Almost six months before filming was set to begin on Fast and Furious 4, the movie's picture car coordinator Dennis McCarthy was already running out of space to hold all the cars, trucks, semis and trailers being built for the production. This was way back in October 2007 and it was McCarthy's job to bring together every vehicle that would be seen on-screen in the fourth in The Fast and the Furious series. Sound easy? It wasn't; there were going to be more than 200 of them.
"Reading the script, it was obvious this was going to be bigger than Tokyo Drift," said McCarthy, who had the same job on that third Fast/Furious film. "And a lot more of them were going to be 'specialty cars' that we'd have to build ourselves."
So despite having more than 60,000 square feet of shop space to work in, Dennis McCarthy was already running out of room.
The Motion in Motion Picture
We're told it's a fun ride, just like the original The Fast and the Furious, which became the surprise hit of the summer of 2001. But its success had nothing to do with subtle characters and expansive storytelling — it was because the movie hit the sport compact subculture at exactly the right moment and exploited the hell out of it. And the next two movies in the series, 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift, shamelessly followed that example and the result has been big bucks for the producers and Universal Studios. Oscars? Forget it. These movies are about making money.
The finely tuned cultural sensors of the people in charge of this film franchise decided that hopped-up imports weren't the way to go this time. Instead Fast & Furious is heavy on old-school American muscle machinery with a smattering of imports. And old-school means building cars.
To decide exactly what cars should be featured in the film, McCarthy put together several show-and-tell sessions in the parking lot of Universal Studios. Calling on his connections with car builders like Steve Strope at Pure Vision Design, he gathered dozens of ripped machines both familiar and obscure. In the lot was machinery ranging from Dan and R.J. Gottlieb's truly legendary "Big Red" 1969 Camaro (the 800-horsepower, 220 mph open-road racer that almost singlehandedly created the "Pro Touring" movement in the late '80s and early '90s) and Year One's "Burt Reynolds Bandit" Trans Am, to a few street machines McCarthy had happened to see on the street and invited along.
Certain cars would be in the show for continuity with the previous films. That includes the black '70 Dodge Charger from the first film, and the '70 "Hammer" Plymouth Road Runner driven by Vin Diesel during his cameo at the end of the third movie. And, though only the most hard-core F&F nut remembers it, a red '70 Chevelle driven by Diesel at the end of the first movie.
"Fenix," one of the main villains in Fast & Furious 4, for example, drives a '72 Ford Torino fastback based on the Torino Fastback built by Steve Strope for Dan Widmann. But while Widmann's original is blue, the film's art department had already assigned that color to the character played by Paul Walker. So for the movie, the Torino is green. Well, not actually "the" Torino but the seven Torinos built to portray the car through various stunts and scenes.
Lots of Cars, Lots of Work
Money is always relative. And relative to the money a film crew burns through every minute, even the most expensive cars are cheap. So to keep filming moving forward every minute, multiple clones of all the main vehicles for the film had to be built.
There were, for example, six separate Dodge Chargers built to portray Dominic Toretto's (that's Vin Diesel) black '70. With the supply of 1968-'70 Chargers severely decimated by all those episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard, these were among the most difficult cars for the production to find and the most expensive to acquire. And when the Chargers finally showed up at the picture car department's shop in the San Fernando Valley, they were in the worst shape.
Incidentally, unlike in the first film, one of the Chargers in the new one was actually built with a blown 528-cubic-inch Hemi sticking up through its hood. Meanwhile, all the Chargers built for stunt use actually had Chevy small-block crate V8s under their hoods and Turbo 400 automatic transmissions.
A total of seven Buick Grand National GNX replicas were built for a scene where Toretto's crew hijacks a fuel train in the Dominican Republic. While all of them started life as actual turbocharged GNs or T-Types, one was built with the body placed backwards on the frame so the car could be driven at high speed and appear to be going backwards.
More Cars Old and New
The production also built eight '70 Chevelle SS coupes ranging from pristine stock to hard-core street racers. The most interesting was one built with a GM 502 big-block V8 under it hood, a spool rear end stuffed with 4.88:1 gears and a steel tray lashed out behind, upon which was placed 700 pounds of lead weights. Without much more than a tap of the accelerator, this car would lift its front wheels into the air with just the right amount of twist in the frame. The same counterweighting trick was used on one of the five replicas of Hot Rod magazine's "F-Bomb" early-'70s Camaro so it could appear to be doing a wheelie — on dirt!
But of all the on-camera vehicles, the most radical were the trucks built for the hijacking scene. McCarthy's 40-man team built three '67 Chevy pickups and three mid-'80s Chevy crew cabs with fabricated frames from the cabs back. On the '67s, the massive frames support custom-built ladder bar and airbag suspensions and the widest rear truck tires they could find. Each of the crew cabs, on the other hand, was fitted with dual axles and semi wheels and tires.
Surprisingly, there were very few vehicles donated by manufacturers for the production. The one notable exception involved seven new WRX STI models supplied by Subaru to portray one of Paul Walker's rides.
Look in the film for the off-road buggy that was fit with a fiberglass replica body of an R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R. You didn't think a Skyline could really be that good off-road, did you?
Blowed Up Good
A lot of the cars built for Fast & Furious 4 were built to be wrecked. By the end of principal photography, the picture car department shop was littered with parts and pieces from cars that didn't survive, and the carcasses were piling up in a lot down the street. Some of the cars destroyed included a Torino that originally came equipped with a 429 V8 and four-speed manual transmission and a total of five BMW 5 Series sedans dressed up to look like M5s.
After all, car carnage is something we all expect going into any movie with the words "fast" and "furious" in its title. Whether it was all worth it is something we'll know when Fast & Furious 4 opens April 3.