I’ve made it clear numerous times before in the pages of this column as well as those of Rob’s Car Movie Review, that Hollywood has seemingly forgotten how to make a good, old-fashioned car movie.
By that, I mean movies that truly revel in the art of the automobile. That capture the holy union of man and machine as one at high speed. That exude the kind of passion for what we gear-heads understand: that there are few things finer in life than nailing a perfect heel-to-toe downshift, smelling and hearing the ticking sound of hot brakes after a lap on a track, or the pleasure of turning a wrench one’s self to bolster a car’s performance.
Sure, we get a new installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise every couple of years, but the ridiculous machinations in those films have become so insipid, so consumed with superhero-esqe antics, that for this film reviewer at least, there is no connection to what made the first in the series such an archetypal, grounded car movie.
Thankfully, it seems that every once in a blue moon, a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool car flick does manage to squeak onto the silver screen, keeping the genre alive, if not on life support.
One such film was 2011’s Drive, which, while appropriating a number elements from great automotive movies from the past, was largely an art film, and thus too lofty for many gear-heads to embrace.
And then 2014 brought forward the big budget actioner, Need for Speed. While itself not short on moments that are about as grounded as Halley’s Comet, this movie nonetheless reveled in the celebration of the automobile more than any other film in recent decades.
Much of the automotive spirit in the movie was embodied in its main hero vehicle, a highly modified 2013 Ford Mustang, and for this installment of Rob’s Movie Muscle, we’re gonna take a good look at it.
Based on the all-conquering, blockbuster video game series of the same name, Need for Speed was a co-production of DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures, Bandito Brothers and Electronic Arts, the company that created the original game. The film was theatrically released in the United States by Walt Disney Studios.
Directed by Scott Waugh, based on a script by George Gatins, the movie had an appealing ensemble cast that included Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, Academy Award winner Rami Malek, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Kid Cudi, Dakota Johnson, and Michael Keaton.
Unlike many films with video game origins, such as Tomb Raider, Mortal Combat, et al, Need for Speed actually has a coherent plot that sees Aaron Paul’s character, a street racer and speed shop owner, try to save his failing business, first by finishing a build on a historically significant car, and then driving it cross-country to pilot it in the world’s most extreme illegal street race.
The car in question is depicted as being the final Mustang collaboration between Ford and Carroll Shelby that was left unfinished owing to the latter’s untimely death.
Although the film is jam-packed with excellent cars, ranging from 1960s-era Camaros, GTOs and Torinos, to contemporary hypercars such as the Koenigsegg Agera R, Lamborhini Sesto Elemento, and Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, it is most assuredly the Shelby that is the star of the show.
This came to be largely because of director Waugh’s background and vision. A Los Angeles native and a former stuntman, Waugh grew up watching the classic car movies of the ’60s and ’70s and worshiping the cars and the silver screen heroes who drove them.
“Some of the best car movies are still from the ’60s and ’70s, from my perspective. I mean, we still always only say Bullitt, French Connection, Grand Prix, Smokey and the Bandit. I have a lot of subtle throwbacks in Need for Speed to all these car movies, whether it’s American Graffiti, Vanishing Point, Cannonball Run and the rest. I still think Bullitt‘s car chase is incredible, it has a raw grittiness, plus it had Steve McQueen, and Steve McQueen actually drove in it,” the director said in a 2014 interview.
Because of this, Waugh instinctively knew what car was right for his movie.
“I wanted a car to represent the average consumer’s modern version of muscle. Personally I was always a Carroll Shelby fan, and when Carroll passed away it hit me hard; he was such an innovator. Plus, the Mustang is the car Steve McQueen drove. I think it’s cool. Bullitt set the tone for car culture movies. And the Mustang in Need for Speed is the Bullitt car if you think about it – it was a ’68 Mustang in a ’68 movie. I thought if I’m doing a 2013 movie, let’s make it a 2013 Mustang, right?”
Then Partner and Co-Chair of DreamWorks Studios, Stacey Snider, concurred.
“Need for Speed is rooted in Americana, and when we were casting our hero car for the film, Ford Mustang was the obvious choice,” Snider said at the time. “With its 50-year history in film, the iconic Mustang is the perfect co-star for Aaron Paul.”
Having chosen the hero vehicle for the film, Waugh and DreamWorks reached out to Ford Motor Company itself to help design the fabled, final “Carroll car.”
Ford designer, Melvin Betancourt, was enlisted to put pen to paper and sketch what he thought Ford and Shelby might have actually concocted. He envisioned an extremely aggressive car, with custom bodywork that featured wider fenders front and rear, a gaping maw in the lower front fascia, a dual-scoop hood, low profile side mirrors, unique side scoops, vents replacing the Mustang’s quarter-windows and a modified diffuser and rear spoiler. He sketched the car having traditional, dual, over-the-top stripes as a nod to Shelby history.
With a design in hand, the production subcontracted Techno Sports in Detroit to build the car. Starting with a stock 2013 Shelby GT500, they removed every body panel and started from scratch.
Staying largely true to the design, they crafted a widebody kit with a face that was dominated by multiple, massive cooling ducts and a deep splitter. A Mustang GT grille insert was grafted in with LED halo lights replacing the standard driving lights.
The hood was outfitted with a pair of massive, non-functional scoops, reminiscent of those seen on some Golden Era muscle cars such as the 1969 Hurst/Olds and the 1970 Dodge Coronet R/T.
As with Betancourt’s design, the rear quarter windows were replaced by non-functional scoops, and the side view mirrors were replaced with thin stalks ostensibly encasing (shockingly non-functional) cameras. The rear was recognizably Shelby, but with a more pronounced diffuser undertray and exhaust treatment.
The car was painted in a subtle shade of silver with dual, Kona Blue stripes.
Under this aggressive shape, Techno Sports installed a lowered, heavy-duty suspension, Bilstein shocks and thicker sway bars to boost handling for the film’s stunt drivers. The car rolled on wide, low-profile, performance tires on gorgeous, fat, 22-inch Forgiato wheels.
Owing to the fact that the stock 2013 GT500 lacked for nothing in the power department, producing 662 ponies, Techo Sport made no modifications to the motor. In the film’s dialogue, however, it is suggested that the car packs a completely custom, Ford Racing supercharged 5.8-liter V-8 that pumps out 900 horsepower.
Inside, The Mustang was fairly close to stock. A working heads-up display was added to the dash, and the standard Ford infotainment system was replaced with a screen that ran custom graphics tied to the plot of the movie. The rear seats were pulled in favor of a Ford Racing tubular steel x-brace.
In total, eight identical cars were made for Need for Speed. Some were aesthetically perfect for close-up hero shots, others were used for stunt driving, and at least one had a reinforced roof and pillars so it could be hung from a helicopter in a particular scene.
To give credit to Waugh, the majority of vehicle stunts in the film were practically performed, just like in the beloved car movies of his youth. CGI was only employed when a stunt was physically impossible, or just too dangerous to perform. And boy, the “Shelby” performs some incredible jumps, drifts, chases and burnouts in the movie with aplomb.
Through the course of shooting, six of the eight cars were completely destroyed performing stunts. Of the remaining two, one’s whereabouts are currently unknown, and one was sold in 2014 at the Barrett-Jackson auction to a collector named Dave Flynn for $300,000. The proceeds went to benefit the Henry Ford Health Systems charity.
While Need for Speed is by no means high art, it is entertaining, and if for no other reason is worth watching for Carroll Shelby’s “last” Mustang.