5 Classic Muscle Cars From 'Dazed and Confused,' The Best Secret Car Movie Of The 90s
When director Richard Linklater started rolling film for Dazed and Confused, he had no intention of accidentally making one of the best car movies of the 1990s—but it would be impossible to recount an accurate tale of what life was like in small town Texas in 1976 without putting classic American metal front and center. Almost anyone who grew up in a place where the population was small and boredom was high knows all too well the endless cruising and idle parking lot trash talk that was the substance of so many youthful Friday and Saturday nights.
Although the energy crisis was about to rebound and put a double-whammy on fuel prices and the EPA was floating over the new car scene like a malevolent specter choking out performance, in 1976 the muscle machines of the late 60s and early 70s were cheap and plentiful on the ground. Back then they were simply 'old cars,' priced at a point where college kids and high school students could scrape together a little cash for a purring V8.
Linklater's picks for the film include some of the coolest rides of all time, and a few unsung heroes, too. Here are our favorite automotive stars from the best stealth car movie of that decade.
1970 Pontiac GTO Judge
The opening scene of 'Dazed and Confused' sets the tone for the rest of the film as a bright orange 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge slow-motion slides into a last-day-of-class high school parking lot under the dulcet tones of Aerosmith's contemporary classic 'Sweet Emotion.'
Driven by perennial stoner Pickford (actor Shawn Andrews), who has his year-end party plans tanked at the last minute and ends up aimlessly driving for the rest of the night, the car is later involved in a high speed shootout after an ill-advised bit of mailbox bowling.
There were three GTOs used in filming, and two were done up to look like Judge models (which offered 366 horsepower from a 400 cubic inch Ram Air III V8). The 'hero' car ended up in California after production ended, which the second being eventually sold to collector Cole Hastings (and having its original engine replaced with a 455 cubic inch unit). The third car was an all-black '68 model that was used exclusively in the background of crowd shots, and in a close-up for its Hurst Dual Gate Shifter during the aforementioned shootout escape. It was eventually purchased by Linklater.
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
After the Judge, the next-most famous automotive face out of Dazed and Confused is paired with a character that launched the career of one of Hollywood's enduring leading men.
Still in film school when the movie was being shot, and making the cut after a chance encounter with its casting director in a local hotel bar, Texan Matthew McConaughey would play Wooderson in a role that would not only launch a thousand catchphrase impressions ('Alright, alright, alright'), but would also put the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 on a pedestal.
Wooderson's love for the big-block Chevy is obvious in how he describes it to his buddies hanging around outside the town's youth center: "We got 4:11 Positrac outback, 750 double pumper, Edelbrock intake, bored over 30, 11 to 1 pop-up pistons, turbo-jet 390 horsepower." Although he might be a bit 'dazed and confused' about the power ratings on the engine (which was pushing out 360 hp in stock trim), he's clearly in love, and who wouldn't be? The 454 CID engine in the '70 SS was a monster, and while we have no idea why the character nicknamed the car 'Melba Toast,' it was a blast to see it racing around those picture-perfect 70s street scenes.
1972 Chevrolet C10
Cole Hauser's Benny character is a bit of a jerk, but we're willing to forgive much of his freshman-baiting antics due to the 1972 Chevrolet C10.
He expertly wheels the C10 through the movie like he's behind the wheel of a much more agile sports car in the movie's lawn-hopping chase scene.
It's Texas so of course there are pickups, but this shortbox C10 apparently has enough V8 grunt surging out through its open-dump exhaust to race Wooderson's Melba Toast in a little good-natured street action before the big party.
That's not surprising, considering that big blocks were offered by Chevy across much of their truck range, and that they were just as easy to modify as anything you'd find in an A-body.
1973 Plymouth Duster
By 1973 the Plymouth Duster had begun to stray further from its affordable performance roots, with economy beginning to take priority over power on its option sheet.
Still, you could always pop for the car's 340 cubic inch V8, which had been detuned to deliver just under 250hp—enough for a bit of fun, even if the rest of the muscle car pack wouldn't quite take you seriously.
In short, it's the perfect car for character O'Bannion, an over-age, under-brained hothead played by the man who would have the most post-Dazed success, Ben Affleck. O'Bannion drives the 'Gray Ghost' primer-painted, hood-scooped Duster exactly like you'd expect he would: always in the wrong gear, over-revving the engine, and frequently burning out over the curb when leaving the parking lot in an angry huff.
1974 Pontiac Trans Am
The Pontiac Trans Am tried valiantly to keep the GM muscle car flame alive as the 70s lurched towards their inevitable reckoning with the EPA, and the '74 model seen in Dazed and Confused is certainly eye-catching with the blue Screaming Chicken emblazoned across its hood.
Driven by Clint (played by Nicky Katt), it features a 455ci Super Duty V8 that offers up 290 net horsepower and a whopping 380 lb-ft of torque.
It was enough muscle for Clint to needle Wooderson about his 'White Lightning' in parking lot chatter on a Friday night, but the car was in its element on-screen as it cruises down the town's boulevards seeking the next party and looking to impress anyone it can on the way there.
Curious about other star cars that flew under the radar? Check out this round-up of movie Mustangs you might have missed.