Driving the "Mongo" Heist Truck From Fast Five

Driving the "Mongo" Heist Truck From Fast Five

Behind the Wheel of the Custom-Built Heist Truck From Fast Five


According to the Fast & Furious formula, each movie begins with a truly ridiculous heist. Like hijacking trucks while they're moving down the highway using a squadron of Honda Civics or stealing tanker trailers off the ends of moving road trains in the Dominican Republic. In these movies, the only thieving worth doing is thieving that involves ludicrous personal risk, high-speed acrobatics and preposterously specialized vehicles.

Of course Fast Five continues that tradition, and the specialized vehicle is this custom-built flat-bed truck. For lack of a better name, call it the Heist Truck. Or call it what we wound up calling it: Mongo.

Built specifically to steal exotic cars off a speeding train, Mongo started life as nothing more than some steel tubing in Picture Car Coordinator Dennis McCarthy's shop, an old Oshkosh HEMTT military truck cab bought from a Marine Corps surplus sale, and $85,000 in sundry parts. "It was really straightforward to build," McCarthy explains. "It had to be so big that the car would fit on it. It had to be so big so the cab would fit. It had to be so high to match the deck height of the train. And I knew how much suspension travel I was going to need for it to jump. It kind of designed itself."

That's right: jump.

Mongo Only Pawn in Game of Life
In the movie, the Heist Truck catches a speeding train. So it had to be fast, look tough and, given the realities of filming along railroad tracks in Arizona's desert, it actually had to be tough, too.

So the truck's structural substance is two massive 22-foot-long frame rails cut from 3-by-6-inch, quarter-inch wall, rectangular-section steel tubing. The steel Oshkosh cab is mounted at the front of the rails, behind that is an engine, and behind the engine is an 18-foot-long platform fabricated from sheet steel. Beneath the platform is, naturally, another engine. More about those two engines later.

A roll cage was needed, but since the Heist Truck's design was free form, McCarthy decided to build the cage outside the Oshkosh body. It just makes Mongo look meaner. Particularly after being left outside for a few weeks during Southern California's monsoon season and picking up a nice patina of surface rust.

The suspension system is essentially that of a Monster Truck, with giant four-link systems with Fox Racing coil-over shocks supporting a Dana 60 axle in front and a Dana 70 in back. There are 12 inches of travel in front and a massive 20 inches in back. The tires are 46-inch-tall Mickey Thompson Baja Claws on 19.5-inch custom-built wheels.

The steering is by hydraulic ram, but why use it? This truck will go wherever it wants anyhow.

Mongo, Santa Maria!
McCarthy's crew actually built 10 different Heist Trucks for the film, and this one had the particular job of jumping — about 25 feet up in the air and 75 feet out with Corey Eubanks behind the wheel. So in this particular truck, the engine behind the cab is actually a plastic replica of a GM RamJet 502-cubic-inch big-block V8, while the actual power plant is hidden down lower for better weight distribution during flight. However, that engine is itself another GM 502 making about 500 horsepower.

It survived the jump and drove away from the stunt with minimal damage.

Still, however, 500 hp isn't that much considering Mongo weighs in at about 9,000 pounds, even without such niceties as air-conditioning, sound insulation, doors or a windshield. The power is sent through a GM three-speed automatic transmission and then onto a transfer case and the front and rear axles.

This jump truck, however, was restricted to rear-wheel drive so that the front axle could be gutted to take a few pounds off the nose.

Never Mind That $%&#! Here Comes Mongo!
Climbing up into Mongo means finding a foothold on the left front tire, grabbing a handhold somewhere on the external roll cage that's tetanus-free, and hauling your bulk upward. Then it's just a matter of snaking in between the roll cage and the cab and putting your butt into the MasterCraft 3G racing seat. That's easy — if you weigh in at about a buck-twenty, slightly tougher if you're around three bills.

To start Mongo, you reach up to a panel mounted in the ceiling — which is cool in itself — turn on the ignition and hit the start button. At that point the barely muffled big block stomps to life and the whole truck torques over on its soft suspension and tires. Rev the engine and the beast rocks side to side.

It's that pitching, side to side and front to back, that defines the Mongo driving experience. Hit the accelerator and the monster roars back on its tail and all the driver sees is sky. Hit the brakes and it's nosedive time. Pavement fills the driver's view. It is like driving a monster truck and it's massive, silly fun.

Candygram for Mongo! Candygram for Mongo!
Mongo's steering is more precise than expected, but completely devoid of anything that would pass as "feel." But the truck is still easy to place on a road.

With so much of its weight up high, Mongo feels as if it's going to keel over on its side long before it's actually out of adhesion. Mongo's cornering limits are set only by the driver's courage.

Every control feels like it's on a long lever. The accelerator pedal has loads of travel, the brake pedal seems to be longer than your own leg and the steering seems to take a week to get from stop to stop. The pitch and dive motions leave Mongo feeling quicker than it probably is. There's plenty of power aboard and there's no doubt that it will go faster than anyone wants it to. But all that is forgiven by this monster's high hilarity factor. If you can't have fun driving this, you're probably a miserable person.

Why Would a Dude Like Hedley Lamarr Care About Mongo?
Given some turn signals and a license plate issued from one of the looser states, Mongo would be a blast to drive on the street. The sheer lunacy of this Heist Truck makes it inherently fascinating. Plus it would scare the daylights out of every other driver on the road. Intimidation is always fun.

Of the 10 Mongos built by McCarthy's crew, six survived filming. That lone statistic gave us an idea. Next Edmunds.com long-termer?

NBC Universal loaned Edmunds.com this vehicle for evaluation.

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