The famous comic action film, Convoy, about a group of truckers who have an eventful run-in with a corrupt sheriff, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It’s hard to believe it’s been four decades since we first heard the legendary phrase, “Breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck!”
Directed by Sam Peckinpah, Convoy was released on 28th June 1978, during the boom in Citizens’ Band radio, which is how the truckers communicate in the film. Rubber Duck is the CB moniker of trucker Martin Penwald, played by Kris Kristofferson.
He and his fellow truck drivers, including Love Machine (Burt Young) and Spider Mike (Franklyn Ajaye) give the run-around to the sheriff, “Dirty Lyle” Wallace (Ernest Borgnine) after he tricks them into paying speeding fines of $50 each.
Convoy was a massive hit – production costs totalled $12 million and it grossed $45 million at the box office, equating to $226 million in today’s money. A review in Empire described it as a “noisy but enjoyable destruction derby of a film”.
Convoy followed hot on the heels of earlier trucking films, such as White Line Fever in 1975, starring Jan-Michael Vincent as a long-haul driver who risks his life fighting corruption in the industry, and Smokey and the Bandit in 1977, starring Burt Reynolds as trucker Bo “Bandit” Darville, who is persuaded to illegally smuggle beer from Texas to Atlanta.
The idea for Convoy originated from the 1975 pop song of the same name – a country and western hit by CW McCall and Chip Davis that reached number one in the US pop chart and the US country and western chart.
The plot of the film reflected the popularity of CB radio in the 1970s (the forerunner of the mobile phone), as all the truckers had their own moniker and communicated while on the road via their radio.
Rubber Duck meets a woman called Melissa (Ali McGraw) at a truckers’ stop. She is on her way to Dallas for a job interview but gets stuck without a lift. Needless to say, he is happy to oblige, especially since she is attractive!
After the corrupt sheriff wrongly fines the truckers £50 each, he then has Spider Mike arrested on a trumped-up charge, despite the fact Mike’s wife has gone into labour. The truckers decide enough is enough and set off to bail Mike out of a Texas jail where Wallace has him locked up.
Rubber Duck is leading the way, contacting his fellow truckers en route via CB radio and leading an ever-growing convoy across two states to help him on his mission. There’s a spectacular final showdown at the Mexico border, after the angry truckers wreck the town while springing Mike from jail, complete with machine gun fire and a tanker explosion!
The trucks used in Convoy became famous in their own right following the huge success of the film. Rubber Duck’s truck was a 1970 Mack RS700. Its current owner, Anthony Fox, calls it a piece of history. The rig is attached to an original 1960s trailer, also used in the film — a 5,800-gallon Trailmobile tank trailer.
The truck even has battle scars from the filming of Convoy, in the shape of dents where two explosive charges were set off just before the final showdown, when state troopers shot at the back of Rubber Duck’s truck.
Back in 2016, the famous Mack RS700 was involved in a special event, when it was one of five famous trucks to get together at the annual Southern Classic Truck Show in Lincolnton. The Convoy vehicle was exhibited alongside other vintage trucks from the golden era of trucking, in a display nicknamed Hollywood Hill.
Other vehicles included the truck from Brad Wike’s Duel, the conventional truck from TV show Movin’ On, the cab-over vehicle from BJ and the Bear and the old B-Model Mack tractor that also appeared in an episode of Movin’ On.
The duck that graced the bonnet of Rubber Duck’s Mack truck was also used in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof in 2007, when it was the bonnet ornament on the hot-rod driven by Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Tarantino credited the duck’s creator, John Billings, for the artefact.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Convoy, a Rubber Duck car ornament has been made to fix to the bonnet. Rather than depicting a sleek character, it rather resembles a caricature of Donald Duck! A special pink duck is also being sold in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness.
Come on join the Driveline convoy!
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