It would sure take a lot to be like Vin Diesel. Chris Ingrassia may not have the rippling biceps of this Hollywood hunk, but he does emulate one aspect of Diesel's action-packed life: his driving.
Ingrassia owns two vehicles as tough as Diesel, both driven in the filming of "Fast & Furious," the fourth installment in this blockbuster franchise.
Like many, Ingrassia headed to the movie theater in 2009 to watch the Hollywood flick. After the credits rolled, he didn't leave the theater intending to acquire two on-screen machines. However, a longtime love prompted the first purchase.
"I've always liked the Buick Grand National," the East Dundee resident said. "There's a big following for those cars and I've always been attracted to them."
In 2009, he purchased his black beauty. "This 1984 example came up for sale and its movie background was an added plus," said Ingrassia, who owns a specialty auto restoration shop.
While on screen, this sinister vehicle looks fully functional, but that's only movie magic. Reality tells a different story.
"Although these cars were jumpable and capable of fancy tricks, they're not as streetable as you might think," Ingrassia said. When the Buick arrived, it was gutted on the inside. "The studios take all the electrical systems out so a stuntman or actor doesn't hit the blinkers, headlights or something during production."
While the Grand National lacked legal requirements, it did come fully prepped to go fast. A Hotchkis suspension is installed along with a fuel cell and full roll cage. A big reason for the Grand National's devoted following was it's 3.8-liter V-6, but Ingrassia's car has something even more potent.
"The studio wanted this one to get up out of the hole so they installed a 350 (cubic inch) Chevy V-8," he said. Of the eight GNs used in the movie, Ingrassia's was the only eight-cylinder car. The brakes were also heavily upgraded for those screeching, sliding, tire-smoking maneuverers.
An additional two Wilwood brake calipers were installed in the rear and a line lock allowed for extreme drifting stunts. Ingrassia repaired a major dent in the drivers door and some surface rust on the bare steel parts. "I kept a correct balance between streetable and the movie references."
Next, he'll start the same process for the primered 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS. He acquired it in 2012.
"This car was built specifically for one dramatic scene. Diesel races and off the line pulls a wheelie," Ingrassia said.
To "lift" the muscle car, a heavily worked-over 502-cubic-inch V-8 was installed. The front end was also lightened as much as possible. Finally, a special steel tray was fabricated to mount behind the rear bumper. When the cameras were rolling, it was filled with 700 pounds of lead. A blip of the throttle and the Chevy's nose aimed for the sky.
After the film wrapped, the weights were removed and a milder 350-cubic-inch V-8 was installed to make it tame on the street. Ingrassia's family might prefer it another way.
"We love getting together and watching the movie," Ingrassia said. "But they always tell me after seeing the cars do something extreme, 'We gotta take the cars out and try that sometime!' "
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