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Richard C. Sarafian, the director of 1971 car-chase classic Vanishing Point has died of pneumonia in Southern California, his son confirmed on Saturday night.

Sarafian cut his teeth working in television, directing episodes of Sixties shows such as Gunsmoke, I Spy, 77 Sunset Strip, as well as an episode of The Twilight Zone. But cult classic car-chase epic Vanishing Point was his crowning glory. One of few car films that bridges the gulf between cynical film buffs and 100-RON petrosexuals.

The story of a delivery driver making a bet with his drug dealer that he can make it from Denver to San Francisco overnight weaves neurotic paranoia and desperate rebellion into some of cinema’s most compelling, evocative car-chase scenes. And the off-white supercharged Dodge Challenger driven by Barry Newman as the iconic Kowalski became as much a symbol for post-Woodstock Seventies malaise as DeLoreans did for time travel.

Sarafian’s son, Deran, told AP: “It was about speed. About what it really meant. He’s considered one of the original [maverick moviemakers known as the] Raging Bulls, that’s why Warren Beatty and Sean Penn and people like that absolutely adore him.” His influence transcended generations, too - Sarafian was given a special thanks credit by Quentin Tarantino in Death Proof.

Even Chrysler recognised its cultural contribution. In 2011, Dodge released a short run of 10 Challengers named the Kowalski Edition. Based on the 2010 SRT8 model (though disappointingly unsupercharged), Kowalski cars came in the same shade of white and had a woodgrain Hurst Pistol Grip gearstick and reproduction Colorado numberplates, just like the film car.

Sarafian is survived by four sons and a daughter. All work in the film industry.

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