Photos by Myles Kornblatt, unless otherwise noted.
Editor’s note: With Mad Max: Fury Road opening at theaters everywhere this weekend, we thought it appropriate to run a piece on the real star of the first two movies. This article comes to us from Myles Kornblatt, curator, Miami Auto Museum at the Dezer Collection. Myles contributes to multiple publications as well as AutoMinded.com.
“She the last of the V-8s. She sucks nitro.”
That statement, uttered by an Aussie mechanic in a low-budget film, would ignite a passion in just about everyone, from the leather-clad main character to teenagers in their theater seats. The only original Pursuit Special is an icon, inspired folklore, and just like Mad Max, refuses to die – both on screen and in real life.
So why would a classic Australian rebel be living the retired life at the Miami Auto Museum? Maybe it’s following the movie’s other star, Mel Gibson’s lineage. After all, the American-born Gibson is seen as a true Aussie who made his home in the United States. Could this Australian Ford with an American parent just be returning home? For those who don’t buy into that last analogy, it might help to understand this important coupe’s long and strange journey.
The first Mad Max film might have been tight on funds, but creators George Miller and Byron Kennedy knew it needed the right bravado to help its title character seek his revenge. They started with the meanest car they could think of, the 1973 Ford Falcon GT with a 351-cu.in. Cleveland V-8. It needed to be vicious, so it was painted black as midnight, and then given matte black stripes. A sleeker Concorde front end and a roof spoiler were fitted. The only bits of chrome would be from the quad side pipes and the supercharger. The latter was intentionally set up so conspicuously high off the intake that it became a nonfunctional item.
Hemmings’s friend Mark Scarselli was instantly hooked on this car. He had just earned his driver’s license when the Pursuit Special hit the screen. It sent this future cop, and others just like him, on a quest to build their own Mad Max machines. “That car was a true character in the movie,” says Scarselli. “It’s just as important as the Enterprise in Star Trek.”
In reality, the original car was a bit more of a commodity. After filming, it was given to stuntman Murray Smith because Miller and Kennedy blew their budget creating this icon. The car was converted back to road-legal specs, including removal of the superfluous supercharger. It was put up for sale, but without a buyer, the Falcon was re-enlisted for sequel duty.
The sleek coupe was given a roughneck makeover for Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior that gutted the interior and ripped out the rear section to make way for massive dual fuel tanks. In the second film, a mechanic referred to the car as “The last of the V-8 Interceptors.” He was right on many accounts. That was the beginning of this car officially being called the Interceptor, and because the stunt car was blown up during production, this was the only original car that remained.
The Mad Max Interceptor in the scrapyard. Photo provided by Jim Martino.
Because Max’s Interceptor was destroyed in the movie plot, it was decided that the remaining coupe would be scrapped with the rest of the leftover production vehicles. But similar to how Joe Bortz’s GM Motorama cars were saved thanks to Harry Warholak, Sr., there was no way the local scrap yard was going to destroy this piece of Aussie pride. Instead, the wounded-but-somewhat-complete Interceptor had a succession of caretakers over the years, eventually leading to Bob Fursenko in the mid-1980s.
Photo provided by Jim Martino.
He replaced the heavily damaged Concorde front end, but left the rear as it was in The Road Warrior. Fursenko also painted the whole car a high gloss black lacquer that was shinier than the Interceptor had ever been on screen. It seems Fursenko wanted his movie star to shine while it spent the rest of the 1980s on tour in Australia.
In 1992, the Falcon joined the Cars of the Stars museum in Keswick, England. It was on display until 2011 when the entire collection was bought by the Miami Auto Museum at the Dezer Collection. It’s now part of an exhibit that is open to the public seven days a week, so its pursuit days are over.
The Interceptor sat awkwardly its first year in south Florida. Despite being the signature ride of a detached drifter, the Interceptor seemed to be missing a bit of its persona. The modified rear was not just a gas tank in the movie. It was also Max Rockatansky’s home, which included the workshop, cupboard, and bedroom. But all of these elements were missing.
Chicagoland area custom car builder Jim Martino was beginning his own Road Warrior-spec Interceptor build around the same time the original arrived in Miami. Now that his favorite Ford was on his home turf, Martino was not going to let Mad Max go without supplies. He used lessons from his car to help restore the museum’s Falcon. “I used my car as the mock-up,” according to Martino. “It was kinda like building two cars at the same time.”
He helped stock the car to look more authentic for a post-apocalyptic Winnebago Interceptor. This included everything from cargo nets to cans of the fictitious Dinki-Di dog food that Max shared with his four-legged friend named Dog. Martino even added little details such as an old Fairlane emblem that was only recognizable to keen eyes watching the Blu-Ray version. All of this was at his own expense and simply out of a passion for the only original Interceptor.
The interior will still look a bit gutted to the casual tourist, but movie fans will know it now carries the authentic creature comforts for the Road Warrior. Max’s dog still has his seat bolted to the passenger door and the voodoo doll remains the dashboard companion. Unfortunately, all the exposed metal means corrosion is a constant.
Outside, the Interceptor continues to look like it is from an odd transitional period between the first two movies. The front end is too clean for The Road Warrior and the rear survival gear was never part of Mad Max. Fursenko’s high gloss paint is cracked and scratched from its global journey and decades of tourists getting too close.
This might seem like a sad conclusion, but it really isn’t. It would be nice to have the Interceptor back to original spec, and that’s still an available option. But then the question becomes, what time period would be correct? Mad Max? The Road Warrior? This icon could have been lost, hidden, or crushed multiple times since its time on-screen has ended. Instead, this survivor is spending its retirement in Miami. Just like any other pension-ready Floridian, the Interceptor wears it creases and battle scars earned over a lifetime of work. Today, Mad Max Rockatansky might be wrangling dirt down Fury Road, but the original last of the V-8 Interceptors has earned its comfy place in the air conditioning.