‘Furious 7’: What Happened to the Wrecked Cars – Wall Street Journal
Not long after stuntpeople for Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and the rest of the “Furious 7” crew filmed their usual death-defying car chases on a twisty mountain road west of Colorado Springs, Colo., Richard Jansen received a call. Somebody from the movie had seen his “we buy junk cars” highway sign, and wondered if the owner of Bonnie’s Car Crushers could haul away 20 or 30 vehicles smashed beyond repair, including several black Mercedes-Benzes, a Ford Crown Victoria and a Mitsubishi Montero. “Sure,” Mr. Jansen said.
Then Mr. Jansen and his crew, based in nearby Penrose, spent several days loading the cars onto a semitrailer truck to haul them away. Filmmakers insisted he shred or crush them all, to prevent anyone from fixing one up and getting hurt in a damaged movie car. So today, a large, black, scrap-metal Benz cube once driven in a “Furious 7” car chase exists somewhere in the world. “It was kind of unusual, to see some relatively late-model Mercedes-Benzes, all crunched up and good for nothing,” Mr. Jansen says.
How cars are built and prepped for action movies has been well documented: The process involves mechanics, roll cages, drag tires and fuel cells. But after the movie ends, what happens to the cars that parachute out of planes, plunge off cliffs and get run over by tanks?
“It’s pretty easy,” says Dennis McCarthy, picture car coordinator for the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, whose latest installment, “Furious 7,” premieres in theaters this week. The film crew has to follow a specific protocol, documenting every step for both accounting and liability reasons, he says. “We have to account for every single car destroyed in each film.”
“Fast and Furious” filmmakers wreck hundreds of cars every movie—more than 230 alone for “Furious 7.” For 2013’s “Fast & Furious 6,” when a tank bursts out of a military transport and flattens numerous cars on a highway in Tenerife Island, Spain, Mr. McCarthy’s people made deals with local junkyards and used-car lots. “We’d wreck 25 cars a day, they’d come out at night, scoop ‘em up and bring us 25 more,” he says. “It was a round-the-clock process, with multiple tow trucks and car carriers.” For 2011’s “Fast Five,” in which the “Furious” crew haul a massive bank vault through Puerto Rico, filmmakers struck a deal with the government to transport used cars inexpensively from San Juan’s wrecking yard to the set, destroy them, then deliver them back to the yard.
After filming the “Furious 7” mountain-highway chase on Colorado’s Monarch Pass, the car crew stowed its crashed cars in the parking lot of the small nearby Monarch Ski Resort. Mr. Jansen had two days to remove them so the resort could prepare for its opening season. “We probably destroyed 40-plus vehicles just shooting that sequence,” Mr. McCarthy says.
In the early days of car-chase movies, producers arranged to haul the smashed cars to junkyards and forgot about them. This is what happened to Steve McQueen’s wrecked Mustang in 1968’s “Bullitt,” according to the historical car website MustangSpecs.com. (A second Mustang, used mostly for the high-speed driving scenes, wound up in the hands of collectors.) Of the 300 highflying Dodge Chargers that rotated into production as the orange General Lee in the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show in the early 1980s, many were recycled into set cars for the background of the show. Others went to the junkyard, sometimes not for long. “There were people down in the South that would actually go to the junkyards and try to restore them,” recalls Craig R. Baxley, a veteran stunt coordinator and director who worked on the show.
As car-chase movies have evolved from cult classics to multimillion-dollar franchises, Hollywood car wranglers have strengthened their policies for disposing of smashed cars. Nobody wants to be sued when a fan makes off with a restored Mini Cooper from “The Bourne Identity” and drives it down a flight of stairs. “I don’t handle anything that has a roll cage in it, like a stunt car—we will automatically get rid of them,” says Ray Claridge, president of 39-year-old Cinema Vehicles Services in Los Angeles, which recycles and junks cars destroyed or damaged in films. “I don’t like the liability issues.”
Two years ago, Mr. Claridge and his crew assembled 150 vehicles for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” After the movie finished filming in Cleveland, they showed up to find them in varying stages of destruction at a warehouse. It took five 18-hour days to sort them into two categories: the no-hope vehicles, including a city bus, went to a local wrecking yard for crushing. The remaining 40 or so returned to Los Angeles for recycling.
The stories of what happened to crashed vehicles in big-screen car chases can be as dramatic as the movies themselves. After 1983’s “Christine,” about Stephen King’s demon car, filmmakers sold and donated the two Plymouth Fury cars that survived the on-screen destruction: MTV auctioned one of them, and a Santa Cruz, Calif., public-radio station auctioned another. “We bought and cannibalized 25 Plymouths. We ended up smashing, beyond recognition or repair, 15 of those,” says producer Richard Kobritz, who is today president of Columbia College Hollywood. “One ended up in Arizona at one of the car auctions and went for about $164,000. Then somebody in Florida bought it. He called me three weeks ago to verify it.”
Every now and then, a stuntperson who drives a famous car finds a way to bring it home. Two of the 1970 Novas that Kurt Russell’s character Stuntman Mike souped up and smashed in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” were destroyed, “straight to the junk pile,” says Buddy Lee Hooker, stunt coordinator for that movie. But Mr. Hooker kept a third version, used mostly for background shots. Mr. Hooker occasionally visits his friend, Mr. Tarantino. The stuntman takes the “Death Proof” Nova and the director drives the Pussy Wagon from “Kill Bill: Volume 1.” “Every once in a while, we’ll go for a little drive,” he says.