That time I built the Mad Max Interceptor
Mad Max: Fury Road is seeing tremendous success at box offices around the world. And one particular element has hugely excited fans of the franchise - the return of the XB. I would have been about 10 when I first saw Mad Max. It was the cinematic choice of an older brother of a school friend, the grainy VHS providing both fear and excitement in spades. And while much of the plot and social nuances were lost on me, one thing was etched into my mind forever… The black-on-black Interceptor. What a car! Menace, power and justice all rolled into one. The film summed it up perfectly – she is meanness set to music, and the bitch is born to run! Arguably a bigger star than Mel Gibson, the 1974 XB Falcon GT Hardtop became an almost iconic statement of Australian car culture. I was hooked. I drew them, built them out of Lego, even suggested that Dad paint his KA Ford Laser Ghia black so we could have one… Some 25 years later, I found myself again transfixed by the Interceptor – closer than ever before, as now, I was building one. I’ll share the ‘how this came to be’ story over a beer one day, but back in October 2009 I found myself searching classifieds and online forums for a suitable donor car to become a replica of the most famous Australian vehicle of all time. I can tell stories galore about the history of the car and the people I met during the build… but for now, here is a diary and a selection of the thousands of photos I have detailing the three-year creation of the most wildly cool car I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. -- A donor car was found in the wilds of Olinda outside Melbourne - a 1974 Ford Falcon GS Hardtop, with factory 302 Windsor V8 and 4-speed manual. A quick mechanical inspection showed no critical issues – it ran and drove (mostly) fine. The car had been through a ‘rough’ XB GT replica build and had a fluted bonnet and twin-light grille – as well as a respray from its original 'Tropicana Green' paint. Ford’s 302 Windsor produced 240 old-school brake horsepower. Torque? Those writing relevent literature back in 1974 seemed keener on measuring bell-bottoms than 'foot pounds'... First step – engine out for a ‘freshen up’. This makes it look worse than it was… There is a chap in Perth who makes all the components for your replica Mad Max Interceptor. Shown here is the rear valance, front and rear fender flares, roof spoiler, boot spoiler and bracket to fit… The fibreglass Arcadipane nosecone, which was styled by '70s Ford designer Peter Arcadipane. Shipping the car off for the bodywork to begin. Any 40-year-old car will have some rust. Turned out there was more than we thought – the boot was so bad that we scrapped it and replaced it with one from a genuine XC Cobra! The XB coupe tended to gather water (and rust) at the base of the rear window. We replaced the section of metal. Here the boot spoiler and ‘bat ears’ have been tacked in place. Test fitting the nosecone. The nose was mounted to a bracket that was welded to the front radiator support panel. Nose, fluted bonnet with cutout for blower and front flares fitted. The original bonnet on the car was actually a genuine GT item - and as these are getting rare - we didn't have the heart to chop a hole in it. This white one came from an older XB project car that had a blower hole already cut out. We just modified it to fit. Roof spoiler, boot spoiler and 'bat ear' spoiler ends all fitted. You can see the GT side-flutes too. The rear arches that were supplied didn't actually fit, so we had to source them from the pre-production team for Mad Max: Fury Road who were busy building a couple of XBs to crash in the film. Getting a delivery of more parts. The twin sets of quad pipes are quite a sight to behold. "March hare to Big Bopper..." The replica MFP roof console didn't actually work, but it did look cool. Some of the goodies that were in the box include the infamous headlamp covers, exhaust zoomies and official (and apparently highly illegal to fit to a non-emergency service vehicle) Police flashing blue light and siren. Oops. The Sunraysia wheels arrived too, with a completely irresponsible offset - they look fantastic Test-fitting tyres really helps complete the picture. The rears are a whopping 295mm-wide 50 series. White lettering needs to make a comeback! Back to the workshop and test fitting the 'Fury Road' flares. Still so much body work to do before we can paint. Drum brakes and leaf springs... just like the 2016 Toyota Hilux! Working on the blower hole in the bonnet. There are about three layers of metal in the bonnet construction, so as well as cutting a hole you have to weld up and tidy the edges. Starting to work on the bog to smooth the car all over. As you can see, even with all the parts fitted, there is a long, long way to go. Fun fact - the indicators needed for the cut outs in the front bar are from an EH Holden. At the same time as the bodywork was being done, we stripped out the interior for a tidy up as well. You can see the original Tropicana Green colour on the door skin. Another exciting parts delivery. The fake Weiand 8-71 supercharger and Scott injection hat. So yes - we went full movie magic spec on the build and used the pretend blower with the cabin-activated switch. A fun test-fit on the Volvo XC90 and you get an idea of how long the bonnet is on the XB! A few tense moments trying to size it up. If it didn't fit, we had to start on the bonnet all over again. Success! There's not a lot of room to move - and, well, I won't spoil the surprise but lowering a bonnet over the blower by hand isn't the same as using the hinges on the car... Test fitting the giant Sunraysia wheels, which were custom made for the project - there's plenty of space, particularly as the Interceptor sits with a serious rake angle toward the nose. Then... disaster! Sanding back some bog and a whole chunk fell off, exposing rusty metal on the rear buttress. Turns out there had been an old repair here and we had to start again on this section of the body. I won't lie - it was hard work. There were long periods where the car just sat like this - a work in progress that had lots and lots of work to do, no matter which way you looked. Juggling a full-time job and family, the build would always come second or third in priority. If you've never worked on a car project that requires bodywork and paint, I'll tell you now that unless you LOVE sanding, get out while you can. Fill, sand, repeat - which took about three weeks of most evenings for a few hours each time. Here the car is covered in a polymer high-fill that gets into all the nooks and crannies, allowing you to sand to a smooth finish. Fill and sand, fill and sand... The work starts to pay off though. You can see how clean the integration of the rear flares is and the sharp kink on the XB body is now pronounced again. First up, boot and bonnet - ready for painting. I was away during the actual spray process so this was the last I saw until... The black-on-black is finally black! There are four coats of 'dark black' high-gloss paint and about the same again in clear. There was still final cutting and polishing to be done, but the time spent on the bodywork is now all worth it. This is the fitment of the Arcadipane nosecone - it looks so perfectly integrated. As do the flares! Headlamps in. Fun fact - these are from an XC Falcon. Test fitting the lamp covers. Lots of other random bits had to be painted too. The rear valance and honeycomb from between the lights needed to match. I did get some new tail-light lenses with black surrounds though - thanks eBay. Nearly done? Well... not exactly. Time to rebuild the motor. We changed the heads and camshaft and made it 'essentially' a 351 Cleveland - as per the original GT spec. Back in the car with the 'Hollywood' supercharger bracket in place. Blower and pulley mounted - just not wired up yet. The drive pulley to the right is a windscreen wiper motor that is activated by the red switch in the cabin. Fire it up and the motor screams, spinning all the belts - just like in the movie. It does absolutely nothing for performance, though. Still sitting on its standard wheels and suspension, the undercarriage is the next area to get some attention. From the 'they don't make them like this anymore' category - the XB coupe has a massive boot! Even with lots of work to go, it looks the part. Much less dusty than the body shop, the Interceptor sat here in the workshop for about six-months looking just like this... When we fired up the motor, it kept starving for fuel. The bigger cam and refreshed internals were not being adequately fed by a 40-year-old single-jet carburettor - so time to up the juice... We added a brand-new Edelbrock manifold... ...And a big Holley carb. In hindsight, I would never do this again - I'd keep the 'matching numbers' block in a box and just put in a modern crate motor. First-start EFI, more power and better fuel economy. We did add chrome rocker covers, so it wasn't all bad. New fuel system in, all good? Nope. The grub screw holding the blower pulley wheel in place failed and the pulley spun off the spline - at speed. The multi-skin bonnet came in handy - as it could have been very messy otherwise. Finally - engine running reliably, it's time to go under the car. We swapped out the stock Borg-Warner diff for a Ford nine-inch LSD - plus added the suspension risers to give the car it's trademark raked stance. Fitting up the diff though - we were missing the opposite pair of this bracket... And this clip. Work stopped for about three months while I scoured wreckers, eBay and even old Ford Dealership stock to find the parts. In the end a sympathetic collector supplied both components off a GT he was converting to Touring Car Masters race spec. Looking down on the project gives you an idea of size of the classic XB shape. It's all bonnet and boot. Fitting up the side pipes and wheels - getting there! Outside! For the first time in over a year, the Interceptor sees actual sunshine. Even without the blower assembly it looks ridiculously tough. Flatbed again - time to get the interior installed. We re-covered the existing seats in new, black leather. Hardly the adjustable, electric seats you see today, but very, very comfortable. And an improvement on period-correct vinyl trim. New carpets throughout help make the XB feel like a new car. It was so fortunate that the XB was complete when we found it - all the trim components were there - except... The centre console. Note most of these ones are for automatic transmissions, so it was another hard search to track one down to suit our manual gearbox. Interior in, it was time for electrical work to be done. Max was a police officer and the Interceptor was a police car - so it needs a siren and a blue flashing light. Blue light fitted. Turns out it was not actually legal to have - even in the four-decade-old XB you are considered to be impersonating a police car. Blower switch fitted and new console trim in place. The final (non official) part - sourced from Ford in the USA where this is fitted to Crown Victoria police-spec models. Every car should have one. A quick tune to make sure the carby is dialed in correctly. And it's ready! So - armed with 'the last of the V8 Interceptors', where do you go? I stopped for some dinner in Albert Park as the next day, we were off... To Sydney! The first of many fuel stops. The car felt good - for an hour at least. Note the hastily fitted front number plate. This fell off somewhere on the way... There seemed to be a fuel problem. The filter was getting clogged after about 90 minutes of driving. I called ahead to a garage in Euroa and said I needed a fuel filter for a Ford 351 V8 - no one expected this. The whole town came to say hello. They made us some sandwiches for the trip and all took photos. Back on the highway. Hunting the Toecutter might have looked something like this. Broken down again. Each time it was just a matter of disconnecting the fuel filter, blowing the gunk out and connecting it up again. I've never swallowed so much petrol in one day. The fuel issues made bad fuel economy worse. Where I have done the trip in less than a tank in the X5, we filled the Interceptor at least five times. Then the inevitable. New South Wales Highway Patrol pulled us over - would it be the lack of a front plate, custom nosecone, obscured headlamps, eight side-pipes, giant blower protrusion, zero emissions equipment, suspension geometry adjustments or just outright impersonating a police car that they'd get us for? Nothing at all! Just some fans wanting a photo. Australia! Arriving in Sydney and the XB was too wide for the garage door! Driving through Sydney CBD. Parked up - and more Police interest. This time federal! We were on the up. Just more photos though. In fact, all the police officers we met - and there were many - were thrilled to see our Interceptor on the road. A pair of Australian icons. The Toecutter's last view. -- So what of the car now? It was sold to a collector in Queensland and is currently being used to promote the Mad Max: Fury Road film. Of all the cars I have ever driven (and there have been a few), nothing has ever attracted the attention of the Interceptor on the road. The build was long, hard, challenging, frustrating and yet hugely rewarding. The black-on-black V8 Interceptor remains a wonderful reminder of Australia's rich and engaging car culture, and to have been a part of it is an experience and achievement I will cherish for ever. She's the ducks guts Max - you can shut the gate on this one.