Director Sam Peckinpah allowed actor and long-time associate James Coburn to work on the movie as a second-unit director to get his DGA card. Rumor has it that Coburn actually directed some scenes when Peckinpah was "unwell."
It's not clear in the film, but Violet the truck stop waitress is "Dirty" Lyle Wallace's wife. According to the commentary on the 2016 Special Edition DVD/Blu Ray, it was more implied in the script, and added to the personal tensions between Lyle and Rubber Duck, since Rubber Duck and Violet were clearly engaged in an affair. The only hint is when Rubber Duck asks Violet if/when is she going to leave her "old man" (slang for husband) when she comes back into the truck stop after the fight and lets Lyle out. He then says to her, "We'll talk about this later."
The film was a hit in the Soviet Union, showing a working-class rebellion against a corrupt government.
The duck on the hood of Rubber Duck's Mack truck was later used in Death Proof (2007), as the hood ornament on Stuntman Mike's hotrod. It was created by John Billings, who received a thanks credit from Quentin Tarantino.
The original 1977 Mack truck, its on-road movie double, and the only original remaining tank trailer are on display at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, MO.
Whilst the film was a hit, Sam Peckinpah's behavior onset made him uninsurable. It would be five years before he directed another film.
Ernest Borgnine came up with the idea for Sheriff Lyle Wallace to be handcuffed to a barstool with a removable seat.
Bill Norton's original script was a lighthearted action comedy similar to Smokey and the Bandit (1977). He pitched the script to EMI, which offered the script to Sam Peckinpah, who was finishing post-production on Cross of Iron (1977). Though dubious about the project's potential, Peckinpah agreed on condition that he have complete control over the film. The studio agreed, and trouble began. Peckinpah immediately started rewriting Norton's script, envisioning it as a modern-day Western with truckers fighting against crooked lawmen and unfair interstate regulations, whilst also adding heavy-handed political satire.
The famous scene where the tanker truck goes off a bridge and explodes was filmed in Needles, CA, on a one-way bridge over the Colorado River between Arizona and Needles. The Needles City Fire Department provided fire protection during this scene. The bridge was soon removed, as a new span connected the two sides of the river.
Although the movie was inspired by the 1976 song of the same name, the song didn't have much of a plot. After the screenplay was written, Bill Fries (aka CW McCall) recorded a new version, with lyrics that incorporated the characters and events of the film. That version plays during the final credits.
Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds were offered a chance to do this film. They decided to make Smokey and the Bandit (1977) instead.
Sam Peckinpah was using heavy amounts of cocaine, quaaludes, and vitamin shots that left him irritable and irrational. At one point he called his nephew David E. Peckinpah from the set, ranting that Steve McQueen and the Executive Car Leasing Co. were conspiring to kill him.
Bill Fries (aka C.W. McCall) wrote the song "Old Home Fill 'Er Up and Keep On A-Truckin' Cafe" in 1974 by for a series of bread commercials in Nebraska. The success of the song and commercials inspired him to write more trucking-type songs, including "Convoy," resulting in increased interest with CB radios and trucker lingo. The trend had faded by the time the movie went into production in 1977, but that didn't stop it from being a box-office hit.
Most of the "Jesus freaks" on the micro bus are played by members of Kris Kristofferson's touring band from the 1970s.
Filming finally wrapped in early September 1977, two months behind schedule and $3 million over budget. A month later, Sam Peckinpah was assigned to re-shoot several scenes, which he did without incident. After several months of editing, he delivered a rough cut without bothering to include the final half-hour of the movie. EMI lost patience with him and took over editing.
The Mack truck in the shootout scene on the bridge was damaged so badly that it broke down just moments before filming. A bulldozer had to push it across the bridge to complete the scene.
Ali MacGraw, always uncomfortable in front of the camera, arrived on the set one day too intoxicated on cocaine and tequila to perform. The incident prompted her to quit drugs.
Steve McQueen was originally approached to play the Rubber Duck, but turned it down.
The overturning of Widow Woman's truck wasn't supposed to happen and was subsequently written into the script after it occurred. Moreover, stuntman Bob Herron was originally supposed to crash into the barn after Sheriff Lyle Wallace's car goes through the billboard.
One change Sam Peckinpah made to the script was the casting of black actors to add more dimension.
In Bill Norton's second draft of the screenplay dated January 1977, the trucker stadium funeral takes place at the beginning instead of the end.
Sam Peckinpah encouraged his stars to write their own dialogue. James Coburn admitted that "There was no conflict. They didn't know what the fuck was going on."
Entire action scenes were re-structured around accidental wrecks and botched stunts which Sam Peckinpah left in the finished film.
Rubber Duck's truck is generally represented in the film as a 1977 Mack RS712LST, although several other Mack RS700L-series trucks were used as doubles and stationary props.
The four leading actors all appeared in previous Sam Peckinpah films. Kris Kristofferson was in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), Ali MacGraw was in The Getaway (1972), Ernest Borgnine was in The Wild Bunch (1969), and Burt Young was in The Killer Elite (1975).
Ali MacGraw found working with Sam Peckinpah on this film to be so stressful that she got a fever blister on her lower lip from all the stress she was feeling.
Production halted for several weeks when Kris Kristofferson left the shoot for a concert tour.
According to the audio commentary on "42nd Street Forever Volume 4", Gene Hackman turned down directing the film.
The name of the company on the door of Burt Young's truck is "Paulie Hauling." "Paulie" is the name of Young's popular character in Rocky (1976).
When shooting went over schedule, production had to stop for one month due to Kris Kristofferson's touring commitments with his band. When production resumed, Kristofferson's band played small parts as truck drivers when the production was unable to get back the actors who had been previously cast due to their other commitments to other films.
The "tank" used at the end of the movie is actually an M42 40mm Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun called a "Duster". It was used in the Korean War for anti-aircraft and in the Vietnam War for truck convoy protection duty.
Kris Kristofferson is a former Army Ranger. He reached the rank of captain during his five years of service.
Spider mikes truck has 'Fly Trucking' on the door. 'Fly' was the superhero alias of the character T.C. played by Franklyn Ajaye in the movie 'Car Wash'
Sam Peckinpah refused to deal with producer Bob Sherman, enlisting his actors and crew members to run interference.
Despite its success at the box office, the film was a financial disaster. It cost $20 million to make, twice the original budget.
The film cast includes one Oscar winner: Ernest Borgnine; and five Oscar nominees: Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Burt Young, Sam Peckinpah and Seymour Cassel.