Growing up in Los Angeles as an admittedly shallow, callow youth in the 70s, I always wanted a stylish hot rod so I could attract the girls who liked guys in fast cars. Alas, I had to be content with puttering around in very practical, somewhat beat-up used cars (1964 Chevy Corvair, graduating to a 1965 Ford Falcon), but dreams die hard. Even though I'm still driving a very practical, somewhat beat-up used car, I still yearn for a sizzling hot motor vehicle and an attractive lady passenger urging me to go faster, faster.
These thoughts are prompted by the imminent release of the hot rod-loving Fast & Furious, due in theaters tomorrow, which features the return of the gorgeous Jordana Brewster and the equally lovely Michelle Rodriguez, two talented ladies who have a definite need for speed. (Oh, yeah, Paul Walker and Vin Diesel are back, too, and so is director Justin Lin.) In their honor, we present our seven favorite, fabulous hot rod girls.
Tracie Thoms packs an unbeatable combination of brains, beauty, and bravado as Kim, a stunt woman in Quentin Tarantino's twisted ode to 70s car chase movies and 80s slasher flicks. Kim is rowdy and rambunctious with her girlfriends, but her hot rod heart starts beating fast when she revs up the engine of a borrowed 1970 Dodge Challenger, with Zoe Bell precariously perched on the hood. Smashing!
Cast your mind back to a time before Brad and the babies, when Angelina was fresh off her Academy Award-winning performance in Girl, Interrupted and starring with Nicolas Cage in Dominic Sena's dunderheaded remake. All I'm saying is that Jolie, at the age of 24, was not only the very definition of "smoking hot," but could also be cross-referenced to illustrate "smoking tires." She demonstrated extreme expertise as Sara "Sway" Wayland, an independent-minded car thief and expert speeder who was her own woman.
Shirley Muldowney was the first female professional race driver I ever heard of, and Jonathan Kaplan's biopic documents the trials and tribulations she had to endure to become a top-fuel drag racer. Bedelia is nothing short of marvelous as Muldowney, who first took the wheel of a speeding vehicle as a child, and eventually compelled to pursue her chosen profession. Even though it was the 60s, she wasn't motivated by a desire to blaze new trails for women; she just wanted to race.
Not only is Paul Bartel's original much funnier than the recent, very sober remake by Paul W.S. Anderson, it features Mary Woronov as cowgirl Calamity Jane, a wild woman driving her mean machine (decorated with longhorns on the hood) across America, happily driving over pedestrians to score points. In other words, a woman after my own heart, and Woronov imbues her character with deranged ferocity.
I can't imagine leaving American Graffiti off this list, because the celebration of car culture is implicit throughout. Cindy Williams might seem an odd choice; initially her role as Laurie Henderson looks like the typical "nice girlfriend." But she has several good scenes, and I especially loved the moment when she screws up her courage and jumps into the front seat of Harrison Ford's hot rod. He's surprised, Laurie's boyfriend Steve (Ron Howard) is angry, and Laurie can't quite believe what she did. She gets a defiant gleam in her eye, though, and we know she won't back down.
She never got behind the wheel in Nicholas Ray's 1955 classic, but maybe she should have. She's not in love with the hot rods themselves, but the boys who are nervy enough to drive them. That's part of Judy's appeal; you get the sense from Natalie Wood that she doesn't want to be attracted to the bad boys, yet she can't help herself. And she's not willing to deny herself the pleasure of satisfying her own need for speed vicariously through the boys she loves.
Even before we learn of her mechanical aptitude and ability to hot wire a car, we can see Mikaela's face when the Chevrolet Camaro first displays its hidden powers. Talk about Megan Fox's sex appeal all you want, that expression on her face was purely and simply child-like joy, the exhilaration and excitement of going faster and faster.
Due respect to films that didn't make the cut, including Leslie H. Martinson's Hot Rod Girl (1956), starring Lori Nelson (plus Chuck Conners and Frank Gorshin). You're free to criticize my choices, of course, but I'm much more interested in your picks. Who are your favorite hot rod girls (or boys, if you want to go there)?
Frank Micelotta, Getty Images