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Vanishing Point Is 50 Years Old and Disappearing from Our Car Culture

Vanishing Point is on the verge of vanishing. Released in 1971, it’s 50 years old this year. But it isn’t being celebrated with special showings in art-house movie theaters or being reissued as a newly remastered “Special Edition” Blu-ray—and who owns a Blu-ray player anymore anyhow? It’s not on Netflix or Hulu or HBO Max. And you can’t download it on iTunes. It’s a movie that generations of muscle maniacs, Mopar addicts, and people who made careers of writing about cars grew up worshipping. And now it’s fading away.

If you’re under 50 yourself, you may have never seen it. Under 40? You may have never even heard of it. If you’re under 20, it’s likely too damn 20th century for your 21st-century psyche to grasp.

It’s about a loner driving a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T from Denver to San Francisco as quickly as possible. Why? No real reason. He’s a former cop. He’s a former race driver and a former motorcycle racer. He’s a Vietnam vet who won the Medal of Honor. He’s now all hyped up on Benzedrine. But despite the high-profile gigs, none of the cops chasing him can discover his first name. We know him as Kowalski.

Vanishing Point was purely countercultural. Not just because the screenplay was written by one Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a former Cuban revolutionary who, in one lifetime, both served as director of the Instituto del Cine under Castro and was awarded the Premio Cervantes by King Juan Carlos of Spain. Not just in the sense that it had hippie sensibilities, but because it mixed pro-drug sensibilities, pro-nudity visuals, half-ass nihilism, and existential nonsense with a muscle car it would help to make iconic. And not just “iconic” in the way car writers throw the word around about crappy SUVs and any Porsche, but as a symbol of a moment in time that was already passing. Car culture was, back then, itself countercultural. For the full story, check out this article from Road & Track.

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