Edmunds Feature - Driving Bumblebee (2009 Camaro) from TRANSFORMERS

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Jun 4, 2007.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Behind the Wheel of the Bumblebee 2009 Camaro

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    Though it looks like a Camaro, Bumblebee from the new movie Transformers is in fact an ingeniously and beautifully rebodied Pontiac GTO. If there's any justice in the world, Chevy will offer the '09 Camaro in this color. Let's call it "Bumblebee Gold."

    By John Pearley Huffman, Contributor
    Date posted: 06-03-2007

    We knew what we had to do. Get the first photo ever of a 2009 Camaro doing a burnout — or at least a car that's a dead ringer for the 2009 Camaro doing a burnout.

    So there we were last July near the set of Transformers, cruising along the roads surrounding an old aircraft hangar in Playa Vista, California. We were driving "Bumblebee," the Camaro that's the star of this summer's sure-to-be-blockbuster, looking for the perfect place to blaze the hides off its rear tires.

    It's amazing that we even got permission. "A burnout?" one Paramount Pictures publicity person asked us. "What's that?"


    Driving a Transformer

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    Since Bumblebee's GM-built body is taken straight from the same molds used to build the Chevrolet Camaro concept shown at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, the shape is identical.

    After lots of assurances that it wouldn't hurt their movie star except burn some rubber off the rear tires — and despite the agonizing trepidation of both the studio and General Motors — there we were cruising around Howard Hughes' old digs and shooting photos, trying to find the sweet spot where the light would perfectly catch the blue-gray haze.

    With filming taking place so far in advance of production of the 2009 Chevy Camaro, getting the new Camaro into Transformers took massive cooperation between Detroit and Hollywood. The result of this effort is one of the most impressive automotive movie props ever built — a fully functional, fiberglass-bodied replica of the concept car first shown at the 2006 North American International Auto Show. It looks just like the concept car, only it's painted a better color and actually moves under its own power.

    This is a movie prop, so it in no way necessarily indicates how the production Camaro will drive. In fact it has more in common with the just-discontinued, Aussie-made Pontiac GTO because under all that plastic there is a GTO — pulled straight out of GM's engineering R&D fleet. This feat is in itself nearly as impressive a feat of fabrication as any production car. And this car drives well. In fact it even did its own stunts.

    Yeah, it's fake. But this car and its identical twin (movie companies can't wait around for a busted car to be fixed so there's always at least one duplicate) are great fakes.

    Getting the Part

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    Why has GM put so much money and effort into Transformers? Because when you see that bowtie on the grille, you'll just want a Chevy that much more.

    There are a shockingly large number of Transformers enthusiasts out there. Weaned on the original Hasbro toys and several television cartoon series, plus comic books, these boys (and they have been virtually all boys) spent the 1980s obsessed with the battle pitting Bumblebee and the other Autobots against the evil Decepticons. Of course, every one of these Transformers geeks knows that the original Bumblebee was a Volkswagen Beetle. But the movie Bumblebee is — purists be damned — a Camaro. Actually two Camaros — first a clapped-out '76 F-body that later becomes the '09 version.

    "This is kind of a special movie in that the cars are characters," says director Michael Bay. "I wanted to find a special car and I have the best relationship with GM. They took me into their skunkworks and I saw this car. I said, 'That's the car.'" Not only did Bay know GM, since he has directed numerous GM commercials (he was also one of the first owners of a Chevy SSR truck), but also GM is unsurprisingly familiar with the film's producer, Steven Spielberg.

    "I didn't hesitate and saw the opportunity," explained Steve Tihanyi, GM's general director for marketing alliances and entertainment. "There was really no hesitation. It was only whether I could deliver what he needed. We've done a lot of things together. This movie is going to be chock-full of product." With filming to take place throughout 2006, getting the two "Camaros" necessary for filming would take a stupendous effort.

    Saleen's Thrash

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    The body is no flimsy piece of plastic, but a thick-shelled thing of beauty. This shot was taken moments after the body first joined the chassis.

    General Motors is in the business of building thousands of vehicles every day. But when it comes to building just two of a type, well, that's not GM's gig. That's where Saleen Specialty Vehicles comes in. Yeah, it's that Saleen: the company that made its bones building high-performance variants of the Ford Mustang. But its facility in Troy, Michigan, where the Ford GT was assembled, is also one of Detroit's most respected builders of show vehicles, and it even already had some movie experience.

    Saleen was hired by GM at the suggestion of Steve Mann, the picture vehicle coordinator on Transformers, who while doing similar duties on the 2005 film XXX: State of the Union, had worked with Saleen in creating movie-car versions of Ford's Cobra concept. But beyond that, Mann had also worked directly with Steve Saleen on 2003's Hollywood Homicide and, coincidentally, their daughters had been roommates for a year while attending USC. In short, Steve Mann knew what Saleen could accomplish.

    Since the GTO with its 109.8-inch wheelbase is already about the same size as the Camaro Concept with its 110.5-inch wheelbase, the Australian-built Pontiac became a natural base upon which to build the two Bumblebees. But the GTO is built around a unitized structure, so Saleen couldn't simply drop a new body onto the chassis. "Basically it was reverse-engineered by our build team," explains Bryan Chambers, the director of production at Saleen. "We had less than 45 days to build both cars so it was a barn-burner."

    To simplify, the bodies were chopped off the two 5.7-liter, LS1-powered GTOs while box frames of steel were welded up to compensate for the lost structure. Then a team led by Jon Zorn in Saleen's showcar body shop grafted on the GM-supplied fiberglass bodies that had been pulled from the same molds used to build the concept car.

    Throw in an interior also formed with fiberglass pieces, a lot of detail components (like the composite hubcaps that make the huge steel wheels look like the alloys on the concept) and a couple gallons of gorgeous gold paint and the result is the car we're driving along the access roads outside the old Howard Hughes aircraft hangar.

    Piloting Bumblebee

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    There's a lot of hard fiberglass in here, the vents can't be aimed and windows don't go down. But it looks great and the air-conditioning works.

    The old Hughes hangar in Playa Vista has been a popular place for filmmakers to shoot for decades. It's huge and tall, so big that impressive sets can be built inside. Also it's just down the street from Los Angeles International Airport, so all the talented craft and trades people that make for a great movie can easily get to the site. Fortunately for us (including photographer Randy Lorentzen), the hangar is also surrounded by private roads that once connected the various buildings on Hughes' extended property. This is critical, since the Bumblebee Camaro is nowhere near street legal and doesn't carry any sort of registration for operation on public roads.

    From afar the Bumblebee Camaro is simply gorgeous; the shape that mesmerized on the show stands looks even better in sunlight. Up close, this movie prop is even more impressive, despite plenty of fakery including plastic door handles that are supposed to look like metal and plexiglass side windows that don't roll down. This isn't some cheap splash of fiberglass done up by amateurs, but rather Corvette-quality resin and mat. Every piece of the body is perfectly formed, the panels fit to each other with precision and the paint is thick and luminous. It's not a production car, but it could easily pass for one.

    Inside the cabin, fiberglass panels cover components that obviously have their origins in the donor GTO. For instance, the instrumentation is simply the GTO's gauges covered in new frames, while the seats come straight from the Pontiac. Most of the surfaces the driver touches are hard plastic instead of the soft-touch stuff found in production machines, but it's all been nicely shaped and beautifully finished. Impressively, Saleen has even managed to keep the GTO's air-conditioning system intact, for which I'm sure the stunt drivers were grateful while filming during the heat last summer.

    Bumblebee Awakes

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    If you had access to this car, you'd do a burnout, too. That's Justin Mann of the Transformers picture-car department blazing the hides for shutter jockey Randy Lorentzen.

    The car starts instantly and falls easily into a familiar, throaty idle. The four-speed automatic transmission's shift lever has been modified from a GTO piece and it works fine. Get the car rolling and there's some road noise from the big tires since there's little sound-deadening material aboard, but there are only a few creaks around where the body is bonded to the frame.

    The steering feels fine, the brakes seem to work fine and there was no real chance to find out how the suspension worked. But my guess is that it worked just as if it were still under GTO bodywork.

    This is a miracle, because most movie cars are utter crap, clapped-out junkers barely mobile enough to roll across the movie screen and blow up spectacularly. They're incredibly lethal to drive, a mix of unpredictable dynamics and ongoing electrical fires. This Bumblebee, on the other hand, looks just about perfect and seems sweet-natured enough to do the morning commute. And when Justin Mann from the Transformers picture-car department got in it to do the burnout, it fried its tires like a seasoned street racer
    .

    No muss, no fuss. Most important, thank God, nothing broke, so the movie crew didn't chase me down the street while waving ax handles. We might even still have a career.

    This may not be the next Camaro, but if Chevy's lucky there will be some Bumblebee in every new Camaro it builds. Especially the ability to burn down those tires.

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    Soulful and friendly, this is Bumblebee transformed into the giant protective robot from outer space he really is. The fake Camaro is far more real, however, than any of the CGI robots.

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  2. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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  3. TankRizzo

    TankRizzo Sensational Moderator Super Moderator

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    if they're going to start calling it the "bumbebee camaro", I think I'm going to have to cross it off my list and just wait for the GTO :o
     
  4. Tensai81

    Tensai81 OT Supporter

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    I'm still on the edge of how bad-ass this movie is going to be :sad2:

    it's either going to be kick ass, or an abomination

    :noes:
     
  5. TankRizzo

    TankRizzo Sensational Moderator Super Moderator

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    oh, wait, they got to drive the ACTUAL car from the movie :o
     
  6. Jason

    Jason New Member

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  7. Jason

    Jason New Member

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    Given Michael Bay's track record without Jerry Bruckheimer, I'm going with the latter.
     
  8. autox

    autox OT Supporter

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  9. TankRizzo

    TankRizzo Sensational Moderator Super Moderator

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    :werd:

    The only question is will the action scenes be bad ass enough to outweigh the awkward, bland and otherwise poorly directed establishing shit :hs:
     
  10. Zz_3.14_zZ

    Zz_3.14_zZ New Member

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    :werd:

    I'm hoping for kick ass
     
  11. LDUB

    LDUB Guest

    thats last picture definitly isnt a transformer
     
  12. Kelvin96GSR

    Kelvin96GSR OEM>YOU

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    I think I'm the only one that thinks that car looks ugly
     
  13. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    Yep, definitely. I like it and I don't even like Camaros.
     
  14. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Flight of the Beater Bee

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    The rust is fake, the wheels don't match, the hood scoop is riveted on haphazardly and the front spoiler is broken. So it's perfect.

    By John Pearley Huffman, Contributor
    Date posted: 06-10-2007

    The guys from Paramount Pictures were freaked when we drove the replica of the Camaro Concept that's starring as Bumblebee in this summer's megamovie Transformers. Scratching it, they assured us, was as good as a death sentence.

    Letting us drive this 1976 Camaro, which shares the role in the film, was a little less stressful for them. "Go ahead," one member of the Transformers Transportation Department told us. "It's just an old Camaro."

    It's one thing for the makers of Transformers to expect audiences to suspend their disbelief for a few hours and accept that there are robots from outer space that can transform themselves from ordinary vehicles into giant killing machines. It's something altogether different to expect those same audiences to believe that a teenager can afford a new '09 Camaro. So when Bumblebee, the "Autobot" hero of the film first appears, he is this clapped-out rolling turd — a '76 Camaro featuring every mistake a hot-rodder could possibly make. Later on, he becomes the '09.

    But don't mistake this beater Bumblebee for a P.O.S. It may look like a trailer park reject, but it actually drives pretty well, plus it has a charisma all its own.


    Looking for Lousy

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    Stored alongside other Transformers vehicles at a race shop in Valencia, California, are the two beater Bumblebees that survived the production in running condition. The third was fitted with a prop engine for a scene.

    Back when Transformers was a cheaply produced cartoon instead of a big-budget, live-action summer blockbuster, Bumblebee was a cute yellow VW Beetle that changed into a robot nearly as cute and far less intimidating. For the film, the trick was to find a car that was affordable enough so that human hero Spike Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) could acquire it, and yet could transform into a robust defender of humanity's continued existence. That car also had to exude the humble, likable personality of the original Bumblebee.

    And it wouldn't hurt if Bumblebee were a General Motors product.

    "Originally, before GM was into it, I was pushing for Bumblebee to be a Super Bee," said Production Designer Jeff Mann, referencing the classic Dodge Coronet-based muscle car of the late-'60s and early-'70s. "It was the obvious choice. Then GM came to town, so I picked the crappiest-era Camaro. But I didn't want body-color bumpers. It needed to have chrome bumpers.

    "GM originally suggested a '69 for the trashy Camaro. But that was too on the nose. It would have been going from cool to cool. Plus, any schmuck knows that there are no more trashy '69 Camaros. I wanted this to be the crummiest Camaro possible from the worst year possible that still had chrome bumpers. After all, theoretically the kid buys it for $4,000 and his friends give him crap about it."

    Go back over the history of the Camaro and the 1976 model stands out as just about the worst. There was no Z28 offered that year and the most powerful engine offered, a four-barrel-equipped 350, could only manage 165 horsepower.
    But it's still a second-generation Camaro, and that's still kind of cool.

    Isn't it?

    Building a Better Beater Bee

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    All the '76 Camaros portraying Bumblebee were fitted with GM Performance Parts "350 H.O." 330-horsepower small-block V8s. With a modest 9.1:1 compression ratio, this iron-block/iron-head engine supplied adequate power for the production.

    While Saleen built the two 2009 Camaro Bumblebees from donor Pontiac GTOs, the three Beater Bee Camaros came out of the Transformers picture car department working under Picture Vehicle Coordinator Steve Mann (no relation to Production Designer Jeff Mann). "We found all the old Camaros online," recalled Steve Mann. "One was in Palmdale, California; one from Whittier, California and the third in Oklahoma. They all cost less than $6,000 and one of them was less then $2,000."

    All three cars were rebuilt and equipped with 330-hp GM Performance Parts 350-cubic-inch (5.7-liter) small-block V8 engines, topped by Edelbrock Pro-Flo electronic fuel-injection systems feeding Jegs 3/4-length tubular headers. Each also got a rebuilt Turbo-hydramatic 350 three-speed automatic transmission from CRC Transmissions feeding their stock rear ends. The suspension was rebuilt with an eye toward achieving that particular rake that practically begs cops to stop a car and search it for methamphetamines.

    The point of the mechanical refurbishment was to ensure the old cars would withstand the rigors of filming without breakdowns and with adequate performance. It's the decoration of the Camaros that would help tell the movie's story.

    The Right Kind of Disaster

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    Line locks are a stunt driver's best friend, making burnouts and powerslides that much easier.

    Like everything else in a movie, nothing was left to chance in how the Bumblebee would look. Director Michael Bay and Production Designer Jeff Mann knew that the car would be yellow and likely have black stripes going in, but details like the mismatched Eric Vaughn Real Wheels in back and Cragar SS wheels in front were hashed out during the production design process.

    "I think Michael wanted it to look like it had been attacked by an angry girlfriend," explains Jeff Mann. "We wanted it to be fun, but not totally garish."

    The big challenge wasn't really the exterior — the pop-riveted cowl induction hood and fake rust were no-brainers — but the interior. "It really was an 11th-hour decision on the interior," said Jeff Mann. "Originally the cars had restored stock interiors. But Michael hated that. He said 'Make it more friendly and not a black hole.' So I just went for it. We had five days to turn that interior all around. We used Glide '65 Chevelle seats because Glide had them in stock and we had to do this instantly. We used AutoMeter Cobalt gauges in a Covan's Classic instrument panel from the Summit Racing Web site. A Grant steering wheel and a B&M ratchet shifter. Then we put together the color combinations and Michael blessed it."

    Suitably aged, the '76 Camaro's interior is a riot of goofball and archaic car-building right down to its eight-track player. In short, it's wicked cool.

    Better Than It Ought To Be

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    While the reupholstered door panels and seats are a bit of an indulgence, most of the other changes inside the Bumblebee's artificially aged interior are typical modifications, from the new dash panel and Grant steering wheel to the B&M shifter.

    There's nothing surprising about how the Beater Bee works or drives. Of course the doors droop on their hinges — because the massive doors on all second-generation Camaros droop. Naturally the rear end sort of bounces around if you hit a road divot — after all, that's a solid axle back there on leaf springs and air shocks. And if the car goes in the direction the driver intends for it to go, that has little to do with feel-free steering. But come on. Old Camaros aren't new Camrys.

    Turn the key and the engine starts instantly; there's no need to pump the accelerator pedal or pray for the starter to catch. The fuel-injected small-block idles like a Cadillac and the throttle is nicely progressive. It's loud, but it's the right kind of loud, with an obvious V8 growl.

    Give it enough gas and there's more than enough power to fillet the 275/60R15 BFGoodrich radials off their wheels one ply of rubber at a time. But this isn't a street-racing engine; it's an easygoing drive-it-every-day motor. And the car is likely quick enough to run, say, low 15s or high 14s in the quarter-mile. Sure, the vinyl covering much of the interior is marine grade and it takes two hands to work the heavily sprung shifter, but so what?

    Going by conventional hot-rodding wisdom, this is exactly the sort of car we're not even supposed to like. And that makes it that much more lovable.
     
  15. LOtown

    LOtown Active Member

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    Why am I not surprised that Michael Bay owns an SSR? :mamoru:
     
  16. ihaveanevilplan

    ihaveanevilplan Everybody wake up, wake up, it's time to get down Moderator

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    i'm sad they didn't use a bug
     
  17. camaudio

    camaudio TALL. WHITE. BAIT. OT Supporter

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  18. CJPA

    CJPA New Member

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    God DAMN, that's the best looking GTO I've ever seen...THAT's how you make it look agressive, apparently :eek3:

    If they manage to not gay this up for production, maybe I"ll buy one of these instead of a Vette for the next ride :eek3:
     
  19. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    At least they admit that older car is supposed to be detestable. Why on earth they would consider a "riot of goofball and archaic car-building" to be earthy and charming is beyond me -- it is detestable.

    Yet, strangely, the part of me that isn't offended by the V8 almost wants to restore the thing. Almost. If nothing else would stop me, at least I'm six inches too short to fit the car.
     
  20. Bernout

    Bernout OT Supporter

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    How the FUCK did I miss this thread :eek5: :coold:
     
  21. CJPA

    CJPA New Member

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    How did this not make it past 1 page? :confused:
     
  22. matrix243

    matrix243 Earn this. Earn it.

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