Behind the Wheel of Dominic Toretto's Menacing Coupe This is a Charger built to look good in photos. And it looks great in photos.
By John Pearley Huffman, Hollywood Insider | Published Apr 7, 2011
This is the defining, iconic car of the Fast & Furious movies: Dominic Toretto's 1970 Dodge Charger. It first showed up back in 2001's The Fast and the Furious, was an integral part of the story in 2009's Fast & Furious and it's back again for Fast Five. Along the way it has rolled after hitting a big green semi, been rebuilt and gone from glossy to flat black.
"Me and my dad built her," Dom (Vin Diesel) explains to Brian (super-dreamy Paul Walker) when the audience first sees the old Charger in that first film, parked in a dramatically lit, old wooden garage. "Nine-hundred horses of Detroit muscle," he continues as the camera slobbers over the genuine blown Hemi in its open engine bay. "It's a beast. Know what she ran at Palmdale?"
"No, what did she run?" Brian asks.
"Nine seconds flat," Dom answers. "My dad was driving. So much torque, the chassis twisted coming off the line. He barely kept it on the track."
Brian came back with the natural follow-up. "So what's your best time?"
"I've never driven her," Dom replied.
"Scares the **** out of me."
Well, so much for Dom's manly man street cred. Blowin' It Go ahead and open up the butterfly valves. This blower ain't blowing.
Literally dozens of cars have portrayed Dom's Charger over the course of its three films. And in the first movie, while there was at least one car that was built with genuine blown elephant motor aboard, it was obvious that the supercharger was simply bolted (stapled, glued, taped, whatever) onto the hoods of the cars used during the action sequences. However in the last two films, Film Car Coordinator Dennis McCarthy's crew has actually cut a hole in the hoods of the action vehicles and plopped genuine BDS 8-71 blowers and electronic fuel-injection systems in those holes.
"We built a genuine blown Hemi car for Fast & Furious," says McCarthy. "But we never had time to get it finished and running."
So no, even though the blowers are genuine, they're empty cases. "Still, BDS has to be happy," McCarthy quipped. "Our fake blowers have probably sold a lot of real ones."
In the hero car Inside Line drove, the engine under that empty case isn't even a Chrysler product. That's right, this Charger is actually powered by a Chevrolet small-block V8 crate engine. Rated at 400 horsepower when purchased from Year One, this GM-built 5.7-liter OHV engine is no slouch. But it's no 900-hp frame-twisting Hemi either.
Behind the engine there's a GM Turbohydramatic 400 three-speed automatic transmission fitted with manual valve bodies and controlled by a Winters ratchet shifter. It runs with a 2,600 rpm stall torque converter. Accelerate hard and shift into 2nd and it feels like the back of your neck has been fungo batted into right center field. Even Faker Dom's Charger uses a fiberglass front clip from Dennis McCarthy's shop. Everything forward of the firewall is plastic.
Hollywood has been diligently destroying 1968-'70 Chargers for 43 years now, and that means parts are hard to find. So the front clip of this Charger — that is, every body panel forward of the firewall — is in fact a five-piece fiberglass reproduction splash-molded in McCarthy's Sun Valley, California, shop. The same goes for the rear sail panel that includes taillights closer in shape to those of a '69 Charger's than a 1970's.
"This way we don't have to worry if the car is a '68, '69 or '70," explains McCarthy. "By the time we've mounted our body parts they all look alike anyhow."
Remember, the goal of this car isn't to go fast. The goal is for it to look like it's going fast.
As if the GM engine weren't bad enough for Mopar purists, this Charger has also been denuded of its torsion-bar front suspension. In its place is a Reilly MotorSports coil spring system that also allows the use of rack-and-pinion steering. The brakes are Baer Racing vented discs up front and in back, the primary calipers are supplements, with a second set controlled by a rally bar and separated master cylinder so the rear tires can be locked up for dramatic slides.
The rear end is a Ford 9-inch piece mounted on leaf springs. The tires are 255/45R20 front and 305/45R20 rear Generals on Coy's Torq-Thrust-style 20-inch wheels. Genuine Stuff The dash panel is a little crude, but rugged and ragged nasty cool all the same. No key is needed...so the car can always be started on set. Door handles are among the few original Charger parts inside the cockpit.
There's no carpet, no sound-deadening material, no headliner and no backseat in this Charger. However, it does have a full roll cage, a Grant steering wheel, sheet steel door panels and a full set of AutoMeter instruments set into a fabricated sheet steel dash. And when you turn the ignition switch, mounted to the left of the steering wheel as in a Porsche, the engine roars to barely muffled life. It may not be a blown Hemi, but it's still pretty good.
Combine the front suspension and steering changes with the relatively lightweight fiberglass body parts and the result is a surprisingly sweet car to drive. The manual steering needs some muscle, but it's accurate and relatively quick. It's a sharp contrast to the mush-mouthed recirculating-ball steering the Charger came with back when this car was new.
Of course it's loud, and when the tires picked up small stones on the Streets of Willow Springs, they'd shoot the rocks into the fenders to produce a rapid-fire staccato. This is an elemental automobile; it produces a lot of the sounds you expect Bobby Isaacs heard when he took his Charger Daytona out on the track to campaign for the 1970 NASCAR Grand National championship. Fast Enough Dennis McCarthy equips as many vehicles as possible with Chevy crate engines to keep parts commonality quotient up high. Originality is not a concern in the movie business.
Remember, the goal of this car isn't to go fast. The goal is for it to look like it's going fast. And that it does spectacularly well. From its nose-down rake to the big meats filling the wheelwells and, of course, that immobile blower poking through the hood, this thing looks big-money fast.
And it's fun to drive. The Beard driving seats are surprisingly comfortable even if they completely lack adjustment, the Grant wheel feels great in your hands, and that view past the blower out to the horizon is plain wicked cool. The whole car shakes and rattles at idle like it's eager to go out and romp.
Frankly, however, the engine doesn't feel like it's making 400 horses. Maybe 300 or 325. That's still enough for the car to move out with authority thanks to the 4.56:1 final-drive gearset. And given the right amount of spur and a talented stunt driver behind the wheel, it will drift.
For a hard-core hot-rodder, this car could even be a plausible commuter. But the emphasis there has to be on the word hard-core. We lesser sorts would get sick of the noise, miss the presence of a radio and wouldn't be quite sure how to park the Charger without a conventional ignition lock. Domination Dom It's not pretty, but it's still a great-looking car.
There's a reason the 1968-'70 Chargers have proven so popular with Hollywood — these are great-looking cars that are ridiculously charismatic whether they're cast as an orange hero, black villain or anywhere in between.
Look at this car. Would the great Dominic Toretto be scared of anything less?