Video is circulating of a rather unusual car stunt pulled in Mexico last week. To promote the grueling SCORE-International Baja 1000 racing event, a stuntman known as Adrian "Wildman" Cenni did this:
It's being billed by Digg as "the first barrel roll ever completed in a four wheel vehicle," and while it's insanely impressive, those of us who grew up in the '70s watching James Bond flicks can't help but do a double-take: The "first?" Haven't we seen this before? In that 007 installment [correction: The Man With the Golden Gun, not Live and Let Die] from 1974? That was way before CG, so that shot had to be real, no?
I did some poking around to find footage of the stunt I remember seeing in my youth. The first edit is with the silly in-film sound effect, whereas the second cut has the context added and the lame slide-whistle sound removed:
Okay, I guess a purist could argue that the slanted landing ramp prevents that earlier stunt from being considered a full barrel roll. But I'm amazed they attempted it at all in 1974, when they didn't have computers to help them calculate if it would work or not.
Or did they? For the moment, watch only the first twenty seconds of this inexplicably chopped-up clip, apparently taken from a '70s documentary produced on the stunt:
Amazing to see such primitive wireframes, and you just know that file was like, 24k total.
As satisfying as it was to see the Bond clip again after so many years, something about it bugged me. Everyone's saying that British stuntman "Bumps" Williard did the jump in an AMC Hornet X, but I coulda swore he did it in an AMC Javelin. A little more digging turns up why: I remember reading something about AMC Javelins doing barrel rolls, and it turns out they have. Following the Bond flick, AMC took advantage of the marketing opportunity and held promotional events at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. Given the stadium's status as a temple of football, they called the stunt the Astro Spiral rather than a barrel roll. If you go back to the video directly above and start watching from 0:40, you can see it in action.
Again, they're using the slanted landing ramp, so Cenni keeps his bragging rights. But to my mind that doesn't make the earlier stunt any less dangerous. Hit the jump to read excerpts from this Hell Drivers Q&A with one of the original AMC drivers, stuntman Jimmy Canton, where he recalls how hairy it was—and how the cars were all modified to have the steering columns placed in the centerline, for balance.
Q: What did it feel like inside the spiraling car?
JC: "It put about four to five G's on you, it spins so fast, it's just like a barrel roll in an airplane... You sat right square in the middle to get that spiral effect so your weight wouldn't go to one side.
"Over every wheel had to weigh exactly the same. You had wheel adjustments built into the car and good roll bars. Nothing gave when you hit like that upside down. You're the only one that gave and it would jar the devil out of you!"
Q: What was special about the ramp?
JC: "A series of events had to happen on this takeoff ramp. Your front wheels would hit the ramp and then you would hit a trip that knocked that ramp down so the back wheel wouldn't hit it—that's what would start it in a spiral.
"One side of the ramp was I think about seven feet high and the other side of the ramp was real low. So that gave it the final twist.
"As a driver, you had to hold that speed and listen. When that ramp dropped off from underneath the rear wheel, they had a little steel wheel half way from wheel to wheel underneath the car and it rolled on a steel plate on this ramp. When you heard that wheel hit and start to spin, that's when you had to get off the throttle.
"If you didn't, it would spin too far. There was a lot the driver had to focus on. You had to be mentally thinking every second."
Q: Anything else you had to focus on?
JC: "The driver had to be within a half a mile an hour and you had about an inch on each side (of the ramp) for clearance. You had to be right dead on the money!"
Q: The stunt sometimes flopped?
JC: "All this stuff had to work perfect. I missed three times, one of them in the mud. I just couldn't get the speed. Another time, the car went halfway and that's where it landed (on its roof).
"You weren't sure each time whether it was going to work or not....