Fast and Furious 6 is like the Jurassic Park of car movies. We filmed the car chases in urban jungles, loaded with sprawling and dangerous cliff side roads where the primordial beasts at our disposal could shake the landscape with the roar of nearly 100,000 horse power.
About 200 cars met their maker during the making of Fast 6, mostly at the hands of the Battle Tank that wreaked havoc in Tenerife. It turned cars into confetti. During testing at the every-grey Chobham proving ground in Surrey, we observed the effect of a glancing blow from the tank tracks on a Vauxhall Corsa. The only recognizable component we could pick from the Tank's teeth was a masticated steering column. Note to self: you touch the tank - you die.
Our skeleton Stunt crew of Brits came under the charge of Greg Powell, son of Nosher whose legendary right hook must have passed onto Greg's right foot because we never saw the man but for the plume of smoke from his cigar whenever he tore off in a motor. In addition to the driving team, Greg hired in some rather exotic, but deadly, ladies to handle the fighting and stunt scenes for the Power Girls starring on screen. Sure, you might fancy your chances of sharing a Jacuzzi with Guiomar, Zarene and Tilly; until one of their roundhouse kicks connected with your cranium and put you to sleep for a while.
Joining our gang was the sun-kissed crew from California, who greeted our weather as enthusiastically as a dose of Herpes. Their rap sheet read like a Hollywood roll of honour from the original Dukes of Hazzard to most everything else since. Polite introductions be damned, we got to know each other better behind the wheels of the eight or so Dodge Charger SRT8s on the broad expanse of tarmac at Bentwaters Airfield, former home to British and American Cold Warriors.
The new Charger in gun metal grey with its gaping radiator looked and drove like a Hammerhead shark. Snag third gear, whip the wheel towards the corner, stomp the loud pedal and you could powerslide all day long. The view through the side window of 'Kelso' and 'Oakley' from Hollywood doing something similar was oddly re-assuring. We turned plenty of rubber into steel cord during rehearsals. Just as well because this was the most challenging car chase I've worked on.
We arrived at London's Piccadilly Circus an hour before midnight. Unlike the queues of girls wearing mini skirts at the peak of an arctic winter, we wouldn't be warming our cockles at the neon lit bars of China White's. We would be drifting a pair of cars around the circus at 65 mph, danger close, and with a Nissan 370Z camera car tracking from just a few feet ahead.
With muscles like mine it's rare to draw comparisons with Vin Diesel, but this was no ordinary occasion because I was doubling 'Dom'. Having spent the best part of my evening at the mercy of the make-up girls, the hairs on my head had been individually water-boarded and locked securely inside a bald cap. My own mother didn't recognize me.
Second Unit Stunt Co-Ordinator, Andy Gill, set out his stall of toy cars beside the memorial fountain underneath the effigy of Anteros. Gill was my hero growing up because he was the stuntman driving 'K.I.T.T.', the Pontiac in Knight Rider. He and his brother Jack jumped it, flipped it, smashed it and blasted it across America for four years. You wouldn't believe that a softly spoken gent from Georgia enjoyed such a violent past-time, but Andy has probably forgotten more about car stunts than most of us will ever know.
A few scratches of chalk later and the pavement at Andy's feet was ready to simulate the action with his Matchbox collection. The two 'hero' cars would drive up Picadilly towards the roundabout, make a sharp left towards Regent Street then switch right to slide onto Coventry Street and finally hacking right down Haymarket. "Sideways all the way obviously, I want you guys touchin' door handles. Reckon you can do that?"
Clearly a rhetorical question, we moved off to the cars. My ride was a lowered 1970 Dodge Daytona Superbird, so lowered that the front tyres touched the wheel arches when you turned them. With a 5.4 litre Chevy V8 under the hood horsepower was not a problem, and the stripped-out chassis that resembled Frankenstein from the interior delivered a punchy power-to-weight ratio.
Alongside me driving a Jensen Interceptor, powered by the same engine, was British rally champ Mark Higgins. He was doubling 'Letty' and made for a very unattractive girl, but with his long black wig Mark was a dead ringer for Ozzie Osbourne.
The similarity between our two machines ended with the engine. The Jensen would squat on its rear tyres whenever Mark planted his right foot, and it would grip more and more the harder he gassed it sideways. Meanwhile the 'Bird' kicked like a mule and spun its wheels if you so much as coughed near the throttle. Getting the two cars to match their speeds and rate of slide, essential for a tandem drift, was no mean feat.
The area we were expecting to drive looked generous enough on Google maps, but in reality was reduced by a Bus Lane on one side and a pedestrian kerb on Shaftsbury Avenue. That left a gap on the road of twenty-two feet, about two feet longer than each end of the 'Bird' in full drift.
Closing one of London's busiest junction is rare, so we attracted quite a crowd. As per the norm for filming in London we had a two-minute filming window and then had to release the traffic onto the streets. Production ran it like a military operation.
With the 'Bird' and Jensen lined up we took turns in warming up the rear differentials. "BRRAAAPPPPP" echoed into the high rises as the pair of bellowing V8's drowned the crew's radio chatter and silenced the crowd. With the tyres, engines and gears in tune, we waited for the countdown. Gill called it, and we rolled along for thirty pulse-hardening metres towards the square.
I reached the roundabout first, turned left and yanked on the handbrake like I was ripping out a molar. The Bird's tail sailed out in front of Mark's Jensen as he simultaneously manhandled his beast into a drift. Never mind the priceless masonry we might re-shape, our only focus was the fire-juggling act of keeping these two broncos close but not touching.
The only minor distraction was the jolly expression on Pete White's face driving towards us in his double-decker bus. "You stick to those little cars Benjy, leave the big rigs to the real men," he said before climbing aboard. I never said a word. As a front row forward and part-time horse Dentist with access to tranquilizers, it's best just to keep smiling with Pete.
We swung towards a blur of bright advertising and then came the hard part: the transition slide. With engines screaming and tyres burning, we both switched direction and our tails flew towards the crowd. I let go of the steering to let the wheel spin faster into opposite lock and lost sight of Mark as he dug in behind. I took a deep breath as the long tail floated oh-so-close to the pedestrian barriers and slammed home 3rd gear for the finale.
Our speeds rose, we tramped over the bumps and shoved our rides into Haymarket corner with Greg's words ringing in my ears: "Don't smash the Producers Supercar", which was parked for beauty directly in our line of fire. We skimmed past and I think they moved it after that take.
Oddly enough the rest of the 'night race' was matched in Whitehall and Glasgow. We provided the Scots plenty of entertainment on their Friday night out, slithering between traffic along a fine line of being in and out of control.
But mostly people prefer a good crash and for me the BMW sequence had it all. The 'Flip Car' was this V8-powered monster developed to crab sideways by steering both rear and front tyres, and shaped like a door wedge in order to flip oncoming traffic onto the roof. It led a posse of drifting BMW M5s plus a supercharged Range Rover with the front axle disconnected, and boy could that baby slide. Add a sprinkling of innocent background cars, drop in a hornets' nest of speeding Police cars and you get the personification of vehicular warfare.
You won't believe this but let me try anyway. All the crashing cars contained stunt drivers. My favourite amongst numerous megahits was Kelso's when he drove his M5 through a ground level office at about 50 mph. He punched a hydraulic ram that cartwheeled him through the length of the building. Textbook stuff, although we did notice that he left a few panes of glass unbroken.
Even more heavy duty was yet to come in Tenerife. What with a Tank, an open Highway and unrestricted speed limits.. well, the Rock summed it up best: "we graduated to a whole new level." And with that.. I won't spoil it. Enjoy the movie.