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Need for Speed Movie: Dissecting the Star Cars

Behind the Scenes: What Makes the Cars of "NFS" Tick?

Benson Kong
Mar 11, 2014 SHARE

It's a cool, sunny April morning, and in a little less than six months from this day, the runaway hit that is the AMC TV show "Breaking Bad" will reach its finale. But wait, there's Jesse Pinkman in front of us! Although today the actor who plays Jesse -- Aaron Paul – is inhabiting a character named Tobey Marshall of the recently released Need for Speed movie. The Emmy winner also appears to be sitting in a Koenigsegg Agera R. Except, in reality, he isn't.

Nearly a year ago, we rolled into California's spectacularly forested Mendocino County for an invitation-only peek at the Need for Speed movie set. Need for Speed, which will be in theaters March 14, is named for the long-running video-game franchise. The movie involves a cross-country race loaded with exotic, eye-catching cars and fast driving. The film is not based on any particular Need for Speed game, though gamers will note the nation-spanning marathon parallels Need for Speed: The Run (2011). At this time, the crew is seven days into shooting, with around another 60 days ahead. From Mendocino County, it'll caravan on to Georgia, Detroit, and Moab, Utah.

Read about the Ford Mustang's role in the Need for Speed movie HERE.

Need For Speed hills Photo 2/36   |   Need For Speed Movie Set

Today, director Scott Waugh and his team are capturing the Need for Speed ending near the Point Arena lighthouse, a historic landmark. In the scene: a Lamborghini Sesto Elemento that looks quite villainous and the Agera R. One of these cars is about to be dramatically flipped.

The engine of the Chevrolet Camaro SS, SS sedan, and C6 Corvette is popular in the "Need for Speed" garage, finding a home in many a sled.

Movies with cars as stars would be impossibly pricey to produce if several copies of hyper-rare, expensive, or priceless machinery were needed. Enter movie magic. Chassis sleds are brought in, exterior specifications are sourced from manufacturers, models are mocked up, replica bodywork is affixed, and voila. Cue destruction and mayhem. Underneath the relatively convincing "sheetmetal" (don't look too closely at the details), a high level of mechanical commonality ensures cameras don't stop rolling because a picture car isn't working come call time. Picture car coordinator Steve Mann gives a rundown of some of the other cars assembled for "Need for Speed." Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, Spano GTA, Saleen S7, McLaren P1, '69 Torino, '66 GTO, '68 Camaro, Porsche 944, BMW 3.0. Two of each was requested, except for the BMW (only one was specified). Four Koenigseggs and three Lambos were made.

Koenigsegg Agera R front three quarter 2 Photo 6/36   |   Need For Speed Movie Set

Now imagine if they were all real-real and you were the head mechanic. But instead of crying yourself to sleep every night after trying to memorize multiple service manuals, you would only really need to know about the LS3 V-8. The engine of the Chevrolet Camaro SS, SS sedan, and C6 Corvette is popular in the Need for Speed garage, finding a home in many a sled. MagnaFlow exhausts supply the burbles. Because the different bodywork and their attendant air intakes can affect powertrain cooling from sled to sled, custom cooling solutions for the different cars is not unusual.

Control-arm suspension keeps the tires on the ground and bodies off it. When stunt driver pods are locked in, spring rates can increase to a rock-hard 800-1000 pounds per inch to accommodate the extra weight. For perspective, 100-200 lb/in is considered to be within the street-ready, comfort spectrum for a compact car. Pods resembling skeletal frames sit over the Agera R and Sesto Elemento rear axles, granting full vehicle control suspended by support structures. Each packs another 500 pounds onto each car. The obligatory steering wheel, pedal box, shifter, and seat await the individuals willing to be strapped in.

Saleen S7 front three quarter Photo 7/36   |   Need For Speed Movie Set

The individuals driving today (while Paul and costar Dominic Cooper get face time from inside the cars) are 1X and 7X, or all-around good guys Tanner Foust and Rhys Millen, as they're known outside the script. Foust is Paul's stunt double; Millen is Cooper's. They're both ready to do more than 100 mph seated in what are essentially exposed metal chairs, and fly in a pack at more than 80 mph. Director Waugh is all for the old-fashioned, gritty, and honest camerawork the vintage car-movie buffs are always going on about. As more than 10 crew members fuss over the Lambo, preparing it at base camp, and before donning his helmet and rumbling off down Lighthouse Road to shoot the movie's concluding scenes, Millen jokes he's not good-looking enough to be in front of the cameras. So he's a wheelman. A very good one.

Producer and certified car nut John Gatins will have been working on Need For Speed for about four years when the movie opens.

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By Benson Kong
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