“Fast & Furious”—the fourth installment in the franchise—is noteworthy mostly for reuniting most of the original cast from the first movie. But it also gave an iconic muscle car some long-overdue screen time. This is the story of how a Buck Grand National ended up on screen—as told by Craig Lieberman, a technical advisor on many of the movies in the franchise.
The Grand National only appears in the opening scene of the 2009 hit, driven by Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto during an attempted heist of a gasoline-tanker land train. On screen, the car is shown driving in reverse at speed for an extended period of time—not something any production car can do.
To make the scene work, two cars (a 1985 model and a 1986 model) had engines mounted in their trunks, with rear-facing steering wheels, pedals, and dashboards behind the front passenger’s seats. Clever camera angles were used to hide the literal backseat driver, but in at least one shot it’s still apparent that the rear wheels are steering, rather than the fronts, Lieberman noted.
1986 Buick Grand National from
Eight cars were used for filming, including the two reverse-driving ones. All were real Grand Nationals from various model years. One car had its 3.8-liter turbocharged V-6 replaced with a V-8 in order to improve acceleration off the line, Lieberman said. The 1980s-era stock turbo setup was prone to period-typical turbo lag.
All cars got modified suspension for a lower stance, riding about 3.0 inches lower than stock, Lieberman said. Brakes were also modified to make the cars easier to slide.
As of mid-2020, most of the cars still survive, according to Lieberman, mostly in museums or private collections.