Building Malcolm’s car

BY JEMMA PIETRUS

 

How did you come up with the idea of the car that splits in two?

David Parker: It was important for Malcolm to impress Frank with an invention that could be used in a bank robbery. The idea of a car that could split in two and escape down narrow lanes occurred to me as a device that a character like Malcolm would come up with.

In terms of the script, the scene when Malcolm demonstrates the car to Frank the first time gave us the opportunity for the police to be involved. The car also allowed a situation for Judith to be included.

How did the concept of the car evolve from paper to reality? Did the idea change as you went along?

Tony Mahood: David gave me the script and I loved it. The next hurdle was to raise the money. ‘Come on Mahood,’ he said. ‘Let’s not worry about the money. Let’s start building the cars, the money will come.’

So we went to work. David bought the yellow car and drove it home to his photographic studio in South Yarra. The studio was converted into a mechanical workshop and we went to work. The first job was to cut the car in half. ‘And then what?’, I asked. ‘I have no idea Mahood,’ David laughed. ‘Let’s just work it out as we go.’

David is a genius when it comes to working it out as you go. I remember his mother telling me that as a kid he was always stealing the lawn mower and converting it into something or other, usually a go-kart. He was incredibly gifted with his hands and could fix or convert almost anything.

David: My basic idea was to strip out everything from the car, take out the windscreen, then cut it in half with a four-inch angle grinder. It was surprisingly easy; it took Tony, Steve Mills and I a few weekends to do this.

Making the halves into two two-wheeled vehicles was the hard bit. We bought two minibikes from Albert Park Golf Club in Melbourne, cut them in two crossways, then started to fit them and weld them into the two half cars. It took months to get this right!

What were the challenges of creating a working vehicle?

Tony: The cars were out of balance, the wheels too far to the side. You can imagine when you cut a car in half, that you now have two motorbikes with the wheels not positioned correctly for this new vehicle. But we couldn’t just reposition the wheels because they had to match the complete car. What was the answer? Find a stunt man who can ride such a dangerous vehicle. But this was a low-budget film and stuntmen were a luxury.

So what could we do? ‘We can do it Mahood,’ David said. ‘You and I can ride them!’ And that is what happened. On the days when we had stuntmen budgeted, they rode the cars. And on the days when we couldn’t afford stuntmen, David and I rode the cars. When you think you have enough speed, you bring in your leg and foot and bring the car up as close to perpendicular as you feel safe (and pray to God that Nadia Tass is not going to ask for a second take!).

How did you decide on the make of the car, the yellow Honda Z?

David: I didn’t want to use a Mini because they were well established as a kooky film vehicle by then. The Honda Z was Honda’s first foray into Australia. It is tiny, I loved its look and we bought three of them for less than $600! We needed one car as a complete car, the two others were cut in half – one for the stuntmen with real wheels and motors; the other was set on casters on a low loader, for the actors’ close-ups.

Do you have any memorable anecdotes about the making of the cars in the lead-up to the shoot?

David: I was still working as a stills photographer in 1985, and we built the cars in my studio. My clients thought I was completely nuts as I photographed them with these cars in various states, dotted around the studio. I remember Skyhooks and Daddy Cool being highly amused by the cars.

Would Malcolm be an easier film to make with today’s digital tools?

David: I think a lot of the charm of the film is that these cars were actually real – I don’t believe they would be as effective as visual effects. Yes, it would be easier, but I don’t think the result would have been so organic. Tony, Steve and I had to learn to weld to build these, but I think Malcolm would have actually had more skills than us!