Furious 7 is a wild ride. It's a loud, ridiculous, preposterous, and utterly pitch-perfect addition to the Furious family. Like every previous edition of the series, that lurid appeal hinges almost entirely on the automotive stunts. R&T spoke with Dennis McCarthy, the picture-car coordinator for every Furious movie since the third installment, Tokyo Drift, to find out exactly what went into building cars to survive Furious 7.
Road & Track: First off, the stunt that's on everyone's mind, where the team skydives their cars out of a C-130 cargo plane. You've explained before that the scene was actually filmed with real cars being pushed out of an airplane. How hard was that to pull off?
Dennis McCarthy: Surprisingly just pushing them out of the airplanes is the easy part. It's getting them to the ground in one piece that's hard. I'll say 75 percent of the time we brought the car down safely. It pretty much happened just like you see on the trailer. There's really no CGI in that segment coming out [of the airplane] and all the way down. We had stunt guys with parachutes and cameras just running out right behind [the cars], and filming it all the way down.
The other big part of that action sequence was the cars actually hitting the ground, which was done basically [with] a gigantic zip line. We had to build a car that could handle a 15-20 foot drop at 50 miles an hour, land, and continue on. When the first Dodge Charger hits the ground you can see that the car had about 20 inches of travel in the rear, and 18 in the front, with a lot of effort into shock valving and bump stops and all that good stuff. It was one of my favorite actual sequences in the movie to prepare for and build for.
R&T: I can't imagine there was much stock Mopar left in Dom's skydiving Charger.
DM: The Charger was built from scratch. We basically copied a Pro 2 chassis, a short-course off road truck. The Charger had Sway-A-Way bypass shocks, the whole cage is all tied together, just like a true off-road race car would be. We did a lot of testing, first in parking lots with ramp-to-ramp jumps, then going ramp to flat landing, then we did some test days at a nearby dirt racetrack, Glen Helen, and put those cars over tabletop jumps and everything else, perfecting the handling characteristics of the car for what we were going to be putting them through once the camera was rolling. It was our job to make the suspension work so the car didn't land and bounce out of control, or land and have a wheel break off.
That car in the film was portrayed as a 440, 727 automatic car, that's what the starting point for that car was in the film. When we got to that point, we ended up putting a late model fuel injected motor in it, Turbo 400 transmission, 9" differential, and we just do that basically for reliability. That motor's set back roughly 20" from factory, the motor's right on the dashboard. But just having this modern electronics helps us, especially in a sequence like this where we're shooting the movie at 10,000 feet, so we try to standardize the powertrains the best we can.
R&T: It sounds like you'd end up destroying a lot of cars doing stunts like this.
DM: This one [required] in excess of 300 cars total, and out of those 300 cars maybe 70 to 80 survived. We're hard on equipment, that's for sure. Most of that is planned, there's always some cars that do meet an unfortunate fate unexpectedly, but we almost plan for that too, just based on odds. If we're doing this much action and car stunts, it's almost got to happen at some point. Luckily, knock on wood, we haven't run out of cars yet while filming.
R&T: Do most of those cars run and drive?
DM: Yeah, absolutely. There's always a couple cars we might build for one specific gag, for instance the Lykan Hypersport that's gonna out the window and fall to its death, we're not going to build a fully running car. When we get into the other stunt cars like Dom's supercharged Charger, [the Furious series'] most iconic car, or his off-road Charger, we try to build them all the same. I do that just because you never know what the demands on the vehicle will be. There might be a script change, a story change, so I better make all the cars fully capable of whatever demands might come up, just to keep it all rolling.
The iconic Charger with the blower coming out of it, the car that we're really good at building. We've built so many of them, I'd say we've built over 20 of those cars throughout the years, so that one we could put together very quickly. We start with a Charger shell but we put completely different suspension in it, coilovers, rack and pinion steering, coilover 4-link rear suspension, so there's really very little left of the original Dodge Charger.
With Dom's Road Runner, it's the same story: It's a shell car, all different suspension, K-member, wiring front to back. But [modern cars like] Letty's Challenger, the 2015 SRT Challenger, those cars we don't really have to build them. We modify the suspension, add some safety equipment that we need to add, we don't really need to add any performance to them because they perform great right out of the box, so that's a much easier picture car for us is going with new. Same would be true for the WRX or the Nissan GT-Rs, those are the ones where you give us a couple days and we'll have the car film-ready. On the flip side, building Dom's off-road Charger took us all of two and a half months .
R&T: Tell us about the Lykan Hypersport. That's a $3.4 million hypercar with only seven ever built. What did you have to do to get that car to appear in the movie?
DM: [W Motors founder] Ralph Debbas actually built us six movie versions of his car. They're the same body, same molds, obviously we cut whatever corners we can. For instance, there's no reason in building the car out of carbon fiber if we're going to paint it, so the car's made out of fiberglass instead of carbon fiber. Instead of being built on a race car, Porsche-powered chassis, we used a Porsche Boxster chassis, and stretched the wheelbase. So basically we did everything we needed to represent that car perfectly on-screen as a real car, but it's far from being a real car. I saw one of the real vehicles, and if you put the real vehicle and our movie car side-by-side, really the only giveaway would be the brake rotors and the calipers.
R&T: You've built the cars for five out of seven Furious movies. Which vehicle is your all-time favorite?
DM: I always have a favorite from every film, and there's always that one car that seems to get more attention than the rest. Typically that's gonna be whatever Dom is driving. In this one, that's no different, the off-road Charger is really my favorite car. Just because there's something out of the ordinary, something we haven't built before. Each movie the gags get bigger. I think it's nice to bring another element.