Mad Max: Fury Road was a carnival of hot rod hysteria

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max’s most recent quest, which came out in 2015, takes place in a desert ruled by the tyrant Immortan Joe, a region of the Wasteland overrun by the War Boys, a death cult whose currency is “Guzzoline.” The War Boys worship cars, and as venerated objects, each vehicle in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road has a unique look with its own personality. Miller told production designer Colin Gibson simply, “Make it cool or I’ll kill you.”

Gibson and his crew were tasked with creating 88 unique vehicle designs for Mad Max: Fury Road, and in the end they crafted 150 total, including backup vehicles for stunts and all kinds of destruction.

In Fury Road, Max Rockatansky’s iconic Interceptor returns. His black 1973 XB Ford Falcon Coupe still has the Maxrob three-spoke steering wheel, the blower, a Scott injector hat, long-range fuel tanks, and zoomie exhaust pipes. But it’s a little older now, rusted, rattling, sandblasted. One of its headlights is broken. George Miller likened Max’s Interceptor to a cowboy’s favorite horse in a Western, and Gibson called it “a legend spotted in the gutter” and “the security blanket of the world of [Mad] Max.” The Interceptor is essential to Max’s legend: a beaten-down icon, and an evocative, recognizable link between films.

Since Mel Gibson passed the torch to Tom Hardy, Colin Gibson told Shortlist, “We needed a touchstone that tied us to the earlier series, to the myth, and yet let us move on. So we took the Ford Falcon that everyone knows and loves, we connected it to the man driving it, and then wiped it out in the opening scenes. It actually comes back two-thirds of the way through the film, and it’s been jacked up, double blown, put on an off-road racing buggy kit and weaponized to hell, then sanded right back. So Max has to do battle with his own car.”

Mad Max: Fury Road
Warner Bros. Pictures

At the beginning of Fury Road, Immortan Joe’s War Boys seize the Interceptor, capture Max, and repurpose him as a “blood bag” (i.e. an unwilling blood donor) for one of their own, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Max’s car is then reborn as the Razor Cola, which the War Boys furnish with a new huge engine, a new chassis, deployable spikes, a harpoon gun, twin superchargers, and a silver matte finish. Tragically, the Razor Cola is crushed and explodes during Fury Road’s climactic battle.

Fury Road introduces countless newcomers to the Mad Max pantheon of legendary vehicles, and one of its most memorable is Nux’s car. Nux reveres Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played Toecutter in Mad Max) and sets out initially to recapture Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and the Immortan’s Five Wives who have fled the Citadel, pursuing them in his immaculate 1932 Chevy five-window coupe. (Some say it’s a ’34, Gibson himself claims it’s a ’32 Chevy.) Nux’s car is customized with the trifles he’s collected during his short life: an eyeball gearshift, a doll’s head on the steering wheel wearing a gas mask (resembling a little Immortan Joe), a bird skull bobblehead, a mobile made of human ears. On its front, there is a makeshift crucifix where he chains Max, and on its ceiling, Immortan Joe’s brand.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Warner Bros. Pictures

Gibson found the coupe in the U.S.—and it already had bullet holes in the windscreen. It has a supercharged V-8 with nitrous, a Weiand blower, massive exhaust pipes, canted wheels, and a polished steel chassis. Gibson explained, “Because [Nux] was a young man, he was screaming out for a young man’s hot rod. [It’s] the perfect little hot rod to drive to Valhalla—everything we did to that car was to fetishize it.”

It was important for Gibson that the cars not just be cool—they had to be beautiful, too. “Why bother making it unless it tickled something deep in your heart, unless it had its own beauty?” Gibson said. “I can’t see anyone schlepping a Camry halfway across the desert and rebuilding it.” (Gibson gave his apologies to Toyota.) Nux even has a V-8 engine block scarified on his chest. The engine in his god, and his church is his car.

Mad Max: Fury Road Nux’s car
Brandan Gillogly

Gibson gave Nux every boy’s “hot-rod dream,” then weaponized it. They built five versions, and one of them was made just to drive in reverse. Gibson said Nicholas Hoult was a great driver — he even promised him a motorbike at first, but they “wiped most of them out.” Several vehicles from Mad Max: Fury Road were destroyed during and after production.

Thankfully, a few survivors remain, and you can see two of them—the last of the V-8 Interceptors, along with Nux’s car—now through March 15, 2020 at the Petersen Automotive Museum’s exhibit “Hollywood Dream Machines: Vehicles of Science Fiction and Fantasy” in Los Angeles.