Cannonball Run Ambulance
The Cannonball Run is a 1981 comedy film starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, and an all-star supporting cast. It was directed by Hal Needham, produced by Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest films and was distributed by 20th Century Fox. One of 1981’s most successful films at the box office, it was followed by Cannonball Run II (1984), and Speed Zone (1989).
.J. McClure: Look, we can’t have a car with numbers on it. So, we’re going to have to disguise the car somehow.
Victor Prinsi: Alright.
J.J. McClure: How about a big, black limousine with diplomatic plates?
Victor Prinsi: Nah!
J.J. McClure: Nah. I know, a bloodmobile. They wouldn’t stop a bloodmobile, would they?
Victor Prinsi: Nah!
J.J. McClure: Nah.
Victor Prinsi: An ice cream truck! Yeah, an ice cream truck! Y’know, they gotta get there before it melts!
J.J. McClure: what about a black trans-am? No, that’s been done!
J.J. McClure: Thanks to you, Victor, we do not have a female patient in the back. Thanks to your wonderful cousin Tessie.
Victor Prinsi: Well, it’s not my fault that she didn’t fit in the stretcher!
J.J. McClure: She doesn’t fit in the AMBULANCE!
We get the fact that an orange ambulance seems out of place on a list boasting cars full of speed, but the Dodge Tradesman seen in Cannonball Run is no ordinary van. Years before the movie, Brook Yates started the real Cannonball Run. One race saw Yates, along with movie director Hal Needham, compete in a HEMI-powered Dodge van modified to run at speeds of up to 145 mph.
Yates and Needham’s van didn’t win the real race, but it became a celebrity when it was used as the hero vehicle in the Cannonball Run movie — a film, coincidentally, directed by Needham. Just like in the movie, a fake patient and doctor tagged along during the real race to make the “ambulance” seem legit, though we doubt that the patient was as hot as Farrah Fawcett circa 1981
The primary rivalry is between the ambulance and the Ferrari. In Ohio, Fenderbaum and Blake are able to convince Victor to pull over the ambulance in order to bless the patient on board. While Blake carries out the blessing, Fenderbaum punctures one of the ambulance’s rear tires with a knife. JJ gets his revenge in Missouri by convincing a nearby police officer that the two men dressed as priests are actually sex perverts who are responsible for the flashing victim in the ambulance.
Just when it appears Victor will reach the time clock first, a spectator shouts that her ‘baby’ has fallen into the water. Victor, still in his Captain Chaos persona, rushes to save the baby (later revealed to be her dog). allowing Marcie to clock in first and win the race.
The characters J.J. and Victor participate in the Cannonball Run in an ambulance: a heavily modified Dodge Tradesman van. In the beginning, J.J. says to himself ‘we could get a black Trans Am’, then answers his own question with ‘nah that’s been done,’ a reference to the Smokey and the Bandit films of Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham.
The Cannonball is based on a real race, the ‘Cannonball Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash’, which Needham and screenwriter Brock Yates actually participated in. And yes, they drove an ambulance. They didn’t win, but they did come up with a movie idea.
Farrah Fawcett went from here to a career as the queen of TV movies. This was her ‘comeback’ after jumping from ‘Charlie’s Angels’. Fellow angel Jacqueline Smith was originally hired to play Burt’s love interest in ‘Cannonball Run II’, but dropped out when she found out how crazy a Reynolds/Needham set could be. She was replaced by Shirley MacLaine.