Despite how much we editors seem to enjoy dwelling on the less glorious aspects of life in modern-day print media (salary, schedule, job security, and the like), there are certain perks to the gig. Take the Facebook status update I got to leave after my first day of shooting this story:
Import Tuner Magazine
Spent the day in Hollywood, driving/shooting a LHD-converted JDM Supra, two rocket-proof Armet Gurkhas, two Porsche GT3-RSs (one RHD), three turbo/nitrous 370Zs (one RHD), two RWD-converted ’11 STIs (one RHD), some high-dollar domestics, and a 400hp bank vault with all-wheel steering.
Tomorrow’s the GT-R and LFA :)
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What wasn’t said was that "driving" usually meant moving them from their back-lot location into the street for a few quick snaps (or steering while a forklift pushed from behind), and that every single one of the cars mentioned was pretty far off of how it appears at first glance. Yes, they were "purpose-built," but not how we’re used to the term—RWD and RHD conversions weren’t done for drift dominance or show exclusivity, and "turbo/nitrous" usually meant that a fake intercooler was stuffed into their grilles and empty NOS bottles in their trunks. Why? No reason other than to look good on the big screen, after opening credits roll.
Yes, your favorite action/automotive franchise is back with a fifth installment, aptly titled Fast Five, picking up where Fast and Furious (May, 2009 2NR) left off two years ago—with original characters Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) back on the run after the prison-transport-busting closing scene of the fourth film. Upping the reunion ante, Fast adds Han Lue (Sung Kang) predominantly from Tokyo Drift and Vince (Matt Schultz) from the original flick, along with Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) from 2 Fast 2 Furious. Also like the previous film, we see more of an action film with cars than a cheesy car movie, with a diverse, respectable field of automotive machinery spanning nearly every school of enthusiasm: JDM, DTM, USDM, exotica, sports car new and old.
Once the green light dropped to shoot any car on a list that included an LFA and two GT-Rs, you can probably guess what our favorites fast became. But also as all-around car guys, fabrication nerds, and gadget freaks—as we know many of you are—we couldn’t turn our backs on the hoards of custom, film-specific fabrication or rare goodies only Hollywood-deep pockets could afford. You might not be the biggest Corvette or Charger fan out there, but admit it—400hp bank vaults with all-wheel steering that can cruise at freeway speeds (and did for filming) pique your interest, too.
True to franchise form, action begins at the start of the film—this time with our star characters heisting three very expensive collectible sports cars from a moving train—and never stops; a product of Justin Lin’s continued occupancy of the director’s chair, and his collaboration with many of the same stunt coordinators from Fast and Furious and Tokyo Drift. Meet Dennis McCarthy: Picture Car Coordinator for Fast Five and the aforementioned two films before it. His job is to find, build, and wreck cars for a living. "The producers originally planned for an Enzo Ferrari, McLaren SLR, and some other really high-dollar cars to be used in the train heist scene, to really add value to what was being stolen," he says. "But the action Justin envisioned just couldn’t be executed without heavily abusing and wrecking the cars. Buying or recreating high-dollar exotics is really expensive, so I recommended we do it with older collectibles that could be cheaply replicated with crate motors and kits."
The ’66 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport "Sting Ray": Very few exist in mint condition, with the price of one eclipsing six figures. The one pictured to the left is the real thing, with a built 502 big-block engine, four-speed trans, clean interior, and near-flawless everything else. It was designated a First Unit Production, or "hero" car, meaning only actors can sit in it and it never goes through stunts. "We built and wrecked 10 matching replicas for about $40K each, consisting of Mongoose kits over C4 ’Vette chassis and 400hp crate engines," Dennis explains—a comparatively small price to pay for having Dom Toretto jump one out of a train and eventually over a cliff on film. "Two were built with rear-mounted, air-cooled VW engines for even less," he explains. "Those were used for the jump scenes. We successfully jumped one over 50 feet, about eight feet off the ground."
Following suit was the decision to include a Ford GT40 in the train heist scene. GT40s were all one-off, RHD race cars, and authentic ones in good shape can sell for $1.5M. "We found two really nice kit cars to use as heros for about $80K each," Dennis explains. Since the GT40’s role is to be driven slightly less abusively than the Vette, only one stunt car was built with a Racecar Replica kit and bare-bones crate motor for about $30K. The case was a little different with the third "heist" car: the Pantera DeTomaso wheeled by the Vince character. It played an even smaller role, but as Dennis explains, "The problem with the Pantera is that in stock form it will overheat on a 75-degree day," he laughs. "We had to build a bunch of replicas just so we could swap one out when it overheated."
After things don’t exactly go as planned for the team during the train heist scene, we see them back on their hometown turf for the film—Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (filmed in Rio and parts of Puerto Rico)—with their daily drivers: Dom in a ’70 Charger, and Brian in an authentic, modified, mint-condition ’71 Nissan Skyline GT-R; the real-life find of John Wiser, an Orlando, FL-based figurehead in the tuning community and assistant feature car coordinator for the film. "That was a great car," said Dennis, flatly. "Everyone had respect for that thing. We treated it like gold and it actually got a lot of camera time I think because of that." The plot continues with the crew devising a plan for a new heist that requires them to procure some fast, maneuverable cars to evade certain high-tech security measures. And to do that, they organize a meet/race—think something along the lines of Ken Block’s take on Gymkhana—among more real-life, tuned, performance makes whose owners they race for titles in the film. Shot in Atlanta, tuning enthusiasts will appreciate this scene for the background appearances of more than 200 tuned rides plucked right from real-life streets and import show circuits.
The featured cars of the scene become a turbocharged ’09 Nissan 370Z, ’99 Porsche GT3 RS, JDM Toyota Supra, and an ’11 WRX STI. "Larger cars simply wouldn’t work for this scene," explains Dennis. Two of each car had to be sourced to get all necessary action shots. "For each of these hero cars there was a RHD stunt counterpart, each modified with a custom rack and pinion, steering wheel, and pedals so that a stunt driver could actually drive the car from the passenger seat while the actor sat in the driver’s seat and went through the motions for the camera," explains Dennis. "And this includes real-life high-speed driving, drifting, running the course we set up for the gymkhana event in the film—it was all very authentic." It gets better: "One of the Dodge Chargers used later actually had to be modified so that a stunt driver could drive it from the roof—drifting, etc., all at freeway speeds, in real life."
"We originally wanted to get the Brian character in a Nissan GT-R and have Paul actually do some stunts since that’s what he races in real life," says Dennis, "but the 370Z’s RWD layout just made it more agile." Three cars were actually sourced for filming—one hero car, one RHD-converted filming car (achieved by mounting the stock steering rack upside down), and one for stunts—all survived the ordeal in great shape. Seibon and XXR Wheels helped out a lot with the Zs, contributing parts and offering discounts, but production had to pony up and actually buy the cars from dealerships. As with all other nitrous-equipped cars that appear on film, like the 370Zs’ front-mount intercoolers, it was added simply for looks. "We’d have too much fun if it was functional," laughs Dennis.
The STIs were different. If you couldn’t guess by watching the movie’s official trailer, Dodge offered big support. So did Subaru, contributing two brand-new ’11 WRX STIs to production, and even kicking in some de-commissioned older models for filming. "The AWD was a dream for the Subaru camera cars," comments Dennis. "But for the gymkhana scene, where the cars needed to slide around a bit, it just offered too much traction." Rhys Millen stepped in and converted both cars to RWD status, even going so far as to modify the stock steering racks for increased turning radius, lock the differentials, and install a JDM rack in the RHD-converted vehicle. They got a little beat up during filming, but only because they were two of the few cars that could actually take it and ask for more, we suspect.
The Supra is just crazy, and not necessarily in good ways. Remember the polished, bright orange, 10-second, street dragging hero car from the first film? This is nothing like that. Two JDM Supras were sourced for filming—one from San Diego and one from Atlanta, both in pretty rough shape—and were built identically with XXR wheels, matching body kits and interior components, and black paint. "We actually had to swap a USDM steering rack and pedal assembly into the stunt car," laughs Dennis. "That might’ve been the first time anyone’s ever done that." Underhood, the cars were left with their stock, naturally aspirated 2JZ-GEs, and when we caught up with the LHD-converted stunt car, we noticed that the right rocker panel had been cut out quite a bit. "That was so we could film Sam Hubinette’s heel-toe shifting and late braking," elaborates Dennis. He did all the insert shots’—anytime feet or hands were shown in the driving scenes."
Without divulging too much information, the crew’s antics land them in doubly hot water with a corrupt businessman and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson’s character, Luke Hobbs: a federal agent driving an Armet Gurkha F5. For those of you not living in NATO-patrolled areas or without a price on your head, Armet Armored Vehicles Inc. (AAVI) is the Ontario-based manufacturer and retrofitter of tactical vehicles for military, law enforcement, and civilian purposes that’s responsible for this creation. Built on a Ford F-550 platform, a fully loaded Gurkha boasts a 6.7L V-10 developing over 400 hp and 700 lb-ft of torque, ordinance-resistant NATO STANG 4569 Level 3 armor, three-inch-think ballistic glass, an optional roof-mounted weapons turret, a staggered armor grille to protect from frontal assault, and Continental 50-mile run-flat tires. It weighs 19,000 pounds and sells for about $250K. Two were ordered for filming at half price, but were de-tuned a bit: based on F-350 chassis, given smaller V-10 engines and lighter armor (without blast-resistant filling between the armor plating of their bodies). "We drove those things through genuine cement walls, over cars, fired live ammunition at them, hit them with pyrotechnics," elaborated Dennis. "You’ll be amazed when you see the film. All their stunts are real."
But it’s the "bank vault heist" scene that will no doubt garner the most publicity. Rather than break into a vault and make off with its contents in a speedy getaway, in the film, Dom and Brian wheel two modified Dodge Chargers to pull a vault right out of the wall it’s affixed to and drag it down public streets in a speedy getaway, using it smash anything in their way—law enforcement, parked cars, small infrastructure. "We built seven vaults for that scene, all in Puerto Rico," Dennis explains. "Five were 'draggers’ that were literally dragged behind the actors’ cars and the filming vehicles at freeway speeds and smashed into other objects, and the two drivers’ were essentially dropped over Ford one-ton pickup truck chassis and 454 big-block engines." We were able to shoot two vaults: the hero dragger, featuring a complete interior of locked drawers and standard vault innards, and one of the drivers complete with four-wheel electric steering, a manual transmission, a multitude of gauges, an aluminum racing bucket, and a see-through faux front control panel and armoring. "That thing hauled ass," laughs Dennis. "We were going pretty fast at times, drifting through the streets, driving sideways, etc."
Possibly the most frustrating part of our journalist jobs is the ice-cold vow of silence we’re sometimes forced to take in return for all-access passage. In this case, there are certain aspects of the film we’re simply not allowed to divulge—spoiler or not—most pertaining to the final scene. Suffice it to say that the big guns come out just before the credits roll: an ’09 Challenger SRT8, a Koenigsegg, a ’10 GT-R, and an ’11 LFA. And for the most part each one of these vehicles is stock. "Sure, you can make any car better with the right work," says Dennis, "and I suspect there will be a sixth film out soon, so maybe we’ll see the cars come back fully tuned . . ." And then, alluding primarily to the LFA, "But sometimes you just can’t mess with perfection. We filmed a really cool scene in Atlanta with the Han character and the LFA that closes out the film. I don’t want to give it away, but you’re really going to like it," he says. "It gave me chills." Good sign, coming from a guy whose Facebook status updates could trump ours on any regular workday.
The LFA was also borrowed, but unlike the GT-R, this is the actual one from the film. It’s also the one you’ve seen on the Auto Show tour, reviewed in various automotive mags, or breaking Champaign flutes on a dyno and driving under a string of suspended ISs in TV commercials. It’s one of only two in the U.S. as of press time, and this one’s been painted flat black, yellow, pearl white, dark silver, and wrapped in orange vinyl for its various appearances. By the time you read this, it’s been retired and returned to Toyota headquarters in Japan.