Gearhead Theater: Love the Beast

By Bradley Iger

June 02, 2014

If your movie watching habits are anything like the staff here at Winding Road's, your insatiable hunger for all things automotive means you've likely come close to picking the bones clean in the world of cinema during your never-ending search for car-related gems, but here's one that just might have flown under your radar. Released in 2009, Love the Beast is a documentary chronicling Australian actor and certified gearhead Eric Bana's involvement in the Targa Tasmania road rally and the vehicle he builds for the competition. While that alone may be worth the price of admission for many, what really makes Love the Beast special is the way in which this story is presented to the viewer, and the total sincerity of Bana's obsession with cars and racing. Below are two Winding Road staffers' takes on the film, and while we won't provide any spoilers here, if you're already primed to dive in at this point, you can find the two-disc special edition of Love the Beast in the WRR store.
Bradley Iger: For anyone with a particular affinity for muscle cars, this one is a no brainer - all that really needs to be said is "600 horsepower Mad Max-era road rally Ford Falcon". However, there's much more to this documentary than burnouts and burly Windsor small blocks.
What's surprising about this film is the level of depth and authenticity that's presented here. Love the Beast revolves around a 1974 Ford XB Falcon Hardtop purchased by Bana at the age of 15 and its 25-year journey from clapped-out rust bucket to a 600 horsepower tarmac-melting road rally thoroughbred and beyond. But more than that, Love the Beast offers a rare opportunity to analyze and understand why we as gearheads do what we do, and why we see - as Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame puts it - what most people would categorize as " two tons of wires, glass, metal, and rubber" as something much more than that. Automotive luminaries like Clarkson and Jay Leno appear throughout the film, offering sage wisdom and insight about what makes these inanimate objects worth obsessing over. 
The Targa Tasmania is a tarmac-based mutli-stage road rally event held annually in Tasmania, Australia, and much of the film is centered around Bana and The Beast's preparation for, and participation in, this rally. While we won't venture into spoiler territory here, we will say that the events that unfold within not only shape the overall narrative of the film itself, they seek to discover a deeper understanding of what the larger message of those events is, and why that message is of paramount importance to gearheads. Yes, this film does venture into what some might consider to be philosophical territory, but it does so in a way which is more or less devoid of pretense (Dr Phil's participation notwithstanding) and in a voice that we think the majority of gearheads will find to be utterly on point. Highly recommended.
Tom Martin: This film is dangerous, though getting in trouble isn't that hard, really. In our case, trouble began when we found ourselves, as one is wont to do, killing time one long Thanksgiving weekend in 2010. There’s only so much football worth watching, and our DVR’s few recordings of F1 had been watched. So, innocently, Tom III suggested “let’s watch Love The Beast”. The film was about a year old at that point, and he had just purchased the DVD a month or so earlier. I had no idea what he was talking about, but when he said “I think you’ll like it – its about the Targa Tasmania”, my reasoning was “how bad can that be?” Even though I didn’t really know what Targa Tasmania is.
It turns out that Love The Beast (LTB) isn’t just about the Targa Tasmania, it is about a lot of things. LTB stars Australian actor Eric Bana (Black Hawk Down, Hulk, Troy, Munich) playing himself in what is basically a documentary. Bana finds his first car, a 1974 Ford XB Falcon (kind of like an early 1970s Ford Torino for readers in the US). Bana restores the car with his Aussie childhood buddies and runs it in the Targa Tasmania. Of course, the reality of the plot is much more complicated than that, but we hate spoilers, so to find out more you’ll just have to watch the film. And, as you might expect, if you're Eric Bana, you don't just wash off a 30 year old car and run it -- as is -- in a grueling long distance rally across the twisty bits of an isolated island. Eventually in LTB there is a big horsepower V-8 sending terror into the hearts of the Tasmanian Devils themselves.
Now a film about running a vintage car with sentimental value in an exotic location might qualify as inspirational alone. Indeed, really that is enough. But, we need to add that for us Thanksgiving week has traditionally been a week for special road trips. In the early Winding Road days, we drove a Dodge Viper and a Morgan Aero 8 down and back up the California coast. And right after another Turkey Day, you may recall that we took a Porsche GT3 RS 4.0 from Austin to Los Angeles via the twistiest roads we could find on Google Maps. Our WR road trip history includes long runs in Ferraris, Porsches, Corvettes and even a TVR across the rural landscape. So, the week we watched LTB was a week when we were naturally reminiscing about driving on back roads.
But, as much as we love road trips, every one involves a certain amount of speculation about what it would be like if we could really crank it up. What if there were no traffic and we could use both sides of the road? What if we, as mature adults, didn't have to be concerned about that box truck coming the other way, two feet across the centerline in a blind, narrow right hander? Or being arrested in Alabama and thrown in the slammer (“Boy, we don’t drive like that around these parts”).
We'd also mention that those of you who find yourselves watching Nurburgring videos from time to time might appreciate that in LTB you intuit that competitors are, in effect, running scores of different Nurburgrings over the course of a week. How good would that be? You get up and run one lap at 8am. Then you do a different ‘Ring at 9:30 and so on,  six or eight times a day. If those questions sound interesting and then you watch Love The Beast, well, a light bulb is bound to switch on.
And so, the light went on for us. In Love The Beast, the Targa Tasmania looks for all the world like a road trip, sans speed limits, on your own private, empty roads. You really can't help but think "now that's the ticket". Indeed, as the credits scrolled by on the screen, we looked at each other and said, pretty much in two-part harmony, “we should do that”.
It isn't really that easy, of course. We are not rallyists. In fact, we don’t know much about rally, other than the accumulation of names and facts that car people pick up over the years; stuff like 33 EJB, Eric Carlsson, Mille Miglia, Audi Quattro S1, Lancia Delta S4, Colin McRae and Sebastian Loeb. That and the scores of YouTube videos we’ve watched of rally cars jumping and crashing spectacularly. But, we’ve never driven rally or even really understood exactly what was involved.
Being car guys, professional car guys in fact, that lack of knowledge didn’t hold us back. We immediately began searching for a vintage car to run. After arguing for hours about different cars we liked and eliminating the 90% that would break on the first day or that we couldn’t afford, it suddenly dawned on us that we already had a reasonable car: a BMW e30 M3. We liked the car, it had a good history in tarmac rallies, and we could find talent to help us build the car with a reasonable shot at surviving (remember, we were planning to ship the car thousands of miles and then run it intensively for the first time in what looks like the middle of nowhere).
As we did our research, we discovered that there is another great tarmac rally and it is closer to home: Targa Newfoundland. After a checking out a few Targa videos of racers with all wheels off the ground and photos of cars poking into Canadian houses we decided that Newfoundland was authentic enough for us. In fact, Targa Newfoundland involves a similar concept as with Targa Tasmania, but is less time and money intensive, so we decided to do that instead (our car was a year from qualifying for Targa Tasmania anyway).
As we did our preparation, we slowly learned the facts. The Targa Newfoundland is a tarmac stage rally that happens over about 2000 kilometers of roads in Newfoundland each September. In Targa Division, during “special stages” each team runs individually against the clock on closed asphalt roads. Between special stages, there are transit stages in which you drive non-competitively to the next special stage on roads open to normal traffic. Typically, each day involves about 400 kilometers of driving, 50 to 100 kilometers being the six to eight special stages for the day and the remaining 300 klicks or so being transit sections between special stages (the transits have recently been reduced).
Co-drivers are needed for navigation and guidance on pace because you’ve probably never seen the road you’re running on when you take off. You obviously don’t want to come into a blind hairpin turn at 110 mph, so your navigator reads pace notes provided by the organizers (e.g. ‘square left in 200’). A calibrated rally odometer system is a must.
Each stage has a target time for the class you are in. If you match or beat the target time, you have completed the stage penalty free (assuming you did nothing else to attract penalties). If you go over the time, you accrue a penalty (score) proportional to your time excess. The objective is to complete the course with as few penalty seconds as possible.
Targa Newfoundland can also be run in the precision-oriented Time-Speed-Distance format in the Grand Touring Division, or non-competitively in the Fast Tour Division. These latter two groups allow the use of cars not prepared for competition (roll cage, fire system etc).
Targa starts on a Saturday and ends the following Friday. Newfoundland not being very close to the United States (look at a map) means that you have to allocate at least 10 days to the event. The car prep is different from road racing and having some crew is, as always, helpful. So Targa is a big commitment. And even bigger fun.
As we said, Love The Beast is dangerous. In a good way.
Click here to purchase the two-disc special edition of Love the Beast from the Winding Road Racing Store.