Where is the Vanishing Point Dodge Challenger?

Dodge Challenger TA 1970. By Simon Clay. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Dodge Challenger TA 1970. By Simon Clay. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images) /

Frank Bullitt’s 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastback has been found and sold for $3.4 million. If you prefer a shaken but not stirred lifestyle James Bond’s 1964 Aston Martin DB5 is out there and was sold for $4.1 million in 2010. The cigarette lighter might not work but the Bluesmobile can be seen at Volo Auto Sales.

Those iconic cars have homes but the 1970 Dodge Challengers used in the 1971 cult classic “Vanishing Point” are missing and likely cruising in the great gig in the sky.

I’ll spare you a plot synopsis, check IMDB to get the straight dope, but ultimately it’s a 90-minute car chase with Kowalski zooted on speed trying to drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T from Denver to San Francisco in 15-hours. The trip is a bet with Kowalski’s buddy and the prize is the tab for some amphetamines. Speed for speed.

“Name. Kowalski. Occupation. Driver. Transporting a supercharged Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco. Background, metal of honor in Vietnam. Former stock car and bike racer. Former cop, dishonorably discharged. Now he uses speed to get himself up. To get himself – gone.” – Trailer from “Vanishing Point”.

Kowalski’s Mopar chariot is powered by a 440ci V8 engine paired with a 4-speed manual transmission featuring a pistol grip shifter. The Challenger’s performance wasn’t subtle with a factory-rated 440hp.

The simple exterior was finished in Alpine White and this Mopar rode on Rallye wheels. Kowalski sat in a black interior that featured bucket seats. It’s a spartan package, not flashy by any means, and it would easily blend in with 1971 traffic.

Chrysler rented the movie’s production five 1970 Challengers, four with a 440ci engine and one with a 383ci and an automatic transmission, at the friendly rate of $1.00 per day. Max Balchowsky prepped and maintained the Challengers for the movie. He did the same work on “Bullitt”.

Dodge Challenger TA 1970. By Simon Clay. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Dodge Challenger TA 1970. By Simon Clay. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images) /

No Hemis were harmed in the making of this movie and the 440 was powerful enough for the production. Performance numbers for the R/T was 0-60 mph in 5.8-seconds and a 14.0-second 1/4-mile.

“The engine was so strong, the car would just stand up and go,” Newman said. “And those skinny tires—you could light ’em up just by touching the gas. It seemed like it had too much power for the body.”

The movie production was tough on the Challengers. Denver to San Francisco, based on Google Maps, is 1,248.6-miles an if Kowalski averaged approximately 84 mph he would make it in less than 15-hours. Through in a jump across a ravine and a lot general punishment from an interstate police chase and you have a recipe for a destroyed Mopar.

With five Challengers on loan from Chrysler some ingenuity was needed to keep the production going. Swapping parts from one car to another kept Kowalski alive and on the road, by the end there was a lone Challenger functioning.

Chrysler was not happy with the tone of the movie, an amphetamine-fueled driver involved in an interstate police chase could paint the prominent car manufacturer in a bad light. When the Challengers were returned to Chrysler they were destroyed.

I still cringe at the thought of my dream car being sent to the crusher, like Jules Winfield’s 1974 Nova with Marvin’s corpse in the trunk.

Kowalski and his Challenger are gone but Dodge tried to make amends when they teamed up with Bob Frederick of New Wilmington Dodge to create the Kowalski Edition Challenger.  Ten white 2011 Challengers were ordered directly from Dodge. The SRT 392’s were outfitted with a six-speed manual transmission, 20-inch WP3 Alcoa SRT wheels and the SRT Option Group II. “Kowalski Edition” decals and a pistol grip shifter make it a proper homage in a modern package.

If I come across a “Kowalski Edition” Challenger and I am in a position to buy it, well, my days of cruising in my beloved Mini Cooper are over.

It seems to me that the movies you fall for in your formative years tend to stick with you forever. Maybe it’s nostalgia but in the three-decades since I saw “Vanishing Point” at 2:00 am on cable I’ve never fell for a movie quite the same.

My life was changed because the Vanishing Point supplanted the Empire Strikes Back as my favorite movie. I own it on VHS, DVD and somewhere in the garage I have the soundtrack on CD.

For example, I have gone out of my way to visit a pair of the movie locations.

In 2005, while driving from Reno to Las Vegas, I made a stop in Goldfield, NV to check out the Goldfield Hotel. They used the long since abandoned hotel as the radio station where Super Soul broadcasts throughout rural Nevada and gets in tune with Kowalski.

Goldfield is a ghost town with a population of 268 and a total area of1.48 square miles. I don’t believe in ghosts but I wouldn’t be surprised if that hotel was haunted.

More from Movie Cars

Last November, while celebrating my wedding anniversary in Colorado, I made a side trip while leaving Denver to find the jump off point for Kowalski and his 1970 Dodge Challenger. In the movie Kowalski works as a driver for Argo’s Car Delivery Service in Denver. In 1971 it was a garage and today it is bunch of high-end condos in a generally lovely neighborhood.

I got verklempt while standing at 2900 Inca Street with my wife and staring at the former site of Argo’s Car Delivery Service. Some people have Mount Rushmore, I have a random condo in Denver.

If my marriage tanks, I think this moment will be cited as evidence in divorce court.