1969 was one helluva year, what with the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Beatles’ Abbey Road, Woodstock, Altamont, Easy Rider, Vietnam, and of course the frightening Manson murders. Quentin Tarantino’s new movie Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is not only an ode to old Hollywood, but also to the City of Angels itself, circa 1969. LA was, and remains, a city dominated by the car. When you set a movie in 1969 Los Angeles, you better have the cars to back it up, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood does that in spades.
When you set a movie in 1969 Los Angeles, you better have the cars to back it up, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood does that in spades
Steven Butcher was the film’s Picture Car Coordinator, which sounds like a dream job for any lover of 1960s American cars. Butcher has stated that some 2000 vintage cars were sourced for the film, from those driven by the actors, to the cars parked in restaurant car parks, movie set back lots and being driven on LA’s iconic boulevards. The average film uses between 300-500 cars, highlighting just how much location shooting Tarantino’s script demanded.
Let’s take a look at the details of the main cars featured in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.
1966 Cadillac Coupe DeVille
Wealthier Americans of the 1960s generally traded their cars in every two to three years, so we have to assume Rick Dalton would soon trade his ’66 Caddie for a new ’69 or ‘70 model. In reality, Tarantino insisted on using this particular Coupe DeVille as it also featured in his breakthrough 1992 hit - Reservoir Dogs. In that movie the car is driven by actor Michael Madsen’s character Mr Blonde. The car itself belongs to Madsen, who has a cameo in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood where he plays Sheriff Hackett in a clip from Dalton’s (fictional) western TV show Bounty Law.
Owned by actor Rick Dalton (Leonard DiCaprio), the 1966 Cadillac Coupe DeVille is driven exclusively by his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Having lost his license for DUI, Dalton is chauffeured around by his stunt double; a good portion of the film follows the Cadillac as Booth does the rounds.
Tarantino initially wanted Dalton to drive a ’59 Cadillac convertible, which would’ve blown the budget and as Butcher pointed out to Quentin, no Hollywood actor would’ve driven around in a ten year old Caddie in 1969. Tarantino compromised by including a flashback narrated by Cliff Booth, showing Dalton’s previous car was a ’59 Cadillac convertible.
No Hollywood actor would’ve driven a ten year old Caddie in 1969
Dalton’s ‘66 Coupe DeVille is a buttery yellow factory color called Cape Ivory. Redesigned for 1965, the DeVille series rode on an enormous 129.5-inch (3289mm) wheelbase. Tailfins were canted slightly while distinct body lines replaced the rounded look of the 1964 model. Also new were vertical lamp clusters and headlight pairs changed from horizontal to vertical, permitting a wider grille. Power was supplied by the potent 340 horsepower 429 cu in (7 liter) V8.
All in all, a ‘66 Coupe De Ville was a comfortable way to get around LA in the late 1960s
For 1966 Cadillac changed the grille subtly from the ‘65 model and there was generally less chrome on all Cadillac models, heralding a move away from the Detroit’s longheldf obsession with chromium. Firsts included variable ratio power steering and optional front seats with carbon cloth heating pads built into the cushions. Comfort and convenience innovations included headrests, reclining seats and an AM/FM stereo. All in all, a ‘66 Coupe DeVille was a very comfortable way to get in late 1960s LA.
For more cool Cadillac images go to the Tunnel Ram Cadillac gallery
1964 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
When Cliff Booth isn’t behind the wheel of Dalton’s Caddy, he drives his own 1964 Karmann Ghia convertible. The Karmann Ghia had an amazingly long production life - released in 1955 and manufactured until 1974 during which time VW sold over 440,000 units. Available as a coupe and from 1957 as a convertible, the Karmman Ghia was built on the Beetle platform, so was cheap to run, cheap to service and importantly for VW – cheap to manufacture.
The car used in the movie had a modern Subaru boxer engine that puts out at least four times the power…
At one point in the movie Booth performs a reverse J-turn made popular by James Garner in The Rockford Files TV series (also set in LA). Another scene has Booth fishtailing down Cielo Drive, however no stock Karmann Ghia had enough power to pull that stunt. The car used in the movie had a modern Subaru boxer engine that puts out at least four times the power of the puny 1500 air cooled flat-four that powered stock Karmann Ghias.
Cliff Booth’s blue 1964 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia is the same make, model and color as that driven by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol 2. Thurman famously crashed the car into a tree during filming – Tarantino later referred to the incident as his biggest career regret. Butcher claims the inclusion of the Karmann Ghia was due to the fact Tarantino’s stepfather drove him around LA one when he was a child, and not in reference to Kill Bill.
1950-1953 MG TD
The quintessential post war British roadster in OUATIH is driven by filmmaker Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), and is seen in most scenes with actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) in the passenger seat. We see the MG pulling up to the Playboy Mansion West and on Cielo Drive as the inhabitants make their way to and from the infamous number 10050, where the real life Tate and friends were murdered by the Manson gang.
Since Hollywood’s earliest days there existed a deep sense of Anglophilia (read: a love of all things British). Faux tudor mansions, tweed jackets, tennis courts, croquet and open top sports cars - the MG was once a very popular choice among the elite of Hollywood.
The MG TD was an updated version of the original TA that first saw production way back in 1936. The TD followed the popular post-war TC model, the TD released in late ‘49 with new features including an improved 4 speed gearbox, better weather protection and standard bumpers with over-riders. The 1.25 liter four cylinder engine produced around 50 horsepower for a top speed of 77mph. Available for the first time in left-hand drive to cater to the popularity of MG in the US, the TD was five inches wider to aid interior space. 30,000 TDs were sold before the model was replace in 1953 by the TF series.
More British sports car images in the Tunnel Ram gallery here
1959 Ford Galaxie sedan
In Once Upon a Time In Hollywood we see the Manson ‘family’ pull into Cielo Drive in a beaten up 1959 Ford Galaxie sedan. The car was prepared especially for the movie so that it resembled the actual car used by the murderers. The real car now resides in a museum, the owner apparently offering the car for use in the movie. Tarantino and Butcher declined, feeling understandably uneasy about using the original in the film.
In keeping with the era, 1959 Galaxies glistened with chrome and stainless steel and offered two-tone paint treatments as a factory option
The 1959 Ford range was introduced in late 1958 with the Fairlane 500, the Galaxie added to the range as an additional trim level and assuming the top position from the Fairlane 500.
In keeping with the era, 1959 Galaxies glistened with chrome and stainless steel and offered two-tone paint treatments as a factory option. Even so, the new Fords for ‘59 were less ostentatious than low-priced competitors from Chevrolet and Plymouth (dinner plate-sized tail lights notwithstanding)
Ford’s 352 V8 was the most popular engine option, developing a stonking 300 horsepower. For the first time the parking brake was pedal operated, with a hand release under the dash. Seat belts, a padded dashboard, and child-proof rear door locks were optional, while a deep-dished steering wheel and double-door locks were standard. Under new Ford President Robert McNamara, the company was advertising safety as a reason to purchase a new Ford (the Manson family would probably not see the irony) . Within a year, Ford quietly ceased the safety campaign after backroom meetings with GM and Chrysler management, who warned McNamara that his campaign may cause a backlash in the industry as a whole. Best not to rock the boat by reminding people of the horrendous carnage on America’s roads.
Ford sold 183,108 Galaxie sedans for 1959 model year.
Check out more images in the Tunnel Ram Ford gallery
1969 Porsche 911
Sharon Tate’s beautiful black 911 seen in the movie is believed to be a 1969 911L with a ‘sportomatic’ gearbox
Initially parked at the Polanski-Tate house at 10050 Cielo Drive, and in later scenes driven by Tate (Robbie) is a black ’69 Porsche 911. First released in 1963 as the 901, Porsche was forced to change the name to 911 when Peugeot threatened legal action after claiming they had the sole right to sell cars with a three digit name where the middle number was zero. Who said the French don’t have a sense of humor? No matter – Porsche changed the 0 to a 1 and the rest is history.
With the iconic, air cooled flat-six engine aft of the rear axle, the 911 series has sold over a million units (though changed to a water-cooled engine from 1998). Sharon Tate’s beautiful black 911 seen in the movie is believed to be a 1969 911L with a ‘sportomatic’ gearbox (you still had to shift gears but without a clutch) which may or may not have been chosen for the movie because Margot Robbie cannot drive a manual.
More images in the Tunnel Ram Porsche gallery here
1968 Lincoln Continental sedan
In the fight scene we see Cliff Booth throw Bruce Lee into the doors of a Huron blue 1968 Lincoln Continental. Remembered mostly for an unfortunate association with the assassination of President Kennedy, the fourth generation Lincoln Continental was Ford’s response to the rise in popularity of the Cadillac. More crisply styled than early ’60s Cadillacs, the 4th gen Continental had outstanding build quality, the biggest V8 in the industry at 430 cubic inches (7liters), stylishly functional instrument panel, and novel ‘suicide’ rear doors. A hit with wealthy customers and the motoring press, the Lincoln ate into Cadillac sales briefly and remained popular among luxury car buyers throughout the 1960s.
Remembered mostly for an unfortunate association with the assassination of President Kennedy
The Continental also came as a four door convertible, requiring a feat of engineering to ensure the body remained rigid enough to take less-than-smooth roads. But it was for the suicide rear doors this model is most remembered for, a novelty to be sure, but one that set the big Lincoln apart from all other luxury cars.
For 1968, Lincoln made several styling changes to the Continental to meet new federal safety standards. A new 460 cu in (7.5liter) engine became available at the beginning of the model year. Total Continental sales for 1968 model year was 39,134.
Check out the Tunnel Ram Lincoln gallery here
1968 Pontiac Firebird
The car was a success from the outset, competing with Chevy for Camaro sales and going on to become a legend in the 1970s with the famous Trans Am models
Towards the end of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood a pregnant Sharon Tate is driven to the El Coyote Mexican restaurant in friend Abigail Folger’s (Samantha Robinson)’68 Firebird. Painted in Mayfair Maize yellow with black vinyl roof, the car was one of 90,152 Firebird coupes sold that model year.
On a high from the success of the GTO, in the mid-sixties Pontiac wanted their very own sports car to compete against Chevy’s Corvette. ‘No can do’ was the response of GM top brass. But, they said, as consolation you can have the upcoming Chevrolet Camaro sport coupe. Begrudgingly Pontiac took the Camaro concept, made some styling modifications including a trademark prominent snout, and released it for the 1967 model year as the Firebird. The car was a success from the outset, competing with Chevy for Camaro sales and going on to become a legend in the 1970s with the famous Trans Am models.
Check out the Pontiac Firebird gallery here
1969 Cadillac Eldorado
After driving the 911, we see Sharon Tate (Robbie) later in the movie driving a stunning sliver metallic 1969 Cadillac Eldorado. One of the most expensive models in the Cadillac range, the Eldorado was based on the same front-wheel-drive platform as the Oldsmobile Toronado. With a 472 cubic inch (7.7 liter) V8 residing under its vast hood - the engine drove the front wheels via a chain driven TH400 gearbox, the torque converter positioned under the left cylinder bank.
For 1968 Cadlilac made front disc brakes standard, a wise move considering the 4,580 pound Eldorado was capable of hitting 60mph in under 9 seconds and could top 120mph. In what was a bumper year for Cadillac, the Eldorado sold 23,333 units, accounting for 11% of all Cadillac sales for 1969. Base price was a considerable $6,711.
1969 Corvette Stingray
In the opening shot at Hefner’s Playboy West mansion, we see a burgundy metallic 1969 Corvette Stingray coupe pull up at the roundabout. First introduced in 1968, the ‘C3’ Corvette was the first production car to have T-top removable roof panels. With engines ranging from the new 350 small block, to a monster 427 big block with 435 horses – the ’69 Corvette could be optioned as a power-everything boulevard cruiser, or a brutal muscle car. It all depended on a buyer’s needs and his or her budget.
Check out the Tunnel Ram Corvette galleries here
Fiat 850 Sport Coupe
Leading up to the penultimate scenes, Tarantino includes footage of Rick Dalton appearing in an Italian heist movie (a Tarantino tribute to The Italian Job?). It’s a chase scene with Dalton’s character driving a black Fiat 850 Sport Coupe as he flees pursuing cops.
The 850 coupe was first introduced at the 1965 Geneva Motor Show, with an 853cc, 47hp air cooled four cylinder engine mounted in the rear. Road & Track called the Fiat 850 Coupé "one of the handsomest, best-balanced designs ever seen on a small car." With typically stylish Italian seating and instrumentation – the 850 Coupe made up for being under-powered with inherent agility and superb handling. A top speed of around 85mph meant Dalton’s movie character would’ve had his work cut out escaping the Mercedes and Peugeot on his tail.
I once road in my aunt’s bright orange 850 Sport Coupe in the early ‘70s. With two adults in front and four kids in the back, we drove at speed to make the last Sunday train to Sydney from Newcastle, NSW. We arrived in the nick of time with rear suspension springs on their bump stops and the little 850 engine screaming in protest. It was quite a memorable ride…
For those of us who love and appreciate American cars of the 1960s, Tarantino has delivered a real feast. With 2000 cars appearing within the 2hrs and 40mins, there is something for car lovers the world over. It’s one thing to see classic cars at a weekend car show, quite another to see them lovingly displayed in their natural setting up on the big screen. For those of us who weren’t there, and for those of us who were and enjoy going back – Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a nostalgic trip back to a time we now view as the highwater mark for western culture in general. The movies, the TV shows, advertising jingles, cartoons and fashion, the music, literature and cars. Can anyone blame us for smiling as we look back…when we know that very little of today’s culture will be remembered as fondly in the decades ahead.
Let’s thank Tarantino for making Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The movie itself isn’t perfect, and bogs down at times, but taken as a whole it’s one long, sweet nostalgic ride back to a time and place the director, and most viewers I daresay, look back on with a great deal of fondness. 1969 one was one helluva year…
Other cars seen in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The links below display other more incidental models appearing the movie from Tunnel Ram galleries:
About the author
Raph Tripp is a passionate classic car enthusiast and writer, he is founder of TunnelRam.net. If you wish to publish this article in part or in whole, please credit Raph Tripp and tunnelram.net . This is an original Tunnel Ram production ©2019 Tunnel Ram. All images remain the property of the original copyright holders.
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