Over 250 cars were destroyed in F9, estimates Lin. After 2009’s Fast Five, he lost count (that film’s car wreckage count was somewhere in the low 200s). “When you see one car get hit, there are actually six to eight [versions] of them,” says Lin. “When I say we need to flip more cars, we get more cars. I don’t mind destroying modern cars, it’s the classic ones that hurt.”
Blowing up classic cars is an expensive pursuit, though. A standard 2020 Toyota Supra, which features in the film, retails at £46,000 before it’s made Fast and Furious worthy – in F9, the car is beefed up with BMW-sourced turbocharged 3.0-liter engine, and goes zero to 60mph in 3.8 seconds. Other cars are highly collectible – for instance the 1968 Chevrolet Nova SS, which, unmodified, resells for anywhere between £10,000 to £25,000.
Dominic Torretto, Vin Diesel’s character, drives an all black 1968 Dodge Charger. Nine different versions of this car were built for the Tbilisi scene alone. Two cars were fitted with a 808 horsepower Dodge Demon engine mounted behind the driver’s seat, a motor that’s capable of pulling around 1.8 g-force but also looks visually appealing on camera. Two cars needed to be more labour intensive to perform stunts, so were beefed up with high-powered transaxles, exhausts and brakes.
To avoid destroying cars that cost a small fortune just for a three second shot, Dennis McCarthy, the vehicle coordinator on the Fast and Furious series, has to get creative. There were five Dodge Chargers that are known as “beaters,” says McCarthy, cars that essentially serve one purpose: to get hit and bounce off other cars. In F9, these beaters were often a standard, V8 stunt race car fitted with a fibreglass shell recreation of the original. A similar method was used in Fast and Furious 7, allowing the team to ‘destroy’ several Lykan HyperSports, a diamond-encrusted supercar that costs around $3.4 million.
For the Tbilisi scene, McCarthy and his team painstakingly built two versions of The Armadillo, a process that took around four months and thousands of hours to complete. It was built in London from a Mercedes Unimog military vehicle and several chopped up heavy goods trailers. But, as well as looking menacing, The Armadillo had to be functional, and was fitted with pivot points to turn corners and be capable of reaching high speeds.
It’s painstaking work, for something that may be written off in a flash. “One [Armadillo] survived”, says McCarthy. “Someone might have an idea and say ‘hey, we’re going to have to wreck another car to pull this off,’ and you’re stuck having to destroy a car you don’t want to. That’s pretty rare, but I’ve learned not to get too emotionally attached to cars.”
When not being trashed, almost all of the cars that appear in F9 are tailor made to perform certain moves or practical functions. NASCAR-style performance race cars already come fitted with protective roll cages and five-point harness safety seats as standard, handy safety features that don’t need to be hidden on screen. Cars are padded – “anywhere where the driver could even scratch their shins is padded,” says McCarthy – and vintage cars can be modified with tyres that allow for smoother drifts or Magnaflow exhaust systems to provide the extra power and speed needed for risky stunts.
Newer, smarter cars are harder to trick, says McCarthy, pointing to the Toyota Supra as a particularly problematic vehicle. If a passenger seat or airbag is removed to accommodate an in-car camera, the car understands something isn’t right and goes into ‘limp mode’.