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Speed of a Car: The Blues Brothers

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John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star as Jake and Elwood Blues in the 1980 production, The Blues Brothers. Directed by John Landis, the brothers are on a "mission from God" to save their childhood orphanage from demolition. They must raise $5000 to pay off the long overdue property tax. The brothers decide to track down members of "the band" and make them rejoin to play again as a way to raise money. The duo is known for their reckless driving and they immediately attract the attention of the Chicago police, as shown in the car chase we observed. The chase is traced by using the following map:


We cannot safely say the exact location from beginning to end. However, we can assume that there are many discontinuities in the car chase. When the Brothers make their turn it brings them under the El train tracks. We assumed that the intersection was on West Hubbard St.and Wells St. After the turn they go through roughly four city blocks until they reach the intersection at Arcade Place. Then they go through two more blocks until they reach the bridge. After the bridge, the chase continues for three more blocks until the scene ends at the intersection of La Salle Street and Lake Street. The three arrows on the map trace the assumed paths the Bluesmobile (name of the car) took. We assume that there was editing done on this car chase scene and the shots are not continuous because it can be seen that one particular block was reused several times in this chase. As shown in the movie, the speed peaks at 118 miles per hour.

By examining maps of Chicago, we found each half sized city block was 80.5 meters. Every time they shot a different street, we took note of the time elapsed. The data we recorded as as follows, with initial speed at 45 mph:

Notes Block Count Time (s) Distance (m) Speed (m/s) Speed (mph)
Hubbard & Wells 0 0 0    
  0.5 4 80.5 20.1 45.0
  1 10 161.0 16.1 36.0
  1.5 12 241.5 20.1 45.0
Arcade Place 2 15 322.0 32.2 72.0
  2.5 17 402.5 32.2 72.0
  3 20 483.0 32.2 72.0
Bridge Begins 3.25 22 523.3 24.2 54.0
Bridge Ends 4.25 26 684.3 33.5 75.0
  5.25 31 845.3 35.8 80.0
  5.75 36 925.8 24.2 54.0
La Salle & Lake 6.25 41 1006.3 16.1 36.0

We graphed the distance-time and speed-time:

From the graph and data set, we can determine that the maximum average speed was around 80.0 mph (35m/s) on a specific segment of the chase. It is possible that they might have reached a peak speed of 118 mph for that segment. The average speed for the total distance traveled was 54.9 mph (24.537m/s).

Gary Louie, Olga Strachna, Dorothy Soo, Diana Kuruvilla -- 2005

Physics on Film
  1. Feature Films
    1. Tension in Spider-Man's webs
    2. Speed of a car: Bad Boys II
    3. Speed of a car: The Blues Brothers
    4. Speed of a car: The French Connection
    5. Speed of a car: Le Mans (Steve McQueen, 1971)
  2. One Reelers
    1. Speed of a car: C'était un Rendezvous
    2. Speed of a car: The Run
  3. Short Video Clips
    1. Speed of a baseball: Bird Baseball
    2. Speed of a cliff diver: Iraqi Olympic Diving
    3. Speed of a motorcycle: Loading a Bike
    4. Speed of a snowmobile: Snow Jump