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19 March 2013

Behind-the-scenes on Fast & Furious 6

Want to know who drives what? We chat to the man who built the cars on the latest Fast & Furious instalment…

Vijay Pattni
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Since the emergence of life on earth, the history of our planet has been characterised by a ravenous appetite for destruction; evolution - survival, in its barest essence - requires the brutal annihilation of anything that hasn't been borne of strength, will or determination.

So considering that the tank chase sequence in the upcoming Fast and Furious 6 movie sent more than one hundred vehicles to a house of bloody, violent, mechanical death, it's only right to assume that actually, we humans get off on Watching Stuff Explode.

"This new film might break records for car carnage," enthuses Dennis McCarthy, the man responsible for a) building the cars you see on screen, and then b) watching them die in ornate, fastidious and downright gratuitous ways. Consider very much interested...

"I haven't seen the final cut of the movie yet," says Dennis, in his laid-back California drawl, "but from the pieces I've seen, it's basically like that trailer from beginning to end".

Let's take one specific example: the BMW M5. Those who possess M-Power winter jackets might want to look away, because Dennis took this BMW M5 - specifically, the previous-generation, V10-engined model - and toasted its 507bhp metallic behind to oblivion. "So we had this one sequence with a whole fleet of BMW M5s," says Dennis, "I think we had about 12 in total. It's a great car, the M5. All we did for those driving scenes was to unplug the ABS brakes - which deactivated the traction control - welded the spider gears together, and that was it." But, really, that wasn't it. "We pretty much destroyed every single one." He pauses, then adds, "I think maybe one survived". Ouch.

Such is the man's propensity for destruction, he could very well be a modern day emissary of Gozer the Gozerian, intent on laying waste to whatever cars he can get his hands on in order to please his ethereal paymaster. "This new film might break records for car carnage," he says, matter-of-factly. "In that scene with the tank chase, we had to go through over 100 vehicles. It was just brutal."

Thankfully, he's not an emissary of a crop-topped femme fatale intent on bringing down New York City. He's actually an incredibly passionate petrolhead with the intelligence and know-how to build anything. "A lot of the cars for the Fast & Furious movies we build ourselves, from scratch. For example, the Dodge Daytona in Fast 6 started as a rust-bucket; a cheap car that we pared down, sandblasted and rebuilt. The open-wheeled flip cars, those were built entirely from scratch. Dodge actually has been a huge supporter of the series and gave us Chargers and Challengers that only needed minor modifications.

"But for the old Mustangs and the Jensen Interceptor, for example, we buy them like anyone else would. I'll get one guy to find ten cars online, on, ebay etc, and he'll then drive 5,000 or 6,000 kilometres to go and get these cars."

All in, Dennis reckons the movie required around 400 cars, with everything tuned in his performance shop in Burbank, California. "For most of the cars that we build - the Daytona, Jensen, flip cars, Mustangs, stunt cars - we ran with a 500bhp Chevy LS3 V8 motor. And all the cars used this same motor, transmission and differential, so everything was interchangeable." Dennis pauses, as if to pre-empt my next question. "Believe me, 500bhp is more than enough for what we're doing, but yes, we do have the occasional hero cars that we've sourced from friends or that we've rented. The white Mustang you see is actually an 850bhp car, and the hero car in this movie is running close to 600bhp.

"But when I'm building a car, there's no need to go past 500bhp, because it won't get reflected on film." It's very difficult to portray big horsepower on screen in a car you sometimes might only see for a split second, goes the thinking.

So what has Dennis built for Fast & Furious 6? He takes a deep breath. "So at some point I'll get a copy of the script, and then it's basically like casting cars for the characters with whatever I feel is the right choice.

"We have the Dodge Daytona, basically the NASCAR version of the Charger you see in all the other films, which is for the character Dom. Dom also drives a Hemi-powered 1970 Barracuda, we have a Lucra LC470 for Tej, there's a 1970 Ford Mustang for Roman, Michelle Rodriguez's character Letty drives the Jenson Interceptor (this is Good News) because story wise, she's in the UK. Paul Walker's character Bryan is seen driving a Ford Escort, one of the Escort rally cars that our English crew built. We had six of those, and they were just...amazing. The list goes on and on."

It certainly does. There's also a 1970 Z20, two Nissan Skylines (for Bryan), a Lamborghini Murcielago, an Aston Martin DB9 and a Navistar MXT military vehicle for man-mountain Dwayne ‘The Rock' Johnson. Even the camera cars were quick: a Nissan 370Z used on Fast and Furious 5, a turbocharged Subaru WRX, a supercharged Cadillac Escalade and 500bhp big-block El Caminos too.

Oh, and, praise be, an Eagle Speedster E-Type Jaguar made it on screen. "It's an absolutely gorgeous car - didn't you guys feature it on your show?"

Yes, we certainly did. Dennis hesitates, though. "There's always the wish to have more exotic cars, but what limits us is the fact we need so many of each." So Ferrari offered up a sole California for one sequence, but Dennis had to refuse, because, well, he needed a few more. "We also wanted to recreate the Ferrari GTO concept car with Ferrari's help, but it just ran into a timeframe issue, which was a shame because when I saw that concept, I had to build it. We'll see, maybe for Fast & Furious 7..."

He trails off, before hinting at another car we might see if Fast 7 ever happens. "Oh man, it's just the most evil looking car I've ever seen," Dennis says. It is of course, John Hennessey's Lotus-based Venom GT. "I spoke to John several times because I really wanted that car in this movie." Sadly, timing issues got in the way, despite Hennessey coming up with a plan to build some low-cost stunt versions. "That was one of my biggest disappointments for Fast 6," he says, ruefully.

There were quite a few hands on deck to help ease him through the pain, mind. We're talking some 80 stunt drivers, one of which included British rally ace Mark Higgins. "Watching Mark was amazing. He was the driver on the ramp car - the man has no fear whatsoever, you could throw him in any car with no practice, no testing, and he'd nail it every single time." I ask whether Dennis has seen Mark's simply incredible 240kph save on the Isle of Man TT course and how calm he was. "I haven't seen the clip, but yeah that makes sense! Nothing seems to faze him."

A bit like Paul Walker, actually. "Paul is a true car enthusiast. He actually owns a performance shop, races cars, rents out racetracks on the weekends... he's just a great guy. You can end up talking to him about cars for an hour. He's got a huge car collection too - most of which are stored in the same complex my shop is in - including BMWs, Porsches, a couple of M3 racecars, a Skyline, some muscle cars, a '66 Nova... I can't keep up."

That speaks volumes, because Dennis himself used to race professionally years ago, and currently holds a licence "with several different off-road divisions here in the States. Fun stuff," he laughs. He's also pretty handy when it comes to drifting too; fitting, considering his tenure with the Fast & Furious franchise began with Tokyo Drift. "We were doing drifting before it was called drifting, but it was usually on the streets and up Mulholland Drive and things of that nature," he says, with a cheeky glint in his voice.

So, as per that famous line in the original, now cult, The Fast And The Furious movie, does he in fact live his life a quarter mile at a time? Some laughter occurs. "That's a very good question. I've been racing cars from a very early age, so maybe some quarter mile stuff, but lots of stuff that verges on 1,000 miles."

And does he like tuna sandwiches with the crust, or without? Again, more laughter. "Another great question. I have to go with crust - I figure more is better." More is better. Buckle up for Fast 6, Internet..

Tags: chevrolet, mustang, shelby, nissan, gt r, jaguar, ford, corvette, xkr, escort, xk, dodge, cobra, challenger, fast and furious, fast and furious 6, speedster, eagle, interceptor, jensen, fnf

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