Where do studios get old-time cars?

So, I’m flipping around the channels tonight, and I watched a few minutes of some sort of Bonnie and Clyde remake. Various people are driving around in 1930s cars, and at least one such car is driven off the road and wrecked at one point.

Where do the studios get these cars? Surely real cars from that era would be far too valuable to be driven around roughly, let alone wrecked. Do they mock up a 1930s car body onto a modern chassis somehow?

They do make replicas, and if they’re shooting on location they’ll put out the word to owners of antique autos, who love to get into a movie.

Obviously, if a car is to be wrecked, it’s a replica (usually just the body), and they probably use that for chase scenes. But if you’re recreating a street scene with multiple cars, having a bunch of historic cars is good, and the owners do like to have a reason to take their babies out.

When they shot The Way We Were around here, there was a whole row of antique cars waiting for the scene to begin.

There are a lot of replica kits you can buy to mount fiberglass bodies on Volkswagen chassis and such. The hot sports cars on Miami Vice were all replicas (there was no way they could have afforded real ones on a TV budget), as were several of the different Batmobiles used in the production of the 1966 Batman series (all made from molds of the Chuck Barris conversion of the Futura).

A lot of the parked period cars in the background are probably not even that; they’re just mockups made of different materials (I imagine that at least some of them are two-dimensional cutouts). This happens all the time when vintage autos and even airplanes are featured in films.

It is not just period cars.

Ages ago, when I did a few days of “extra” work in films/TV in LA, one TV show needed some cars that were not white or tan to park on a street where they were filming.

They paid me $50 to park my car on a street in the background (a relatively new 1994 Saturn - aquamarine color) - they slapped a lot of mud on it to make it look like it had been parked there for a while, then - at the end of the day - they completely washed the car inside and out.

But yeah - especially in LA most people with “interesting” cars (or trucks or buses, etc.) get them registered for films and can often make a nice chunk of change to allow them to be used in the background.

If you are lucky enough to live on one of those streets in LA that does NOT have palm trees, and might have all maple trees or oak trees or whatever, they are constantly filming there, so it looks like “Anywhere, USA”. I knew the people who owned and lived in the infamous house they used in Halloween - the first film - and they would use that house and street it was on for constant movie and TV shoots.

In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the Ferrari was a replica.

In The Italian Job, the Aston-Martin was actually pushed over the cliff, but when the ‘DB4’ explodes, it’s actually a Lancia. It’s said that the DB4 has been rebuilt, but no cite. The Jags cost the production £900 each – cheap, even then. At least one of them was restored and is still around somewhere.

There are companies that specialize in renting cars out for film and TV like Cinema Vehicles, where you can browse and pick by era or type, right down to ice cream trucks or armored cars…and there are also former dealer types like Bob McRae…a most lucrative gig, to be sure.

Here is a neat site related to the OP - The Internet Movie Cars Database. Identify that car you saw on the screen…

Just be careful about renting from Norma Desmond - she might get the wrong idea.

I have a friend of mine that collects and restores all types of cars. He told me he’s been approached (approached as in some guy just walking up to him in a grocery store parking lot.) on two different occasions by agents (or whoever) that they would like to use his vehicle in some type of movie.

And this is in Dallas. I can only imagine the offers people get in California.

In the movie Tucker, they showed a Tucker automobile in a roll over wreck scene at a track. Of course, they couldn’t wreck a real Tucker, so they mocked up a Studebaker or something for the scene.

There’s some models where any surviving example is worth serious money, but for most run-of-the-mill old cars, the cost of restoring an old heap would exceed the value of the restored car, so they’re not really worth much more than their scrap value. That means there’s usually a pretty big supply of cheap old cars that aren’t really restorable, but which a film crew can make presentable for their purposes.

Which is why in movies set in the 50’s and 60’s, often every single car looks like somebody’s lovingly-restored pampered garage pet, complete with anachronistic clear coat paint.

Lt Columbo’s old Peugot was one such car that had been knocking around the Universal lot for ages. When they revived the series in the '90s, they dug around a bit and it was still there, 11 years after the last episode of the original series had been filmed!

Of course with that one they skipped the step of making it presentable.

If I recall correctly, it is said that the old Dukes of Hazzard show went through so many Chargers (1 jump = 1 totaled Charger), that they are now in short supply.

Depends on how you define short supply. Have you heard of Dukesfest? They often have more than a hundred General Lee Chargers in attendance.

A close friend of ours had a car that appeared in Road to Perdition - he had a hobby of restoring old cars and trucks - he got paid some nice money to have one of his car in some of the scenes. He was approached by someone who knew someone who knew someone - he never did car shows and woudn’t know what the internet was if it bit him. :slight_smile: It was all word of mouth.

That’s funny! I never thought of that.

Thanks everyone for the fascinating answers.

Also, the ones that are wrecked don’t have to be driveable. So a husk with no drive train or interior found in a desert junkyard can be gussied up enough to take a tumble into a ravine.

If you’re in the old car hobby, you’ll be approached in some way. The most common method nowadays is for someone from the film to approach a vintage car club and post to their mailing list/forum or have the club secretary contact members with appropriate cars. The vintage car magazines do that as well, trying to arrange comparisons between contemporaries.

There are, of course, horror stories about cars being abused, especially if the car is touched by one of the cast (an RR owner’s classic was driven off by someone for a lunch date). A recently a UK journalist was sued to bankruptcy for damaging a classic he was test-driving for an article.

The DVD commentary for Super Troopers talks about this - they’d borrowed a classic corvette or something to be the vehicle of one of the characters. At one point, that character throws another across the hood - then they found out the thrown actor’s belt buckle had gouged a long line in the paint, requiring a ridiculously expensive repair.