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Fast Five: Behind The Wheels

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by Brian Medford  More from Author

We Interview Fast Five’s Car Coordinator Dennis McCarthy

If I wasn’t a magazine editor, I’d have to rethink my career choice. Dennis McCarthy is the Car Coordinator for the latest movie in The Fast and the Furious franchise, Fast Five. His job is to handle everything related to all of the cars you see on the big screen. Even better, he gets to help choose, design, build, drive, and even destroy the vehicles in his care. I was able to catch up with Dennis and get a behind the scenes look into the crazy work that goes into a blockbuster car film.

Most people understand that putting together an action movie of this magnitude isn’t easy. One of the biggest challenges to filming was working in multiple locations. “We had cars working and being built in Arizona, Atlanta, Puerto Rico, and Brazil,” says McCarthy. Transporting the vehicles was another major challenge. “In Puerto Rico, there were nights where John Feinblatt’s team was moving over 200 cars around.” Immigrations and customs did become an issue when shooting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “Since it took over 30 days to get a car there, we had to scramble to match a few vehicles in Rio which were never available in Brazil.”

Dennis may get to play in the ultimate toy box on a daily basis, but there is serious business to keep in mind. “Safety is always the number one priority for all of us,” he explains. Dennis is accompanied by Matt Sweeney and his Special FX crew, who ensure that roll cages, seats, and fuel cells are mounted correctly. “The slightest oversight in the fuel system, brakes, steering, etc. could be disastrous at the speeds the cars are traveling,” says McCarthy. Before any action car scene begins, someone from Dennis’s crew will do a complete safety check on any stunt cars involved. This consists of a check-off sheet that covers roughly 50 points on the car.

Big films like this burn money at an astronomic rate, so things have to work right the first time. “The most important thing with a stunt car is that it always runs,” says Dennis. “What makes for a great stunt car would be plenty of horsepower, a slide brake that won’t fail, locking differential, proper brake bias, and extreme durability.” Dennis has developed a standard package he installs in any car he can squeeze it into, regardless of make. His recipe is as follows:
  • 400hp+ crate motor
  • Manual valve body TH400 transmission, 2800rpm stall converter
  • Ford 9” rear axle with 35-spline axles, 4.56 gears, and a Detroit locker
  • An additional set of rear brake calipers with hand or foot control depending on driver preference
  • Adjustable brake bias valve
  • MSD ignition
  • Optima battery
  • Solid motor mounts or motor plate
  • Increased spring rates and sway bar set-ups that increase oversteer (not what you would want on a race car, but always looks more spectacular in the movies)

Over the top stunts have become the norm in the The Fast and the Furious series, and this film delivers with some of the most ingenious heist gimmicks yet. One such scene involves a huge hulking offroad beast simply named “The Heist Truck” by McCarthy. “In my opinion, the most interesting and fun vehicle of the film is the Heist Truck itself. They were built from scratch to perform exactly what you will see on film. We did extensive durability testing to make sure they would stand up to the terrain and extreme heat in which they were being operated. In testing, we were jumping them about 65 feet.”

Dennis’s original influences for the Heist Truck were the big trucks that compete in the Dakar Rally, but he ended up deviating away from that look quite a bit. The Oshkosh cabs were chosen because he was able to locate 10 of them and they were the correct size. Beyond that, the trucks had to be a specific height to line up with the train and the bed had to be large enough to haul a car. Strangely such a huge vehicle was short on driver space. “The exoskeleton cage used on the Heist Truck was done out of necessity. Our original stunt man for the trucks was about 6’8” so it was the only option.” In total six running and four mockup Heist Trucks were built for the movie. “The only one that was very bizarre to drive was the pod truck which was operated from the roof. Somehow I was elected for this job. Driving a 10,000 pound truck inches from a moving train while 14 feet in the air was less than fun.” In the end all of the mockup trucks were destroyed and only two of the runners survived. Dennis says he sometimes regrets destroying stunt vehicles but he is getting used to it.

This is the third movie of the The Fast and the Furious series that Dennis McCarthy has been involved. Looking back, Dennis says the only real influence from the previous films was to not use the same cars again (with the exception of Dom’s 1970 Charger). Dennis reflected on the previous five movies, “Over the last few films, Dom has definitely become more of a muscle car guy and Brian has remained true to the import side. If there were two cars that always seem to be associated with Fast and Furious, it would have to be the 1970 Charger and the Nissan Skyline.” Both of these cars are represented in Fast Five, along with a retro touch from a 1972 Skyline.

There is no doubt that, over the last ten years and five films,this franchise has covered a lot of ground. Though the first movie may have had its growing pains, with each iteration, the studio has made ever-increasing strides to connect with true gearheads. Knowing that there are car guys like Dennis McCarthy and his team working behind the scenes definitely makes this gearhead look forward to my next movie night.

Heist Truck

Driven by: Dom Toretto’s crew
Vehicle Specs:

Oshkosh military surplus cab on custom frame

GM Ram Jet 502 V-8 crate engine
Trophy Truck Turbo 400 Transmission
Fox coil over and bypass shocks
Howe full hydraulic steering
Dana 70 rear axle
Dana 60 front axle (custom widened)

7.38 gears front and rear
Detroit Lockers front and rear

Cool Fact: During filming, Corey Ubanks jumped this truck over 75 feet with over 25 feet of altitude.


1970 Charger

Driven by: Dom Toretto

Vehicle Specs:
1970 Dodge Charger with fiberglass front clip and custom taillights
MOPAR 528 V-8 crate engine
Holley 850 CFM 4-bbl carburetor
Hooker headers
727 automatic transmission with full manual valve body

Ford 9” rear axle
4.56 gears
Detroit locker
Baer 14” disc brakes

Cool Fact: One stunt car was built in three days from a complete rust bucket (and was destroyed by the Gurka).

1966 Corvette Grand Sport

Driven by: Dom Toretto
Vehicle Specs:

1966 Corvette Grand Sport with Mongoose Motorsports body kit
Year One 400hp crate engine
MSD ignition
Hooker headers
TH400 automatic transmission
C4 Corvette rear suspension
3.73 gears

4-wheel disc brakes
Halibrand wheels

Cool Fact: For extreme off-road shots, VW-powered buggies with Corvette bodies were used.

Gurka LAPV

Driven by: Hobbs
Vehicle Specs:
Gurka Light Armored Patrol Vehicle
Ford F550 truck chassis

6.4L Power Stroke Diesel
5-speed automatic transmission
4-wheel drive
4.88 gears front and rear
4-wheel disc brakes
14,500 lbs. curb weight
96 mph top speed

Cool Fact: The Gurka did all its own stunts with only a broken steering box as a result of driving through real cinder block walls. Repeatedly.

1972 Pantera

Driven by: Vince
Vehicle Specs:
1972 De Tomaso Pantera

Monocoque body construction
Ford 351C V-8 engine
ZF 5-speed manual transaxle

Custom dual exhaust
Mid-engine, rear wheel drive
Upgraded cooling system
4-wheel disc brakes
Magnesium 17” wheels

Cool Fact: Four real Panteras were used for filming, no stunt doubles or fakes.

1966 Ford GT40

Driven by: Mia Toretto
Vehicle Specs:

1966 Ford GT40
Race Car Replicas reproduction
Monocoque body construction

Ford 427 V-8 engine
ZF 5-speed transaxle
Custom headers
Halibrand wheels
Wilwood brakes

Cool Fact: The train heist scene was real. A slightly modified GT40 was dropped off the back of the truck at 40+ mph.

2010 Charger

Driven by: Dom Toretto & Brian O’Conner
Vehicle Specs:
2010 Dodge Charger SRT8
6.1L Hemi V-8

Exoskeleton cage
Warn 15,000 lb. winch
Flat black paint
Eibach coilovers
Samuel Hubinette Racing spindles
20” KMC Rockstar wheels

Cool Fact: Roughly 20 Chargers were destroyed during filming.

2011 Charger Police Car

Driven by: Police
Vehicle Specs:
2011 Dodge Police Charger
6.1L Hemi
Diablo Sport programmer
Brembo brakes
Magnaflow exhaust
Light bar
Front push bumper
Alcoa 20” wheels
Custom graphics

Cool Fact: The first two 2011 Chargers in existence were used for filming. Five more 2009 Chargers were converted to 2011 models with Chrysler’s help.


2011 Lexus LFA

Driven by: Han Leu
Vehicle Specs:
2011 Lexus LFA
4.8L V-10 engine
6-speed sequential manual transmission

Titanium exhaust
Carbon fiber body components
Torsen limited slip differential
Carbon ceramic disc brakes
Electric power steering
48%/52% front/rear weight distribution

Cool Fact: Toyota specified that the car be returned to them in the exact condition in which it was provided.
Image courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales USA


1972 Skyline

Driven by: Brian O’Conner
Vehicle Specs:

1972 Nissan Skyline GTR
RB25 2.5L twin turbo straight six engine
RB25 manual transmission
NISMO titanium exhaust
NISMO brakes
TEIN suspension

Watanabe Racing wheels

Cool Fact: Due to the inability to find another car, only one Skyline was used for all filming. Luckily, it never broke.


Vehicle EFX



In Fast Five, coming to theaters April 29, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker lead a reunion of returning all-stars from every chapter of the explosive franchise built on speed. In this installment, former cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) partners with ex-con Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) on the opposite side of the law. Dwayne Johnson joins returning favorites Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Tego Calderon and Don Omar for this ultimate high-stakes race.

Since Brian and Mia Toretto (Brewster) broke Dom out of custody, they’ve blown across many borders to elude authorities. Now backed into a corner in Rio de Janeiro, they must pull one last job in order to gain their freedom. As they assemble their elite team of top racers, the unlikely allies know their only shot of getting out for good means confronting the corrupt businessman who wants them dead. But he’s not the only one on their tail.

Hard-nosed federal agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) never misses his target. When he is assigned to track down Dom and Brian, he and his strike team launch an all-out assault to capture them. But as his men tear through Brazil, Hobbs learns he can’t separate the good guys from the bad. Now, he must rely on his instincts to corner his prey…before someone else runs them down first.



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