It has been 14 years since the first Fast and Furious film first came screaming into movie theaters across America. Countless cars and seven movies later, the films continue to rock the box office even after the untimely death of lead actor Paul Walker. Fourteen years is a long time, and there is now a whole generation of drivers out there who have been raised on these films. While reenacting some of the sequences portrayed in the films is ill-advised at best, the impact this franchise has had upon modern car culture is impossible to ignore.
From the early days when green StreetGlow neon lights were getting zip-tied to the underside of every Civic on the street to the recent auctioning of the iconic orange Supra from the first film for $185,000, along with the villainous 350Z Nissan from Tokyo Drift, the level of interest in these films and their cars is astronomical. Sure, these flicks aren’t cleaning up at the Oscars, but taking America’s love affair with motorized vehicles and building an entire series of fast-paced films around them is a guaranteed way to have a popcorn-munching hit on your hands.
But so many aspects of the aftermarket tuning scene are inaccurately portrayed in these films, thus misleading today’s youth into believing what they see on the big screen. Not all car meets have scantily-clad chicks polishing engine bays in miniskirts, or massive numbers of finished cars at every turn. And let’s not forget the scenes themselves, where cars jump, turn, and self destruct without explanation, leaving movie-goers in utter disbelief, and rightfully so. There are some pretty far fetched moments in every one of these films, and I cannot count the times I have come out of the movie theater only to see some jackass careening across the parking lot, acting all the world like some hot shot in his rusted-out Chevy S-10, even though he obviously doesn’t know what rev-matching means.
So in order to sift through all of the media hype, just and unjust preconceived notions, and mountains of machismo, I took it upon myself to get out into “the scene” and figure out how, as a car culture, these films have influenced drivers and movie-goers. Over the course of this past spring and summer I attended various car meets, spoke with people in the aftermarket tuning scene, and documented my findings both in writing and via photographs, because some of the stuff I found has to be seen to believed. But beneath all of the turbocharged insanity, and candy paint coats, a burning question was tucked away in the corner of my mind: What does this all mean for the auto industry?
What began as a few Saturday morning visits to the local Cars and Coffee at Fuel Coffee here in Cincinnati turned into prolonged stints at drag race events, followed by long hours at local cruise-ins and cigar-soaked days at car shows. With my trusty camera, a discerning journalistic eye, and a mountain of stogies at the ready, I was able to conclude that while car culture has undoubtedly been influenced by the Fast and Furious franchise, as a whole the kids who are building cars today are far more influenced by trends and standing out, than by a slew of action films.
Sure, you may still see some APC Euro taillights here and there, along with some gaudy graphics and a massive wing that just adds dead weight, but the days when these things were in style have pretty much faded. The kind of illegal street racing you saw all the time on MTV back in the day has been replaced by SCCA events and controlled trips down the drag strip, a trend that is fortunately growing stronger with each passing year. There also has been a huge shift away from putting TVs in every corner of a car and super dark window tint, and even though some people (and their rides) are still stuck in 2002, a move toward far more unsavory automotive trends has taken hold here in America, leaving many to wonder what will come next.
But this evolution makes total sense. The films themselves, which started off with young street racers and VCR theft, have morphed into films filled with exotic hypercars, bank heists, and Mission Impossible-level espionage. Sure, there is still a petrolhead undertone throughout, but it is far more muted than before, and this is reflected in the cars I saw when attending various meets over the past few months. The tuner culture aspect of the original films has been abandoned to suit today’s automotive tastes.
Nevertheless, impressionable teenagers are still going to get inspired by the crazy custom cars they see in films, and with a little luck, they may actually one day go about building a car properly, earning both respect and gratification in the process. It may start with Hot Wheels and grow from there, as they begin to realize that certain goals are obtainable, regardless of what the inspirational forces may have been. Sure, the idea of slapping a fart can muffler on a Honda Civic is probably permanently ingrained into human existence by this point, but we must not forget that before the advent of the Fast and Furious films, custom Japanese cars, street racing, and reckless endangerment had already long been a staple of youthful driving. These films just so happened to put it all on the big screen, and once millions of unknowing kids got to see what they had been missing out on, it just snowballed from there.
So have these films actually influenced a whole generation (or two) of car buyers and auto enthusiasts? Absolutely. The massive body kits and obnoxiously over-sized tachometers may have fizzled, but the guys who are still actively buying, building, restoring, and racing cars have those early years to build upon, as they look back, nostalgically reminiscing about “the good ol’ days.” What’s more is that automakers have found that by catering to a younger crowd with flashy spin-offs and tuned-up limited edition models, they can more easily land devout customers, who may one day opt for upgrading to a more refined option.
As 2016 approaches, and Millennials like myself begin to have kids, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Fast and Furious is officially a household name. This means that dads in their early 30s are likely going to raise their kids on these films, which is kind of a wild if you think about it. Hopefully by then we can tell our kids about the mistakes we made when “tuning” our cars after getting inspired by the flicks, and maybe, with a little bit of luck, we can help make the next generation of driver a more responsible one.