Max Rockatansky, aka Mad Max, the loner/survivor/savior in George Miller’s epic saga of speed, violence, and leather-clad heroism, doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would live in this quiet, suburban neighborhood.
Max and minivans don’t mix.
But walk down the driveway of one particular house and there he is, or at least the North Texas version of him. His name is Jake Sposato and while his day job as a software-quality-assurance engineer doesn’t set him apart from his neighbors, his passion for the Australian Mad Max movie series and its post-apocalyptic, Outback-ready vehicles certainly does. He owns versions of three of them — including a right-hand drive 1973 Australian Ford XB GT Falcon, transformed into the souped-up Interceptor for the screen, that’s like the one Max drove.
He keeps the car movie-authentic, right down to the unopened can of Dinki-Di dog food that Max kept for his pet blue heeler and “Last V8” license plate.
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And when you’re strapped into the passenger seat, deafened by the roar of the Ford Cleveland 351-cubic-inch, V8 engine, accelerating through the streets of Lewisville, it’s easy to feel as if the real and fictional worlds of the action-film classic have crashed into each other. You half expect the kaleidoscope of Mad Max villains — Toecutter, Nightrider, Lord Humungus or Immortan Joe from the new film, Mad Max: Fury Road, opening Friday — to come careening around a corner.
And, if not them, at least, the cops.
For Sposato, 47, it was exactly the element of danger in the “Mad Max” films — Miller is known for shunning a lot of computer graphics in favor of human-powered stunts — that attracted him to The Road Warrior when he first saw it at age 15. (The franchise began with Mad Max in 1979, 1980 in the U.S.; continued through Mad Max 2 in 1981, released in 1982 as The Road Warrior in the U.S.; Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985); and it gets a reboot with Mad Max: Fury Road.)
“It was the action, the cars, the pace of the movie,” remembers Sposato, who says he was into go-karts as a kid.
“It was real guys going at real speed riding on real motorcycles coming within a foot of a tanker truck at 80 mph and shooting it with a crossbow.”
Sposato was also drawn to the story of a man — originally played by Mel Gibson and now Tom Hardy — who brings some sense of justice to a surreal and lawless desert landscape abloom with colorful bad guys and equally colorful cars. Lewisville is a long way from the Outback, but Sposato’s Interceptor reflects the movie’s automotive aggression — a fastback version of a fist to the face.
“The car does seem extremely fast,” says Sposato, “because it has no heat shield, no sound shield, the windows are always down, and there’s a big engine with a hole in the hood with a blower sticking through it.”
And it attracts attention — both on the roads of North Texas and on the Internet. Sposato, under the pseudonym Jake Dark, has 10 videos of his car on YouTube with more than 4 million views combined.
But the car, for all its swagger, is street legal, as the state sticker on the windshield attests. And it can be downright tame. Sposato says he doesn’t exceed speed limits on city streets because he doesn’t want to attract too much attention from either the police or his neighbors.
The Interceptor has even appeared in the Lewisville Christmas parade.
From Goose to gigahorse
Sposato decided he wanted Max’s car when he first saw it in The Road Warrior.
It just took him another two decades to get it.
But when he read that an Interceptor — one that had not been used in the films but was used in a documentary (Back 2 the Max) and for promotional purposes — was being sold in Australia, he decided to he would clear any financial or geographical hurdles to get it.
Sposato won’t say how much everything — the car, the shipping, the insurance — cost him, but admits he dropped “about a year’s salary” on turning his “Mad Max” fantasy into reality.
Since then, he has purchased another Max-like car — a 1972 Holden Monaro (GM’s Australian equivalent to a Chevy), like the one Nightrider drives in Mad Max — as well as a Kawasaki motorcycle decked out to look like the one Max’s cop buddy, Goose, rides in the same film. (And, no, these aren’t his daily drivers. He has a Mini for all non-Mad Max-related errands.)
Sposato — who is married and says his wife is supportive of his hobby — also makes appearances with the Interceptor. He’s been at the Cavanaugh Museum of Flight in Addison.
He gets varying reactions when he’s tooling around town.
“I can always tell who’s going to be interested by their age and their gender. It’s typically going to be a 45-year-old male,” he says. “A good number of them will see the car and smile. There are lot of enthusiastic thumbs up and the inevitable scramble to find their phones.”
And he already has his eye on his next Max car: Fury Road’s gigahorse — a pancake-stack of two 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Villes rammed on top of monster-truck tires.
“I know that’s impossible that I could ever own that vehicle. That car’s in Australia. It’s crazy,” he says laughing, echoing his original thoughts before pursuing the Interceptor. “How could anyone over here in America ever own that car? That’s crazy talk, sir!”
Sposato certainly isn’t alone in his “Max” mania. There are “Mad Max”-related sites like madmaxmovies.com, madmaxcostumes.com, and madmaxinterceptor.com. There’s a company in Seattle called Mad Max Cars that builds replica vehicles and parts as well as imports Aussie Ford Falcons. There’s a Mad Max Replica Cars Facebook page with more than 5,000 members and there are like-minded gatherings — such as California’s annual Wasteland Weekend, a Burning Man meets Walking Dead extravaganza that’s billed as “the world’s largest post-apocalyptic festival.”
There was at least one time when the whole thing has gotten some devotees in trouble. In 2005, several fans were arrested in San Antonio after a convoy of outrageous vehicles — including a tanker truck as in the climax of The Road Warrior — driving down the freeway from Boerne to an Alamo Drafthouse for a “Mad Max” marathon alarmed other drivers. Apparently, some onlookers thought the group was part of an organized attack. (Sposato says he attended the event but was not part of this particular caravan.)
Certainly, not all “Mad Max” fans are that dedicated.
But the aptly named Rusty Carr is pretty close. Not only does the 43-year-old Bandera man have the car — well, not the car but a close-enough replica — but he has the dog to go with it. Never mind that his rebuilt ride is not Australian but a made-over early ’70s American Motors’ Javelin that he found as a rusted corpse in Corpus Christi, and his Australian cattle dog, Hyde, is a red heeler, not the blue one that was Max’s loyal four-legged friend. But there’s no mistaking Carr for anything but a fan of Mad Max.
And it’s been that way for him since the ’80s, when he first saw The Road Warrior when he was about 10.
“It just kind of planted a seed,” he says by phone. “I’m a car guy by nature and I’ve built every car out there. And I like the rat rod [look], the flat black, and started building different cars … A buddy of mine said ‘You’re kind of like Mad Max.’ I hadn’t seen it in a long time, we had it on VHS and we popped it in …
“I started getting into the whole thing again and I want to get back into this.”
He missed purchasing an XB Falcon on eBay “by seconds” five years ago, found a Javelin, sold it, regretted it, and then started on another one. He picked a Javelin because it bears a resemblance to the Australian Falcon.
“I found that a lot of people confused them,” he says.
Today, he cruises around town in his second attempt, raising eyebrows and getting attention.
“This is by far the coolest car I’ve ever driven,” says Carr. “People will pull you over and ask ‘Where’s Mel Gibson?’…You have to be careful where you park and leave it. You really can’t leave it.
“Some kid or grown man will come up and shout movie quotes at you. You take it to a car show and park it next to a Camaro … It will make the [other] guy nervous.”
He hopes to take the car to opening-weekend showings of Fury Road in Kerrville or San Antonio.
“It wasn’t until I got back into Mad Max that I realized how it influenced so many things in my life,” he says. “I found that car [the Javelin] and I came full circle from when I was a kid.”
It’s a similar story for Kris Todd of Dallas who says he owes at least part of his gearhead obsession to these movies.
“I’ve been around motorcycles my whole life,” says Todd, 41. “I think Mad Max definitely gave the inspiration to do things on my own.”
He says he’s not the only one. “A lot of the guys driving around in junked-out old heaps that turn out to be complete hot rods, a lot of them are into the Mad Max thing,” he says.
And then there’s the rest of us, who neither have the time, money, nor mechanical know-how to turn our Subarus into Interceptors but are nevertheless engrossed in Miller’s adrenaline-pumping films that re-wrote the action-movie playbook.
“Mad Max had a mystique around it before I’d even seen it,” says film fan Bill Graham, 28, of Dallas who writes for the entertainment site thefilmstage.com. “The mystique around it originally was definitely the cars. And it was the way they dressed and dressed up the villain.
“It was more of this style over function kind of look and feel to things … And then you look at these and the stunts, you sit back in awe.”
But he says that he’s a bit of an anomaly for people his age. Many of the die-hard Max fans are 40 and over.
“My generation kind of missed a step,” he says. “A lot of my friends in a similar age range don’t have the reverence for the films. But when you get someone like a Tom Hardy or Charlize Theron involved in a film like this, that helps … And it’s garnered a lot of interest just based around the trailers.”
Sposato said he is looking forward to welcoming legions of younger fans. “All the indications are that the movie is going to hit big,” he enthuses.
Still, whatever happens, he will have his cars, which take him straight back to his younger days.
“I feel like a 10-year-old going vroom-vroom,” he says, standing next to the Interceptor in his garage. “It’s my big Hot Wheel.”
Cary Darling, 817-390-7571
More ‘Mad Max’
Read an interview with film director George Miller at www.dfw.com/movies or in Sunday’s Life & Arts section.