In 1979, Mad Max helped change the face of action cinema. The action film from Australia helped launch Mel Gibson’s career as a lawman in a lawless time. It helped push the “post-apocalyptic” genre that’s taken over today and also made car action scenes more notable.
The Road Warrior helped push things even more with better action. Beyond Thunderdome was notable for Tina Turner’s co-starring role and Max becoming more of a hero. In 2015, Fury Road stunned moviegoers with its incredible action backed by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron’s performance. It was also a hit with critics and even won several Academy Awards. Almost every car-themed franchise since owes a huge debt to George Miller's stunning vision.
The filming of these movies has become legendary. The first film had almost no budget to speak of but became an incredible hit. The sequels had to up the ante and had their own difficulties. Fury Road was shot in the most brutal conditions imaginable yet overcame it all to be a success.
The cars always get plenty of notice from fans, with many trying to make replicas of their own. The stories of how these unique machines were put together are amazing and there are still some secrets even veteran fans may not be aware of. Even the less famous vehicles have some great backstories and histories to make them notable. Here are 20 amazing facts of the cars of the Mad Max franchise which just deepen the love for these amazing films.
20 The Transport Trucks Were True Heroes
Any movie involving cars has to handle the realities of how much these things weigh. With Mad Max, set in a mostly desert world, the cars had to be taken to remote locations for filming. This meant utilizing a fleet of transport trucks able to handle it all. Fury Road was the biggest challenge, given they were in the brutal Namibia desert. Thus, a fleet of five military transport trucks from Germany with 8X8 drivetrain was used to carry cars and equipment across the distance of three football fields at least six times a day. The trucks also doubled to hold up props for close-up shots. Miller has stated there’s no way the movie could have been made without these monsters carrying the other cars about.
19 They Were Serious Gas Guzzlers
For a man who created such a car-filled franchise, George Miller surprising uses a Lexus hybrid for himself. However, he insists on using serious gearhead machines for Mad Max. He uses the logic that in the future, the classic muscle machines would be more common due to fuel scarcity. Thus, all the cars used in the movies tend to be serious gas guzzlers from the huge rigs to the specially created speedsters. Miller openly told the crew “the faster the better” while making them and the modifications only added to the fuel needs. It’s a bit ironic that in a movie set in a time where gas is priceless, the cars are picked for how much fuel they can burn.
18 The Yamaha Sidecar Belonged to a Collector
For The Road Warrior, George Miller decided he wanted to amp up the movies with more unique vehicles for the mobs. That includes the sight of one member driving what looks like a classic WWII motorcycle with a buddy in the sidecar. It’s actually a Yamaha 650 that was owned by collector Allan Levinson. Levinson realized he had little use for the bike and put it up for sale in 1981. He was happy to sell it for the movie but when he saw it, realized it barely looked like the same bike. The crew assured him it was as they had just taken off the fiberglass and modified it to look more “roughed up.” Either way, Levinson was happy to see his bike used.
17 Getting Interceptors Was a Pain
The Interceptor is as much a part of the movies as Max himself. However, for the filmmakers, actually getting their hands on one was a bit of a pain. Back in the 1970s, a Falcon wasn’t too hard to buy in Australia. But by the 1980s, the model had faded away and was harder to find. In fact, the original Interceptor had to rescued from a junkyard to use for the sequel. By the time Fury Road was filming, trying to find an actual Interceptor proved to be a huge challenge due to their rarity. In essence, the filmmakers had to basically build three Interceptors from scratch and then have them shipped to Africa for filming. Oddly, the car was too popular to become commonplace.
16 The War Rig was a War Machine
Fittingly, the War Rig lives up to its name. The massive tanker is used by Furiosa, at first for what appears to be a typical fuel run. It’s mid-way through her journey that Furiosa turns on the other drives and heads off. Too late, Immortan Joe discovers that the tanker is carrying his “brides” to safety. The Rig is a mix of a Czech Tatra T815 and a Chevy Fleetmaster. Also, parts of a VW Beetle were used for the main pickup cab, along with the addition of the working plow at the front. It added up to a true 18-wheel monster that could withstand actually being set on fire for the chase scenes and yet still protect the actors. This baby really could fit in any tough setting.
15 The Camera Trucks
One of the reasons why George Miller had such a hard time selling the studio on Fury Road was how much he wanted it to be up close and real. Rather than the CGI of so many movies today, Miller intended to put the viewers into the action. This meant having several cars mired in the chases while loaded with cameras and sound equipment. It couldn’t be the same method of shooting as the cameras and lights would cast shadows on the action. This required the use of special cameras on robotic arms placed on pick-up trucks. Other cameras were in buggies and used a 30-foot truss tower on top of a rig. The cameramen risked their lives as much as any of the actors to make the action look great.
14 Fury Road has 150 Hand-Built Cars
The best part of Fury Road is the epic car chase as the villain sends out basically his entire army after Max and Furiosa. Because Miller didn’t want any CGI, this meant that the crew had to hand-build 150 cars for use. There are 88 “character cars” in the movie that are unique. Each had to have a copy for use in the stunts, as well as various extras just in case one got too damaged. It was an undertaking that put the Fast & Furious movies to shame and not a single one of the cars got out of the filming unscathed. It’s still remarkable how much effort went into getting all these cars and is one of the reasons why the movie shone so well.
13 A Trucker Refused to Have His Ride Ruined
The original Mad Max had almost no budget to speak of (certainly not by today’s standards). Most of the cars were sourced from random civilians who were paid just $50 for their use. Among them is a big rig used in a chase scene that runs over a bike. The rig is notable for its huge front end. That was actually on it because the rig’s owner refused to risk any damage to his ride for a measly fifty bucks. To satisfy him, the crew built a huge shield at the front painted to look like a standard rig. It worked out well yet showcases how the lack of budget forced the crew to overcome some unique challenges for the film.
12 Nux's Car Had A Past
To fit Nicholas Hoult’s character in Fury Road, the Nux car had a pretty unique setup. It was chosen from a 1934 Chevrolet 5 Window Coupe, a classic vehicle. The reasons behind it were that the Coupe was a staple of mobster movies and thus was a good pick to use for a sleek car for a wild figure. As it happened, the very model they chose just happened to have holes over it, indicating that it really was a mob car. The Nux car was heavily modified in armor, as well as being able to use nitrous fuel to spark it up. The designers admitted they had a field day adding in stuff but could do little to top the car’s original use.
11 The Epic Stunt Roll
One of the many boundaries Mad Max shattered was car stunts in movies. Up until then, car chases could have some minor crashes but nothing major. Max introduced now-iconic sights of cars flying and flipping around. That included the first movie’s famous moment where Max’s Interceptor takes a hit and starts flipping around. The plan was for it to just flip two or three times but the stunt crew underestimated the power of the pole blast used to create the flip. Instead, the car ended up flipping an incredible 11 times before coming to a stop. It was amazing no one was injured but Miller loved it to showcase how he was upping the ante in action movies.
10 Tina Turner Couldn’t Drive Manual Transmission
Miller wrote the role of Beyond Thunderdome’s Aunty Entity with Tina Turner in mind. He was always a fan of the singer and was pleasantly surprised when she agreed to take on the role. Turner made the role iconic with her fantastic wardrobe and charisma firing up the movie. Her ride is so unique that no one has been able to find out exactly which cars were used to create it. However, it turned out there was one unexpected complication as, like all the other cars, the vehicle had a manual transmission. The problem was, Turner only knew how to drive automatic. Thus, while it looks like it’s her, it’s actually Ollie Hall driving the vehicle. Turner may be a perfect Entity except for her driving.
9 All the Bikes Were Demos
As amazing as it sounds, back in 1979, Kawasaki wasn’t the huge name in motorcycles it is today. They were hot in Japan but hadn’t quite cracked international markets like Australia. When they heard that a low-budget movie was looking for some motorcycles to use, Kawasaki decided to donate several demos of their bikes. Given they had nowhere near the funds for a big fleet of bikes, the filmmakers agreed. It worked out great for everyone as the models were terrific for the action scenes. Also, it made Kawasaki bikes an instant must-have for Aussie bikers and gave them a foothold in the country. Miller remembered and would use the bikes again for the various sequels to show how well this partnership worked.
8 The Cow Car Could Have Been a Star
It’s well known in Hollywood how there have been a lot of big movie appearances that end up on the cutting room floor. As it turns out, this counts for cars, too. The “Cow Car” in Beyond Thunderdome appears to have been made from a 1965 Pontiac Grand Prix. The name obviously comes from its cow-flavored coloring. The car only shows up briefly in the final film. However, the plan was for it to be used in a huge stunt flying over railroad tracks and smashing onto the ground. But during filming, the stunt went awry and basically totaled the entire car. If not for that botched stunt (and it being cut from the film), the Cow Car could be a favorite of the saga.
7 Jedediah's Plane is Aussie Only
The Mad Max films are always grounded with those wild cars and the driving is key. That’s what made it so striking in Beyond Thunderdome when a plane showed up to attack Max. The pilot, Jedediah, then leaps from the plane to hijack a truck. It’s also used in the big escape scene at the movie’s conclusion. The plane itself (“the Flying Jalopy”) is a Transavia PL-12 Airtruk created in 1965. Its design is unique for good reason as the planes were only built and used in Australia. They were used for everything from crop dusting to cargo shipping across the vast deserts of the country. It fits that the one plane in the saga is a one-of-a-kind vehicle.
6 There Are No Interceptors Today
The Interceptor has become an icon of car movies today. It’s impossible to imagine Mad Max without it. Built from a 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe, it was redone with great engine work to become the powerhouse fans know. However, it’s a lot harder for a collector to try and build their own version of it. That’s because the Ford Falcon ceased production in Australia in the 1980s. In fact, the Interceptor was headed to the junkyard when it was saved for the sequel. The original model was almost lost before collector Harry Warholsky Sr. restored it for a Miami museum. It’s odd that the most famous car in Aussie movie history can’t be found today—but that makes it stand out more.
5 The Gigahorse is a Caddy Double-Patty
It makes sense that Imperator Joe has one of the most impressive cars in Fury Road. The twisted masked villain drives the Gigahorse, a machine that looks like two cars fused together. That’s quite true, as it’s two 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Villes fused on top of one another. It’s not just for the look but a character touch. As production designer Colin Gibson put it “in a world where nobody has one of anything,” it made sense the villain would have two classic cars to use. It also fits his styling of a king as it resembles a throne in motion. Two Chevrolet 502Cid Big Block V8 crate motors power it through one gearbox to make this double act a single great machine.
4 The Doof Wagon is a Sound Machine
As soon as Fury Road hit, “the Doof” became a huge fan favorite character. Audiences just loved the offbeat sight of a masked guy playing a guitar on top of a truck decked out like a massive boom box. One might assume the speakers were just decoration and the music was added in post-production. But of course, Miller insisted that the speakers be fully functioning and that guitarist Sean Hape was indeed playing for real during shooting. With the V8 engines powering up what amounted to a stage and the Doof bouncing around on bungee cords, the Wagon became one of the most famous rides of the movie. It’s been replicated a few times since but the original machine is something to see.
3 The Specific Spikes on the Buzzard
The Buzzard tribe is a wild pack who lives up to their name as savage creatures. It makes total sense they have a ride that fits them as a wicked machine. The Excavator was built from a M.A.N. 6X6 Tractor and placed onto a dune buggy frame. What makes it stand out are the massive amount of metal spikes on the Excavator and it does look like an evil hedgehog. It turns out that the makers were specific in putting in exactly 1,757 spikes. That’s the exact number to be found on the Australian anteater which is well known as a creature a lot nastier than its size would indicate, which makes it fitting inspiration for this vehicle.
2 The First Film had Almost No Budget
Low-budget movies were a lot more common in the late 1970s. Films would have budgets that today wouldn’t even pay for the catering crew of a major movie. The budget for the original Mad Max was a total of $350,000. Many of today’s TV shows spend that much on a single episode. This meant that the crew barely had enough cash to spend on the action and that's why there are no special effects at all. That it turned into this classic is amazing. The car budget was barely $20,000! Thus, the reason the cars in the movie look cheaper is because they had nowhere near the cash to spend on something fancier.
1 Humungus Had a Truck to Live Up to His Name
The breakout character of The Road Warrior is obviously Humungus, long before Jason Voorhees, the beefy muscleman, was making the hockey mask a standard look for movie villains. It only makes sense his truck is as much of a monster as he is. It’s notable for its six wheels with four in the back to power it. Built from a Ford F-100, the truck was tricked out with bits like the “big rig” style exhaust pipes and the bull bars where a pack of unlucky prisoners are latched onto wherever Humungus drives. The nitrous oxide system is designed to make it a speed machine able to catch up to Max’s Interceptor. But it’s also tough enough to survive a crash and fit its driver’s look.
Sources; Ranker, Top Gear, Mental Floss, and Mad Max Fandom.