I have been performing stunts and prepping cars for the past 30 years. During that time, the movie industry has changed greatly, with safety becoming much more important. I have worked on many movies and was responsible for vehicles starting with the original Grease and including such well-known movies as Twins, the original Gone In 60 Seconds, Cobra, Streets Of Fire, both Fast & Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious (my El Segundo, California, shop prepared over 180 cars in three months for this movie), as well as the GTOs from XXX.
The following is a breakdown of some of the things we have to do to make an ordinary car a movie car. The changes range from mild to extensive. This should give you just a bit more appreciation for the behind-the-scenes attention to details you probably never thought about in that last action movie you watched. But now you will, right?
We normally do everything to increase traction on cars, but for some of the mild action stunts less traction is better. There are a number of ways to do this, but the simplest is to wet down the street. Another way is to bump up the tire pressure a bit, rounding out the tread section and putting less rubber on the ground. This is a subtle way to create less traction, making burnouts and slides much easier to perform.
Most of the time, the number of vehicles used in films is doubled or tripled, and sometimes we even make as many as seven duplicates of the main vehicle. In this way, the lead vehicle can be in many places at once. This allows both the first and second unit to be working at the same time in different locations (first-unit filming is for close-ups with the actors, and the second unit is generally the stunt team). If a stunt calls for something special, such as being rigged for bullet "hits," one vehicle can be filmed in one location while the "after-event" vehicle is being rigged. The point is, the director will not have to wait for a vehicle since he can use the copies.
This is a simple task that allows the driver to do the cool-looking "J" turn, where the rear end slides around the corner, or a reverse J-turn where the car is driving in Reverse and suddenly skids around and drives off. The easiest way to create these stunts is to remove the ratcheting mechanism from the parking brake. I do this by bending the lock out of the way. During the stunt, I start by putting the vehicle into a slide. Once I reach the point where I want the skid to end, I take my foot off the pedal and continue driving.
Anything that gets in an actor's face has to go, and this includes the rearview mirror. What would seem to be a simple task of removing the mirror can be troublesome. Of course, when you want the mirror out, cracking the windshield during the process sometimes happens. When a shot calls for the driver's POV (point of view) to be through the windshield, the mirror is reinstalled. This is done by mounting the mirror on a custom bracket above the windshield to the windshield frame, allowing the mounting bracket to extend down and look as if it's mounted on the glass. In this way, it can be removed easily and replaced at will. EP Industries makes such brackets and supplied hundreds of them for 2 Fast 2 Furious, as well as other films.
Most cars come with tinted windshield glass, but it's next to impossible to shoot actors through a tinted windshield without making them look blue. In most cases, the windshield has to be replaced with clear glass or, in some extreme cases, removed entirely. Total removal of the windshield is just an option, of course, if the car is used only for still shots. Once the car moves, a clear windshield is in order.
The hard part is trying to find a clear windshield. Hollywood studios have a few sources that will make them for about $750 each. These windshields are not mounted in the conventional way, as they must be removed and replaced for any number of reasons, so they are held in place with tape or hook-and-loop fabric connectors. The key here is quick in and out, as down time on the set is costly.