Hollywood’s Greatest Stunt Driver

Hollywood’s Greatest Stunt DriverIllustration by Nate Sweitzer
Illustration by Nate Sweitzer

Carey Loftin hated horses. One kicked him in the stomach when he was 10, and that was enough of that. So, instead, he rode motor­cycles, drove cars, and became Hollywood’s greatest stunt driver and stunt designer.

This story originally appeared in Volume 23 of Road & Track.

Loftin liked to be called “Old Vapor Lock,” Steven Spielberg noted in an interview accompanying a 2004 DVD of his 1971 ­Peterbilt-as-menace TV film, Duel. “Carey and Dale Van Sickel, who also worked on Duel, were two of the most famous stuntmen in the annals of Hollywood history,” Spielberg said. “Dale drove the car, and Carey drove the truck, and that was kind of the way it was.... He was a brilliant truck driver, because I couldn’t have gotten any of these shots if it weren’t for how safely Carey drove that truck and yet made it look dangerous and frightening and deadly.”


Like many Californians, Loftin was from elsewhere and drifted west. Born in Blountstown, Florida, in 1914, he grew up near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. By 17, he was in a traveling vaudeville show doing motorcycle stunts. After two years in the Marines, he came to Southern California to visit his older brother in 1935. The movie business soon recruited him for his talents. By 1963, he estimated, he had appeared in more than 1100 films. His career still had another 30-plus years to go.

Loftin was paid $3000 to roll a ’57 Ford into a transformer in 1958’s Thunder Road. He designed the mayhem for 1963’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. In 1968, he brought together most of SoCal’s sports-car racers to populate The Love Bug and designed Bullitt’s seminal chase. The year he drove the truck in Duel, he also pushed a white Dodge Challenger through Vanishing Point and coordinated the action in The French Connection. Rebel Without a Cause, Viva Las Vegas, The Great Race, Diamonds Are Forever—if there were car stunts in a movie, it was usually Loftin who had made them happen.

“He was my mentor,” stunt coordinator Gary Davis tells Road & Track. Davis recalls Loftin’s uncanny instinctive feel for his craft and ability to keep surviving one epic stunt after another: “What did he call it? SWAG—­scientific wild-ass guess. That was one of his favorite terms. When it came right down to it, you know, he just felt it. If Carey Loftin was behind the wheel of a car, you knew you were in good hands.”

Davis was so confident in him that in 1983, he hired Loftin, then nearing 70, for Against All Odds. Loftin doubled for James Woods, driving a black Ferrari 308 GTS pitted against a red Porsche 911 SC Cabriolet (piloted by Davis, subbing for Jeff Bridges) in a ballsy blast along Sunset Boulevard. “Carey seldom, if ever, got into a thing where he was out of control for a moment. He just had this amazing blend with whatever he was driving and didn’t make those mistakes and would still be going faster than anybody else.”

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Actress Edie Adams, who worked with Loftin on It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, had another assessment. “Carey Loftin, now there is a crazy bird,” she said in a behind-the-scenes documentary. “That man was absolutely bananas. He would start food fights. And once—it was very warm—they were hosing something down, and he hosed us all down, and we had to get our costumes changed.... He’d take me for rides in that sidecar. No one ever told me the sidecar was as dangerous as it was. He was a madman but very funny.”

Loftin doubled for star Barry Newman in Vanishing Point. “I got more money than Barry,” he told the St. Petersburg Times in 1979. “He found out about it at the end of the picture, and I said, ‘But Barry, who did the work?’”

Loftin’s last credit is for Black Dog, released in 1998. He died at his Huntington Beach home in March 1997.

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