QOTD: If Two-Lane Blacktop Were Made Today, What Two Cars Would Star?

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
qotd if em two lane blacktop em were made today what two cars would star

During April, the management of the Alamo Drafthouse Theater in Denver allowed me to select and introduce four car movies, and the final one was the 1971 road-trip classic, Two-Lane Blacktop. In the bar before the film rolled (and during my introduction in the theater, and in the parking lot afterward), a debate raged, triggered by a question I’d dropped: What are the 2015 equivalents to the full-race 1955 Chevrolet 150 two-door and brand-new 1970 Pontiac GTO that starred in the film?

In order to answer this question, you need to fast-forward through 44 years’ worth of cultural evolution of the characters portrayed in the film by Warren Oates, James Taylor, and Dennis Wilson (simply finding the lineal descendents of the cars — what, the ’15 Impala and whatever replaced the performance-oriented mid-sized Pontiacs in GM’s lineup after Pontiac’s demise? — just seems inadequate for the depth of this movie). What would the 21st-century counterparts to The Driver, The Mechanic, and GTO drive?

The 1955 Chevrolet 150 two-door sedan was, when new, one of the cheapest “real” Detroit cars you could buy. The list price for the six-cylinder was just $1,685, a mere $190 more than the miserably toy-like 1955 Volkswagen Beetle and its 36-horse engine. Sure, the ’55 Ford Mainline Business Coupe listed at just $1,606 and the ’55 Plymouth Plaza Business Coupe for $1,614, and real-world resale values on such stripped-down, 16-year-old bottom-of-the-line transportation appliances were low, low, low, but the Chevy had the most available (and cheap) aftermarket speed parts and the easiest big-block engine-swap potential in 1971. On top of all that, the ’55 Chevy had built up a fair amount of cool by 1971, especially compared to its same-era counterparts, so that factor needs to be placed on the scale as well.

So, for Wilson and Taylor’s ’55 Chevy (which was also Bob Falfa’s car in American Grafitti), we need an older lightweight car that’s considered somewhat cool, has plentiful aftermarket speed-parts support, is very popular among 21st-century drag racers (particularly the outlaw street-racer variety), can be obtained fairly cheaply, and is extremely quick when set up properly. I think the third-gen GM F-body and any sort of Fox Ford qualify, but my personal choice for this car is the 1992-1995 Honda Civic hatchback. Yes, I’m biased, but so many 19-year-olds have tried to buy (or steal) my EG Civic since I’ve owned it, and I’ve watched so many sketchy-looking EGs with gigantic turbos run 10- or 11-second quarter-mile passes (and nuke their engines in spectacular fashion attempting to do so) that I think this car has become the ’55 Chevy of our time (actual ’55 Chevrolets, even four-door examples, have been priced out of reach of mere mortals for quite some time now). Your opinion probably differs, especially if you suffer from DSM Delusional Disorder.

As for the 1970 GTO (not a Judge, in spite of its 455 engine and yellow paint) driven by Warren Oates’ character (named, simply, “GTO”), we need a brand-new car that’s a fairly expensive sporty model with lots of power, a halfway-decent checklist of luxury options, and – most important of all – the sort of flashiness preferred by a more-money-than-sense California weirdo, trapped in a rapid downward spiral with a trunk full of booze and pills and launched on a pointless cross-country drive. Infiniti Q60? BMW 3 Series? Having reviewed the Chevy SS, I think it almost qualifies as the 2015 counterpart to GTO’s GTO, but it ends up being a little bit too stodgy for a guy who shrieks “COLOR ME GONE, BABY!” at some bemused hitchhiker as he stomps on the gas. I’m going with the Cadillac CTS-V here, partly because it’s an appropriately show-offy GM product with a monster V8 under the hood and partly because you’d have (in Dennis Wilson’s words) a “real street-sweeper here if you put a little work into it.” In stock form, the CTS-V couldn’t hope to out-drag-race a car set up and operated by the 2015 equivalent of The Mechanic and The Driver (though it would have the advantage in a New Mexico-to-Washington DC highway race, just as a new GTO would over a stripped-down big-block ’55 Chevy with drag-race gears in 1971), but the street-sweeper potential is just about limitless.

So, what are your choices for these two cars? I suggest not looking at inflation-adjusted values for new ’70 GTOs and 15-year-old ’55 Chevrolets when making your comparisons, because you’ll just get depressed.

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  • Baconator Baconator on Jun 02, 2015

    Neon SRT-4 and a new Camaro ZL-1. I could also get on board with the idea that it's a Cobalt SS or WRX. Some of you have suggested that the GTO equivalent is a BMW 435, but to me, today's hard-partying young social climber would be way more likely to drive an Audi S4 / S5 instead of a baby BMW.

  • SexCpotatoes SexCpotatoes on Jun 02, 2015

    Same question but with TRUCKS/SUV, I'm think '99 Ford Lightning & Newish Raptor, keeping it in the same manufacturer family.