MID-ENGINE MADNESS
Motor Trend|July 2021
You can only ask this question in the context of a Fast and Furious film: How do you top a ’68 DodgeCharger with a jet engine in the trunk?

Easy: a ’68 Charger with a Hellcatin in the back seat. And how exactly does a Hellcat engine, even one tuned to Demon specification like this one, top a jet engine? Because it’s real.

That’s right, kids, the jet engine sticking out the back of the “IceCharger” in 2017’s Fate of the Furious was just a prop. The car was powered by a chevy LS3V-8 pushed back under the dashboard to make room for an all-wheel-drive system. Cool stuff, but the mid-engineCharger is the real deal.

At least, two of them are.

“We actually built nine,” says Dennis McCarthy, picture car coordinator at Universal Pictures. His shop, Vehicle Effects, built the cars for the past seven Fast films and the Hobbs&Shaw spinoff.

Now, when I say we built nine, they’re not all identical,” he explains. “There’s two of them that were built with the mid-engine design and the transaxle. The rest—the name leaves me at the moment— there’s a company that makes a plastic Hellcat motor. So the rest of them have the plastic motor in place. And we actually used an LS3 with a manual-shifted Turbo 400 automatic and a Ford 9-inch rear end for our stunt cars that we just use and abuse. But yeah, a total of nine cars, two different platforms. I’d say four and a half months, they were all done and headed off to different countries.”

The hero cars that actors drove in close-up shots have real Hellcats and actually run. Mopar provided the standard 707-hp crate engines, and McCarthy had them brought to Demon spec with a pulley and a 110-octane race-gas tune from Performance Tech, the shop that tunes all the Fast movie cars. The now 800-plus-hp engines were mated to six-speed manual Graziano transaxles lifted from Lamborghini Gallardos.

“I feel that the clutch pedal is a key ingredient to the cool factor,” McCarthy says. “In my opinion, it just has to be that way. An automatic just wouldn’t have the same impact.”

Rich Waitas at Magnaflow built a full custom exhaust with custom headers that route up and over the transaxle and dump out of hidden tips behind the rear bumper.

With no engine upfront and no room left under the trunk for the original gas tank, Vehicle Effects mounted an 8-gallon fuel cell under the hood. The vintage-style chrome gas cap on the passenger front fender is functional on the mid-engine cars, making trips to the gas station more like filling up a Porsche than a Dodge.

Also under the hood is a high-angle rack-and-pinion power steering setup to enable big drifts. That and the transaxle necessitated a custom, fully independent suspension at all four corners, and it gives the front-engine stunt cars a tell: the live rear-axle pumpkin hanging down. That is if you can get low enough to see it.

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