Vanishing Point

This page is my homage to the Vanishing Point movie with various info, car specs and photos. If you're a car guy/girl and haven't seen this movie, you owe it to yourself to go watch it if you consider yourself a enthusiast! It's the greatest car chase film of all time and I'm not just being biased. Having said that, if you're reading this and have visited my site, then you've more than likely seen the movie and know of the car and the film. For those that haven't, here's a quick summary about the movie. 

The 1971 cult classic movie, "Vanishing Point" is about an ex-cop, ex-racer now turned car deliver driver named Kowalski (played by Barry Newman). Arriving in Denver, Colorado after delivering a car on a Friday night and in a bit of a hurry to get on to his next delivery, Kowalski takes a white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T to San Francisco. Before hitting the road, he meets up with his "dealer friend" to grabs some benies or "uppers" (Benzedrine) to help him stay awake. As a bit of banter, he makes a light hearted bet with his friend that he can get to San Francisco by Sunday 3:00pm. He hits the road in his 440ci powered machine and from there a crazy car chase ensues. 

The 1996 (Fox) remake of "Vanishing Point" is a little more politically correct. As it was going to be on prime time TV in the late 90's, you couldn't really have some hippy high on uppers going out for a joy ride without offending too many people. Back in the 70's, it was normal. The car is of course a white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T but this time with a Hemi under the hood. The story line this time is about Kowalski (played by Viggo Mortensen) who is still a car delivery driver but while out on his delivery, calls to check in on his pregnant wife who is having serious complications. He has to get to her ASAP. While speeding to see her, he's pulled over by the cops who find it's not his car (being a delivery driver) and they threaten to hold him for 48 hours. Getting back into his car to get his license, Kowalski weighs it all up, and decides to drive off. The chase begins.

The Movie Challengers - At the bottom of this page are the specs of the Vanishing Point Challengers used in the two films plus a breakdown of my own, the Carlwalski version. I love this film and know it inside and out. I've spent a lot of time over the years compiling a list of the actual set up of both movie cars. If you're looking to build a tribute and want it "movie correct" car, you'd be hard pressed to find a better list than below for reference anywhere on the web. 

1971 Movie Cars - They used Dodge Challengers because of the torsion bar suspension, the horsepower and the looks. The 1971 used 5Alpine White Challengers during production. 4 of them were 440ci 4bbls with 4-Speeds and 1 was a 383ci Torqueflite automatic. All 5 cars had no modifications added to them at all. They were all stock except for heavier-duty shocks for the 1 Challenger that jumped over the "No Name Creek".  Apart from that, no special bracing or frame connectors were ever used in any of the Challengers. A testament to just how solid these cars were made. 

The 383 was a TF727 automatic car with green interior. It was used for some exterior shots and it towed the engine-less, explosive loaded, 1967 Camaro up to speed so it could hit the bulldozers. Quote from director: "We towed the Camaro with the fifth car, the 383 auto. I used that because if you miss a gear and your line goes slack, you lose the car. I'd rather use an auto than risk a chance of losing the car. That 383 auto car was a good running car! In fact, it would probably run as fast as the 440 4-speeds."

Chrysler "loaned" the producers these 5 White Dodge Challenger R/Ts. Not all of the Challengers were originally white. Rumour is 2 were painted white for the film. During the scene where Kowalski has a flat tyre, you can see green paint where the dents are. ALL five were given back to Chrysler at the end of shooting, although several of them had many of their parts salvaged to repair the others during filming. They were in pretty bad state and worth bugger all back then. It is believed that Chrysler had them all crushed.

The Challengers were prepared by a guy named Max Balchowsky, who also prepared the Mustangs and Chargers for Bullitt.  Barry Newman is quoteed as saying; "I remember the cars had 440 engines and had a tremendous amount of power. It was almost as if there was too much power for the body. You'd put it in first and it would almost rear back! They had a four-speed and there was also an automatic car. That was a 383. I think we used that one as the camera car on the straight runs.

One of the 440ci Challengers was used as a camera car. That particular Challenger was set up with three cameras. One was mounted on the hood looking into the windshield and looking at the driver. Another camera was hooked onto the front bumper and it looked ahead of the car at the white lines. A third camera was on the rear bumper. 

*** Spoiler Alert*** Special preparations were made for the spectacular crash at the end of the movie, as Kowalski speeds into the bulldozers placed across the road with blades down to stop him. Several days were needed to set up the stunt. A derelict 1967 Chevrolet Camaro was purchased and stripped of engine and transmission and a special tow-rig was setup. The effects team loaded the Camaro's front-end with explosives to go off on impact. 

"We towed the Camaro with the fifth car, the 383 automatic. I used that one because if you miss a gear and your line goes slack you lose the car. I'd rather use an automatic than risk a chance of losing the car.  That 383 was a good running car. In fact, it would probably run just as fast as that 440." In the end, all the Challengers were destroyed. Rumours are a few were returned to Dodge and painted B5 Blue. Not sure I believe this however with no proof.   

1997 Movie Cars - are a lot easier. For the 1996 Vanishing Point remake, five Challengers were (again) used. In this version, unlike the original, the car was perceived as a "426 Hemi" (not a 440ci). While one of the VP cars in the remake had a 426 Hemi in it, the Hemi Challenger engine bay shot (when you first see the Challenger and Kowalski's tightening the wingnut on the air cleaner) is ("apparently") a well staged camera trick. It's actually a scene shot under a 1968-1969 Dodge Charger, hence the incorrect for a 1970 vehicle, chrome air cleaner, Charger hood, etc. Not sure why they did this when they had a Hemi Challenger on set....maybe the director liked the chrome air cleaner better? Who knows! 

Challenger (Unit) 1 was the "Main Camera Car" and had the Hemi in it. Challenger (Unit 2) had a 440 + TF727 Auto with 4.56 rear gears and was used as the "Main Stunt Car". Challenger (Unit 3) was a "Backup Replica Car" for Unit 1. Challenger (Unit 5) was the "Backup Replica Car" for Unit 2. Challenger (Unit 4) was the "Camera Mounting Rig Car". Stephens Performance in Alabama, USA, were hired to source, build and get the cars together. 

At the end of the shooting, the producers agreed to sell Stephen's Performance three of the five Challengers used. 1 is as-is from the movie complete with movie dirt and grime (Unit 2). This vehicle can often be seen doing the rounds at American car events. Another is a pristine show quality vehicle with the 426 Hemi in it (Unit 1). Both Unit 1 and 2 are on display at Stephens Performance muscle car museum. Units 4 and 5 were destroyed during filming. Unit 3 is (apparently) in safe storage.

The Ending: Few understand the ending in the original Vanishing Point, but there is one. The dramatic final scene in which Kowalski vaporizes the Challenger and himself into the two bulldozer blades was not because he had given up on life. In the original Vanishing Point, Kowalski is smiling prior to his demise as he didn't get caught. He's a free spirit (typical 60/s70s hippie vibes), a risk taker, a loner, enjoys recreational "drugs" and is anti government. A free spirit doesn't like to be caged (jail). He's smiling because once he hits the bulldozers it's all over... he's "free", "he won". The ultimate freedom.

The 1997 remake however, is a completely different story. Kowalski sheds a few tears of joy, fear and hope as he races towards the center of light between the bulldozer blades. Given he's knowingly going to commit suicide; fear, hope and faith and all kinds of emotions are naturally going to occur. Fear of committing the act itself and more importantly, the hope and faith that he will soon be reunited with his recently departed wife once it is "over". 

My Vanishing Point Challenger: I wanted a fast, 440 or Hemi powered car chase machine with my personal touches and modern upgrades. I based my build loosely around the "stunt car" from the remake as it had the 440ci but portrayed as Hemi, had a TF-727 and it did all the high speed and race car chase scenes. More of the rough, tough and fast car and less of the show pony camera car. My Challenger is my interpretation of a modern day, highway brawling, real world getaway car.

There are things on the movie Challengers I didn't like, for example; the dull creamy "alpine white" exterior, I liked Bright White (more contrast and striking), the bumper guards, no hood pins, no console, the dated 4-Speed, the antenna on the front guard, 1 chrome aftermarket mirror, etc. I guess mine is just a mix and match of all the cars used during filming and on screen. But hey... I like them all! You really can't go wrong with a white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T!

1971 Vanishing Point Challenger Specs

Year/Make/Model: 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T.

License Plate: Coloardo Plates: OA-5599 (Front & Rear).

Engine: High Performance 440ci 4bbl Magnum (U-Code).

Transmission: A-833 4-Speed with Pistol Grip Shifter

Diff: 8-3/4" Sure Grip with 4.10:1 Gears

Exterior Colour: Alpine White.

Exterior Mirrors: Drivers Only. 5-1/2" x 4" Rectangle Universal Chrome Mirror.

Fuel Cap: Standard (Body Colour).

Tail Light Panel Colour: Body Colour. 

Wheels: Rallye Wheels (15x7") with Silver Centre Caps.

Bumpers: Chrome with Front Bumper Guards (Over-riders / "Bumperettes").

Tyres: Goodyear Polyglass GT F60-15 RWL.

Interior Colour: Black Vinyl with Houndstooth Inserts.

Steering Wheel: Rim Blow Woodgrain.

Centre Console: No.

Misc: Manual Windows and Rally Cluster

1997 Vanishing Point Challenger Specs

Year/Make/Model: 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T.

License Plates: New Mexico Plates: KSZ-620 (Rear Mounted Only). 

Engine: (Perceived as) 426 Hemi (Actually used: 440ci 4bbl & 6bbl and 1 Hemi)

Transmission: A-833 4-Speed with Pistol Grip Shifter.

Diff: 9-3/4" Dana and 8-3/4" Sure Grip with 3.55:1 and 4:56:1 Gears.

Exterior Colour: Alpine White

Wheels: Rallye Wheels (15x7") with Silver Centre Caps.

Tyres: BFGoodrich Radial T/A with RWL and American GT Gran Tour RWL.

Exterior Mirrors: Dual Racing Mirrors (Painted Body Colour).

Bumpers: Chrome Front Bumper Guards (Over-riders / "Bumperettes").

Fuel Cap: Chrome Flip Top "Racing" Fuel Cap.

Tail Light Panel Colour: Satin Black.

Interior Colour: Black Vinyl with Houndstooth Inserts. 

Steering Wheel: Rim Blow Woodgrain and 3-Spoke Padded.

Centre Console: Yes with Motorola Phone Holder in Tray.

Misc: Rallye Cluster and Manual Windows

Note: The black blocking plates are removed from the hood scoops in various scenes. When Kowalski calls his wife at 11 mins into the movie, this is clear as day. Note sure why this is done. Possibly for air during desert scenes? Left off by mistake? Not sure. 

Carlwalski Vanishing Point Challenger Specs

Year/Make/Model: 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T.

License Plates: Colorado Plates: OA-5599 (Front & Rear).

Engine: 540ci EFI Aluminium Hemi.

Transmission: 6-Speed Torqueflite-727 (Gear Vendors Autoshift w/Manual Valve Body)

Shifter: Pistol Grip Shifter with OD/GV Button 

Diff: 9-3/4" Dana "Powerlok" with 3:54:1 Gears.

Exterior Colour: Bright White.

Wheels: Rallye Wheels (15x7" Front and 15x10" Rear) with Dark Argent Centre Caps.

Tyres: BFGoodrich Radial T/A Front and BFGoodrich G-Force Drag Radial Rear both with RWL.

Tyre Sizes: Front = 245/60R15. Rear = 325/50R15

Exterior Mirrors: Dual Chrome Racing Mirrors.

Bumpers: Chrome. No Bumper Guards / Bumperettes.

Fuel Cap: Standard (Body Colour).

Tail Light Panel Colour: Body Colour.

Interior Colour: Full Black Vinyl (No Houndstooth Inserts) with Custom Bucket Bolstering

Steering Wheel: Tuff Wheel with Tilt Steering Column.

Centre Console: Yes.

Misc. Options: 3-Link Rear End, Chassis Stiffening (Subframe Connectors, Inner Fender Braces), Antenna in Trunk, Power Windows, Hydroboost Power Braking System, Wilwood Disc Brakes (Front & Rear), Dakota Digital KPH Rallye Cluster and Chrome Racing Hood Pins.

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