With the era’s racing films and road movies, James Bond and Bullitt, the 1960s gave us the genesis of the modern action film, but the decade that followed defined and refined it. Stunts and stunt driving were more impressive than ever, and there was a boom in road movies and car chases. The 1970s is remembered as one of the best and most innovative decades in film, and cool cars were essential to this cinematic evolution.
Road films like Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider had been watershed moments in film history, and so the late ’60s through the early ’70s became a particularly prolific period for the genre: they reconfigured the western, trading in horses for cars. The American psyche had been fundamentally altered by a tumultuous period, from assassinations to the Vietnam War, and films reflected this change, abandoning the peace and love era for the new decade’s darkness, disillusionment, and fascination with antiheroes. And so the car-centered movies of the early ’70s would be defined by rebellion and wanderlust and loners on the road in search of new frontiers in dusty muscle cars.
Advances in technology also helped shape and pave the way for great films with equally great cars. Films like Grand Prix and Bullitt changed how vehicular action was shot, bringing about the advent of camera cars and the ability to put real people in real cars on a real road, meaning rear projection was slowly becoming a thing of the past.
These circumstances would come to a head 50 years ago in 1971. It was the perfect storm of road odysseys, gripping car chases, and spectacle, a year that gave us some of the best star cars of all time. Splashed on screen was an embarrassment of riches from James Bond’s 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1 to Kowalski’s 1970 Dodge Challenger.