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Grace
Hagerty Employee

The best and worst vintage racing movies of the 20th century

Back when car enthusiasts' attention was focused on Ford v Ferrari, rather than a microscopic nasty made of lipids and RNA, I started to do a deep dive into racing movies. That investigation led me down a rabbit hole that tunneled back into the silent film era. With so many people holed up in their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this seems like a good time to present the results of my research. Here's a trove of the best, the worst, and the most innovative racing movies from the 20th century, plus some tidbits of history that I hope you'll find fascinating.

 

Read the full article on Hagerty.com: https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/the-best-and-worst-vintage-racing-movies-of-the-20t...

63 REPLIES 63
rbsWELDER
New Driver

Rush?

 

Fiat2000
New Driver

Absolutely a great film portraying the competition between driving greats Nikki Lauda and Jame Hunt.  The racing scenes really show of the talent and skill of director Ron Howard.  

tsmith
Passenger

Two Lane Blacktop, starring James Taylor, Brian Wilson and Warren Oates

BossDriver
New Driver

Plus +1 on this one! Great cult classic.
shepherds2
New Driver

Two Lane Blacktop.  I remember seeing this film in a theater many years back and everyone watched the credits at the end scroll by.  "Dialog coach" appeared and the whole audience burst into laughter. 

audiobycarmine
Advanced Driver

Excellent article! 

 

Since the title says “Racing”, and doesn’t specify what type; I’m going to nominate 1978’s “Breaking Away” as one of the best racing movies, as well as one of the finest movies, too. Steve Tesich’s screenplay won the Academy Award, and the cast is uniformly excellent. It involves family relationships, coming-of-age and bicycles. 

 

Trust me, you'll like it. 

Still443
Intermediate Driver

I was thinking about this movie just recently. What a wonderful film.

Neal_M1
Passenger

My favorite best / worst racing movie is "Hurricane Helldrivers".  OK, its black & white, features dump trucks instead of race cars, and takes place in a mine not a race track, but still...   Very memorable.

Dock46
Passenger

The Racers . This 1955 movie was based on the life of Rudolph Caracciola. I saw this when I was just nine years old and it spark the flame of my interest in racing, The movie had Mille Miglia footage and some of the driving was done by John Fitch.  Some shots of the 1954 Monaco Grand Prix were in the opening scenes. It took me forty years to acquire a dvd of the movie. I still watch it.

Okey78
Intermediate Driver

Bella Darvi was Daryl F. Zanuck's mistress, and this was in part a vehicle for her.

Maestro1
Instructor

Hagerty at its entertaining best. Thanks for all this, I'm going to save this and look into it (pardon the expression). Very well done.

CarciergeGlenn
Intermediate Driver

Only because I'm a fan of the Chrysler Turbine Car will I mention the somewhat terrible movie from 1964, The Lively Set, starring James Darren, Pamela Tiffin, and Doug McClure.  It has some interesting race scenes with some actual race drivers of various types actually doing some driving.  

 

ratcva
New Driver

“If you’re picking a movie to watch with your significant other, go with the Lelouch film.” 
The movie Stranger Than Fiction depicts exactly this scene. 

drenam
New Driver

Ronny Schrieber hasnt watched many "Race" movies, has he.

JSievers
Advanced Driver

“The Last Run” starring George C. Scott as an aging getaway driver is well worth a watch, if you can find a copy. While not technically a racing movie it features a very rare supercharged BMW 503 and some wonderful chase scenes on narrow and winding European roads. What’s more, unlike some of the movies named in this article, the story is quite good. 

dchurch
Passenger

Two other movies worth seeing are "Thunder Road" (1958) and "Greased Lightning" (1977)

Rival
New Driver

Good grief!  A "disclaimer" about movies and what they "might contain?"  Does anyone remember long ago, say, about 20 years ago, when daily life wasn't so tedious?  If you like a movie and what it contains/portrays, fine.  If you don't like a movie and what it contains/portrays, fine.  GET OVER YOURSELF! Everything isn't worthy of outrage!

Now, let's watch movies about racing.....!

Grumpy
Pit Crew

Anybody watch "Greased Lightning" about  Wendell Scott ? A very interesting movie and a driver I never heard of and I helped build and pitted a USAC Grand National Stock Car in that era and never knew anything about him until I saw the movie. Yes, it has its flaws but a great movie if you truly want to get into NASCAR racing history. Still Grumpy

Still443
Intermediate Driver

I got Wendell Scott's autograph in 1965 at a 100 miler at Valdosta Speedway. He was very kind to this teenager.

xraceraz
Passenger

I didn't see a mention of The Racing Scene. It's the story of a  year with James Garner's racing team, from the time he bought the car, and assembled his team through racing in such diverse places as Mexico, England, Florida and Canada.It was the first film by Andy Sidaris, of ABC Sports. I haven't seen it in years, but it is apparently available on Amazon Prime.

TimK
Detailer

When "Redline 700" came out around 1964, I thought it was one of the greatest movies ever. When I watched it again 20 or so years later I, well shall we say, changed my mind. There was another terrible movie about that time that centered around SCCA racing  that I also watched after I grew up. I don't remember the title but do remember Shelby GT350s were prominent and driven by the wise guy young hero of the movie named JoJo who had one of the dumbest lines in any movie when he was trying to impress a lady: "They call me JoJo because I have Mojo." Well, at least some of the racing scenes in these movies were pretty good since they were taken from actual footage. There are other turkeys out there as well but don't want to remember.

Still443
Intermediate Driver

I was just getting interested in NASCAR in 1964 as a teen. I too thought it was the greatest, in spite of every accident from 1961 through 1964 being used in the film.

Bad_Obsession76
Passenger

Clambake, with Elvis Presley, the flatbottom he drove was a Mandella. Currently the Mandella is undergoing a restoration by the son of the original builder, Lou Brummett. Carson Brummett, who continues to operate at of the same location as his father going back to the 1950's, found the boat in a field in Texas. The Mandella was originally a marathon racer Lou had built and was driven by Elvis in the classic Clambake. Many are looking forward to seeing the finished product of the restoration.

mojack82
New Driver

New to posting here at Hagerty.  I found the 1969 comedy movie Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies" entertaining.  Also a good movie to watch with the family...

bechap
Pit Crew

 I remember "Thunder Road" one of my favorite movies of my teen years. So, at age 60, or so, I found the movie once again and was so very disappointed at how totally HAMMY the acting (particularly Robert Mitchum) was. The whole movie stunk! I guess, "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder." Applies here.

SmokeyBear
Passenger

Thank you for the revew.  Now I don't have to watch it.  Again.  For the first time in 60+ years.

PerBal
Passenger

How about the sports car racing scenes in "On the Beach", a movie about a much more serious topic, the end of the world.

Zephyr
Advanced Driver

"A Man and A Woman" is one of the greatest films ever made, period. But don't watch the terrible version  dubbed in English, which destroys much of the beautiful dialogue. The subtitled original is far, far better. The film is also notable for introducing what has now become a cliche, but was beautifully done in this movie: a man and a woman running towards each other on the beach.  And the racing scenes really are wonderful. 

But the greatest car stunts ever performed, bar none, are in the original, and I stress original, version of The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine and featuring an over-the-top performance by Noel Coward basically playing Noel Coward.

RonC65
Passenger

While not a favorite of mine, "Redline 7000" is a portrayal of 1960's stock car racing, starring James Caan.

SilentBoy741
Advanced Driver

A forgotten "so bad it's good" car movie is The Wraith.  An '80s movie so '80s it should be taught in pop culture history classes.  Charlie Sheen's film debut (so take that for what you will), but the real star is the Dodge prototype M4S Turbo Interceptor, apparently powered from beyond by a big jar full of lightning bolts and ectoplasm... though it was never explained why a revenge-mobile from another dimension had a Chrysler logo emblazoned across the hood.

rgiegerich
Passenger

Le Mans, by far my favorite. No dialogue for like 35-40 minutes. Just the sights and sounds leading up to the race made me feel as though I was there in person. Ford v Ferrari, second. I remember doing a high school English term paper on Shelby and Le Mans in my senior year, 1967. Cool teacher, let us write on whatever we wanted. I managed a "A". 

Weckerling
Passenger

In the movie Grand Prix, I seem to recall that Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Dan Gurney and Phil Hill were background characters in a scene of the pits - all standing around very stiff and uneasy.

TAJ
New Driver

Indeed you are correct!  These champions can be seen in more than one Grand Prix scene as background.  Graham Hill as a smirking background party-goer is priceless!

Tomko
Passenger

So is there a list that you suggest? Outside of reading the full article and trying to compile a list as a reader, I was expecting a quick reference of what was suggested as the best and worst in a handy list format. 

Rpizante
Passenger

Great article ! Than you   I saw Grand Prix when released (Cinamax was the big draw!) and it left a lasting impression.  Today I would say my favorite is "Rush"  (CGI and all)

SteveShay
Pit Crew

"The Great Race," while tongue-in-cheek family entertainment with a pie fight and a cheesy indoor studio set of the two rival's cars floating on styrofoam, er, "ice"  chunks across the Bering Straight, I adored the film and all-star cast as a kid and still do. Loosely historic, too! Stars Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, and Keenan Wynn.

WIKI: The 1908 New York to Paris Race was an automobile competition consisting of drivers attempting to travel from New York to Paris. This was a considerable challenge given the state of automobile technology and road infrastructure at the time. Only three of six contestants completed the course. The winner was George Schuester with the American team, driving a 1907 Thomas Flyer.

 

MSR
New Driver

The ‘55 Chevy in “Two Lane Blacktop” is the same one Bob Falfa crashed in “American Graffiti”

✌️

BillGSeib
Passenger

Bullitt

While not technically a racing movie, I believe Bullitt has some of the best automotive chase scenes ever shot.  San Francisco streets were designed to be filmed and racing through them was a stroke of movie genius. 

Some trivia: Steve McQueen was scheduled to do all the Mustang (Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT), driving using a highly modified and strengthened car, but was replaced by professional stunt driver Bill Hickman, who also drove the  black 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum R/T in the chase. After McQueen missed the curve at the bottom of Chestnut Street and had to back up before charging up the hill, the director was afraid McQueen would injure himself, delaying completion of the movie and pushing its cost over budget, so he replaced him with Hickman to make the rest of the chase scenes. If you look closely in the final scene of the chase, when the Charger crashes into the gas station, causing a massive explosion, you can see that the Charger actually misses the gas station (unplanned) and continues on in the background.

 

Azvetmn
Passenger

I remember finding the surviving charger on a dirt driveway outside of Tucson about 6 years ago.  What an amazing find and story, since the original paperwork like the other charger went up in smoke in a fire.  The owner had painstaking document the mounts for the cameras and other features with the help of surviving crew members.  My friend almost fell over when he said he wanted $500k for it, but then again I was surprise too to see it sitting uncover on a patch of dirt in Tucson.  it went to SEMA a few months later and I think that helped him generate enough interest to get it sold.  I think he got about $450k out of it.  However, seeing the McQueen Mustang last year the charger was a extreme high degree of restoration than the Mustang that had a hard life after the spot light.

elldorado2000
Intermediate Driver

No mention of The Love Bug!?  

JoeKorpiel
Passenger

The best ever racing F1 movie is Senna, with all actual racing scenes.

MSR
New Driver

Yep, “Senna” was great! So was the documentary on Jimmy Clark Was really good. If memory serves me Jimmy won 23 of the 42 F1 races he started

 

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MSR
New Driver

Timbo
Intermediate Driver

How about a list?

psroger
Passenger

More of a documentary but On Any Sunday is great entertainment.  I watched it again this week and it is a fun ride.

Polyester
Passenger

Gumball Rally, The Hot Rod Story . Not a racing movie but car related ,Hollywood Knights.

Remember whatching the Great Race with my dad at 8 years old. Best Saturday afternoon ever!! 

 

PeteZ
Navigator

Hagerty might consider doing a similar review for vehicles found in 50's and 60's TV shows. I like watching Perry Mason and always notice the cars and traffic on the road, 

PeteZ
Navigator

   

sorrktm
Pit Crew

I have my DVD copies of Le Mans and Grand Prix. Watch them at least once or twice a year while "hibernating"  over the winter. If for nothing else but to watch the vintage race cars in action and reminisce trips to Watkins Glen and Mid Ohio. And the acting is pretty good too! Wish I could find a film about the Can Am series from the 60's and 70's. That would be a good watch as well.