Movies that have cars in them have been around virtually as long as there have been movies and cars. Think about some of them, such as “The Fast and the Furious”...no, not that one, the original from 1955. “Around The World In 80 Days”. “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. There have been cartoons with cars, such as “The Wacky Racers”. There are even a couple on the moon...
Every now and then there comes a movie with cars that is stamped as a classic from day one. Forty years ago one movie was made that immediately drew eyes towards it and had critics and viewers alike saying “this is something special”. Filmed and finalised for under a half million dollars, directed by George Miller, shot in areas around Melbourne, Geelong, and Ballarat, and featuring a still (then) relatively unknown Mel Gibson, plus a cast of some of the best iron made in Australia, “Mad Max” has cemented itself into film history.
American born Gibson, a film student at NIDA, was just 23 when he was cast as Max Rockatansky, a highway patrol officer with the MFP, the Main Force Patrol. The film was set in a “dystopian future”, a time where a cataclysmic event of an unspecified nature had occurred, with the idea it was a rough and tumble existence.
The plot was simple, and involved filming genuine members of motorcycle gangs. A gang member kills a cop, a friend of Max. Max hunts down the killer, known as “The Night Rider” and kills him. Other members of his gang allegedly torture and rape a young couple, with one of the members being caught by “The Goose”, played by Steve Bisley, and Max.
The court system lets down the police, and the member, known as “Johnny the Boy” gets off scot-free. Johnny sabotages the motorcycle “The Goose” uses, resulting in a crash and Goose commandeering a ute. Tragically, the gang leader, “Toecutter” has Goose burned alive after Johnny smashes the ute’s window and Goose crashes.
Max wants to quit after this and goes on a holiday with his wife an infant son. A chance encounter with Toecutter and the gang has Sprog, as the baby is known, killed and the wife in hospital. Max embarks upon a revenge mission. It’s here that the true star of the film becomes known.
Ford Australia was heavily involved in the film, with the MFP cars being XB Falcon sedans. An XA sedan, the car that popularised the “coke bottle” shape of the XA/XB/XC Falcon shapes, was used.
And the car that resonates with people forty years later?
That was a 1973 XB Falcon GT351. The “Pursuit Special” was heavily modified for the film, with two spoilers on roof and rear, with the bootlid eventually replaced by a pair of large fuel storage tanks. A non-functioning supercharger assembly was fitted, which, for story purposes, could be activated by a cabin mounted flick-switch. The front end was an add-on and designed by Ford designer Peter Arcadipane. The “Concorde” nose, with its sharply angled snout and rectangular headlight clusters lent a distinctly menacing look to the black painted two door hardtop .
In an age where CGI was unheard of, and stunts really could only be filmed once, this film made a star of Gibson, gave Steve Bisley some valuable exposure, and put Miller into that list of “I need a director, is Miller free?”
Forty years on, the triple AFI award winning film has a 90% approval rating on the fan-based “Rotten Tomatoes” review site and is still one of the very few films to have made the Guinness Book of Records for the highest budget to box office (over five million locally and over one hundred million USD worldwide) ratio.
It would spawn Mad Max 2, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome with Tina Turner, and a distant sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road. But Mad Max will be forever remembered for showing the world just how gorgeous a black painted Ford Falcon coupe could be.