BRISTOL, Tenn. - The new movie "Need For Speed" is Aaron Paul's vehicle, but it was the Ford Mustang that received the star treatment.
Before he even cast a single actor, director Scott Waugh traveled to Detroit to meet with Ford Motor Co. executives about using the Mustang in his movie that opened domestically Friday. The film begins in a blue-collar town and stars Paul as a car-loving, hard-working street racer.
The Mustang was the perfect fit for his lead character.
"He was looking for a car that was iconic and definitive of American racing, and when it came to Ford, he was thinking specifically Mustang," Ford marketing manager Mary Ellen Abraham said Friday. "We were really excited about the opportunity. It gave the Mustang an opportunity to be used well outside the typical product placement, and the Mustang was cast as a leading character in this film."
The movie is based on the popular EA Entertainment racing game, and as the main car in the film, the Mustang outshines six European super cars that are also featured.
The Mustang in "Need For Speed" is based on the 2013 Shelby GT500 and billed in the film as the final car famed designer Carroll Shelby was working on at the time of his 2012 death. Shelby was working on 50th anniversary edition of the Mustang when he died at the age of 89, but the car in the movie is a fictionalized.
"It's the mythology of the story," said Abraham. "It's entertainment."
But Waugh felt it was important element of the story. "If you wanted a Mustang, you always wanted the Shelby Mustang because it was an amazing car," he said.
Both Ford and the "Need For Speed" production team were eager to respect the vision Shelby might have had for the "hero" Mustang. They didn't want to make the car look too futuristic, and also kept two of Shelby's signature design elements -- the blue stripes and chrome.
The frame was altered by celebrated Ford designer Melvin Betancourt and built by Techno Sports in Detroit. Among the custom alterations were a wider body, 20-inch alloy wheels, a V8 engine, heavier compression rates on the springs, high-charged Bilstein shocks and thicker sway bars. The interior console was adapted to accommodate an iPad for Paul's character to use when communicating with his crew and the futuristic side-view mirrors were turned into cameras.
Seven different Mustangs were built, each serving specific purposes ranging from beauty shots, stunts and driving shots to a model that could be lifted by and hung from a helicopter.
"We made several, and some of them were pretty roughed up," said Abraham. "But a few vehicles still remain. We used two last week at the premiere, one that was being driven and one that was on the red carpet."
Ford also used one as the pace car last November during NASCAR's championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the manufacturer is the title sponsor.
"Need For Speed" marks roughly the 3,000th appearance in a feature film for the Mustang, but one that Ford is particularly proud of.
"We think that this one is truly unique and very special," Abraham said. "Now one of the cars is driven by a really, really popular actor and it is based on a game that has over 17 million followers. So we've reached followers and customers and we're breeding Mustang lovers and sharing why Mustang has been such an iconic brand."