Organized by Car and Driver fixtures Brock Yates and Steve Smith, the real-life race took place five times between 1971 and 1979. The first edition wasn't technically a race, Yates, Smith, and two accomplices crossing the country together in a 1971 Dodge Custom Sportsman van dubbed "Moon Trash II."
By the time the last race ran in 1979 it was wild and famous in an underground sense. The image above is director Hal Needham with fellow Cannonballers with the fake Transcon Medi-Vac Dodge Sportsman van in 1979. That van ran in the real race, one of the crew playing doctor to a patient that police were told had a lung disease that prohibited flying, explaining the need to speed. The van didn't make it to California on its own power, but Needham had enough material to put together the film starring Burt Reynolds. Check out the press release below for more info on the documentary and how to help.
Documentary about the legendary outlaw LA to NY dash in production, seeks help from 1970s fans that were there
December 20, 2015 - Mention The Cannonball Run, and most will come up with something they love remembering about it. "Burt Reynolds beat everyone in his Bandit Trans Am." "No, he was driving a fake ambulance smuggling beer!" "Two girls in a black Lamborghini won!" "Wasn't it white – or red?" "Some rich guys still run it."
None of the above is true – many recall snippets of fiction from going to the movies, renting a VHS or watching TV. But as with all really great legends, there lies a truth behind...
The real Cannonball Run was the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, an illegal road race from coast to coast organized by motor journalist Brock Yates, as protest and proof Interstate speed limits were too low. In irregular intervals from 1971 to 1979 he invited a select cabal of contestants, running everything from Ferraris to pickup trucks. Being an unsanctioned event veiled in secrecy, few were there to witness it, and even fewer remember today that it really happened...
Recently an original Cannonballer's large stash of photography and reports from the real 1970s race was rediscovered in Germany. The Yates family got involved, and now a feature documentary is being filmed.
The documentary filmmakers are asking all of you who was at the:
- Cannonball Start (Red Ball Garage, Manhattan, NY or Lock, Stock & Barrel, Darien, CT),
- Cannonball Finish (Portofino Inn, Redondo Beach, CA),
- Parade lap (US Grand Prix West, West Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach, CA)
- or anywhere in between and has pictures, audio, film footage, home video tape, or just remembers the events?
In the old photos there are several pros and amateurs holding cassette recorders, Super 8 film cameras and even early video camcorders. Time to check your basement or attic now and see if you or your (grand)parents can contribute to this great American story!
And which of the Cannonball cars and trucks survived? To name one, the fake ambulance "Transcon Medi-Vac" in the movie really had run in the 1979 Cannonball and fooled the cops. Where it is today remains a mystery. Forgotten in a barn somewhere, or gone to a better place – without speed limits?
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