Fast and Furious, American Cars.
June 27, 2006 6:20 PM   Subscribe

Fast and Furious 1, 2 and 3 and American Musclecars... (spoilers?)

It's just a movie, so no reason to be too serious, but I have to wonder.. why is it that these movies have to pull out an american muscle car for the final battle, to win the day. (Usually a .. uh.. Mustang?) Is it that these cars really are _that_ good and unbeatable.. which would imply we've had no innovation, and advancement in the car industry for the last.. what? 35 years? Since they were made.

Or is it simply that it is an American made movie, and appealing to the biggest market, they use the american pride to their economical benefit? (and hence, the driver is _that good_ that he can beat the bad guy with this car)

There is a lot of personal opinion here, so there might not be an answer. It just seemed odd that a pretty ugly (sorry, but it is '70 design!) 2 tonne car, always beats anything made in the following 35 years... even if they were in my favourite shows as a child.
posted by lundman to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As the owner of a 2006 Mustang Convertible GT - I'd have to say it's just. that. good.

posted by matty at 6:22 PM on June 27, 2006

You don't think the manufacturers pay for it?
posted by sohcahtoa at 6:35 PM on June 27, 2006

Two of the most talked about, most highly-anticipated concept cars at the auto shows this year were retro muscle cars: the Dodge Challenger and the Chevy Camaro. Admittedly, they looked super cool. But essentially, these are American movies for an American audience and there's just *something* about these cars for that audience.
posted by awegz at 6:42 PM on June 27, 2006

The final battle is often a drag race, where cornering doesn't matter. This is important since good cornering is the hardest part of car design. Going fast in a straight line is easy by comparision.
posted by smackfu at 6:47 PM on June 27, 2006

American muscle cars from the late 1960s and the early 1970s can be really, really, really fucking fast.

Why? Three things: 1) it was before the insurance companies really started to say "no, we're not insuring that car."* 2) There were little to no pollution controls on the cars, and 3) the engines were not at all fuel efficient.

As an example, my Dad owned a Corvette from this era with a 454 cu. in Chevy big block. It was ridiculously fast (and it was not the LS-7(?), a suped-upp 454 which would have put this "stock" one to shame). A fuel injected 327 could just barely catch it on the top-end, but off the line the 454 was insanely fast. It could lay a line of rubber going 75 miles an hour on the highway with no difficulty. It got about 6-8 miles to the gallon -- it was such a gas hog that cross-country trips could be a major challenge, as you started pushing the limit of gas station frequency in lonely states like Utah and Nevada. But, handling aside (cornering, braking), there is not a car made today, for under a quarter million, that could give such an ancient muscle car a run for its money. There are almost no engines made this big any more (350 is the biggest in non-trucks, from Chevy, IIRC, although the 350s of today are much more advanced than the Chevys of yore, so they're not chumps).

If fuel efficiency and pollution controls are not major concerns, it's pretty easy to get a big pay off by sacrificing some weight for a gigantic engine which is so darn big it doesn't matter that's it's inefficient and heavy. That's really not an option in cars today, like it was 30+ years ago.

I'm sure this still plays some small factor today, as America is much more forgiving of gas-guzzlers and polluters than most foreign countries, even though modern American cars are much cleaner than their older counterparts. But I doubt it is that big a deal for modern American sports cars, so I bet your last hunch is appropriate.

* Note: this is only anecdotal. I have never researched this, but more than one person has told me this factoid.

Also note that horsepower ratings from the vintage muscle car era can not be simply compared, as it is measured differently from some point in the mid- to late-70s and onward. What in 1969 would be called 450 hp, today would be called something like 550 or 600 hp. It has something to do with where the measurement was taken. Also, most American cars from this vintage purposely rated that hp at low RPM, so as to try and pacify the insurance people. In reality, the hp from this era is higher than what it says.
posted by teece at 6:50 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

The zero-60 of a '63 stingray could drop down to 5.4 or so on a 427 cid engine w/ 400-450bhp.

The 2002 NS-X (a good recent sports car) can do 0-60 in 5 secs or so, with a 300bhp engine.

I've seen numbers for recent Mustang GTs at around 5.2-5.4, also with a 300hp engine.

So, in other words, unless you have a really nice car today, your performance is going to be a bit better, but not so much that it rules out driver skill, which is the entire point of these movies. Muscle cars were called muscle cars for a reason - they were beasts. They had massive engines with massive amounts of horsepower.
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:59 PM on June 27, 2006

... and teece beat me to a lot of that. Sorry :)
posted by devilsbrigade at 7:04 PM on June 27, 2006

(Even though it is a movie) they seems to portray the car owners of these movies as having endless cash, so if you were to pimp out your new car, would you still care about "fuel efficiency"? Or is it my misunderstanding that they essentially don't really mess with the engine in any major way, (unlike what we do to our PCs these days) so 350hp engine in these films isn't made to pump out 450hp by serious modifications (its ok to laugh, I'm not into cars :) )

Why is it then that muscle cars are not used for racing in semi recognisable events, if they really still compare that well? Or are they?, is it just that I would never see an American event, only those on international siatuations? Or is it just appealing to our nostalgic selves?

It is interesting to hear they are are bringing out new versions of the American Cars.. will have to keep an eye on that.
posted by lundman at 8:00 PM on June 27, 2006

In Tokyo Drift, it was a battle of cornering (ok, well drifting), and they transplated a Japanese motor into a 60's Ford chassis. This makes absolutely no sense because those cars are not built to handle. They can go fast in a straight line and that's about it. The move was either catering to an american audience or sponsored by Ford.
posted by knave at 8:03 PM on June 27, 2006

To continue on debilsbrigade's point, the Lotus Elise can do 0-60 in less than 5 seconds with a 1.8L engine, and outhandle most other cars on the road. Automotive technology has made leaps and bounds since the 60s.
posted by knave at 8:06 PM on June 27, 2006

knave: Right you are. American cars, specifically rear-wheel muscle cars, are damn near impossible to drift without some crazy oversteer goin' on. I should know, I crashed a few Dodge Vipers... in Gran Turismo :P.
posted by freakystyley at 8:49 PM on June 27, 2006

Speaking of 35 years, I love the fact that the movie trailer calls drifting a "new style of racing" even though it's been around for about 30 years. Tickles me pink :P.
posted by freakystyley at 8:54 PM on June 27, 2006

Don't focus on the technical. Focus on the drama. People have unconscious (and sometimes not-so-unconscious) associations with things. Older American cars are symbols on four wheels, harkening back to a mythical time when men were men and "made in Japan" was an insult. Movie-makers know this, so whipping out the big old American muscle car at the right time in a movie works as a dramatic device. It's the visual equivalent of saying, "I'm going to get medieval on your ass."

99.9 percent of the Fast and the Furious audience doesn't know a rat's ass about cars. They just know a Mustang looks cool. Even the word "mustang" sounds cool, with imagery of raw, untamed animalistic power.
posted by frogan at 9:22 PM on June 27, 2006

American cars such as Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds and even a Rambler or 2 handled road courses quite well in the mid to late sixties. The Trans-Am series was their best showcase and I had the pleasure of watching many of them in action at the old Riverside Raceway when I was in high school.

Even the big boats such as the Ford Galaxies and Mercury S-55s could hold their own when ordered with the proper suspension package. I owned a 65 Galaxie with the Q series 427CID, BW T-10 4spd and 10 inch rear end when I lived in the San Bernardino mountains and that car regularly shocked the shit out of the sports car crowd as I commuted up and down the hill. It was a fun car to drive, but way underbraked and that would have made it a death trap for anyone unfamiliar with the car.
posted by buggzzee23 at 9:39 PM on June 27, 2006

frogan: They just know a Mustang looks cool. Even the word "mustang" sounds cool, with imagery of raw, untamed animalistic power.


Amazing. There's a tent in my pants.

Unfortunately, you're right. These people do love their muscle cars. However, I think the 99.9% figure is a little high. I gather that many people who'll watch this film will do so because they're also interested in drifting; there hasn't been any drifting ever in the US's mainstream media.

People like me are curious to see how drifting will finally be portrayed in an American movie. Then again, I'm just curious. I don't wanna see it that bad :P.
posted by freakystyley at 9:45 PM on June 27, 2006

Although I totally agree with alot of the technical reasoning (and might like to add that bolting on goodies like a supercharger or an intercooler is alot easier on older American cars whose engine compartments are larger than the cabin of most imports), alot has to be said for the drama.

First, the muscle car in the original was owned by Vin Diesel's character's father, which means it pretty much had to be old.

Second, think of the cars as characters themselves - which in all of these movies they pretty much are. If our hero goes up against and beats import after import after import (think goon, goon, goon), when the big bad boss guy comes out in... yet another import, well, it won't be that impressive. You need something different, something special to elicit that 'wow' factor from both the protagonist and the crowd. So instead you have him come out in something totally exotic that the hero car has never even seen before. If Darth Vader was just a high ranking Stormtrooper, would he have had the same on-screen presence? All the other badguys wear white and have guns, so make him wear black and have a sword. Viz the climactic drag races.

But why must it be an American car that rides to the rescue, and not, say, a Ferrari? Well, I think your answer is right there in that metaphor: it rides to the rescue. When the going gets tough, you're going to want the good old American calvary riding to your aid.

Finally, probably in the second one and surely by the third one yes, almost every car was a product placement.
posted by ChasFile at 10:04 PM on June 27, 2006

Movie-makers know this, so whipping out the big old American muscle car at the right time in a movie works as a dramatic device. It's the visual equivalent of saying, "I'm going to get medieval on your ass."

This is fair enough I suppose, it is an american movie, and made to make the most profit in america.

However, when they bring the Mustang out, that is not the reaction they get over here, at all. It just plain turns you off the movie. And its not just these three movies, it's ALL the movies. Gone in 60 seconds etc. Pull out a mini and you'd at least get laughs! ;)

But anyway, it's just a movie. And it's a fine-line discussion, since nothing gets a guy going like insulting his car, which wasn't my intention. It has been interesting reading.

To flip the coin, I suspect all (all three eh) European movies will always pull out something European for the finale, but I can't think of any European movies in similar vain.
posted by lundman at 10:17 PM on June 27, 2006

350 is the biggest in non-trucks

Of course this isn't true; the Dodge Viper has an 8 liter (505 c.i.d.) engine. This factoid doesn't harm teece's analysis, though, which is spot on.

My old '65 Pontiac GTO was hardly unbeatable, even in a straight line. But it is a sexy car, and it speaks of a bygone era when premium gas was 8 cents a gallon. It speaks loudly, out the exhaust pipes, and you can hear it speaking 3 blocks away. It's a kind of nostalgic romance.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:00 PM on June 27, 2006

Muscle cars are a director's dream.
Nothing beats the slow pan over the hood, looking into the maw of a 6 barrel carb while that v-8 rumble makes the subwoofer sweat.

Add on to that acres of gleaming chrome rocking slightly as the car inches over the line. They're visceral, they're powerful and even if you don't know a damn thing about cars, you just know it's fast.

Sure, a modern Japanese or German car might be faster, but a high-pitched tick tick engine and the blat of a tincan exhaust just don't come across that way on film.
posted by madajb at 11:26 PM on June 27, 2006

which would imply we've had no innovation, and advancement in the car industry for the last.. what? 35 years?

The innovation in the last 35 years has been targetted primarily at increasing fuel economy. The tuners you see these days that I'm sure someone is going to bring up (Subi WRX, for example) are excellent examples of what 35 years of innovation can create.

But I'd like to pre-emptively point out that comparing an Evo or WRX to a 426 Hemi, a 454 LS6, a 428 Cobra-Jet, or the crazy-sick 427 Cammer (pretty-much the most powerful engine ever made in America) is like comparing Apples to Oranges. If you put a 427 Cammer in a body as light as the WRX, you'd have to weld the steering column in place so you wouldn't ever be tempted to turn the wheel while giving it gas.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:46 AM on June 28, 2006

(The 427 Cammer put out 620 brake horsepower, stock. It was made for exactly one year: 1965.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:51 AM on June 28, 2006

lundman: All I can think of is Luc Besson's Taxi (there are a few sequels) in which the taxi driver drives a souped-up Peugeot and eventually helps some bumbling cop fight crime. If this sounds familiar, it's 'cause there's a recent (and craptacular) US-version of this movie.
posted by freakystyley at 7:10 AM on June 28, 2006

The Cammer engine that C_D mentions above was only fitted to one car the Ford Galaxie - and very few actually made it onto the road (if at all).

Still, there is always plenty of room for silly cars - at the moment Mitsubishi make the Lancer Evo VIII FQ*420, a car that develops 420 turbo-lagging horsies from just 2.0l (that's under 150 cubic inches) and the Bugatti Veyron exists for some bizarre reason. There is always going to be someone who pays the money to be the fastest kid on the block.

*allegedly stands for Fucking Quick
posted by longbaugh at 7:19 AM on June 28, 2006

"There is a lot of personal opinion here, so there might not be an answer. It just seemed odd that a pretty ugly (sorry, but it is '70 design!) 2 tonne car, always beats anything made in the following 35 years... even if they were in my favourite shows as a child."

Ain't no replacement for displacement. 25K spent hopping up a 4 cylinder Honda vs 25K on a Chysler RB is going result in way more power out of the big block. Heck as Civil_Disobedient points out the big block might have started with more power than the Honda ends up with.

The Charger in TFATF1 could be ordered from the factory with a 6 Pack HO440 rated at just under 400hp. And around 500 ft-lbs of torque. Add even a hoirribly ineffiecent blower and you are looking at numbers north of 700hp. The bored and stroked, 11:1 build 400 in my friend's Trailduster would easily lay rubber 90km/h with both rear tires. It was never dyno'd but coastdown testing showed at least 600hp. This with a engine he spent less than 7K building.

And the RWD car is going to be able to put that power to the pavement a lot easier than the FWD because of the weight transfer. Anything much over 250HP at launch rpm and you've got to be talented to make any use of it.

PS: some of the most beautiful cars ever made we're made in the 60s and 70's IMHO. I'd love me a 65 Barracuda Formula S.
posted by Mitheral at 10:00 AM on June 28, 2006

Ain't no replacement for displacement.

I love hearing this, while street legal 9 second Supras (3.0L engine) abound, and they can still take corners.

I'm not even a hater of American muscle cars, but the attitude you display there shows some ignorance. Like I said, cars have advanced a lot in the last 35 years. There are replacements for displacement, and they are high RPMs, high compression, aggressive timing (with fuel injection, variable valve timing, etc.) and, certainly not least, boost.

The MkIV Supra starts with 320HP, and by doing basic upgrades easily hits 400HP. $25k isn't needed to hit 800HP.

Yes, the Honda stuff can be real stupid, but by focusing on the silly Civics, you ignore the perfectly legitimate, RWD or AWD monster cars Japan has produced, all of which have less than half the displacement of the 60's muscle cars. And they can turn.

/seriously not trying to start a flame war
posted by knave at 10:21 AM on June 28, 2006

And if the Supra came with a 4L they could still turn and would probably be sub 9 second cars. Everything else being equal (which they rarely are) the guy with more displacement is going to have more power.

knave writes "but the attitude you display there shows some ignorance. Like I said, cars have advanced a lot in the last 35 years. There are replacements for displacement, and they are high RPMs, high compression, aggressive timing (with fuel injection, variable valve timing, etc.) and, certainly not least, boost."

I don't think I'm ignorant of the possiblities. Heck I love my boosted 2.5 but the same mods I'm doing to it applied to a /6 would produce more power in the /6 (but the durability wouldn't be there, the 2.5 can handle 30lbs the /6 can't).

Take for another example two Mazda rotarys, the 13B-REW and the 20B-REW. The 20 is essentially a 13 with an extra rotor. Which of these power plants do you suppose delivers more power stock and with modifications? The Japanese Cosmo came with versions of both these engines, which do you suppose is the quicker car?
posted by Mitheral at 10:59 AM on June 28, 2006

knave: Put the same engineering into 400+ cu. in. engine as that Supra has, and it will get easily spanked by said big block. And yes, you can buy modern cars with big engines that will corner (the top-model Corvette is still one of the best handling cars made that is stock and under a $100K. I'm sure the Viper and Mustang GT do just fine, too. It's not like modern American "muscle cars" can't handle. It's not like the old ones couldn't, either, it's just that there have been some very significant improvements in handling that make old to new comparisons unfair on that front. Not so on straight-line speed). What's weird is that frickin' station wagons used to come with 300hp engines back in the 60s.

Ain't no replacement for displacement is pretty much irrefutably true when it comes to street cars. If money is no object and ridiculous speed and/or cornering is needed, the pay off for going bigger (vs. the penalty for too much weight) seems to stop at around 350 cu. in. But that does not really apply to street cars. In that realm, dumping $25K into a bigger 350 cu. in. V-8 or whatnot is going to always spank the $25 dropped into a 4 or 6.

An internal combustion engine is essentially an air pump (with a nice side effect of a little boom). The more air you move, the better. All the efficiency in the world can't get around that fact, and bigger engines move more air.
posted by teece at 1:04 PM on June 28, 2006

Mitheral writes "The bored and stroked, 11:1 build 400 in my friend's Trailduster would easily lay rubber 90km/h with both rear tires. It was never dyno'd but coastdown testing showed at least 600hp. This with a engine he spent less than 7K building."

PS: all motor, boost would have been a multiplier. Though much more than 1000hp and keeping a 727 together becomes troublesome.
posted by Mitheral at 2:35 PM on June 28, 2006

Cool, been some interesting reading.

freakystyley Not sure about Taxi (seen the french versions) or Transporter, or even James Bond counts. They don't focus on racing, and finding people to race against. Whereas America has copious amounts of racing movies. Smokey&Bandit, Cannon Ball run, FATF, I'm sure the list goes on. So it is clearly part of growing up in the US.

.. and it is clear that these cars have a special place to the people who posted here. I can respect that.

European movies about racing? Well, there is that Mini one...and its remake.. :)

Although, I get the feeling there are a few movies about racing here in Japan, but I didn't grow up here.
posted by lundman at 6:24 PM on June 28, 2006

"New motorsport." Pah! "30 year-old motorsport" Pah! "Big American cars" Pah! "Mustangs rule" Pah! Try the 1930's:
posted by dave367 at 6:11 PM on July 2, 2006

Leaving drifting aside and talking about "performance" cars, it's difficult to top the old Can-Am series cars (1966-74). Pulling 900-1100 hp from blown or turbocharged 5-8 liter 8-12 cylinder engines. These super-lightweight cars used full bodies, active downforce and often changed things like *bodies* and *transmission ratios* during routine pit stops for optimization. I had a friend who wrenched for a team back in the day. These cars had phenominal stats--0-100 (not 1-60) in 4 seconds; 100-0 in 2 seconds. No drag racers, they were full-on track racers, and could blow the doors off F-1's etc. They were virtually no-holds barred racers and eventually became just too expensive to run. Nothing before--and certainly nothing since--has come close to their raw performance. Period.
posted by dave367 at 6:22 PM on July 2, 2006

I just want to say that while I have understood almost none of the answers to this question, this thread still kicks ass.
posted by scrump at 4:23 PM on July 4, 2006

I'll break it down for you a bit scrump:

6 Pack HO440: 3 2 barrel carbs mounted on a 440 cubic inch big block V8

blower: a supercharger. Classically the a roots style often stolen from a GM HD desiel. A blower is the thing with a pulley that sticks up out of the hood.

bored and stroked: The displacement has been increased by increasing the diameter of the cylinders and the distance the piston travels has been increased by replacing the crank with one with larger throw.

11:1 Compression ratio increased to 11:1 from around 9.5-10:1

400 Chrysler 400 cu in big block. The 400 is in the same family as the 440 but is a stronger block. Combined with pieces from 440s and 383 you can build an increadibly stout motor. And because the 400 is a smog motor the bare block is fairly cheap to come by.

lay rubber 90km/h with both rear tires. Most cars with sufficent power can spin one tire in first gear where gearing increases torque, few can do it in drive. Normal RWD cars have an open rear which means only one tire will spin, you need a locker to get both going but it requires twice as much power.

coastdown testing a repeatable method of getting rough power numbers. You compare the times neeed to go from speed A to Speed B at full throttle and to coast down from Speed B to Speed A. A touch of math and you get a power figure.
all motor IE: just mechanical power, no turbos, superchargers, oxengenators (NOx).

727 a very tough three speed automatic transmission. With the right clutches and manual valve body they'll handle 500-1000hp.

427 cammer A single overhead cam version of Ford's 427 side oiler.

dave367 writes "'New motorsport.' Pah! '30 year-old motorsport' Pah! 'Big American cars' Pah! 'Mustangs rule' Pah! Try the 1930"s:"

That's a Legends 5/8th scale spec class race car powered by a 1200cc Yamaha motorcycle engine. Their ain't much 1930's about the car besides the styling.
posted by Mitheral at 8:13 AM on July 5, 2006

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