As a commercial photographer and filmmaker I'm often invited to shoot some interesting cars. But few have been as personally exciting as a street legal, working replica of one of every kid-of-a-certain-era's fantasy car: the Mach 5. And when I say working I mean it has two giant saw blades coming out of the front.
I got to shoot it, I got to drive it, and I got the story of the man who decided to put such a gorgeous car together.
As you can see from the video later in this gallery and sense from the photos, it was a hot day. I was probably suffering from heat stroke and a wicked farmer's tan by the end of it, but I got to tear around in the Mach 5 on Florida back roads after the shoot for TheRealMach5.com. Thankfully, she's street legal… if you don't drive with the spinning saw blades deployed.
It was worth making the trip just for that.
While traveling around the country the past several years for my regular paid photoshoot projects, I have been taking time to shoot portraits of various movie and TV car owners (replicas like the Ghostbusters Ecto-1 included) for a personal photo series I have been doing for my portfolio that I fondly call the Unicorn Project (more of them on my blog). This project has opened the door to many unique car collectors and vehicles with crazy stories of their own. I hope to one day make a book of it! I met Len Mosco, owner of The Real Mach 5, through another buddy that built an amazing replica of the Luke Skywalker Landspeeder that I photographed a couple years back.
Len is one of the sweetest guys you will ever meet and is just so enthusiastic about his friends and family as well as any project he touches. One of Len's biggest motivating factors in having this car made was to have something he and his son could bond over and enjoy. Makes me wish I had a cool dad like that.
Driving the car was quite a memorable experience to say the least. It's based on a C4 Corvette chassis and is capable of the same relatively high speeds, although I was honestly very cautious to push the vehicle to its limits. This is despite the fact that Len handed me the keys and told me to really go crazy with the car. He just shook my hand and sent my assistant and myself on our merry way. Len's last bit of advice as I drove away in his one-off priceless hand-built vehicle? "Have fun!" It's moments like this that I question when my life and career had become so surreal.
In true movie and tv car fashion, it's made to represent a cartoon vehicle which isn't always the most ergonomic design. Speed Racer was not a tall guy, so I don't know how he could see over that long hood or behind him without the help of a rear camera, which this car actually has (it pops up electronically like a periscope).
Although, the feeling of dropping the pedal down to the floor and hearing the V8 engine roar and seeing confused/horrified/shocked faces of pedestrians as the actual Mach 5 flew past them became quite hilarious and addictive very quickly. You find yourself gripping the steering wheel and looking at the true-to-tv buttons and wishing if you pushed one, that you would actually fly up in the air.
Take THAT New York City traffic! Now, I've been very very lucky to drive a wide variety of high end exotic vehicles, and this has to be one of my favorite driving experiences. In the end, for me, its not always how fast you go... it's how young and alive you feel doing it.
It's experiences like this that remind me why I have never truly grown up and why I have so enjoyed doing this movie and tv car photo series over the past few years. In the end, I would never have had experiences like this if I hadn't picked up a camera nearly 20 years ago. Trust me, I never would have guessed that.
Click to the next image to hear Len's explanation for why he built it.
Douglas Sonders is a professional photographer and friend of the site. Learn more about The Real Mach 5 at TheRealMach5.com and follow his work and the behind the scenes from my various shoots on SondersPhotography.com and his Facebook page
Len Mosco shared part of his story with me:
"My son Lenny actually came up with the idea. He was 15 at the time and we were, and still are, huge animation, anime and cartoon fans. He knew I always talked about my childhood love for the cartoon Speed Racer. I always explained how I simply couldn't wait to come home from school and watch it on TV. I used to sit there watching, mesmerized by all the action and cars
that were in the cartoon series. I used to imagine myself sitting in the most awesome car in the world... The Mach 5. Could you imagine what it would be like to actually drive it?
We were looking for a project car to either build or have built together, father and son. My son said, "Dad, why don't you build The Mach 5?" I sat there a second and said, "The Mach 5, how?" That was it. He put a spark in me so I began to do some intense research.
I discovered that at the time, the brand rights to the Speed Racer animation was owned by a company called, Speed Racer Enterprises, out of California. With further research I found out who the only person in the world was that had actually designed a working, real life Mach 5 from the original animation and had the authorization to build the Speed Racer Mach 5. It was custom car builder and fabricator, Mark Towle. I reached out to Mark and his associate Kory and we discussed this amazing build.
I had seen Mark's work on other custom and movie cars and I was excited that he was the one who would be building The Mach 5 for me. Mark and Kory connected me with the president of Speed Racer Enterprises, James Rocknowski. I then contacted James Rocknowski with an idea. I thought it would be great to offer The Mach 5 as the official promotional car of Speed Racer Enterprises. This would allow us to show The Mach 5 around the country to the literally millions of fans that know and love the Speed Racer cartoon series and The Mach 5. James loved the idea and thus The Real Mach 5 became the official promotional car of Speed Racer Enterprises. James and I have since become good friends.
Mark Towle did an amazing job on the build of The Real Mach 5. It took approximately one year to build and Mark designed The Real Mach 5 as the first Mach 5 ever built with the wrap around windshield and body lines of the Mach 5 from the original cartoon series of the late 60's. Mark also built The Real Mach 5 with working saw blades, a working periscope, special illuminating headlights and a custom designed steering wheel with all the gadget buttons from the original cartoon.
The Real Mach 5 was signed by the voice talent of the original cartoon series including Peter Fernandez, who was the voice of Speed Racer and Racer X. ( Mr. Fernandez passed away July, 2010 ) Mark and I actually discussed building The Real Mach 5 with jumper jacks..... For real. We were checking into utilizing the air jack systems that are used for Indy cars. We scrapped the idea as we felt the continued use of them could damage the car ultimately. Also, in the upright position, the independent suspension would cause the wheels to bend under the car slightly. Rumor has it though that a future release of a new video of The Real Mach 5 may actually show it with working jacks and actually jumping. Hmmmmmmm.
The Real Mach 5 has been featured on NBC TV at The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, has appeared on Stacy David's Gearz TV show on the Speed Channel and has appeared at such large events as The Daytona 500 and numerous large national and local auto shows.
I remember when the enclosed car hauler pulled down my street the day of delivery and the driver opened the back hatch of the rig to unload it. I saw the back of the car with the fins and the Mach 5 markings. I remember saying to myself, ‘Is this for Real?' I'm still as excited as I was as a child every time I look at it."
I captured this shoot with the Phase One IQ160 60 megapixel medium format digital camera (aside from the rig shot... didn't want to risk the much more expensive camera falling while the car was moving). My camera has a class leading 12.5 stops of dynamic range and the cinematic-style large sensor was fantastic for pulling details out of my highlights and shadows and offering a nice depth to the photos. I used my trusty White Lightning strobes and a few Vagabond Mini battery packs, which seemed to hold up for the entire shoot. We had a generator on hand just in case to power the lights.