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The inside story

The latest installment in the $4 billion ‘Fate of the Furious’ franchise is now showing in theatres nationwide.

It’s called ‘Fate of the Furious,’ and it is the exploding cherry that completes the series’ testosterone sundae. By the time you get to the car chase scene in the streets of New York, which involves a giant wrecking ball (and an automaker’s greatest nightmare when it comes to autonomous driving), you will think it seems totally normal. A chase across an ice field to outrace a nuclear submarine? Just another great Tuesday.

It’s also funny. A scene with a baby on a plane will forever win British bad boy Jason Statham a spot in your heart.

The cars steal the show, though-as always. Even as the amount of car racing drops with each new film, the caliber of the whips-and the extreme stunts engaged in them-increase exponentially.

People have a fascination with speed, director F. Gary Gray told Bloomberg during a phone interview.

“We have a fascination with travelling,” he said. “If you’re on the ground, you kind of want to go beyond your tennis shoes. That’s part of the fascination with cars-and why the movies are so compelling.”

The director said his own first car was a “low-end” Ford Granada rusted so badly you could see the road through the floor of the car. But he dreamed about GTOs, GTX’s, Mustangs, and Corvettes: “You idolised anyone who had the time and the resources to rebuild and restore them.”

That’s why, he said, the 1966 red Corvette Stingray was one of his favourite cars in the film. Well, that and the “ice charger.”

“It’s a bullet-proof vintage charger that can go 200 miles per hour on ice,” Gray said. (He also happens to own a USSV Rhino truck like the one Kristofer Hivju drives as the villain in the film, but that’s another story.) “The ice charger is great for pure entertainment. This is something that if you’re young and into cars, you want that as a toy. And I’m a big fan of cars that could be Hot Wheels.”

Credit Dennis McCarthy for the cars’ sheer beauty and surprise in each film. He’s the grand wizard who led the team that conceived, purchased, built, and/or modified every car in the movie, from Vin Diesel’s mint-condition Impala to Michelle Rodriguez’s cherry-red Stingray Corvette. Not to mention the screaming orange Lamborghini Murcielago that somehow survived a high-speed chase on a Russian ice field.

“I would dream about these crazy things, and (McCarthy) would just deliver them with a smile,” Gray said. He means that McCarthy would make the proper purchases and modifications for each car he wanted. “I’m sure I took a few years off his life, just in terms of stress.”

I spoke with McCarthy by phone on Thursday. He had a lot to say. Here are the juiciest tidbits I learned about how he made what will be the most epic car movie of the year-maybe ever.

The Corvette driving on two wheels was a last minute idea.

But it took a whole day to get the shot.

“It happened in the park in New York: We thought we should have Letty get up on two wheels, which made me cringe because I know it’s not going to be great for that car,” McCarthy said. Sixties-era muscle cars aren’t exactly made to withstand forward motion on two wheels. (Luckily, the team had made several replicas of the original car, and they were up to the task. Three main models were used in the shooting.)

“It was a huge challenge; it was very tough on equipment,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we went out and did it.”

Tyrese Gibson’s Lamborghini really did make it out on the ice.

But it took three versions of the car to do so. And only two of them survived.

There was nothing computer-generated with the Lamborghini: It was real driving. It was a real six-speed manual, all-wheel-drive Lamborghini Murcielago. Grey had requested a car for Gibson that was absolutely the wrong car for the environment, and he got exactly that.

“I felt so bad for that car,” McCarthy said. “It just went through abuse after abuse. It went through a snow bank. We shot out the tank. It went through two or three clutches, and it performed like a champ.

“The fact that we came back from Iceland with two running Lamborghinis is really a credit to the vehicle. We put it through hell and back.”

Everything came together in a mere three months.

“We don’t have a lot of time when we do these films,” McCarthy said. “It’s a full-throttle battle to finish the cars in time for shooting.”

McCarthy starts his work for each film meeting with the writer, Chris Morgan, and the segment’s director to start developing ideas. He begins sourcing cars from auctions and wrecking lots, then starts modifying them. Ideas are in a perpetual state of flux.

“The script is always evolving and changing,” he said. “We did know the ice and the submarine that stayed consistent from the initial concept. That was a big help, knowing we would have that location, that sequence on ice. But everything else was pretty much up in the air.”

Michelle Rodriguez almost didn’t get her 1966 Stingray Corvette.

“Michelle loved that Corvette-it fit her perfectly,” McCarthy said. “When the photo went around of the one I wanted to use, people thought it was great. But it’s such an expensive car to start with, I knew it would really blow through the budget.”

Rough Corvettes from that era start in the low $30,000 range, and a nice one can go for $50,000. But once McCarthy and his team found the base models they wanted to use for the shots, he knew they had a winner.

Washington Post-Bloomberg

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