In any movie, the heroes can only prove their goodness by going up against truly nasty villains. In Fast & Furious 6, what the truly nasty villains are driving is this: a custom built, wedge-shaped, tube frame, midengine, four-wheel-steering monster. Call it the "ramp car" or the "flip car" or whatever. What it ultimately is, well, is evil.
But even evil deserves its due.
The Story's Needs
Over the previous five Fast & Furious films it's been established that Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his adopted family of good guy thieves are likely the best driving crew on earth. But likely isn't certainty and in Fast & Furious 6, Toretto's bunch meets its evil twins. That is, evil twins as in a squadron of drivers that parallel Toretto's group, but are evil.
And evil people do evil things. Like drive into other cars, forcing them to fly up in the air and crash spectacularly. So that's what the ramp car is designed to do: get underneath other cars and throw them up into the air. So it's not just a car, but a weapon.
When originally conceived, says picture car coordinator Dennis McCarthy, the ramp car was going to be something massive: a big truck with some sort of foldable contraption on its nose. But director Justin Lin thought, since the story took place in Europe, the ramp car should be something closer to a Formula 1-style car. So McCarthy went back and designed something from scratch. It would work with the story and look something like an F1 car, but it really has nothing to do with F1 at all. In the end, he built seven.
Truck Meets Ferrari
An F1 car is, by its nature, a high-tech machine. Dennis McCarthy's ramp car, on the other hand, is built to be rugged, reliable and simple. After all, it's not built to race; it's built to perform in the fantasy world of a movie.
So forget exotic materials like carbon fiber or a power plant that spins up to some five-digit number. The ramp car is built around a ladder frame made from 3-by-6-inch rectangular steel tubing with a lattice of welded steel tubes above that. The front suspension comes from a 3/4-ton mid-'80s GM pickup truck with air springs replacing the original coils. In back there's a Dana 60 solid rear axle held up on another pair of airbags and located by three links. The steering is hydraulic both front and rear, with the front operated by a conventional steering wheel and the rear by a lever similar to that used on a monster truck.
There are three separated passenger pods on the ramp car, but only the center one has driving controls. The other two pods were supposed to be used by supplemental bad guys in another chase scene that was eventually cut from the script and wasn't filmed.
"I used to stick with carbureted engines because I thought they were simple," said McCarthy. "But then I realized that the young mechanics I was hiring didn't have any experience with carbs anyhow. So I've been going with fuel-injected crate engines ever since."
So the ramp car uses the same 6.2-liter LS3 V8 from the GM Performance catalog that McCarthy has installed in other vehicles for the film. Rated at 430 horsepower in the catalog, it's essentially the same engine that powers the Chevrolet Camaro SS.
But the LS3 is mounted backward in the ramp car. It sends power into a GM Turbo 400 three-speed automatic transmission that in turn churns a Casale V-drive gearset that's mounted just behind the driver. The V-drive reverses the power flow so a small driveshaft can then feed the rear axle. It's almost ridiculously simple.
Big and Brawny
While the ramp car is very low, it's also very long and very wide, stretching out about 160 inches over a 130-inch wheelbase. It's so big overall that its massive Hoosier 31-by-16.5-inch Pro Street rear tires (think 419/55R17) look almost modestly sized. And the front tires (315/35R17 Hoosiers) are the same size as the rear tires on the old 1995 Corvette ZR-1.
This car isn't built for convenience. Getting to the driver's pod means stepping around a bunch of tubing, stepping past some Plexiglas, and then lowering yourself into the narrow seat. And you have to be careful, too, because the steel is bare and unpainted; it's rusty and if you scratch yourself you're going to need a tetanus shot. Your legs straddle a hydraulic ram that operates the "kicker" that, at least in the context of the story, knocks cars up and over the cockpit. The OMP steering wheel is attached after your body is in place.
The cockpit is strictly business, more open-air fighter jet than car. A Racepak digital dash sits behind the steering wheel just above Autometer oil pressure and ammeters. Your right leg bounces up against the transmission's ratchet shifter while your left knocks on the Eaton lever that controls the hydraulic rear-wheel steering. This is an open car that somehow feels claustrophobic.
The ramp car's custom headers have individual pipes for each cylinder that snake over the engine and wind up in two collectors just under the rear wing. From an ultimate efficiency standpoint it's probably not ideal to have the exhaust surround the air intake, but this isn't a car built for efficiency; it's built to look wicked cool onscreen. That it achieves.
And when it's running, it roars. Considering the exhaust system, it's probably not surprising that it sounds more like an offshore boat than a car, but there's a rumble aboard that announces it as a large-displacement American V8. Not that you'll hear that in the film.
Virtually none of the cars in Fast & Furious 6 supply their own voices. It's simply a matter of not being able to record usable sound during filming and the ambition to make sure every vehicle sounds extraordinary. So in the film, the ramp cars sound like F1 cars... even though its engine is clearly an LS3 in several shots.
And almost no one is likely to notice.