When I went to see Mad Max for the first time, in 1985, the movie was already 6 years old and its two sequels had been released already. To be honest, the sequels never caught my attention, I was there to see the original. Even after so many years I still remember leaving the theatre in awe, the dark, dystopian, decaying society created by the director George Miller just blew my mind. At that time I had a pretty bleak vision of the future as well, I always imagined the big cities taken by hordes of criminals where the police had to use tanks to patrol the streets. In my mind, all the weirdness of the movie and its characters just made perfect sense.
The plot couldn’t be simpler: a decent cop, Max Rockatansky, goes on a bloody vengeance against the gang of bikers responsible for the murder of his best friend (Jim “Goose”) and his family. The trick here is not the plot, but how the movie was crafted, had it been done by Hollywood and it would have been a very cheesy one, but the Aussies worked out a not so brilliant plot, with a very limited budget and created a masterpiece.
Mad Max was a pioneer in many ways, it was the inspiration for most of the ultra-violent movies that flooded the theatres in the 1980s. The movie looks tame for today’s standards but it was pretty shocking back in 1979.
Another important point is: for the first time, a car was considered more like a supporting actor in the movie. The black Interceptor is considered more like a mythical creature, the last of the V8s, created by a weird scientist/mechanic and kept in the dungeons of the police precinct. The car became the perfect partner for Max to achieve his revenge.
Mad Max was also an ode to the Punk movement, which was at its peak in 1979. The complete disillusion with the future of society and, of course, all the black leather clothing seeing there are the two most important ingredients of the movement. Those ingredients would make their way to the cyberpunk genre, and, perhaps, the 1999 movie Matrix is the best example of it.
Mad Max was a creation of George Miller, who not only directed the movie but also wrote the original story and the screenplay, in partnership with Byron Kennedy and James McCausland. The trio also produced and edited the movie; an indie enterprise at its best.
The production worked on a very tight budget of only $350,000, and they got into trouble right after the shootings. “It was very low budget and we ran out of money for editing and post-production, so I spent a year editing the film by myself in our kitchen, while Byron Kennedy did the sound,” Miller told the “CraveOnline”.
George Miller, who has medical degree, started to work on weekends as a emergency room doctor to help pay for the movie expenses.
Miller’s medical training is all over the film: Max Rockatansky is named after physician Carl von Rokitansky, a pathologist who created the Rokitansky procedure, a method for removing organs in an autopsy.
The production did whatever they could to save money, the Mazda Bongo van that was destroyed during the opening chase was Miller’s personal car.
Most of the bikers we see in the movie actually were real bikers, from a Victoria based motorcycle clube, the Vigilanties. Close to the end, the cash level was so low that the production had to pay some of those bikers with beer.
When the Times reviewed the movie, in 1979, the title of the article was: “Poetic Car Nage”, which gives an idea of how important the machines are in the movie. For all of us with little or zero knowledge of the Australian muscle cars, the ones we see on the screen are just, well… cars, and that helps to blend them into the post-apocalyptic, comic-bookish scenario of the movie. Let’s take a closer look into those cars, and bikes as well:
The average cruiser of the MFP (Main Force Police) is the 1973/76 Ford Falcon XB 4 door, painted in a cool colour scheme that might be a little unusual for a police cruiser. The car shares its name with the American cousin but it is an exclusive product of the Australian Ford.
The Aussie Falcon was a complete line of cars, with 2 and 4 doors sedan, station -wagon, 2 doors coupe and even panel van.
The powertrain options were: 200cid /250cid inline 6 and 302cid/351cid V8.
The most popular version was the 4 doors and Ford even offered it in a “GT” trim, equipped with the 351 small block paired with either an automatic transmission or a 4-speed manual. Some of the yellow interceptors that appear in the movie are not GT but they had to be dressed to look like one.
The last of the V8s
Halfway through the movie, Max is introduced to the car that would become the perfect weapon to hunt down those crazy bikers. According to the mechanic who put the car together: The last of the V8 Interceptors… a piece of history!
The sinister black coupe, with a Weiand blower that could be magically turned on and off, is a 1973 Ford Falcon XB coupe GT. The car was slightly modified with some aerodynamic body parts to make it looks like something from a “near future”.
The Ford Falcon is, perhaps, the most beloved Australian muscle car ever made and a good example of this passion is the 2009 documentary Love the Beast, directed by the Hollywood star Eric Bana, where he talks about his 1974 XB coupe he bought when he was 15 years old. This documentary is another The Classic Machines certified recommendation.
The art director of the Mad Max movie, Jon Dowding, wanted a 71/73 Mustang to play the role of Max Rockatansky’s car but he had to drop the idea since the Falcon was cheaper.
If you have seen the movie, you might have noticed that pretty much all the bikes there are Kawasaki and the reason for that is simple, the producers score a deal with Kawasaki of Australia: in exchange for some publicity in the movie, the Japanese company gave them 10 brand new KZ 1000s. The bike is powered by a in-line 4, 998cc, 16 valve, air cooled engine, able to produce 90HP, which was some serious power back then.
The only problem is, the style of those bikes was not quite right for the movie, it looks too tame, too “1980s”. The actor Bertrand Cardant, who played the gang member Crank, received the task to bring those bikes to a more retro-futuristic looking. Cardant had some customizing experience since he owned a bike shop called La Parisienne.
Cardant even bought some molds and learned how to laminate fibreglass from a book. The fairings seen on Goose’s and Toecutter”s bikes are his own creation, inspired by the endurance bikes seen at the Bol d’Or. “It was amateurish stuff,” Cardant explains
The actor Hugh Keays-Byrne , who played gang leader Toecutter, and several others rode the 550 miles miles from Sydney to the movie set, in Melbourne, all dressed in their costumes. “It was a good rehearsal,” Keays-Byrne remembers.
Local motorcycle club The Vigilanties provided the rest of Toecutter’s gang. Actor Tim Burns recalls working with the bikers: “They all wanted to ride the bikes as fast as possible, as often as possible, by their nature. Their riding was individually and collectively superb.” The Vigilanties also worked as stuntmen as well, participating in the making of some very dangerous scenes.
The long journey of the Interceptor
At the end, the producers still had a lot of bills to pay and the black interceptor was sold to stuntman Murray Smith, who brought the car back to its original appearance. Eventually they bought the car back for the sequels.
At the end of the third movie, the only surviving black Interceptor was sent to be scrapped but was saved by a guy called Henry Warholack, who later sold the car to a collector named Bob Fursenko in the mid-80s. Fursenko restored the manacing coupe to a showroom standard and it became a popular attraction at car shows around Australia. In 1993 the Falcon was sold to the Cars of the Stars Museum in Keswick, England.
The car remained in display until 2011, when the entire collection of the museum was bought and transferred to the US by real state mogul Michael Dezer.
If you want to see this legend up close, you must go to the Orlando Auto Museum, where the car is on display. The black Interceptor is once again for sale, but Mr. Dezer has already refused a 2 million dollars offer.
As for the bikes, the seven surviving Kawasakis were offered as a lot for 5 grand. Byron said: “One day they will be collector’s items”, at that point he was just joking, he had no idea his movie was just about to become cult. Some of them were scraped and some were sold, if any of those bikes has survived to this day, nobody knows.
Mad Max is still considered one of the most profitable movies ever made, it was a box office success, grossing over $100 million worldwide, with a cost of only $400.000,00. With some serious money in their pockets, Miller and Byron went on producing two sequels, the 1981 The Road Warrior and the 1985 Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. George Miller even directed the 2015 Mad Max reinterpretation Fury road.
Mel Gibson wasn’t even supposed to play the role of Max Rockatanski, he was merely accompanying a friend who was auditioning for the part. When Miller saw him it was like love at first sight, Gibson was the perfect guy for the part.
The three Mad Max movies propelled him to become one of the most popular action-movie actors of the 1980s. He began a solid career as a movie director in the 1990s but after some homophobic statements he made in the early 2000s, Hollywood put him on the blacklist for a decade.
I always thought Mel Gibson was Australian but he was born in Peekskill, New York.
Mad Max is the kind of movie that the making of can be as exciting as the movie itself. There are a few websites that will tell you the whole story. A book could be written about it.
George Miller wraps up the adventure: “Mad Max is obviously very special to me. It was the first film, and after all these years it still means something to people. So even though it was a very hard film to make, we must have done something right!”
Does the movie still mean something for the fans? You bet! When my wife Estela bought her first car, a 1990 black Chevy Cavalier Z24, she inevitably named it Max.
Note of the editor: If you haven’t seen the movie, please do it, but be advised, Mad Max is a kind of weird movie, made more than 40 years ago, by Australians. This is not your average “Fast and Furious” stuff by any stretch of the imagination.