Death-Defying Acts: How Car Stunts In Movies Are Done
Written By: Sean
March 24, 2015
Admit it: an action film isn’t an action film without an awesome car stunt or two. There is always that mad rush of adrenaline as the lead character drives off the edge of a cliff and makes the car jump across the ravine. So what are the popular car stunts in movies? Does it involve an exploding radiator? Or the chassis separating from the car? How about a few hairpin turns? Let’s find that out.
The Cannon Roll
You’ve probably held your breath once or twice while the action star’s car rolls over like he has lost control. But did you know that to create the illusion that the actor has lost control you actually need a lot of control?
In 1974 Hal Needman, pioneer stuntman and later film director, designed the first staged vehicular rollover in the movie history. He created a cannon with a 16 inch diameter mouth and walls nearly two inches thick, which he then stuffed with gunpowder. Did things go as planned? Not without a few broken bones, as Hal broke his back and several ribs, punctured a lunch and knocked out some teeth.
Today, the stunt is done by simply having people push or roll a car attached with a cannon timed to explode under it to give the illusion that the car has really lost control.
Imagine a car chase on a desert. The cops are pursuing the hero across the sand when suddenly, a wide ravine! How is our poor hero going to escape those cops? He revs his engine and puts the pedal to the metal. The car speeds up and the next thing you know, the hero is on the other side of the ravine. The cops have no choice but to give up the chase. You clap, amazed at the narrow escape our hero made. But wait! Did you know that everything was actually done with ramps?
Watching the movie, you cannot see the ramps. All you see is a car gloriously flying across the wide gap and landing on the other side. This is because the ramps are hidden or digitally erased by the editors from the film. In addition, the automobiles are altered to be able to make the leap. The vehicle’s weight is centered, and the shock casing oil valve is tightened to delay the spring rebound on landing. The hood is also altered to have better aerodynamics, and the wheels are equipped with high quality tires to perform the stunt safer.
You can see the stunt performed in movies like Starsky and Hutch and The Fast and The Furious film series.
The Astro Spiral Jump
“The Man with the Golden Gun” was the second James Bond film of Roger Moore. One of the highlights was the Astro Spiral, an incredible jump across two ramps with the car twisting 360 degrees as the jump was performed. There’s actually a lot of science involved with this stunt.
It was first designed sat the Calspan Corporation (now Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory) at Cornell University by Raymon McHenry. The design was first created as a test for their vehicular simulation software, Highway Vehicle Obstacle Simulation Model. Everything had to be perfectly timedand calculated; just a few inches to the side and the stunt could fail. The stunt was performed at a show at the Houston Astrodome in 1972 and it was a hit. Two years later, it was filmed in Bangkok for “The Man with The Golden Gun” with Loren “Bumps” Willert driving a AMC Hornet.
The car was heavily modified to perform the stunt. The chassis was redesigned with the steering wheel and driver’s seat placed in the middle and at a lower level, and an ambulance and a crane were put on standby. In addition, the car and driver’s weight had to be 3,219 lb,and the distance between the ramps needed to be 52 feet and launch speed at 40 mph. Due to the difficult and meticulous preparations needed for this stunt, its only appearance in film history can be found in the said James Bond movie.
Car stunts are really amazing, so never forget the great lengths the stunt team goes to just to give you, the audience, a high-octane and life-threatening heartstopper.