The comedy film, Cannonball Run, revolves around a crazy cross-country car race in a selection of weird and wonderful vehicles. It features an all-star cast playing the contestants, who gather in Connecticut for the start of the illegal anything-goes event.
The race in the 1981 film was based on the real-life Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash – commonly known as the Cannonball Run. With the first event beginning on 3rd May 1971, the unofficial race took place five times.
Organised by motorist Brock Yates to protest against the 55mph speed limit imposed in the United States at the time, the race was named in honour of Erwin “Cannonball” Baker, who was the intrepid 1920s biker who famously rode his motorcycle across the US.
The real race had two starting points (one in New York and the other in Darien) before the routes converged along the Atlantic coast, with the drivers racing to the finishing line at Redondo Beach in California. No rules were specified in terms of the route drivers must take, the type of vehicle, the maximum speed permitted or the number of co-drivers in one vehicle.
Although it started out as a protest against traffic regulations, the race turned into a celebration of America’s network of highways.
Brock Yates and his son Brock Yates junior took part in the first race in their souped-up 1971 Dodge Custom Sportsman van – affectionately named “Moon Trash II”. The race took place a further four times, with the last one beginning on 1st April 1979. On average, it took two days to complete the route.
The film Cannonball Run stars Burt Reynolds as the defending champion JJ McClure and Dom DeLuise as his mechanic friend, Victor Prinzi, who prefers to be known as Captain Chaos. They team up with glamorous photographer Pamela Glover (played by Farrah Fawcett) to race across the US in a Dodge Tradesman ambulance.
They choose an ambulance as their racing vehicle because it can speed through traffic as if on an emergency call. JJ and Victor laugh to themselves at their idea, realising an emergency vehicle is perfect for the no-holds-barred road race.
Many of the characters in the movie are said to be based on real life competitors in the actual race. As the vehicle in the film was the actual Dodge Tradesman van that Brock Yates had driven in the 1979 road race, this suggests the character of McClure was based on Yates himself.
Their rivals in the race include racing driver Jamie Blake and his gambling-obsessed co-driver Morris Fenderbaum – played by Rat Pack members Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr respectively. Disguised as priests, they are driving a stunning red Ferrari 308 GTS. In the 1972 road race, three men dressed as vicars entered in a Mercedes 280 SEL and called themselves the Flying Fathers.
An interesting twist was having James Bond actor Roger Moore appearing in Cannonball Run as a driver who seems to think he’s… Roger Moore! He plays a rich young driver called Seymour Goldfarb junior, who is heir to the Goldfarb Girdles fortune. However, he continually identifies himself as Roger Moore, even signing up for the race using this name.
In true James Bond style, Goldfarb drives a silver Aston Martin DB5 and only his own mother calls him by his real name. Cannonball Run was actually released just a few days before Moore’s latest Bond escapade, For Your Eyes Only, so the Goldfarb character was seen as a parody of himself.
The cars in Cannonball Run are amazing pieces of machinery – some more so than others. Martial arts star Jackie Chan and actor and comedian Michael Hui play two contenders who are racing in a computer-driven, high-tech Subaru GL 4WD hatchback that boasts a rocket booster engine.
Meanwhile, Jamie Farr plays a sheikh from the Middle East who has a fortune, thanks to his family’s oil fields. He drives a classic Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow luxury car.
Mel Tillis and Terry Bradshaw play a pair of “good ol’ boys”, who are driving a replica of the famous NASCAR Winston Cup Chevrolet stock car, driven in real life by Donnie Allison and owned by Hoss Ellington.
Anything to win!
The drivers will go to great lengths to win the race, even using dirty tricks against their rivals. Fenderbaum lets down one of the ambulance’s tyres to slow JJ and his team down. However, JJ and Victor get their revenge by lying to the police that Fenderbaum and Blake are sex offenders dressed as priests, ensuring they’re pulled over!
When JJ is stopped by the state police in New Jersey, he lies that there’s a patient in the back of the ambulance who has to be taken to hospital urgently. When a police roadblock is set up along the route, JJ persuades a truck driver to let him drive the ambulance on to the back of the truck, hidden under a tarpaulin, so they can get past the police.
Cannonball Run was a huge box office hit. It cost $18 million to make, but grossed $72.1 million at the box office worldwide. It was the sixth highest grossing film in 1981 and although the critics weren’t at all impressed, the viewing public loved it!
Banger Rally Challenge 2018
In true Cornish spirit, the Banger Rally Challenge 2018 will be just as exciting as the Cannonball Run! The event takes place in aid of charity from 30th September to 5th October and the only stipulation for entrants is that their “banger” must be worth around £500.
Entrants can enjoy a driving experience to remember along some of Europe’s most scenic roads. The journey will begin in St Austell, Cornwall on 30th September and will end in Morocco. Travelling across five countries and two continents, there will be several fun tasks for entrants to perform en route – fancy dress is optional.
It isn’t a race, but more an enjoyable drive for like-minded people, with their entry fee donated to charity. Driveline is proud to be the main sponsor of the event and we are also taking part! For further information on how to enter, contact Banger Rally Challenge or see their Facebook page.