The Fast & Furious franchise, love it or hate it, is a Goliath of cinema. It’s banked over a billion dollars, it’s now on its ninth instalment with a tenth on the way, and it’s also generated a spin-off franchise in the form of Hobbs and Shaw. There’s a cartoon on Netflix, there are myriad models by the likes of Hot Wheels and there was a computer game. It is a juggernaut of a thing. It might have started with street racing and truck heists in downtown L.A, but now it’s a globe-spanning action franchise that’s pulled in audiences from every continent. And that, for the producers, posed a question. How do the films represent that global following?
The first film of 2001 was its own thing, but as the franchise travelled further, producers needed to ensure there was something vehicular on screen to get everyone, and this is a cheesy pun, revved up. It couldn’t just be ‘tuner cars’ (which is American for JDM stuff) and muscle cars. There had to be more. So, when the sixth installment saw Dom, Brian and the rest of the crew in Europe, some careful car casting had to be done.
Picture Car Coordinator, Dennis McCarthy, has been with the franchise since the third, Tokyo Drift, instalment. As such, over the years he has built a real relationship with the movie’s characters. He knows them better than the actors who play them. His job is to create, curate and evolve the cars they drive in the films. Cars that are characters in their own right, in fact. As such, the evolution of Dom’s Charger from drag racer to desert crosser to off-roader to ice blaster was all Dennis.
When it came to selecting cars for the European scenes, muscle cars did of course feature heavily with a Mustang and a Plymouth Superbird tribute. However, McCarthy saw an opportunity for cars with a more native flavour. E60 BMW M5s featured heavily, as did Range Rovers and even a modified Jensen Interceptor. And then there was Brian’s (played by Paul Walker) car. McCarthy knew that this character would favour heritage, a proven formula, something light, agile and built with speed and performance in mind, but also something classic. And there are few cars that embody all those qualities quite as much as the Mk1 Ford Escort RS1600. With bubble arches, naturally.
McCarthy and his team bought a number Mk1 Escorts. They were not all, as the internet would lead you to believe, real RS1600s. That would have been both wasteful (McCarthy is a car guy, he’s not into smashing up real historics) and ludicrously expensive. Instead, a brace of two-door Mk1 Escorts were bought, of varying trim levels. For example, the plate on the car in the film, YLV7J, was actually as 1300GT in white, as a Cazana Vehicle Check proves.
All the cars were stripped down and given a movie makeover. Blue paint with white RS stripes, gold Compomotive Minilites, roll cage, bucket seats, Revotec gauges, harnesses, the works. Of the five, one was built to be perfect. This car, in the movie world, is known as ‘Hero 1’ and it’s the car used for close-up shots, detail shots and so on. Then, there’s ‘Hero 2’ which is a stand in for ‘Hero 1’. These cars usually survive filming. Certainly, Hero 1 is now with Universal Pictures as a promotional piece.
But what of the other cars? Well, one would have been built with cuts and huge sections missing to allow for cameras – got to get those shots of the hero driving. Two, as we know from speaking to someone who was on set, were built for the famous jump over the central reservation of the freeway. These cars were full of significant amounts of roll cage, unlike the cars used for driving scenes (they were on GAZ suspension) the jump cars had rally-spec suspension (possibly Ohlins) and for power, they relied on tuned 2.0 Vauxhall XE engines running twin carbs. The rest were second unit cars, used for action and other stunt sequences.
One of the jump cars overcooked the stunt in a big way, landing on its nose before going end over end. The second landed on all four, and while it was still technically drivable afterwards, the car was significantly bent. Despite what Hollywood tells us, jumping a car just once generally wrecks them! It’s that second jump car that ties in with the one you’re looking at here.
This 1972 Ford Escort Mk1 is powered by the heart of that second jump car. In fact, the 2.0 Vauxhall XE engine still has ‘Jump Car’ written on the cam cover in permanent marker. It comes with rafts of paperwork to support the engine’s origins, and as you can see from the image below of the remains of the stunt car, the engine matches up, red cam pulleys and all.
After filming, the wrecked cars were returned back to the UK where many were set to be destroyed. Some were simply too damaged to be fixed, others were just awful. Remember, cinema is about looking good. As such, many of the cars were in fact rusty, patchwork ‘bitsa’ cars that had no place on the road. Think of them as tools for a job, not cars. The jump car, however, had potential. The damage, while significant, wasn’t enough to force time on the car. As such, a private collector bought it and set about rebuilding it. And it was, as you’d expect, a significant rebuild.
No expense was spared in the build, with the shell alone coming in at around £55k. The movie car had been heavily damaged, and several sections had been cut away. As such, the battered Escort was sent to RO Performance and Restoration in Greater Manchester.
Here, Robert and his team stripped the car down to a bare shell before sending it off to be acid dipped. This took the car back down to bare metal, and as such, the guys could see what needed replacing. And despite its flight and heavy landing, it wasn’t in too bad shape. However, to get it perfect, a lot needed to be done.
The floors, front end, sills, chassis legs, inner and outer wings and some other small bits had to be replaced. In fact, the roof, rear quarters and dash were the only panels that didn’t need replacing! Hundreds of hours were put into the shell, including upgrades over the original ‘movie specification’. For example, Robert and the team fully six-linked the rear of the Escort.
The car was painted Volkswagen Jazz Blue (yes, that’s what they used in the movie) and built back up. It is now both better than when it was new, and far better than it was in the movie.
The running gear is all present, as per the jump car. That means a 2.0 Vauxhall XE, rally cams, Weber carbs, SBD Motorsport management (though Robert only found this out after considerable research, plus the ECU then needed re-configuring to work right) and loom and a Quaife four-speed ‘box paired with a 3J Driveline limited-slip differential sitting in a custom-built Atlas axle built by Evans and Sons. There is GAZ suspension all round, Wilwood brakes have been fitted up front with Cosworth brakes out back, there is a new six-point roll cage, Sparco R100 bucket seats, Compbrake pedal box, Racetech dash and clocks, harnesses and lots, lots more. It’s not a pretty movie car. It’s a serious bit of kit. Check out the advert for the full specification.
Yes, one might argue that the body is somewhat different, having been largely replaced, but honestly, find us a competition Mk1 Escort that’s still all original. It’s par for the course with these cars. The crucial thing is that engine, the heart of the car. Hollywood might want you to believe it was a Cosworth BDA that sent the Escort skywards, but it wasn’t. It was this unassuming Vauxhall unit. And if you buy this car, you’ll be able to watch that scene knowing that the engine flying through the air is the very same one sat in your garage. And that’s pretty cool if you ask us!