June 21, 2001, wasn’t all that big of a deal. Orange Toyota Supras were still orange Toyota Supras, and jet-black Dodge Charger R/Ts were still the sort of American muscle cars you’d expect to trample all over anything with fluorescent highlights.
But June 22 changed whatever preconceptions anybody might’ve had. Preconceptions of a burgeoning sport compact car performance industry that seemed to be poised to overthrow its domestic counterpart. Preconceptions that, following the premier of Universal Pictures’ The Fast and the Furious, starring what we’re led to believe was a 900hp Charger R/T its owner was too afraid to drive, a turbocharged- and nitrous-fed Mitsubishi Eclipse, one of the most widely replicated Supras of all time—and a whole bunch of actors, too—and the R/T proved that American muscle cars were here to stay.
Not that any of that was what the film’s producer’s had in mind when developing the script for the first of what’s now become a seven-part franchise that’s grossed in the billions of dollars. Billions of dollars that were all predicated by a 1998 Vibe magazine article that recounted the exploits of New York city’s underground car culture.
It’s that very story that the movie’s premise was loosely based off of, only here, racers owned the streets of Los Angeles, not New York, and instead of events based upon back-alley car club meetings, The Fast and the Furious told of the deeds of ex-convict Dominic Toretto who, along with his crew, were suspected of electronics equipment heists, and the undercover cop, Brian O’Conner, who submerged himself within the Southern California street racing scene to catch them.
As far as movies go, their cars are as expendable and as recognizable as the wardrobe their most precious commodities fill their roles in. For any one of the seven The Fast and the Furious films, though, it’s the cars that sold the tickets. Cars like the famed NASCAR-prepared 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona—or a fine reproduction of the six-figure race car, anyhow—that complement their polar opposites, like a variation of the Japanese-only Type R version of Honda’s all-aluminum NSX sports car. Or the Honda Civic coupe that, as tame as it may be, pulled off one of the most impressive stunts in movie-car history, passing an 18-wheeler from underneath. Since the beginning, the franchise has looked to top aftermarket manufacturers to help make its stars perform and sounds as they ought to, like MagnaFlow, for example, whose exhaust systems can be found on dozens of F&F rides dating back to the first film, perhaps one of the most notable of which is that infamous Daytona from the story’s sixth installment.
This wide variety of metal to burn rubber, blow up, and crash into each other meant a wider audience to take all of this in. It’s this sort of motoring diversity that, in a way, put the automotive industry on notice, forcing megacorp bigwigs to see that a substantial percentage of its potential customer base all of a sudden cared more about Nissans with their twin-turbo inline-sixes than they did big-cubic-inch V8s. Following the movie’s debut, F&F follow-ups broadened the cast of motoring characters even further, pitting VW Golf R32s next to Plymouth Road Runners; Honda S2000s next to Chevy El Caminos. Here, the formula was one of a mixed bag of cars that cared about going fast, no matter the make.
And it worked. Seven times over now, the most recent of which—appropriately named Furious Seven—was released last April despite leading man Paul Walker’s untimely death almost a year ago. A follow-up is in the works, too, which is rumored to be released in early 2017 and take place in the city the first film’s script had originally taken cues from—New York.
Through the movies’ wide range of car characters, the underlying message was there and it was pure, but the franchise wasn’t without its growing pains. Nearly 15 years later, intake manifolds with their welds being blown apart on a whim and MoTeC System exhausts continue to be the butts of internet memes, as has nawz almost officially made its way into the American lexicon as a legitimate substitute for the horsepower-adding chemical compound that is nitrous oxide.
And none of that really matters, either. Personalities like Paul Walker and Vin Diesel did their parts in exposing the rest of the world to the spectrums that make car customizing unique, and letting those who don’t know any better in on the sort of things that make motorheads of all backgrounds want to get up in the morning—even if it is just to live life a quarter mile at a time.
Words by Aaron Bonk