of Scotch-guzzling Dean Martin and gambling-obsessed Sammy Davis Jr., not forgetting Reynolds and none other than Captain Chaos in a very rapid Dodge Tradesman ambulance, and things are really shaping up. And how could anyone not appreciate a hard-driven, wheels-squealing white Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow with big Hella spots mounted on the front bumper? – even more so of course, when commandeered by a dish-dash and Ray-Ban wearing Arab Sheikh with a profound appreciation of beautiful women.
Now crank the volume right up and allow yourself 3 minutes 56 seconds to revel in this perfect moment of automotive porn seen through early eighties Hollywood eyes. When you’re done, take 3 minutes 56 seconds and do all once more! For me, this is just pure magic for my soul…