When today’s films want to present an over-the-top car stunt, green screens and CGI let them create wild stunts without much danger. Before the advent of CGI, however, car stunts had to be done the old-fashioned way, with careful planning, high-performance cars, skilled drivers and a daredevil attitude. Although most of these stunts were made for movies or other promotional purposes, some of them were done just for the sake of doing them. Here’s our list of some of the scariest car stunts we’ve ever seen.
In 2008, Chinese stuntman Liu Suozhu, known in China as the “Car King”, drove his car on a pair of high-strength steel cables over the Miluo River in China. Speed was definitely not a part of this stunt; he took half an hour to successfully navigate the wires, which were suspended 150 feet above the river. It took Liu two months to prepare for the stunt, including scouting the right location and plotting how he could survive the stunt. He let most of the air out of his tires to give his car better grip on the wires; the exact make and model of his car aren’t known. Precision driving and preparation were key for this stunt; a single mistake would send him plummeting from the wires, and at times the slope of the wires blocked Liu’s view. In 2015, Jaguar duplicated Liu’s stunt to reveal the 2016 Jaguar XF, with Jim Dowdall driving the new Jaguar across the Thames.
The Mile-Long Jump
With more than four years and a million dollars of preparation, the Superjump of 1976 was supposed to shatter all the records. Kenny Powers drove a customized rocket-powered Lincoln Continental as he attempted to jump the St. Lawrence River on the border of the United States and Canada. As part of the preparation, his team constructed a mammoth ramp, eight-and-a-half stories tall, in the town of Morrisburg, Canada. His car performed flawlessly in the early stages of the jump, reaching speeds in excess of 280 mph. However, almost as soon as his vehicle left the ramp, the extreme physics of the stunt began tearing off pieces of the car, and a safety parachute deployed within seconds. Powers survived, but the stunt broke his back.
Skydiving with a Car
For some skydivers, it’s not enough to just jump out of a plane. On more than one occasion, skydivers have incorporated vehicles into their jumps, literally driving the cars out of the back of a plane and driving it through the skies for a few moments before jumping out to complete their dives. Some skydivers let the car in on the fun as well, giving the car an oversized cargo parachute so that it can come back to Earth safely. Other times, the skydivers simply film the mesmerizing sight of the car tumbling through the air. Skydiving with a car isn’t without its dangers, however; skydivers have sometimes approached a tumbling car too closely and collided with it in midair.
Claude Lelouch’s Paris Stunt
This stunt, filmed in 1976 for Claude Lelouch’s short film “C’était un Rendez-vous”, depicts a hair-raising drive through the streets of Paris. After attaching a camera to the front bumper of his Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, Lelouch embarks on a no-holds-barred joyride past several famous landmarks in Paris. Sometimes exceeding speeds of 140 mph, the driver ignores red lights, dodges pedestrians, swerves onto the sidewalk and drives the wrong way on several one-way streets. The stunt was filmed in one take without authorization from the Paris government; Lelouch had only a single spotter with a broken radio to ensure that he didn’t strike any pedestrians. At the end of the film, the driver parks his car to meet with his girlfriend in a park.
Fifth Gear’s Loop-the-loop
For the May 22, 2009 episode of “Fifth Gear”, the show challenged stunt driver Steve Truglia to set a world record by successfully driving through a 40-foot-tall custom-built loop. To complete the stunt, Truglia spent weeks training in high-performance airplanes to get used to the G-forces he would experience as he traversed the loop. After consulting with a Cambridge physicist to calculate the optimum speed for the stunt, he confronted the challenge of the loop. He would have to enter the loop at a precise speed; driving too slow would see his car fall out of the loop, but driving too fast could cause him to black out. With his heavily modified Toyota Aygo, Truglia was able to successfully navigate through the loop.
The Italian Job
Originally released in 1969, “The Italian Job” was noteworthy for its many cutting-edge car stunts. The stunts were planned by Remy Julienne, a French motocross champion, and many of the stunts were performed by him as well. The movie featured several stunts that remain impressive, many of them centering on a trio of MINI Coopers.
- The wedding steps: In this stunt, performed as part of a lengthy car chase, Julienne and his fellow drivers drove down a steep set of stairs at high speed. Although not quite as spectacular as some of the other stunts in the movie, this one did need some amount of precision; if the drivers drove too slowly, they risked rolling the MINIS.
- 60-foot rooftop jump: This stunt was also a part of the car chase; the film’s trio of MINI Coopers jump over a 60-foot gap between rooftops to evade their police pursuers. Julienne had to beg for weeks to be allowed to perform this stunt, which was so dangerous that it had to be filmed on private property. After demonstrating the stunt successfully on level ground, Julienne was finally given permission to do the stunt for real. Upon landing, two of the three MINIS sustained crippling damage.
- Sewer barrel roll: At the climax of the car chase, the MINIS escape through a sewer tunnel. To cap off the chase, Julienne wanted at least one of the MINIS to do a full barrel roll through the tunnel. Unfortunately, he was never able to pull the stunt off with the cameras rolling; every attempt ended with the MINI on its roof. Legend has it that he did successfully make the roll once during rehearsals, but the cameras weren’t recording.
- Highway vehicle ramp: To complete their getaway at the end of the film, the MINIS drove into a hollowed-out bus at highway speeds. The crew had miles of unopened roadway to prep the stunt on, but that didn’t make the task any easier. Julienne and his drivers had to line the wheels up precisely with a pair of narrow rails; a single mistake could send them flipping and rolling at 75 mph. The film called for a member of the crew to wave the MINI inside the bus, but the director of the film ended up doing it himself.
- Balancing act: For the film’s literal cliffhanger ending, Julienne and his crew had to rig up a Legionnaire bus to slide along the roadway, crash through a safety wall, and balance precariously over a 2,000-foot drop. After careful study, Julienne and his crew found an ideal location, but bad weather forced them to wait more than two weeks for their shot. With the help of a greased plate and some secured cables, driver Fred Toms was able to slide the vehicle and dangle its back end over the precipice.
The James Bond Corkscrew Jump
In a brief scene in the 1974 Bond film, “The Man with the Golden Gun,” James Bond cavalierly uses an AMC Hornet X to vault over a broken bridge crossing a narrow river in Thailand. In reality, British stunt driver “Bumps” Willard was behind the wheel. The stunt, which takes just over 14 seconds of screen time, required years of planning and was one of the first stunts to be designed on a computer. Two movie producers, Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli, had designed the stunt years before and took out a patent on the jump to prevent anyone else from attempting the stunt. Willard managed to pull off the jump on the first take, but the precision required to successfully execute this stunt has made it difficult to emulate; even a slight deviation from the required speed can easily result in catastrophic and potentially fatal failure.
Which of the stunts scares or excites you the most?
Do you know of any other spectacularly amazing or scary stunts that you’d like to share with us?