5 Fake Film Cars That Fooled Movie Audiences
We're used to almost everything in a movie being fake—hair, accents, locations, and of course, the laws of physics—but how often do we stop to consider just how 'real' the cars burning rubber across the screen actually are? Substituting replicas and custom builds for off-the-lot automobiles is a time-tested tradition in Hollywood, with budgetary demands and unique stunts often requiring prop builders to think outside the norm when it comes to outfitting a film production.
Which movie car fakes have the most interesting back-stories? Check out 5 of our favorite films where the automotive action played fast and loose with the truth.
5. Benny The Cab in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?'
We're kicking things off with perhaps the most obvious movie car substitution, but also one of the most impressive. 1989's 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' moved the goalposts when it came to combining live-action cinema with hand-drawn animation, and it's a testament to lead actor Bob Hoskins' patience that he was able to turn in such a strong performance when forced to imagine much of his supporting cast (and his primary foil, the titular Roger).
In one scene, Roger and Hoskins are 'driving' Benny The Cab, who happens to be a cartoon. In order to film the sequence the production crew had to build a unique contraption that more closely resembled a riding lawn mower rather than a passenger vehicle. With Hoskins perched on a rather tall seat, a second 'driver' was positioned behind him to actually control the action. Dressed in black, he was completely covered when the frame of the runabout was drawn over by the animation team.
Remember, this was all well before computer graphics were advanced enough to automatically replace individual frames or gloss over any ill-timed stunts. Everything you see in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' is hand-drawn into every frame, and that goes for all of the Benny the Cab action, too.
4. Nearly Every Car in 'Need For Speed'
There's really no reason to ever watch 'Need For Speed,' which took a massively successful video game franchise and managed to suck most of the excitement out of it despite the on-screen presence of a who's who of supercars circa 2014.
About that last bit. With a budget of just $66 million, there was no way Dreamworks was going to round up Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Saleens, McLarens, or Koenigseggs, let alone limited edition or one-off models from each of those brands, and then wreck them. As a result, the production team worked overtime to build replicas of almost all of the automobiles seen of the screen, with the exception of several Ford Mustangs and police cruisers that were picked up off-the-shelf.
The formula for the car copies was a simple one: a mid-engine tube-frame chassis that nestled an LS3 V8 behind the driver's head. By keeping each of the vehicles on the same platform and adjusting its size to fit the various bodies, the mechanics and prop designers could consolidate the amount of parts required to keep the fleet running after the on-camera crashes as well as cannibalize components from other vehicles if needed.
3. 1972 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spyder in 'Miami Vice'
Ok, so we're cheating a little here by including a TV car rather than a movie ride, but it's one of the best stories of automotive fakery in the history of showbiz.
In the first two seasons of Miami Vice Don Johnson's Crockett tooled around in a Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spyder, a car he'd snagged from the impound lot to help him infiltrate the underground world of Florida's criminal set. Despite the Italian look, the car, was actually a C3-generation Corvette that had been given a Ferrari body. This was the only way the TV show could afford to portray such a glamorous lifestyle on an idiot box budget.
There was trouble brewing, however, with Ferrari itself. It turns out the company didn't like the fact that millions of viewers were being shown a low-rent replica of one of its cars rather than the real thing, and was in the middle of taking legal action against 'Miami Vice' to demand that the show stop using the Daytona, period.
In a weird piece of cross-Atlantic corporate synergy, a resolution was worked out where the Daytona was completely destroyed by a bazooka during the course of an episode, after which Ferrari agreed to provide a pair of real Testarossas for the remainder of the series. That explosion was no accident—Ferrari wanted the fakes gone for good, with no chance of either of the two that were built showing up in South Florida ever again.
2. Ferrari 275 GTB in 'C'etait un rendez-vous'
One of the most famous pieces of guerilla film-making ever recorded to celluloid, 1976's 'C'etait un rendez-vous' (It was a date) saw director Claude Lelouch take the 1,000 feet of remaining film from the feature he had just wrapped in France and feed it through a gyro-stabilized camera strapped to the front of a car blasting through the streets of Paris in the hours just after dawn.
For decades, fans believed that the sounds they were hearing alongside the footage, those of a Ferrari 275 GTB, came from the actual camera car, which is never shown. In reality, LeLouch had used a much larger, although still quite quick Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL as his camera rig. On top of that, he was also the one doing the stunt driving, with the help of a spotter and a small team working to make sure that everything could be caught in a single take. He would obscure this fact when he was confronted by French authorities, who were incensed at his stunt, by telling them he had hired a Formula 1 driver as a wheelman.
The Mercedes-Benz was a much more stable platform for shooting than a high-strung sports car, and it topped speeds of 140 miles per hour during filming, which meant that LeLouch had no need for any visual trickery when making the final cut. The only sleight of hand (or is that 'ear?') was the use of the Ferrari's race car soundtrack in place of the more subdued Benz V8.
1. 1970 Dodge Charger in The Fast and Furious Franchise
Almost every iteration of Dominic Toretto's iconic 1970 Dodge Charger in the Fast and Furious film series has been in some way a fake.
In the original movie, the hero car used for close-up shots and interiors was actually a '69 modified to look like a '70 after the latter proved too difficult to find in time for production. On top of that, its big blower was also a prop (and would continue to be in later versions of the car), as the car was powered by a naturally-aspirated, custom-built 445 cubic inch hemi V8. You'll never see that particular engine on-screen, however, as the intimate shots on Toretto's garage are of a Chuck Taylor Racing power plant that was stuffed between the front fenders just for that scene.
Things get weirder as the series progresses. Dennis McCarthy, who was in charge of building most of the vehicles for Fast and the Furious, prefers an LS power plant in each of his stunt rides, and the Charger is no different (with period-correct sound effects added in post-production). That being said, hemi-powered versions of the Dodge continued to be built for use in scenes where it wasn't possible to disguise the motor.
Custom-building versions of the Dodge muscle car also became such a common feature of the flicks that McCarthy would eventually build a body mold of the coupe to use for future props. Even with this shortcut in place, the off-road edition of the Charger from Furious 7 would end up being a complete custom build using a unique chassis (sourced from a Pro 2 racing truck) and one-off body-work to accommodate its rugged suspension setup.
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