Moviemachines' Bob Hartwig on building Ghost Rider's blistering Hell Charger for Agents of SHIELD

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Sep 20, 2016, 12:04 AM EDT (Updated)

Gearheads, get ready to rumble!  The brimstone black '69 Dodge Charger driven by Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna) in the new season of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is set to join the hallowed ranks of such iconic hero cars as Mad Max's Interceptor, Vanishing Point's Alpine White Challenger R/T and Bullitt's Mustang GT Fastback.  

Custom car designer Bob Hartwig of Moviemachines knows a thing or two about sheer blistering speed and creating deep-breathing, hi-octane muscle cars for Hollywood movies, having served as an F-15 Eagle combat pilot during Operation Desert Storm and purchasing one of Vin Diesel's hullking Hemi Chargers from the Fast and Furious films. 

Hartwig scored the contracts from Marvel this year to craft twin Hell Chargers for Season 4 of Agents of SHIELD as the Spirit of Vengeance invades the cast.   The hellacious Ghost Rider car was unveiled last July at San Diego Comic-Con to a chorus of chants and cheers while the convention center lights glinted off its glossy ebony paint and intimidating polished BDS blower. Based in Los Angeles, Moviemachines is the premier provider of distinctive movie and TV vehicles and this wicked creation could be their finest moment yet.

As the proud owner of a triple-black '69 427 Corvette Stingray roadster, I have a particular affection for the '69 model year as truly the last gasp of pure American muscle coming out of Detroit before skyrocketing insurance rates and unleaded gas brought the party to a screeching halt circa '71. This nightmarish supernatural Charger is going to burn up the screen when it drives us wild in the upcoming season of ABC's superhero hit.

Blastr spoke with Hartwig in an exclusive interview about creating the burnished black Hell Chargers and the Southern California hotrodder gave us a behind-the-wheel tour of how these sheet metal monsters were born.  

Ready?  Let's ride!  Marvel's Agents of SHIELD premieres September 20 at 10pm.


Give us a little background on Moviemachines and other Hero cars you have created.

I am a former Air Force Fighter pilot, and while flying for United Airlines, I started collecting movie cars. The first was a General Lee 1969 Charger from “The Dukes of Hazzard” and a Mad Max Interceptor. From there, I discovered a company that was the largest provider of movie cars to the industry and worked there for six years after leaving aviation. In 2015, I started my own company, Moviemachines, to create a niche business that catered to union transportation coordinators with the goal of being their provider of choice. We have grown from 15 to over 150 cars in one year
During the past year we have built and provided numerous vehicles for TV and film, including the Hell Charger for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  As we speak, we are building a special car for the upcoming new  King Kong feature film, and recently finished two classic Rolls Royce Silver Shadows for a feature film in Canada.  The bulk of our inventory is mostly for daily use by any number of television shows, commercials, and feature films.
How did your team-up with Marvel Television first come about?
Moviemachines has provided most of the vehicles for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the last two seasons. The transportation coordinator Tommy Tancharoen came to me to see what we could create for Ghost Rider.  Tommy is the best in the business and we were not going to let him down.  
What specifics did the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. executive producers provide you with for their high-octane order?
The producers were given a number of "looks" to approximate the style used in the comic.  In the end, they chose a version in which the look is very classic, yet tinged with modern accents.  They needed 2, with a Hero version and stunt version for different types of shooting during the season's run. We were only given 3 weeks to build them, with one to premiere at San Diego Comic-Con with the entire cast present. 
Were you familiar with the Hell Charger from the 2014 Ghost Rider comics or Secret Wars spinoff, Ghost Racers?
I was not familiar with the new series, but read every new installment as research.  At one point, I owned the Ghost Rider motorcycles from the Nicolas Cage movie and was very familiar with those.  However, Ghost Rider is given his powers from the previous Rider and it only makes sense that a car would be in the mix.
Where did you find the raw pair of muscle cars that were transformed into the black beauties?
Both cars ultimately came from Nevada, as California has been picked clean by the boys at Universal for Fast and Furious. Oh, yeah, we wiped out 4 more on a Dukes commercial, too.
Blast us through the build process for the two cars and the time crunch you were under. 
When given the go ahead, we had a bit less than 3 weeks to Comic-Con and the first day of shooting.  This was a tall order, in that older cars are never easy to make new without lots of parts and the integration of aftermarket performance add ons. With one car already in stock, it started getting new quarter panels and a trunk floor installed.  Then, my wife Jill and I zipped off to Reno to get what would become the Hero car, a decent 69 with fresh 400 rebuild and almost no rust. 
Meanwhile, I dialed Classic Industries and searched Ebay like a madman to get parts rolling, including everything from bumpers to headlights. We were also provided wheels from US Wheel, brakes from SSBC, tires from Cooper, and air conditioning for the hero from Classic Auto Air since it would be hot during shooting. But first, the cars had to be straight as an arrow, as black paint shows everything.  K&J Auto Body got the Hero first and had 1.5 weeks to make it look perfect and "show quality".  While it was gone, we finished the body redo on the stunt and dialed in the suspension mods, including coil over shocks, assassin traction bars, front and rear sway bars, and nasty exhaust to compliment the look. Of course, the blower is the biggest show piece, so we had to build them up to be "real" since they only really work in my imagination!  After paint, it's an exercise in coordination between upholstery work, reconstructing grills, adding disc brakes, new exhaust, mounting the blowers and a myriad of mechanical changes to make it rock and roll.  My shop manager Adam LaCasse made it all happen while keeping an eye on all the details that make this car so great.   
Can you give us a run-down on the drivetrain specs and power plant numbers for these devilish beasts?  
The stunt car has a 318 with aluminum performance intake, Edelbrock carb, electronic ignition, headers, and dual exhaust with H-pipe.  We added an aluminum radiator to keep it cool with aux fan and new waterpump.  It has a 1 1/4 inch front sway bar and rear one, too.  We added a Sure Grip rear end with 3.90 gears and SSBC front and rear discs.  To make it do hellacious burnouts, we included a line lock but, later, we separated the brake systems with a remote pedal for the rear to do slides and the regular pedal for the front.  Oh baby, it burns those tires.  There is also a switch to make the blower spin to give it that fully functional appearance.  The blower sits on a frame built onto the intake so it shakes, rattles and rolls with the motor.   The hero car had a 400 big block in it and we did the same performance mods as the stunt car.  In addition we added electric exhaust cutouts to go from mild to wild with a simple hit of the switch opening all hell and fury with the wide open headers when needed.  
Who got to take the first spin?
Adam and I each drove one or the other for its first trip around the block to make sure nothing fell off.  However, there was no time to play as, without any room to wiggle, we had to get them both off to their first destinations, Comic-Con 2016 at the San Diego Convention Center, and the set for first day shooting on July 22nd
Were you present at the SDCC unveiling of the Hell Charger, and what was the crowd's reaction?
My wife and I were able to witness the unveiling, and it was amazing. The car shined like crazy as Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson) removed the cloak in front of the fan frenzied Marvel booth inside Comic-Con.  Everyone seemed excited to see Ghost Rider in a new chariot.
Can you reveal to us any special abilities or secret accessories Robbie Reyes's car will display on Agents of SHIELD?
CGI will be the name of the game for the hard hitting Hell Charger as it defies the rules of this world and battles evil with evil with Ghost Rider behind the wheel.  Tune in September 20th for the new season!
What were some of the challenges and obstacles in bringing the car to life?
The greatest challenge is the lack of time when these builds happen. Everyone wants to hem and haw about yes or no to certain things as creators rarely have the seat of the pants timeline awareness that builders do.  But then again, time is money, and that's the only control we can have in the end to "speed things up".   Luckily, there are great suppliers out there for these parts and thanks to the reproduction parts makers, we can keep these cars alive.   
What are the differences between the two cars and how will they be used in the show?
The design was for a hero, inside and out, to be used for the actor and all the beauty shots with a stunt for action sequences and other driving that preserves the hero.  There are many times when one car will be shooting second unit stunt sequences while the hero is on stage doing closeups.  There are other times when the hero sits in waiting in case the stunt car breaks down and they still need to get that last shot or vice versa.  In the end, they are tools to get the job done but since we didn't match the interior of the stunt due to time and money issues, these cars will remain with specific duties that suits their look.  
What did actor Gabriel Luna have to say about the real-life Hell Charger when he first encountered it?
He often comments on how lucky he feels to have such a pristine looking picture car that really plays as a show car instead of a regular picture car, which is generally not that great.  
In a race for pink slips, who would win?  Your Hell Charger or Mad Max's MFP Interceptor?
Mad Max had 600 Hp at the wheels, but Hell hath no fury like a pissed off HELL Charger!