Secrets From 'The Fast and the Furious’ Car Whisperers

Credit: Credit: Universal Pictures

Dennis McCarthy was helping out with repairs on 2 Fast 2 Furious when one of the producers started asking him about “drifting.” Little did he know they were in the process of researching for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. “The next thing I know, I’m on a plane to Japan,” he says. Since then McCarthy and his team at Vehicle Effects have become the expert hands behind the building of the franchise’s motorized eye candy.

Now with the latest installment, The Fate Of The Furious, coming to theaters, fans are excited to see Dom, Hobbs, Letty, Roman, and Tej once again. But let’s be honest, despite the incredible star-studded cast, these movies have always been about the ridiculous rides. McCarthy and director F. Gary Gray gave us a look at what’s under the hood this time around.

Going Classic In Cuba
“My vision was to bring the franchise back to its roots with the opening,” says Gray. “There is a return to the concept of racing for pink slips, and there is no better way to open a movie based on cars than in Cuba. Because of all of those beautiful classic American muscle cars they have down there.”

McCarthy says that while there were logistical nightmares involved with shooting in Cuba, the machines and the locals were incredible. “I never knew that it was on the table, because it had never been done before,” he says. “The joy of going to Cuba was the fact that we had a very specific, and amazing, era of cars that we were working with. That being said, we had to bring everything, because nobody is going to part with a single nut or bolt there.”

The two most important picks were the competing vehicles in the opening street races. For Dom, he selected the Chevrolet Fleetline, which he was able to chase down through sellers. “I have always loved the look of the Fleetline and the fact that it has a fastback,” McCarthy says. “It is such a gangster-looking car, even with half of the body pulled off.” For his opponent, they chased down a duplicate of the actual “fastest car on the island,” a 1956 Ford Crown Vic. “There were hundreds of people gathered around when we were filming in Cuba,” McCarthy says. “They went crazy when they saw it."

Lamborghinis In Iceland
“I wanted to give the audience something that they had never seen before,” Gray says. So with the help of writer Chris Morgan, he created a sequence that involved a frozen lake, a submarine, a tank, and a bright orange supercar. “Most of the vehicles that we used weren’t meant do be driving 200 miles per hour on ice,” Gray says. “McCarthy’s team did an amazing job of delivering.”

“Gary told me he wanted to put Tyrese in something just obnoxious for the Iceland scenes,” McCarthy says. “I knew right away that the Lamborghini Murcielago was the right choice, because it is all-wheel drive and it would at least perform.” That is not to say that the cars did not take a beating, spoilers were ripped off and there was even a collision with the Ripsaw Tank that Ludacris’ character drives. “I think you can imagine which one of the vehicles survived that crash,” McCarthy says, laughing. “Shooting those scenes kept my team busy, and parts for that car aren’t cheap either: a clutch costs $10,000.” 

Tyrese Gibson, who plays Roman Pearce, admits that while he did love his car, he didn’t necessarily love the working conditions. “I am from South Central Los Angeles, so Iceland is like the opposite of where a guy like me wants to be,” he says. During the filming, Gray and McCarthy were told by the Iceland locals that this was the first time that a Lamborghini had ever been in Iceland. “That’s what they told us, so we’re going with that,” McCarthy says.

The Dodge Demon Reveal
The Dodge Challenger SRT Demon was just revealed to the car industry at the New York Auto Show, but most will see it for the first time being driven by Vin Diesel’s character, Dom. Filming took place before the car was even in production, so McCarthy modified Dodge Hellcats to the specifications. “Basically the set-up for the scene we see the Demon in is that Dom is supposed to be driving the most powerful car on the market,” McCarthy says. “Even if we didn’t have an amazing partnership with Dodge, I would have picked it, because it is without question the right one. I can’t wait to test drive one myself.”

Onscreen Demolition Derby
McCarthy estimates over 1,000 cars were bought, built, and rented throughout the filming process. How many were wrecked? Roughly 500. “That was mostly because of the zombie car sequence, where cars were going through windows on a daily basis,” he says. That being said, most of them were built to fall, and weren’t necessarily top-of-the-line vehicles.

"There is a certain amount of effort that goes into a car that we know is going to get wrecked,” McCarthy says. “Sometimes there is one that hurts a little bit more, like when I saw one of our 1966 Corvette Stingrays take a terrible beating. It would have been nice if it had made it out of there.” There were a few that survived, though, and McCarthy is in the process of fixing up one of the Stingrays for Gray to take home as a wrap present.

What’s Next?
So what’s in the car lift for Fast 9? McCarthy hasn’t started brainstorming just yet. “I use all of my tricks on each movie,” he says. “But we always come up with some way to take it to the next level.”