1969 Dodge Charger and Toyota Supra

The Universal franchise give cars the chance to step into the spotlight

When it comes to Universal’s “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, the cars have been as much of a star attraction as the actors behind the wheel.

That comes with the territory when your films are based around the culture of street racing.

But instead of the typical Hollywood car chase line up of foreign luxury or exotic sports cars, the “Fast” films have put the spotlight on American muscle cars of the 1960s and ’70s.

Dodge in particular has benefitted from the series’ success and is again prominently featured in “Fast & Furious 6″, which races into theaters on May 24.

The automaker has appeared in the franchise since its 2001 debut and has used the series to hype its redesigned Charger and Challenger nameplates. Vin Diesel’s glossy black 1969 Charger, nicknamed “the Judge,” serves as the series’ signature hero car, and Diesel also was seen in a Challenger SRT8 in “Fast Five” and drives a 1969 Dodge Daytona in the sixth pic.

Dodge stepped up as a major promotional partner for “Fast Five” in 2011, with a sizable ad campaign touting the tagline “Car Chases Make Movies Better,” and returns for “Fast 6.” Yet while the exposure for Dodge has been significant, it hasn’t had the bigscreen to itself.

Given that production of each film has required hundreds of vehicles — more than 300 for “Fast 6,” according to the picture car coordinator Dennis McCarthy — Fast ride wranglers have also turned to other automakers to match models with the traits of the films’ characters, making the franchise fairly auto-agnostic.

Diesel’s Dominic Toretto has also driven a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle and 1973 Chevrolet Camaro — both massive American muscle cars — while co-star Paul Walker has favored the sportier Nissan Skyline GT-R, Toyota Supra and modified Subaru Impreza WRX STI. Mitsubishi was a partner on the second film, “2 Fast 2 Furious.”

The new pic also features a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, 2012 Nissan GT-R, 1969 Ford Mustang, 1970 Ford Escort RS2000, 1971 Jensen Interceptor, 2006 Aston Martin Vanquish and 2010 BMW M5.

Now that Chrysler is owned by Italian automaker Fiat, the new owner enabled Universal to integrate the company’s other foreign models like Alfa Romeo in key action sequences, as well. “Because the car placement was so U.S. focused in the past, it wasn’t easy to work with brands whose cars weren’t sold in Europe or the rest of the world,” says Universal Partnerships and Licensing president Stephanie Sperber.

What’s been good for Dodge has also helped other carmakers tied to the “Fast & Furious.”

“The car companies love (the franchise) because it is grounded in reality,” Sperber says. “It’s not sci-fi, it’s not something that is so out of the ordinary, in terms of how the cars are handled or how the people are driving them. Guns don’t rise up out of the hood. The cars play themselves and that makes it really attractive for car manufacturers. They can showcase their cars in a way where they look fantastic, show off their attributes and don’t take them into a pure fantasy realm.”

Sperber adds that the film’s multi-ethnic cast is also attractive to carmakers.

Their brands have received even more exposure through such videogames as the upcoming “Fast & Furious: Showdown,” out for most platforms May 24, as well as licensed merchandise like radio controlled toys and a new Hot Wheels deal.

“Fast” consumer products are an expanding business for the studio, especially as the films attract a younger fanbase.

“It’s been aging down consistently,” Sperber says. “The original audience that went to see the first one often times now have kids and are bringing them to see the films.”

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