Mad Max: Fury Road–Cars, Trucks, Bikes

The 150 cars, trucks and bikes hand-crafted for “Mad Max: Fury Road” are true characters in the film, some originated by chief “gear-head” and storyboard artist Peter Pound, and all realized by chief “rev-head” Colin Gibson.

Practical vehicles made from salvage, the film’s brawny fleet of vehicles were built to not only fit the logic of the story and the role each plays in the action, but to also survive months of hard driving on the wide open deserts of Namibia.  “Technically, the desert terrain and climate made for logistic problems—overheating, wear on suspension, clogged aspirators, etc.—but those very antagonisms added to the beauty and sheer physics of the action with swirling dust, spat sand and airborne vehicles,” Gibson says.

Miller’s initial ground rules applied to this menagerie of mechanized death machines.  “Forty-five years post the apocalypse, the vehicles most likely to survive and have some chance of functioning would be those without microprocessors, computer chips, or the crumple technology that you have in today’s cars,” Miller observes.  “The old school muscle cars and rat rods have the stiffer bodies, and are less aerodynamic, and using vehicles from the ‘80s right back to the ‘40s gives them a certain style as well.”

More than any other vehicle, this aesthetic is embodied by the Interceptor, Max Rockatansky’s signature black 1974 XB Ford Falcon Coupe.  “In the Westerns, the cowboys had their favorite horse and Max has his Interceptor,” Miller notes.

Like Max himself, we find the Interceptor as a wounded survivor on the Wasteland, haunted and reshaped by Road Wars past.  Though the weathered but still sexy death machine met its fiery end in “The Road Warrior,” we meet it again in “Mad Max: Fury Road” as, Gibson describes, “a legend spotted in the gutter, rusted through and rattling with one too many repairs and far too few original parts.”

At the Citadel, the Interceptor is restored, and returns, ground bare, double-aspirated, augmented with 4-wheel drive, and weaponized to wreak havoc in an ever more brutal future.  The classic chassis isn’t as sleek as its predecessor but considerably more muscular and deadly.  “They make it more extreme,” Miller says.  “Everything about the Interceptor was black, but the War Boys polish it to a matte silver, arm it with more firepower, and install a massive engine.”

The most valuable vehicle on the dunes is Furiosa’s War Rig, which is branded, intimidating, and as resilient as its driver.  “The War Rig is a distinct presence in the film, so we spent a huge amount of time designing it,” Miller offers.  “It’s covered in tar and pitch.  They put spikes and skeletons on it to keep people away and to project a sense of dread to anyone who would want to attack it.  It had to be very functional, but it also had to be memorable.  After the human characters, the War Rig is probably the most important character in the film.”

Conceived by Peter Pound, the War Rig was made from a bastardized Czechoslovakian Tatra and Chev Fleetmaster, fused into a six-wheel-drive 18-wheeler powered by twin V8 engines end-to-end that haul its massive double-payload of a bulky fuel tank and trailing fuel pod.  Welded to the hull are VW Bug and truck cabin shells that serve as mobile forts for War Boys, who also track with the War Rig across the desert in a convoy of Citadel cars and motorcycles.  The interior reflects the strategic and intuitive mind of its driver, from racks of tools and concealed weapons to a wirework steering wheel skull that subverts the Immortan’s symbol.

The Warlord himself sits high at the wheel of the imposing Gigahorse, a rolling fever dream of excess, carnality and brute force.  Miller calls the Gigahorse a “Cadillac on steroids”—a fuel-injected double threat that mates a pair of 1959 Cadillac Devilles, which have been split, widened and mounted one atop the other to jut arrogantly skyward from its bladed maw to its jacked-up tail fins.  The beast is powered through a custom gearbox that harmonizes its twin V16 engine and two-meter-high double rear wheels.  “Armed with whaler’s harpoon and the devil’s own flamethrower, the Gigahorse is likely the first thing you hear and the last thing you see on the Fury Road,” Gibson smiles.

Nux launches himself into the Road War inside a souped-up Chevrolet 5-door coupe—with Max lashed to the hood and Slit manning Thundersticks at the rear—ready to drive them all into a glorious death.  Nux venerates the Immortan on his steering wheel and the hood.  “But his true god is the engine, his real church, the car,” Gibson says.

Nux’s super-turbocharged, nitrous-boosted chariot is made from a polished steel chassis fitted with a coiled V8 engine, canted wheels and swooping, wing-like exhaust pipes.  He has decorated the interior with random toys and objects he’s found over the length of his short life, from his eyeball stick shift to his doll-face steering wheel.

At the opposite end of Nux’s hot rod is Bigfoot, the monster truck of choice for Rictus Erectus, played by Nathan Jones.  “Rictus is the Immortan’s oldest son, and needs a vehicle that befits a seven-foot-tall man-child,” Miller comments.  “And, of course, it’s armed with harpoons and other weapons.”

A modified 1940s Fargo workhorse, Bigfoot sports the harpoon in the back, along with a belt-driven machine gun.  Within its beaten steel frame, a supercharged V8 tamed by a turbo 400 auto transmission powers its cartoonishly large 66-inch Terra tires via a planetary gear reduction hub set in heavy duty axles from an ex-military supertanker. With four feet of suspension and almost 600 cubic inches of displacement, Bigfoot, Gibson states, “is the only vehicle capable of climbing a fallen mountain.”

The sheer volume of vehicles exploding across the Wasteland is matched only by the effectiveness and variety of their hardware.  Yamaha motorcycles race side-by-side with a fleet of supercharged, weaponized Caltrops carrying the Immortan’s personal retinue of convoy guards.  For off-road action, there’s a pack of Buggies of all shapes and sizes, along with the Citadel’s complement of Fire Cars, Mack Trucks and a Car Carrier that can roll into action when called to arms.

In the world of the Road Warrior, there are machines built for transport, combat or speed, but only one built to rock.  A rolling intimidator and rally machine, the Doof Wagon is a sonic carmageddon on wheels—pumping Immortan Joe’s gang of War Boys full of kamikaze gusto as their torqued-out, supercharged V8 engines bomb into battle.  The gantry-like mobile stage is stacked high with gargantuan speakers, PA systems and repurposed air-conditioning ducts to reverberate the driving beat of Taiko drummers into the sand.  The Doof Warrior swings from a bungee cord mounted to the front as he shreds metal and flame from a double-necked electric guitar/flamethrower.

When Immortan Joe marshals his gangs for war, he needs all the fuel the People Eater can refine and carry from the boiling flats of Gas Town.  The vehicle of choice for the Guardian of Gas Town is a Mercedes stretch limo with lattice cut-out windows perched on a horizontal cracking tower that refines fuels from oil even as it hurtles across the desert.  Every inch of the People Eater vehicle oozes consumption and excess, from its bulging tanks of fuel to its ostentatiously embellished grill.  Miller notes, “The People Eater is a kind of bean counter for the Immortan Joe, so we figured if he had a Mercedes stretch limousine, he might as well decorate it with just about every fancy car grill he can find.”

Never far from the People Eater’s exhaust cloud are a host of Fire Cars, along with a supercharged V8 Volkswagen Bug, beaten into a slick silver finish that reflects the People Eater’s domed head, and sporting triple exhaust pipes, a double-barrel flamethrower, and drums of fuel that ape the piping, drums, coils and condensation vats of its Master.

If the Road War was waged on unbroken flatlands, it would be anyone’s game.  But in the mercurial Wasteland, with its omnipresent threat of toxic storms, sand pits and hungry bogs, the Bullet Farmer shines.  “George, in his storytelling, has some great punctuation to the chase—one of which is the Night Bog, which immobilizes a lot of vehicles,” Gibson offers.  “And what can go through a bog but a tank?”

A brassy 1970s Valiant chassis welded to the body of a U.S.-made Ripsaw Tank, the Bullet Farmer’s signature assault vehicle, ironically named the Peacemaker, marries machine gun, tank tread and torpedo over a water-cooled Merlin V8.  Styled with aviation parts, a shark mouth finish of bullets, and carrying an enormous armory befitting Immortan Joe’s exclusive weapons dealer, this unstoppable, highly-maneuverable, and visually striking war machine can surpass more than 60 kilometers-an-hour and give not a quarter to the treacherous terrain.

The Bullet Farmer Convoy is equally deadly as they trawl the Wasteland in menacing Claw Cars, designed to crush, and, as the name suggests, claw anything in their wake.  The Claw Cars are repurposed from, among other vehicles, an International Ute, and a viciously toothed Ford F250 tow truck.  “They have ridiculous contraptions at the back that are like giant rakes or giant anchors that they then drop and dig into the earth to provide a counterforce,” explains principal storyboard artist Mark Sexton.  “And then they use the force of the claws digging through the earth to slow down the opposing vehicles.”

Included in this heavily armed convoy is the Ploughboy, an EH wagon jacked up over an off-road frame and rigged with harpoon and hydraulic-driven plough to till the battlefield for spoils, whether metal or flesh.

The tribes that appear in the film also have their signature vehicles.  The Buzzard tribe bursts from the cracked earth in spiked jalopies and their hulking “mother” vehicle, the Buzzard Excavator.  These carrion-trawling machines are purpose-built to crush, puncture, tear apart and tunnel through anything in their path.  The Buzzard Excavator was built from a M.A.N. 6 X 6 tractor and fitted with 1,757 menacing spikes—exactly the number of quills the art department counted on the hide of a Tasmanian Echidna, the Australian anteater that inspired it—with the remaining Buzzards receiving the bulk of the 5,000 steel spikes hand-manufactured from recycled car panels for the film.

Nimble as mountain goats, the Rock Riders skate the cliffs in highly adapted Gas Gas and Yamaha motorcycles.  The Vuvalini have patched-together their own swarm of motor bikes, which are as tough, versatile and resilient as they are.  Modified heavy touring bikes, the Vuvalini’s rides of choice hearken back to the golden age of motorcycles, with leather seats customized with feminine detail and nomadic styling that, says Gibson, “give you the last thrill of your last ride before these lovely old bikie chicks take you out with a single shot.”

Finally, after a decade of design, creation, fine tuning and final touches, the film’s 150 mechanized war machines charged into a real life Road War when put to the ultimate test on the sands of the Namib desert.  Many weathered the storm, not all survived, but each earned its keep.  “All of them were out there for many big scenes, particularly at the beginning,” Miller allows.  “Then, bit by bit, there was an attrition.  It can’t be helped—it’s a war.”