By on June 17, 2016

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This post started, as some of mine do, with a question about cars from my brother Jeff.

He texted me from Jerusalem, Israel, wanting to know whether the Porsche in a 1981 movie titled “The Last Chase,” starring Lee Majors, was a real Porsche or a replica.

Not knowing anything about the movie, I told him it was likely to be a real 911, since they weren’t that expensive then, so nobody would have bothered making a replica. He texted back that it wasn’t a 911, but something that looked “more like a Chaparral.”

Intrigued, I did an image search and he’s correct. While it’s easy to tell a Porsche 917 from one of Jim Hall’s racers, the 917 in The Last Chase does indeed look more like a Chaparral than like Porsche’s iconic 911 road car.

My brother’s question answered, I proceeded to watch the film, which is posted in its entirety on YouTube (you can watch it below the jump).

My next thought: how did I not know about this movie?

Most movies about cars are pretty well known in the enthusiast community. Serious films like “LeMans” and comedies like “The Love Bug,” artistic films like Ron Howard’s “Rush” and dreck like Sly Stalone’s “Driven,” they’re all familiar to car guys. If that’s the case, how come so few of us know about a movie that essentially stars one of the fastest, perhaps the most notoriously fast race car ever: the all-conquering Porsche 917? I’m pretty sure that the 917 in the film is real. There were about 80 examples made of the 917 and its variants and they weren’t million dollar museum pieces then. In 1981, it would have been just another old race car, the 917 having last competed in 1973 in the Can Am series.

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Now that I’ve watched all of The Last Chase, I wonder if something with a similar story line could even be made by Hollywood today. Actually, The Last Chase might not have been able to be made by Hollywood in 1981 either, since director Martyn Burke’s movie was partially underwritten by the Canadian Film Development Corporation (not to be confused with Canada’s National Film Board), but I suspect that the themes involved might be even less likely to find an interested ear among environmentally conscious Tesla driving film executives in today’s Los Angeles.

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It’s not great art. The Last Chase was cheesy enough to get the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment.

The acting is about as mechanical as you’d expect from a guy who made his bones as an actor playing someone who was part machine. The plot, derived from at least a half-dozen other movies or books I could identify (Vanishing Point, The Stand, Batman & Robin, Death Race 2000, and every buddy and coming of age picture you’ve seen, for starters), has more holes than a round of Jarlsberg. There were even some serious continuity and setting issues. Majors’ teenage sidekick gets to drive the car for “the first time” a couple of scenes after we’ve seen him at the wheel while they were effecting a getaway from a checkpoint. Right after they leave Boston they appear to be driving through the desert and mountains of Arizona, not New England. Still, I had a pleasant time watching it and, even at its cheesiest moments, there was always the 917 to admire.

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The story starts with a flashback to a plague that wipes out millions, including the wife and child of Majors’ character, Franklyn Hart. Hart had been a famous and successful race car driver until he was involved in an accident with two fatalities, causing him to lose his nerve. Sometime after the plague, “the oil ran out” (remember, the film was made in 1981, shortly after the 1973 and 1979 oil crisis). A bureaucratic and totalitarian federal government has confiscated all private vehicles. Only public transportation or bicycles are available to the public, but every totalitarian regime needs police to keep people in line, so there are police cars, of a sort. The police drive electric golf carts.

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Hart works for a government transportation agency, spending his days giving speeches as the “famous ex racer” now extolling the joys of public transportation. He spends his nights dreaming about his family and his former career. He spends his days chafing against the regime and his role supporting it.

Pirate television broadcasts from “Free California,” which has broken away from the regime and still celebrates what was formerly known as the American way of life, including cars, induce Hart to reassemble his Porsche 917 racer. To avoid confiscation, he’d disassembled it and buried it under his garage.

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There’s a side plot involving a teenaged hacker played by Chris Makepeace, of My Bodyguard, the troublemaking son of a regime leader, who gets his kicks by breaking into the government’s computer and surveillance systems.

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Hart’s disaffection is becoming noticeable to his colleagues and the regime. As he is about to be arrested, right after he discovers the boy in his own home (a point not exactly explained), he blasts out of his garage in the 917, headed for the west coast and freedom. The oil may have run out but there are still thousands of abandoned gasoline stations dotting the land, each with underground tanks and a few gallons of petrol in their sumps, accessible with a hand pump. I’m not sure how well a finicky race engine like the 917 has would run on years’ old stale fuel, but that’s probably the tiniest hole the plot has.

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While the state can keep an eye on his progress, they don’t have anything with which they can chase him. The police EVs don’t have a prayer of catching a 917. Apparently, there is no longer an Air Force either, because all they can come up with to chase Hart, the boy, and the 917 Porsche is a 1950s-era F-86 Sabre fighter jet, and its former pilot, played by Burgess Meredith. Meredith supervises the plane’s recommission and takes to the skies. His sexual banter with “his baby” borders on the creepy, but then Meredith made a career of playing eccentrics.

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Despite the film’s many shortcomings, it’s still an entertaining 105 minutes, particularly if you have a thing for race cars or vintage military aircraft. My guess is that they settled on a F-86 in the plot because that’s what the filmmakers could rent. Either way, the aerial footage of the F-86 in its JPS-esque black-and-gold livery is as fun to watch as are scenes of the 917 in the Arizona desert.

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I won’t spoil the rest of your fun by telling you how it turns out, but that’s not the important thing about The Last Chase. That thing would be the bright red Porsche 917 that really stars in the film.

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In 2011, Code Red reissued The Last Chase on DVD, which includes a directors cut with an orgy scene originally excised from the theatrical release, along with interviews with the director Burke and some of the cast. Interestingly, the cover of the DVD package replaces the rather generic looking race car in the original movie poster with a nice rendering of the red 917. The names of Majors and Meredith are on the new cover, but their faces aren’t. It appears that Code Red knows exactly who the audience for this movie is.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view over at Cars In Depth. – Thanks for reading – RJS

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21 Comments on “Movie Review: The Last Chase, Starring a Porsche 917 (and Lee Majors)...”


  • avatar
    dougjp

    Filmed in Canada. That’s Mosport in the opening sequence.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    You might think that internet commentary represents a new nadir of human intellection, then you ponder that somebody actually *wrote* that script all those years ago.

    Made it through 5 minutes of the MST version. How could anyone take any more?

  • avatar
    Wade.Moeller

    I found out about this a few weeks ago when someone mentioned that it was also inspired by the short story “A Nice Morning Drive”, which is the story that inspired Neil Peart to write “Red Barchetta”.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Hmm, that looks like a 917-10 spyder, which would have been used in both the Can-Am and its European equivalent, the Interserie. I attended the Watkins Glen round of the Can-Am in 1973, and there were a few 917-10s running there. I recall one was there for Brumos , which was driven by Hurley Haywood, and Bobby Rinzler’s team had two, I think driven by George Follmer and Charlie Kemp. I also saw one at the 1975 SCCA national championships, which was in the soon to be extinct A Sports Racer class, so I can believe the car in this movie could have been the real thing.

    While there were many more 917s produced, the majority of them would have been the 917K, which was the short tailed coupe version used in endurance racing.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      After looking at the stills you’ve provided here I have to think that car is a replica. Also, the 917-10 was turbocharged and didn’t sound anything like the movie car does. Even if they had access to a real 917-10 it would be a real hassle to deal with as a movie set car.

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      I attended a Can-Am at Watkins Glen, probably in 1974, though it might have been ’73, as we were in the area visiting the Cornell campus, which I attended starting in ’75.

      I remember being somewhat disappointed, as the cars looked a lot smaller and more toy like than I had imagined while watching the races on TV.

      I do have a photo of our ’64 Riviera sitting on the track at the Glen, taken at a later date. While at Cornell, I hitch-hiked over to the Glen each year to see the Formula One races.

  • avatar
    True_Blue

    Love the movie poster’s optimistic aircraft depictions, from an F-4 (the tagline literally says “a phantom jet”, so I guess they took it to heart) to an F-105/Mirage mashup.

  • avatar
    Joe Btfsplk

    That’s an ultra-rare TupperWare Porsche.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I saw this on MST and thought, this wasn’t too bad for what it was.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I remember this turd of a movie when it was new .
    .
    Lame is being polite but then , it’s a Car Movie so why not ? .
    .
    My Son’s middle name is ” Steven ” , given to him over my screaming objections by his Mother who was ‘ in love ‘ with Lee majors character in the Million Dollar Man wretched TV series .
    .
    Any chance of a link to whomever sells the DVD ? I’ll buy it for my Son if I can find it OnLine .
    .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    JimC2

    This looks very Death Race 2000 ~ish. (The original, of course.)

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Even prior to reading your comment, I though, “Hmm, replica or not, Majors’ 917 looks like it could be readily modded into a Death Race 2000 car.”

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I watched plenty of bad movies in the Malaise Era – how did I miss this one?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The DVD cover would be a freaking awesome movie poster to frame and hang.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry but that absolutely screams replica to me, very probably VW Beetle based. Of course, they could well have modified an original to give it a massively higher ground clearance for some scenes, and they could have re-routed the venturi tunnel at the front so you can see daylight through it.

    But that sounds like a lot of effort.

  • avatar
    pacoscott

    HBO – apparently 1981 or there abouts. Back in the day when you would read the TV Guide to see what was on when. Oh, a Lee Majors film on at 10:45 Friday night – cool!!

    I recall watching this a few times over – I certainly recall it fondly, think I own the DVD (though now I have to see if it’s the director’s cut!!)

    Just one in a stunning collection of not super great movies and shows that was part of my growing affection for all things motoring!
    Say, the Duke boys flying through the air in the General, CHiPs (hum the theme tune now) rolling along the not quite completed 210 Freeway, BJ & the Bear hauling anything anywhere for $10 a mile(?), Smokey and the Bandit and the Cannon Ball Run movies.

    Another gem from ’81 HBO rotation: “King of the Mountain”- Harry Hamlin, Dennis Hopper, a Porsche Speedster, and Mulholland Drive – here on IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082619/)

    Edit: wow – this popped into my skull shortly after posting this – Knightriders from ’81 (what a class of awesome!!) – it’s bikes, not cars, but still – Ed Harris and George A. Romero. Timeless may not be the proper word … IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082622)

    Glad you & your brother stumbled upon this movie, Ronnie. Now I’ll just ponder how well it was received in Jerusalem this century!

    :ps:

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Here’s a real one: http://www.crankandpiston.com/brain/media/2012/11/Porsche-917-10.png

    Everything in the movie car looks off, kind of coarse and cartoon-like compared to the original, while seemingly having the same shape. I love the way Lee Majors is sticking half out of the car in the top photo. He must have been sitting on a couple of milk crates.

    From a practical point of view a real 917 would have been much too fragile and finicky to use for filming. They’d never have kept it running.

    And then there’s the risk of the actors, or at least their stunt doubles, killing themselves. According to the racers who drove them, such as Brian Redman, those 917’s were not friendly to the driver.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      It clearly was a kit car built to look like a true racer. Maybe VW based but could have been Pinto based as the Pinto was a very popular platform for such builds.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I remember watching that movie when it was relatively new. To me, it was as much a play on the post-apocalyptic world as DeathRace 2000 with David Carradine (1975) or the original Mad Max (1979) that came before it. Such stories were very common in movies at the time. Damnation Alley is another one of that general ilk, though not a chase per sé. Damnation Alley did use an interesting truck that was experimental at the time but apparently never brought into real-world use.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    I remember this moving being in heavy rotation on HBO when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure the car in question is a replica. The movie itself wasn’t bad, at least to a 10 or 11 year-old me; typical late 70’s / early 80’s dystopian future movie.

  • avatar
    pvronsky

    REPLICA! I worked on the film as a production assistant. It was shot in Toronto Canada and Tucson, Flagstaff and Scottsdale, Arizona in October-December 1979. (Maybe there were a few shots of an actual Porsche 917 but any shot with Lee Majors driving is a replica. Majors insisted on doing his own driving (even when getting driven to the movie set in a normal car, he would drive it himself with his assigned film union driver sitting in the passenger seat next to him.) He skidded and crashed the replica car a few times as he tended to be pretty reckless behind the wheel… nice guy though, ego-wise for a movie star . The jet aircraft was an F-86 Sabre.


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