The year was 1947. The American Armed forces came home, two years prior, from the European and pacific theaters victorious — making the world safe once again for democracy. America was heading into its greatest boom years of a car in every garage.
Devil on Wheels is a cautionary tale that was made clearly in recognition of the earliest days of street racing. Street racing still causes death and destruction to this day. Thankfully, the United States has many many race tracks and dragstrips, where even the layman can get behind the wheel without stop signs and speed limits — and not antagonize the general public.
Michael “Micky” Clark (Hickman) turns his Ford roadster into a hot rod with his friend Todd (Robert Arthur), advised by Michael’s older brother Jeff (James Cardwell), who learned about engines as a combat pilot. Todd (who has his own custom Ford hot rod) thinks Michael talks about his brother too much, but encourages him to soup up his car.
Michael’s and Jeff’s father John is on his way home in a brand new convertible when he witnesses a fatal car accident, caused by reckless driving. Arriving home with the new car, Todd appreciates how the speedometer goes up to 120MPH, which causes John to give a lecture about the dangers of street racing. John has his own reckless driving habits (which he refuses to admit), on full display to the family when he gives them a ride in the new car.
Michael’s girlfriend Peggy (Sue England), his friend Todd and Todd’s girlfriend Rusty (Terry Moore) all make fun of Michael for wanting to be cautious behind the wheel. Upset by this, Michael decides to participate with Todd in a street race. Despite the police intervening, Michael doesn’t give up reckless driving, taking Todd for a ride in his father’s new convertible, driving recklessly through the streets and evading the police.
Despite close calls with police as well as the death of a fellow racer, they continue speeding, in part because of the encouragement from their girlfriends. Michael and Todd eventually push their luck to the point of fatal consequences. Michael’s father John still possesses hotheaded driving habits, at least until he hears a police siren.