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Movie Cars: Crash on Sunday, sell on Monday

Thu, 19 May 2011

“Hey Toreador! She signals, we head for the edge, and the first man who jumps is a chicken.”

That line was one of the more memorable ones from the classic 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, and it helped cement cars as key supporting actors--and sometimes the stars--on the silver screen.

From Rebel's 1946 Ford Super De Luxe to the “Eleanor” Mustang in Gone in Sixty Seconds, if there's not a great car scene, it's not a great action movie.

So, where do all of these picture cars, as they're called, come from?

One such place is Picture Car Warehouse in Northridge, Calif. It opened in 2003 with 25 cars and two employees. Now the company has more than 700 vehicles and 40 employees including painters, mechanics, body-shop experts, graphic designers and stunt drivers. It's a one-stop shop for all of your car-chase needs.

The company moved to Northridge in 2010 after growing out of its former location in downtown Los Angeles. Last year, sales rose to $4.5 million, up from $3 million the previous year.

Picture Car Warehouse currently does work for the TV shows Memphis Beat, Entourage and Mad Men, among others. The company recently shipped two dozen 1960s and '70s classics to New York for the new Men in Black movie and completed a series of cars fitted with solar panels for an upcoming Bruce Willis film called Looper.

Another key piece of the business is mechanical customization. For some movies, directors expect cars to do certain things. For example, most minivans can't swing out the rear end in a chase scene, so they need to be modified. In the movie The Town, a Dodge Caravan was the getaway car. The company had to drop a 350-hp engine in it. They team also disables computer systems, antilock brakes and airbags so the vehicles can perform properly for the film.

Picture Car Warehouse rents out vehicles for as low as $350 per day. But standard rules apply, even to picture cars: You break it, you buy it.

By Jake Lingeman