Sam Freeman (Ron Howard) accompanies his girlfriend Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan) into the mansion of her parents and listens to her try to reason with them. She wants to get married to Sam, but her wealthy father (Barry Cahill) won't hear of it and believes the young man is a golddigger - besides, Paula is already engaged in his opinion, to Collins Hedgeworth (Paul Linke), the son of another rich family. But she has news for her dad, she never liked Collins and she has no intention of being his fiancée for it's Sam she is betrothed to, so in a rage Mr Powers steals her car keys to prevent her from leaving with her true love. Yet there's also a Rolls Royce in the driveway...
Plenty of famous Hollywood directors got their start under Roger Corman, and Ron Howard, one of the most commercially successful of the mainstream filmmakers, was no exception. Having made a name for himself as an actor in sitcom Happy Days, he was itching to turn his hand to direction, but was struggling to be taken seriously in that ambition until the famed producer agreed to make a deal with him: star in a movie of his called Eat My Dust, and he would finance whatever he wanted to create. In that case it was a not-dissimilar car chase flick destined for the drive-ins of America that was the result.
And another result was Howard got his wish and became a director, because although a modest production, or maybe because of that, Grand Theft Auto made a hefty profit for Corman and Howard and proved the young actor's worth behind the camera. He appeared in front of it too here, but was not seeking to win awards for his thespianism, and he didn't get them, coming across much like his sitcom character, an impression not dispelled by the fact fellow Happy Days star Marion Ross was featured in a supporting role as Mrs Hedgeworth, who puts up a reward for whomever can stop her son from charging after (passionate kisser) Paula once she elopes with Sam in that Roller.
Not helping the fleeing couple is that Collins has also put up a reward of twenty-five thousand dollars (a lot of money in those days, etc) to anyone who can stop them too, leaving a sort of budget It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World with as much vehicular destruction as they could muster. The stunts were not only plentiful they were very well staged with the cars and trucks flying across the screen, often crashing into each other and if not exploding themselves then avoiding explosions: Sam and Paula weave among detonating sticks of dynamite at one point, apparently because one deranged pursuer thought the reward was valid whether they were brought in dead or alive.
Another obstacle is a ratings-hungry disc jockey played by Don Steele, best known for Death Race 2000 (director of which Paul Bartel appeared here as a newlywed whose truck is comandeered while he is in the back making whoopee with his bride), and he follows in a helicopter broadcasting back to his audience, thereby making our hero and heroine celebrities. A nice touch was to have Paula take the wheel for most of the journey to Las Vegas, though you had to assume actress Morgan wasn't driving in the stunt sequences, but it did make the couple equals even if the pressure does send them into their first tiff. This only makes their bond stronger, thankfully, as we want a happy ending for them both and the motley mercenary mob in pursuit to come a cropper, which Howard was well aware that we wished for and was pleased to supply it. The demolition derby which constituted the climax famously (well, slightly) involved the Rolls Royce, but there were enough highlights along the way to make this one of the director's most purely enjoyable efforts. Music by Peter Ivers.