The Story of Mad Max’s Interceptor

Max 01 (iMBD)
Credit: iMDB

Mad Max’s iconic black-on-black car has many in universe names: ‘Interceptor’, ‘the last of the V8s’ and ‘pursuit special’. It has appeared in some way in all four films, but the original car was only used in the first two. In the story line of the first movie, Mad Max (1979), the car was created to entice Max Rockatansky to stay with the police force. But after his wife and child are horrifically murdered by the Toecutter and his gang, Max steals the car to seek vengeance. The film Mad Max was part of the Australian New Wave cinema movement—a resurgence in popularity of Aussie movies across the world in the late 1970s—and was the brainchild of director George Miller and producer Byron Kennedy. These days the car is regarded as a famous and integral piece of Australian cinema history.

Kennedy Miller and Roger Savage (Mad Max Movies)
From Right: Kennedy, Miller and composer Roger Savage Credit: Mad Max Movies

Miller and Kennedy met during a short film course and the two became inseparable almost right away. They complimented each other perfectly: Miller the quiet, creative-type director and Kennedy as the opinionated, financially-minded producer. They collaborated on a short film, Violence in the Cinema, Part 1 (1971), together that was met with acclaim and controversy. After a couple of other small projects, the duo become more ambitious and wanted to tackle a feature film. Inspired by his years as an emergency room doctor, Miller came up with the rough idea that would become Mad Max. Miller, Kennedy and a handful of close others worked on a few drafts of the script before they shopped it around. In the end, the story decided on was set in a dystopian future, after a nuclear war, and featured a highway patrolman trying to survive. While the world and society were breaking down, fuel (‘guzzolene’) had become a rare commodity and road gangs were doing whatever it took to control it. The film entered pre-production in 1976.

Mad Max Poster
Original Mad Max (1979) Poster Credit: iMDB

Mad Max had a $350,000 budget, most of it raised by Miller and Kennedy (no figures in this article have been adjusted for inflation). It was the highest grossing film with the lowest budget of all time until it was surpassed by The Blair Witch Project (1999). $20,000 of the budget went to purchasing vehicles for the movie and an additional $5,000 to modifying them. The production crew attended a car auction in Frankston, Victoria, where they bought two ex-Police Ford Falcons and a repossessed 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT hardtop coupe. Destined to become the all-black Interceptor, the GT coupe’s original colour was polar white. Only six cars in the colour were produced in Australia. Originally a Ford Mustang was proposed for Max’s car. But when Murray Smith (the film’s mechanic) pointed out that parts wouldn’t be easy to come by, Miller and Kennedy decided to go with a locally manufactured car instead.

The GT coupe was sent to Graf-X to be spray painted and modified. Based on concepts by art director Jon Dowding, the company was told to make the car look evil. Some of the modifications included a custom-made front end, cut-down flares from a Holden A9X Torana and a fitted super charger. Miller wanted the super charger seen, so it was mounted a foot higher than usual. The modification work took three months to complete.

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Mel Gibson played Mad Max Credit: iMDB

Mad Max opened on April 12 and was an instant success. It did surprisingly well all over the world and talk of a sequel began. As a token of good faith and acknowledgement of his hard work, Smith was given the Interceptor. He drove it around as his every day car until realising how expensive it was to run. Smith decided to sell it but no one was interested. When Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) was officially greenlit, Smith sold the Interceptor back to Miller and Kennedy for $7,500.

The car was again modified for the second film. Two large fuel tanks were installed in the boot, the lower section of the front was removed and the suspension was raised, making it easier to drive in an outback environment. The Interceptor was also made to look more weathered—the last couple of years in the Wasteland had been hell for Max. The producers bought a 1974 Ford Fairmont and made it into a duplicate. The Fairmont was used for wide shots while the original was used in close up and interior shots. The Fairmont was the car crashed and blown up in the film.

With the production of Mad Max 2 complete, the Interceptor was destined to be destroyed. Noting the significance of the car, the scrapper kept it. It changed owners a couple of times before ending up in the front of an Adelaide scrap yard. The Interceptor sat for three years, and was in bad shape, when Mad Max super fan Bob Fursenko discovered it. He bought the car and restored it for $25,000. He contacted Murray Smith to verify the car was genuine. Smith had engraved his initials under the interior door trim. It was the real thing.

Interceptor Scrap Yard 1-2 (The Mad Max Wiki)
The Interceptor rotting in a scrap yard Credit: The Mad Max Wiki

While at a German car expo in 1992, Cars of the Stars Motor Museum owner Peter Nelson heard that the Interceptor was for sale. It had been available for a while but had no buyers. Nelson purchased the car from Fursenko and it was shipped to him in the UK. In 2011, the Interceptor moved to the Miami Auto Museum in Florida. As of 2018, the car still resides there.

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The Interceptor on display at the Miami Auto Museum Credit: Deano in America

Miller spent many years contemplating a fourth Mad Max film. He wasn’t sure if it was right to continue the franchise after Kennedy was tragically killed in a helicopter accident in 1983. In the late 1990s, Miller came up with a premise that would eventually become Mad Max: Fury Road. The film was in ‘development hell’ for near fifteen years. Production was halted in 2004 after Broken Hill, NSW, experienced an abundance of rain. The location was too green to be used for the film’s desert setting. Miller moved between jobs—directing two Happy Feet films, among other projects—before Fury Road production began again in 2012. It was released in cinemas to critical acclaim in 2015.

Razor Cola (Fury Road Vehicles)
The Razor Cola Credit: iMDB

In the early 2000s, another Interceptor was built for Fury Road but stayed in storage for over a decade until it was needed. Miller always planned to have the car in the film, but never intended for it to be the same car. There are subtle differences between it and the original. The Fury Road Interceptor was destroyed early on in the story before being rebuilt, and stripped back to bare metal, by the film’s antagonists. It was rechristened as the Razor Cola. Four cars were made and used in the movie. A popular fan theory suggests that Max’s camel wagon, seen at the start of Beyond Thunderdome (1985), the franchise’s third film, is the Interceptor’s chassis reused after it was blown up. Miller is planning additional sequels, the first with the working title Mad Max: The Wasteland.

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Interceptor and Max with the You Yangs granite ridges near Werribee, VIC Credit: iMDB

Sources:

Luke Buckmaster – Miller and Max (Book)

Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe 1973 “V8 Interceptor” (http://madmax.wikia.com/wiki/Ford_Falcon_XB_GT_Coupe_1973_%22V8_Interceptor%22)

Mad Max Interceptor, 30 years on… (https://www.motormag.com.au/features/0804/mad-max-interceptor-30-years-on)

The Real Story of the Mad Max XB GT Falcon (https://www.streetmachine.com.au/features/1505/the-real-story-of-the-mad-max-xb-gt)

There’s only one original Mad Max Interceptor and it’s not in Australia (https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2015/05/15/theres-only-one-original-mad-max-interceptor-and-its-not-in-australia/)

Filming Locations: Vasquez Rocks

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The Vasquez Rocks Credit: Roadtrippers

The Vasquez Rocks are one of the most iconic filming locations in American cinema history. It has been used as a backdrop in movies since the late silent era and is still prominently seen in modern films and television series. The Vasquez Rocks have been featured in Dracula (1931), The Texas Ranger (1931), The Girl and the Bandit (1939), Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993-1995) and Star Trek (1966-1969), among many others. The rock formation is located close to the town of Agua Dulce and is about a forty-five minute drive from central Hollywood. It is believed the Rocks was formed approximately 25 million years ago when the tectonic plates along the San Andreas Fault line pushed together. The Vasquez Rocks are near 45 meters tall, at their highest point, and cover an area just under four kilometres square.

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Power Ranger Command Centre
Credit: Blogspot

The Rocks take their name from notorious outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez (1835-1875). The earliest known group of people to occupy the Vasquez Rocks region were the Chumash Native American Indians in 450AD. Their descendants, the Tataviam, later lived in the area. But it wasn’t until Tiburcio used the Rocks as a hideout in 1873 and 1874 that it would later gain fame. Before Tiburcio’s time, the area was known to locals as simply “The Rocks”. Born Jose Jesus Lopez, Tiburcio entered a life of crime at an early age. He was in and out of prison throughout his youth. On August 13, 1873, he and a gang robbed the general store in Tres Pino and killed three people in the process, including one marshal. A bounty was issued for his capture: $8,000 alive or $6,000 dead (no figures in this article have been adjusted for inflation). For the following two years, Tuburcio and his gang used the Vasquez Rocks to elude law enforcement. Eventually Tuburcio was captured and brought to justice. He was somewhat of a celebrity leading up to his hanging on March 19, 1875. While in custody, Tuburcio signed autographs and was considered charming by anyone who met him. He was played by Anthony Curio in an episode of Stories of the Century (1954-1955).

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Tiburcio Vasquez Credit: San Francisco Chronicle

In 1910, entrepreneur Henry Krieg recognised the location’s uniqueness and invested in turning it into a tourist destination. Krieg’s family still reside in the area.

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Title Card from 1952 Credit: The Agua Dulce History Project

As of today, over 200 movies and television series have been filmed at the Vasquez Rocks. The site’s harsh and rural landscape was extremely popular in B-Westerns during the 1940s and 1950s. The Rocks can be seen in the backgrounds of Golden Trail (1940), Along the Oregon Trail (1947) and Shotgun (1955). Television companies began to utilise the area’s close proximity to Hollywood when they became regular productions in the 1950s. Some shows include The Lone Ranger (1949-1957), Gunsmoke (1955-1975), Bonanza (1959-1973) and The Big Valley (1965-1969). The Vasquez Rocks have been used as alien worlds in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981), the original Battlestar Galactica (1979-1980) and four series and three movies of Star Trek.

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Captain Kirk and the Gorn fight  Credit: Los Angeles Times

In the Star Trek first season episode “Arena”, Captain Kirk is transported to the surface of a remote asteroid – by an alien intelligence – where he must fight a Gorn commander to the death. Using local materials, Kirk forms a crude weapon and overpowers the lizard. At the final moment when Kirk can kill the Gorn, he refuses. Impressed by Kirk’s resolve, the alien intelligence return them to their ships. Peaceful dialogue between the Federation and the Gorn Hegemony had been opened. The Enterprise flies off in search of its next adventure.

 

Considered corny by today’s standards, the fight sequence is regarded as one of the most iconic scenes in film history. The desert shoot lasted for two days in November, 1966. Actors Bobby Clark and Gary Combes got so hot inside the Gorn rubber suits that they nearly fainted. The Vazquez Rocks have been a favourite filming site for Star Trek and have been featured in The Next Generation (1987-1994), Voyager (1995-2001) and Enterprise (2001-2005).

The Vasquez Rocks was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It is maintained by The County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation. The Interpretive Centre (tourist information) was opened in 2013, and was awarded the highest ratings award for environmental safety. People can visit the site most days of the year, but a permit is required for filming. Weddings are a popular event, with groups of up to forty being allowed per function. Filming shoots are still common at the Vasquez Rocks with many being planned for the immediate future.

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Interpretive Centre Credit: Gruen Associates

Sources:

County Parks – Vasquez Rocks Natural Area (https://santaclaritaguide.com/VasquezRocks.html)

How Vasquez Rocks, L.A.’s onetime outlaw hideout, became ‘Star Trek’s’ favorite alien landscape (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/la-et-st-star-trek-50-vasquez-rocks-20160829-snap-story.html)

Memory Alpha – Vasquez Rocks (http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Vasquez_Rocks)

Movie Sites – Vasquez Rocks (http://www.moviesites.org/vasquez.htm)

The True Hollywood Story of The Vasquez Rocks – Hollywood’s Favorite Rocky Set (https://filmmakeriq.com/2012/06/the-true-hollywood-story-of-the-vasquez-rocks-hollywoods-favorite-rocky-set/)

Vasquez Rocks (http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/vasquez-rocks)