THE ‘THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT’ CARS

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Clint Eastwood is known for many movies, but one of his lesser-known films was ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’.

‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’ was a typical early 70s movie because the main characters were anti-heroes and the ending wasn’t happily-ever-after.

Jerry Sutherland

Clint played Thunderbolt—a career criminal/decorated war hero who accidentally teams up with Jeff Bridges—another career criminal. Their first caper is to carjack a couple’s 1973 Buick Riviera.

Prior to that, Bridges (Lightfoot) stole a brand new ‘73 Pontiac T/A off a dealer’s lot.

That’s the same car he used to save Thunderbolt from another guy who wanted to ventilate Clint. The T/A takes a pounding in and out of the ditch during the rescue, but it’s left relatively intact on a riverbank after the escape.   

The ’73 Riviera was brand new at the time, but it doesn’t take Thunderbolt and Lightfoot long to turn this Riv into a bullet-riddled pile of junk.

George Kennedy (another career criminal/war hero) blows out the classic Buick boat tail rear window with his first shot–then he sprays the Buick with bullets.  

They dirt track the Riviera over some rough roads until it reaches the point where a badly-abused boattail won’t go any farther—but it did help them escape the bad guys.  

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s next ride comes in the form of a ’73 Plymouth Fury two-door hardtop. A nutbar stops to pick them up in this ridiculously jacked-up C-body Mopar.

The back-end geometry on this Fury suggests it handles like an elephant on roller skates—this proves to be very true when the maniac behind the wheel rolls it in a ditch.

Thunderbolt knocks out the driver and the boys steal this big, bad Fury and head out on the road to escape the bad guys behind them. That doesn’t work out because the bad guys are in the back seat of the Fury when Thunderbolt and Lightfoot grab some ice cream. The Fury is last seen headed down a gravel road in relatively good condition—except for the slightly-dented roof.

The boys grab the biggest car star of the show when they get back to the ’51 Mercury that was seen early in the movie. This Merc survived the Buick Riviera dirt track chase better than the boattail, so it’s seen throughout the film.

The Merc is used for the final caper to haul the 20-millimeter Oerlikon cannon—a World War Two antitank gun. That’s the unit they use to blow the back wall out of the bank vault.

There’s a brief drive-in scene followed by an intense police chase where George Kennedy crashes it into a store—the Merc was bulletproof throughout the movie, but George was less intact after he met a Doberman guard dog.   

Honorable mention goes to the big C-body Plymouth police cars in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

Many of them died spectacular honorable deaths (like many 70s movie police cars) in this movie because nothing said police chase better than Mopar police cars in the early 70s.

The final car star made a brief appearance at the end of the movie. It was a massive ’73 Cadillac Eldorado convertible.

This car was notable because it was LIghtfoot’s dream car, so Thunderbolt bought it and it was also the car Lightfoot died in while they were headed down the road to freedom. 

That’s how you end a movie in the early 70s.             

Jerry Sutherland

By: Jerry Sutherland

Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post,  Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.

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