Steve Butcher, the automotive coordinator for Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, had his hands full meeting the director’s expectations during production. Despite being a silver screen veteran, with a history of working on cars in movies going back three decades, Butcher had to work overtime to come up with the more than 2,000(!) vintage cars the film required.
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is set during the last days of Hollywood’s golden age in 1969, and detail-obsessed Tarantino refused to accept anything less than 100% authentic classic cars. Butcher’s job was to act as an intermediary between the Pulp Fiction director’s sprawling imagination and the realities of budgeting for and securing a fleet vintage cars.
A native of Los Angeles who was 11 during the tumultuous year of 1969 at the core of Tarantino’s film, Butcher was probably the perfect person to source cars for the movie:
“I remember LA vividly. I grew up right outside of Culver City. I knew what the streets were like. I’m passionate about cars,” he said. “So this was a real fit for me.”
Return of the 1966 Cadillac DeVille from Reservoir Dogs
Quentin Tarantino is extremely meticulous when it comes to planning his films. He is known for embedding little details such as the fictional Red Apple Cigarettes his characters have smoked in Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Planet Terror, Inglorious Bastards, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, and now also, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.
As a result, it’s not really surprising that one of the most significant cars in Tarantino’s new film, was actually featured prominently in the director’s 1992 classic, Reservoir Dogs. The 1966 Cadillac DeVille seen driven by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is actually owned by Reservoir Dogs’ star Michael Madsen. To help it look extra spiffy on screen, Steve Butcher’s team gave it a new paint job, fresh upholstery, and used it to create several mock back-ups.
Originally, Tarantino had hoped for DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton to drive a 1959 Cadillac convertible. The budget for that car would have been around $100,000. Additionally given the fact that Dalton is meant to be still successful Hollywood actor, having him drive a 10 year old car, actually didn’t make a lot of sense for the movie. In the end, once Butcher and Tarantino hashed it out, they realized that bringing back the iconic 1966 Cadillac DeVille from Reservoir Dogs was the right choice.
Kill Bill’s 1964 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia also Makes an Appearance
Cliff Booth, Brad Pitt’s character in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a former Hollywood stuntman who is a bit down on his luck, trying to make a living as a golfer in the film. As a result, Tarantino decided it was the perfect moment to break out a 1964 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Those keeping score at home may recall this car was featured prominently in Kill Bill.
Apparently, according to Tarantino, the reappearance of the VW had less to do with Kill Bill though, and more to do with it being an iconic car from his childhood. For the car to be used in the new movie, Butcher had to modify it with a modern Subaru engine and automatic transmission. The mods were made to make the car easier for Pitt to manage, though according to Butcher, Pitt does know how to drive a manual transmission as well.
Roman Polanski’s 1952 MG TD inspired by the 1969 Film Model Shop
Originally Quentin Tarantino had wanted a super old school, 1930’s roadster to be the car driven by the actors playing Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. Butcher had to push back on this topic and tried to urge the director to consider a more modern car that had the look of something from an earlier time.
Ever a student of film culture, Tarantino apparently looked to one of the film’s which inspired Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, for clues about how to proceed. The 1969 movie Model Shop features scenes where Ryan O’Neal drives an MG TD. This was enough to get the director interested in using it in his new film.
“I came up with the MG because they were very hot because in ‘Love Story,’ Ryan O’Neal drove around in one,” Butcher said. “I had never seen the movie, and he even said, ‘It’s like an omen to have that car.’
Tex Watson’s Spooky Ford Galaxie
One of Charles Manson’s principal disciples in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Tex Watson drives a Ford Galaxie. This simple, everyday car was selected because it was the actual make and model the real-life Watson used in the murder which officially signaled the end of the care-free hippie era and the start of a darker, grittier time.
Tarantino and Butcher debated about whether to use the real car from the murders, but ultimately decided to stick with a replica instead.
“That’s an actual replica of the real car they used to do the actual murders,” Butcher said. “I found the real car in a guy’s private collection. The guy wanted to rent it to us to use in the film. 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.”’
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Vintage Military Truck
Steve Butcher really proved his mettle as an automotive sourcer when he was able to track down a very specific military truck featured in a 1960’s episode of the show F.B.I. Considered to be ultra-rare and extremely challenging to reproduce, even Butcher was surprised when he was able to locate the actual military truck which had been used in the 60’s era television shoot.
“I showed him the footage and said, ‘Do you know where I can get this?’ And he actually brought me over to the truck that was in that 1960’s episode of ‘FBI’. He said,this is THE exact truck they used. So I go back to Quentin and we were having a meeting, and I showed him the truck, and he flipped out. ‘You could find the Batmobile or anything like that, but to find some truck used in a random episode of something that was nondescript anything, that’s incredible.’ He was blown away.”
Source: The Wrap