Here's an incredible thing I learned from the people who made Fast and Furious 6: they used between 300 and 400 cars. Of all those cars, this intimate little group is all that's left. With those sort of numbers, it's amazing cars are still excited to land roles in these movies.
I was lucky enough to be part of a small group of journalists invited to come out to see the surviving cars from the production, and to chat a bit with Dennis McCarthy, the gearhead/loon/mad genius who builds all these excitingly doomed cars for the FF franchise and many other productions.
Before I walk all of you through the cars so you can ogle via the magic of the internet, let's get one thing out of the way first: don't send Dennis any hate mail. See, Dennis told me that he gets hate mail frequently from people who watch the movies and see a beautiful old Charger or Mustang end up bursting into things, like flames or pieces, and those people then take to their computers to write screeds comparing Dennis to Hitler for his wanton destruction of sacred cars.
The truth is, the cars don't start as anything sacred. In fact, many of them are the same miserable rustbuckets you've run away from after answering a Craigslist ad. These movie cars start out just like all of our project cars: from a shady-sounding ad on the Internet. Dennis seeks out the rusty basket-cases, cars that would never be fit for restoration, because they'll be so extensively modified for film use.
Most of these film cars look incredible on screen, but in person, under real scrutiny, you can tell they're mostly a custom-fabricated roll cage with well-painted parts on top. Little details just aren't important for most of what these cars do. Sure, there are "hero cars" that are lovingly crafted for lingering detail shots, but many are surprisingly rough inside.
Also interesting is that wherever possible, the cars are given a standard drivetrain. Dennis prefers GM LS3 engines, as they offer the right mix of performance, reliability, and extreme accessibility He can get crate engines almost anywhere, and it's relatively easy to find folks to work on them.
Okay, let's look at some of the survivors:
Mark I Escort: I'm not gonna lie: this one was my personal favorite. I've always loved the original Escorts, and this is just a really nicely sorted example. Dennis called this "the '69 Camaro of London" and he's not wrong. Seven of these little fighters were built for the movie. These little Escorts are a far cry from the boring econoboxes we got here — these are gutsy little hoonmobiles. This is one of the few cars used in the movie not to have the preferred LS3. It uses Ford's Kent engine, which we in the US enjoyed in our Pintos, where they helped outrun the balls of flame.
The little Escort also has the honor of being used for a pleasingly bonkers highway-divider jump in the movie. That jump apparently required a "really huge ramp" that the first time the jump was attempted, caused a really violent roll that, according to Dennis, "really rung the stunt guy's bell." Yikes. After shaving 4 MPH off the speed, the jump worked, and only resulting in turning the car into something "the shape of a banana."
Dodge Challenger SRT: The new cars have less done to them, and cars from affiliated companies even less. So this one is close to stock, save for locking diffs, and a huge emergency brake handle used to get the thing sideways on demand. Dodge should just go ahead and make that a regular option.
Jensen Interceptor: As you can probably guess from this car and the Escort, part of the movie takes place in London. Each car is designed for a specific character, and this car was for a woman who is British, and also a big Mopar fan. With that in mind, what's better than an Interceptor, the British car with a Chrysler engine? Also, this character has amnesia, so I'm not sure how that works in. Probably a Lucas electrics thing.
Dennis said the Jensen "looks like a Pacer in back" and where I regard that as a positive, he doesn't and kept trying to have it backed into parking places and other ass-hiding techniques whenever he could. It's been lowered, and has a 480 HP LS3, and while it has a NOX system in there, it was never connected, because the car just didn't need it, and was pretty hard to control already. Five of these were built, and those five have the honor of being the cars that went through the most tires.
Lucra 470: These Lister-built kit cars are meant to evoke the Jaguar D-types, and they're absolutely lovely. And insanely fast. 1800 lbs and a 550 HP LS3 means that when the guy who drove it over says he can get to 60 in under three seconds, I believe him.
The Listers were pretty stock for the movie, if you can call a car like this "stock."
Dodge SRT Charger: This one got a distinctive military-type look, which helped keep this car in play, thanks to easy-to-touch-up matte paint and extra bumper guards. The trunk-mounted winch is part of a scene that I was told "is hard to explain" but involves an airplane. Many of the wrecked copies of this car were cut up to make special camera cars for interior shots and the like.
Stock-looking BMW M5: This car doesn't look special, so I didn't even take pictures of it. But the BMWs used in the movie are interesting because they went through 16 or 17 of them. The only real mod is welded diffs, and not all were true M5s — about half were regular 5s faked with badging. Also, it seems BMWs' traction control and driving nannies can be disabled via some liberal pruning of the fuse box, something many other cars don't allow. The BMWs aren't shown in a particularly positive light, so there was no BMW sponsorship for all those cars.
Anvil Mustang: These were a lot of work to build, and they made nine of them. They were hard to stay on top of and keep looking and running right — these Mustangs are also one of the biggest sources of the hate mail, but we were assured only the most garbagest of cars were used to build these.
The Mustangs were in a scene with tanks, and as I was told "anytime you've got a lot of tanks, you've got a lot of destruction.) Very true.
Plymouth Charger/Superbird: I was told one of the rules of the movie series was that the character Dom had to end up in a Charger of some sort. This Superbird is quite striking in its deep maroon paint, though it almost didn't make it in the movie. Originally pitched for the previous film, the studio felt it was too ridiculous looking and felt like a "kid's toy." Duh, that's why it's awesome, studio dipshits. Dennis did make some alterations to appease the studio, such as shortening the aero nose and lowering the massive rear spoiler. Oh, and while it may actually be a Dodge Charger Daytona, everyone there just called it the "Superbird."
Brembo built massive custom brakes for the car, and MagnaFlow built a custom exhaust system that goes through the rear interior of the car and exits in a sleek port cut into the bodywork. That exhaust pipe inside (from a decidedly non-Mopar LS3, by the by) gets things really hot. They did try covering it in muffler heat-insulating tape, but without time to properly cure, the tape was cooking, smelling awful, smoking up the cabin and making the drivers and actors sick. And possible giving them awful side effects in a decade or so, but we'll hope not.
The front and rear ends also easily bolt on and off with six bolts, since they were getting crunched all the time.
Black 'Cuda: This is a pretty stunning Barracuda, and unlike most of the cars, it didn't get too badly beaten around in the filming. It's quite immaculate — Vin Diesel wanted to buy it, but the owner wouldn't give it up. The details are what make it. The Hemi is lovingly maintained, with operating theater cleanliness, and it uses some incredible inboard disc brakes at the rear that allow for a great view of the springs through the wheel.
There's a couple more cars I left out, and one in particular that I'll be going into detail about next week, so stay tuned!