Before Schindler's List, before Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones, even before Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, there was Duel. Few people besides true movie buffs and gearheads have heard of Duel, which was Steven Spielberg's first full-length movie. Only one example of the film's uncredited main character, a 1955 Peterbilt 281, remains in existence. The Aficionauto recently took a tour and a test drive of one of the most famous trucks in movie history.
For most people, Duel was a forgettable TV movie with a rather weak plot, nothing more than a beat-up old semi-truck chasing David Mann, played by Dennis Weaver, in his Plymouth Valiant for 74 minutes. Yet it earned number six on The Drive's list of the top ten car movies of all time. Spielberg made the best of the simple story.
Though a bit rough around the edges—the movie was filmed in just 11 days—Spielberg's unique directorial style is clearly there; he credits Duel as his big break. Spielberg has made references to it in many of his later movies, from reusing camera angles during the truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark to putting cameos of minor Duel characters into his later films.
Only one truck was used while filming the original TV movie, which was famously destroyed when it plunged off a cliff at the end. But after Duel aired on TV, Universal wanted to release it in theaters, and 74 minutes was too short for a theatrical release, so additional scenes were filmed. Since the original truck was destroyed, two more were built to look like it. This 1961 Peterbilt 351, complete with its tanker from 1946, is the only surviving truck used in the movie.
The Aficionauto talks to Brad Wike, a trucker from North Carolina who collects vintage trucks and couldn't resist this one. He brings the Duel truck, along with a matching orange Plymouth Valiant, to show that everyone can enjoy them. According to his Facebook page, he owns a variety of classic trucks that he enjoys sharing with the world.
The Duel truck isn't his only movie-mobile, either. Wike also appears to have Snowman's truck from Smokey and the Bandit.