With the arrival of the new Ford Bronco, I’m transported to a memory of unprecedented cultural significance: the most famous car chase in LA history.
On July 13, Ford Motor Company introduced the all-new 2021 Ford Bronco with the red carpet fanfare of a Hollywood premier. Twenty six years ago a Ford Bronco of a different era played a starring role in a Hollywood-worthy drama and perhaps the most-famous car chase in history.
June 17, 1994. I was working in my home office. The phone rang.
I answered. “Chuck Dapoz.”
The caller blurted, “Turn on your TV.”
It was my friend Jim Kubik.
“It doesn’t matter.”
I hung up, hurried to the living room and flicked on the tube.
There on live TV was a white 1993 Ford Bronco, running on what was to become LA’s most-famous car chase.
Newscasters reported that football legend O.J. Simpson was in the Bronco, as helicopter shots showed it moving west on the 91.
Later we learned the driver was Simpson’s friend A.C. Cowlings. They played college football together at USC and then in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.
Clicker in hand, I skipped from station to station, watching the chase in Spanish, Armenian, Persian, Cambodian and other languages.
Reporters explained Simpson was a fugitive, having failed to appear in court in downtown LA that morning on murder charges.
Unlike most televised car chases, the Bronco was moving slowly, under the freeway speed limit.
TV journalists were winging it. They talked non-stop but gave no news other than the location of the Bronco.
When the Bronco reached the 110, it headed south.
The TV voices suddenly got frantic, as though they had a flash of newsworthy info. Simpson was driving aimlessly! First NORTH on the 5! Then WEST on the 91! NOW SOUTH!
I’d driven that route many times. It wasn’t aimless.
Simpson lived in Brentwood. I figured he was going home. That meant driving north on the 405.
From the 91, you get to the 405 by hopping south on the 110 for a mile.
I lived in Westchester. The 405 was only a mile and a half away.
I figured, Why not go to the freeway to see in person what millions were watching on TV?
I drove to La Tijera where it goes over the 405, parked a block away and walked onto the La Tijera bridge.
People were already on the bridge. More kept coming. Hundreds started lining the freeway embankment. It was a party.
I stood on the bridge facing south, pressed against the guardrail. The Bronco would have to pass right under me.
Before long we could see the helicopters chasing the Bronco. There must have been a dozen. In the distance, they were specks. A swarm of lazy mosquitoes.
Suddenly the helicopters disappeared.
They couldn’t continue their route over the 405. That’s restricted airspace, the approach path for jets landing at LAX.
The helicopters quickly jogged toward the ocean so they could fly over the middle of the airport and avoid the flightpath of planes taking off and landing.
Traffic on the 405 thinned.
Having completed their jog over LAX, the helicopters suddenly reappeared over the freeway. We could make out they were helicopters, not flying specks. They were coming toward us. Shades of Apocalypse Now.
Then the white Bronco came into view, followed by a line of police cars in every lane.
In person, the sights, sounds and sensations were dramatically different from TV.
The whir of helicopter blades.
Flashing blues and reds of the police cars. On TV the flashing lights were washed out.
I assumed sirens would be wailing. Instead, the police cars ran silently.
As the Bronco passed, the crowd let out a cheer. TV viewers missed that.
The Juice on the run, in front of enthusiastic fans.
The next week the cover of a magazine – I forget which – featured a photo of the Bronco as it passed beneath the La Tijera bridge.
The front of the SUV was coming toward the camera. You could clearly see Cowlings behind the wheel. Above the Bronco, people were standing on the bridge looking north. I was out of the shot because I was on the south side.
The party over, I drove home and got back to work.
Ask people where they were as they watched the Bronco chase. They’ll tell you in detail where they were and who they were with.
In LA we often stumble on movie shoots.
That day thousands of us were part of a Hollywood drama, lining the 405 as extras on location – witnesses and participants in the story of O.J.’s run in the famous white Bronco.