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The Inside Track To Furious 7

Why there'll never be another film quite like this

Luke Munnell
Apr 6, 2015
Photographer: Universal Studios

It's 5am, Monday morning, and for the past 36 hours Dennis McCarthy and his crew have been burning the candle at both ends finishing six matching 1970 Dodge Challengers for the feature Furious 7 at his Vehicle Effects business in Los Angeles. With performance parts installed, extensive fabrication carried out, and fresh paint sanded and buffed to a showroom finish, the cars are to be delivered to his client seven hours away, where they will be loaded inside a C-130 cargo plane and then reduced to scattered piles of rubble as they slam into the desert floor at terminal velocity -- exactly what they were built to do.

Furious 7 inside track dominic toretto 14 Photo 2/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track Dominic Toretto 14

Dennis is picture car coordinator for Furious 7, the latest in the Fast and Furious film franchise. To put it simply, his job is to buy, build, and oftentimes wreck cars for a living. It's a job he's done for every Fast film, beginning with 2 Fast 2 Furious, along with around 40 other major motion pictures (Herbie Fully Loaded, Live Free or Die Hard and Dumb and Dumber To, to name a few). And this time around, he has his work cut out for him.

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The Cars of Fast & Furious

"We sourced about 300 cars for Furious 7," Dennis begins, as we catch up with him at his shop after production wrapped. "The vast majority didn't make it back here." The first thing to know about movie cars is that there are multiple versions made of nearly every one seen on film. Cars designated "first unit production," or "halo" cars are the real deal. These can be sourced from actual owners or built by Dennis and his team. They get the most detailed camera time, and only actors can sit in them. The rest are built to be driven in action scenes, wrecked, set on fire, or whatever the situation calls for. Most of the destruction this time around occurs right after that C-130 drop, in the "snatch and grab" scene where Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel, and his boys blow the doors off a Setra bus, as seen in the first official trailer for the film. "We built and crashed about 10 Mercedes G-Wagons for that scene. We also built 14 Mercedes S500 sedans, six Jeep Wranglers, maybe six STIs, a ton of classic Chargers and new Challengers...even the Setra bus we built seven of," he continues.

But that's not to suggest the film doesn't get off to an explosive start. It very literally does. And after the dust clears, Vin Diesel's character wheels an orange '70 Plymouth Roadrunner to confront the film's protagonist-Owen Shaw's older brother, played by Jason Statham, driving a Maserati Ghibli and bent on revenge for the death of his brother in the previous film-with a game of chicken that neither car wins. That was one of Dennis' favorite cars to build for Furious 7, along with the black '70 Charger that mirrors the iconic car from the first film and a black '70 Plymouth Barracuda that Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, drives. All were built similarly: modern-day fuel-injected V-8 engines and stand-alone ECUs, Turbo 400 transmissions, 9-inch rear ends, custom-fabricated Brembo brakes and hand brakes (why you see two rear calipers on those cars), front and rear O'Reilly suspensions, and full rollcages. They're even track-tested prior to filming, just to be sure all their bugs are worked out. "They remind me of something I would've built for myself back in my street racing days," he laughs. "But I might've had a few other tricks up my sleeve."

As much of the film is set (and was shot) in Abu Dhabi, there's also no shortage of high-dollar exotics, like the Lykan Hypersport: the Middle East's first supercar, produced by W Motors in nearby Dubai. Retailing for a cool $3.4 million U.S. dollars, at the time of writing this, it's the third most expensive car on earth. However, Dennis sourced six for production, all stripped down from the factory to bring the price down to affordable levels. "Sadly, none of those survived filming," Dennis confesses. "When you see the 'car jump' scene, you'll understand why."

Furious 7 inside track paul walker brian o conner 12 Photo 7/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track Paul Walker Brian O Conner 12

But what about the imports? It's no secret the franchise has grown more domestic and exotic over the years; is there no love for Japanese tuning? "My goal is to always have a wide variety of performance cars," Dennis explains. "A vintage GT-R might be one fan's favorite, a Bugatti Veyron another's. And a lot depends on the evolution of the characters. Dom's '96 RX-7 (Vin Diesel's character) was perfect for him in the original film, but once he drove his dad's supercharged Hemi Charger out of the garage, there was no going back." He goes on, "But we'll continue to bring out cars like the Skyline, GT-R, WRX, and others that may prove to be tomorrow's classics." Of the imports in Furious 7, there's one that stands apart from the rest: a clean, white Supra Turbo on BBS LMs. A glance over the manifest shows it was the only one sourced for production. "That was one of Paul [Walker]'s personal cars," Dennis explains. "You'll see Paul's character Brian O'Conner drive it in a scene that really means a lot to all of us."

Furious 7 inside track michelle rodriguez vin diesel 19 Photo 8/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track Michelle Rodriguez Vin Diesel 19

A few days after I interviewed Dennis and photographed the film's remaining cars in his warehouse, I managed to score a 20-minute interview with the man who's been at the top of the Fast and Furious franchise since day one-Neal Moritz, producer of Furious 7 and the six films before it. He also cameos as the "more than you can afford, pal" Ferrari driver in the first film, and has produced more than 70 films in his career. Today, we're set to talk about how Furious 7 was his most challenging to date.

"I've always loved cars," Neal begins. "The design of good cars, the way they sound, the way I can be at peace driving them after a long day. But I've never been much of a gearhead, so I've come to appreciate having guys like Dennis McCarthy and Paul Walker to help us pick cars that are relevant and fit their characters." He continues, "I miss Paul for many, many reasons, but that is definitely one of them."

Furious 7 inside track dwayne johnson hobbs gatling gun 16 Photo 12/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track Dwayne Johnson Hobbs Gatling Gun 16

With a mission to continually raise the bar on action and stunts, character development, storytelling, globetrotting, and the caliber of cars in each new film, Furious 7 was already shaping up to be the most challenging installment film yet. "When Paul passed, it shook us all to the core on every imaginable level," Neal tells. "We've all been together for so long, shared so many good experiences, watched each others' kids grow up...there was a point right afterward when we didn't think we could go on without him." He continues, "But after coming to terms with it, we realized we had to keep going. We needed to finish the movie for Paul, and we had to do whatever was necessary to honor him by making it great." Much of the story was scrapped and re-written. Costs were added. Deadlines pushed back. Paul's two brothers, Cody and Caleb, stepped up to help. "And in the end," Neal says, "I'm proud to say that I think we delivered."

The Fast and Furious film franchise has taken us around the world in tuned Japanese and European sports cars to some good ol' fashioned American muscle. We've witnessed wild adventures on the street, touge, and even off-road. The franchise has also shown us some of the craziest stunts that aren't limited to cars, and now Furious 7 has upped the game, taking us to the Middle East and back with parachuting cars, exotic destruction, and whatever other craziness is in store for us when the film debuts on April 3rd. We've seen characters mature, plots thicken and entangle, and the franchise grow from a film about import tuning (not without its flaws) into one of the most popular and lucrative series of action movies in history, while still keeping its automotive roots. Trends have come and gone, yet each movie delivers at a higher level than the last. "I don't care if you have the best-the best-action," Neal explains, "if you don't have characters the audience can connect with and love, nobody cares. For me, that's what this franchise has. We talk a lot about the value of family in the film because that's what we are on and off the screen, and that's what our fans are: a family. And that's what we'll always be." WHERE DOES IT ALL GO FROM HERE? WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE DONE THAT HASN'T BEEN DONE ALREADY, AND WHAT'S IN STORE FOR THE FAST FAMILY AFTER THE REAL-LIFE LOSS OF ONE OF THEIR OWN? "WE HAVE A LOT OF IDEAS," DENNIS CONCLUDES, CRACKING A SOMBER SMILE. "A LOT OF POSSIBILITIES. AND I SUSPECT THIS IS FAR FROM THE END OF THE ROAD. BUT THAT FUTURE, QUITE LITERALLY, HAS YET TO BE WRITTEN."

Furious 7 inside track dennis mccarthy 23 Photo 19/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track Dennis Mccarthy 23

The Master of Disaster

Exclusive Interview with Picture Car Coordinator Dennis McCarthy

SS: How did you first get into cars?
DM:When I was 2, my dad had a '69 Camaro with a four-speed trans, and I can remember holding onto that white shift knob as he went through the gears, thinking it was the coolest thing in the world. Then later, when I was old enough to drive, building cars and street racing them in Pacoima or road racing through the Hollywood Hills became my sport, as opposed to football or basketball.
SS: How did that turn into a career building picture cars?
DM: It didn't happen all at once. I worked in shops and opened my own service shop when I was 20 or 21, and took some classes at local schools for automotive design, drafting, engineering-stuff that interested me and got me more into design and fabrication. And one day Jim Brubaker, a producer for Universal at the time, came into my shop and we began talking. I built a car for the movie Dragon Fly, then worked with him on Bruce Almighty, and it all just went on from there.
SS: What were some of your favorite cars from this and past Fast films?
DM: Man, there have been so many. I'd have to say the Monte Carlo from Tokyo Drift. It had a 620-cid V-8, manual trans...that car brought me back to the kind of stuff I would drive in high school. All the GT-Rs-I'm a muscle car guy, and I love the GT-Rs, so you know Nissan did something right, there! [laughs]. The vintage GT-R that Paul's character rolls in Furious 7, that's an import I'd have in my own garage.
SS: Some of your favorite action scenes?
DM: The heists are always my favorite. The heist trucks we built for the beginning of Fast and Furious [IV] were older pickups dropped over semi chassis-just the kind of thing I'd draw as a kid, bored in school. And the flatbeds we built for the train heist scene in Fast Five were a lot of fun. One of the stunt drivers jumped one over 90 feet, off an 18-foot waterfall and drove it away ready for the next challenge.
SS: What should we keep an eye out for in Furious 7?
DM: The off-road driving is nuts. We filmed a lot of that at Pike's Peak and places in Colorado, with actual Pike's Peak racers doing the stunt driving sometimes at full race speeds. Ninety percent of what you see is real. Very little C.G. It reminded me of the crazy drifting Rhys Millen and Tanner Foust did in the canyons of L.A. for Tokyo Drift. Very dangerous stuff for anyone but a true professional.
SS: And what about that building jump with the Lykan? Can you share how that was done?
DM: There is a lot more reality to it than one might think. Jumps were built, allowing stunt drivers to launch the Lykan both into and out of huge glass windows. Vast sets were created to drift and slide the car through the posh party and high-end art store, exactly as you will witness on screen. The plummet to the ground, though not 110 stories, was the real deal as well.
SS: Sounds like a fun day!

The Cars of Furious 7

Furious 7 inside track 2006 aston martin db9 wheels 24 Photo 20/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 2006 Aston Martin Db9 Wheels 24

Car: '05 Aston Martin DB9
Character: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)
Made: 3

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Car: Fast Attack Car
Character: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)
Made: 6

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Car: '70 Plymouth Barracuda
Character: Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez)
Made: 7

Furious 7 inside track 1970 dodge charger 27 Photo 32/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 1970 Dodge Charger 27

Car: '70 Dodge Charger
Character: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel)
Made: 7

Furious 7 inside track 2003 mercedes g wagon 28 Photo 36/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 2003 Mercedes G Wagon 28

Car: '03 Mercedes G-Wagon
Character: Motorcade
Made: 10

Furious 7 inside track 2014 dodge challenger letty 29 Photo 40/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 2014 Dodge Challenger Letty 29

Car: '14 Dodge Challenger
Character: Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez)
Made: 9

Furious 7 inside track 2014 nissan gtr 30 Photo 44/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 2014 Nissan Gtr 30

Car: '14 Nissan GT-R
Character: Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker)
Made: 6

Furious 7 inside track 2015 lykan hyersport 31 Photo 48/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 2015 Lykan Hyersport 31
Furious 7 inside track 2015 lykan hypersport engine bay 60 Photo 49/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 2015 Lykan Hypersport Engine Bay 60

Car: '15 Lykan Hypersport
Character: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel)/Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker)
Made: 6

Furious 7 inside track 1968 chevy camaro 32 Photo 50/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 1968 Chevy Camaro 32
Furious 7 inside track camaro 80 Photo 51/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track Camaro 80

Car: '68 Chevy Camaro
Character: Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson)
Made: 6

Furious 7 inside track 1970 dodge charger offroad 33 Photo 52/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 1970 Dodge Charger Offroad 33

Car: '70 Dodge Charger
Character: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel)
Made: 8

Furious 7 inside track 1970 plymouth roadrunner front headlights 34 Photo 56/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner Front Headlights 34

Car: '70 Plymouth Roadrunner
Character: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel)
Made: 5

Furious 7 inside track 2014 subaru wrx sti 35 Photo 60/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 2014 Subaru Wrx Sti 35

Car: '14 Subaru WRX STI
Character: Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker)
Made: 6

Furious 7 inside track 2006 ford gt letty 37 Photo 64/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track 2006 Ford Gt Letty 37

Car: '06 Ford GT
Character: Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez)
Made: 1

Furious 7 inside track paul walker 1998 toyota supra 36 Photo 68/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track Paul Walker 1998 Toyota Supra 36

Car: '98 Toyota Supra
Character: Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker)
Made: 1
Surviving: 1

Paul Walker's Car Collection

Furious 7 inside track paul walker nissan skyline r34 76 Photo 72/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track Paul Walker Nissan Skyline R34 76
Furious 7 inside track paul walker collection 91 Photo 76/76   |   Furious 7 Inside Track Paul Walker Collection 91
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