Like him or loathe him, renowned American movie director Quentin Tarantino’s eye for detail is truly incredible – and commercial successes with films like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill means that he’s able to indulge that eye as he sees fit.
His ninth film, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is based in Los Angeles in 1969, and tells the story of the friendship between fading TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).
The movie also ties in noted cult leader nutter Charles Manson, famed director Roman Polanski and his ultimately doomed wife Sharon Tate, who is played by Australian actor Margot Robbie.
For classic American car buffs, the movie is a real Aladdin’s Cave of collectable metal. It’s also notable for the fact that Tarantino was able to reconstruct four city blocks to recreate 1969 in real time, and the cars were a large part of the look.
The film’s picture car coordinator, Steven Butcher, told US film site The Wrap that he had to procure more than 2000 vehicles to produce the level of reality that Tarantino was looking to replicate.
And it wasn’t just cars. The film replicates daily life in Los Angeles, so buses, trucks, utility vehicles and passenger cars of different ages, makes and models were all sourced for use in the film.
A typical movie uses between 300 and 500 cars according to Butcher, but Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood needed four times that number to fill streets and parking spaces. Butcher, though, relished the challenge.
“I remember LA vividly. I knew what the streets were like. I’m passionate about cars,” Butcher said. “So this was a real fit for me.”
A lot of screen time is spent looking at lead character Dalton’s 1966 Cadillac DeVille… which also featured in Tarantino’s first feature, 1992’s Reservoir Dogs.
One of the movie’s stars, Michael Madsen, still owned the actual car used in Reservoir Dogs, so Butcher borrowed it (below), restored it and even built a replica for filming.
Tarantino originally wanted a 1959 Cadillac convertible for the hero car, says Butcher, but even famous directors have budget restraints; to find just one example would have cost in excess of A$150,000. As it turned out, the ’66 DeVille also fit the movie’s timeline more accurately.
More movie magic
Another car with a connection to an older Tarantino film is a powder blue, rough-looking 1962 Karmann Ghia (below), driven by Booth. The star of Kill Bill, Beatrix Kiddo (played by Uma Thurman) also drives a Ghia, but there’s no connection between the two films, according to Tarantino.
In fact, the director’s earliest memories of LA came from driving around with his grandfather in a Karmann.
The car itself was rebuilt for the movie with a Subaru boxer engine and automatic transmission “in case Brad didn’t drive stick [manual],” according to Butcher. “But he can.” A traditional flat-four powered Ghia was also used during filming.
There’s a genuine Aussie connection in the film, too; former Neighbours actor turned Hollywood megastar, Margot Robbie, plays the unfortunate Sharon Tate, the wife of noted film director Roman Polanski, who was murdered by Manson followers in her home in 1969.
Robbie's character is shown in the flick driving a Porsche 911 (below), and a quick dig shows that the car in question is a 1969 911L Sportomatic, which used a four-speed semi-automatic gearbox.
Robbie is also pictured in a 1952 MG TD, which was supposedly owned by Polanski. However, the MG was merely a loaner, as Tate had apparently bingled her husband’s Ferrari just before she was murdered.
Margot doesn't just drive Porsches... she's also a Nissan ambassador
However, there was one car where Tarantino decided that too much reality would be a bad thing. The Manson Family murderers used a shed-rough1959 Ford Galaxie Town Victoria as their getaway car.
The actual car still exists in the hands of a collector, and Tarantino discussed sourcing it for the movie with Butcher.
“But I had a meeting with Quentin, and we talked about it and thought that would be creepy to have the real car on set,” Butcher recalls.
More cars from Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
1968 Chrysler Imperial
1969 Pontiac Firebird
1969 Lincoln Continental
1956 Ford Mainline
1964 Buick Riviera
1967 Plymouth Belvedere
1969 Chevrolet Camaro
1968 Chrysler Town & Country wagon
1962 Mercury Comet
1968 Volkswagen Beetle convertible
1968 Jaguar E-Type
1965 Volvo P1800S
Many, many Ford Mustangs...