The majority of the cars are on loan from studios, a few are from private collectors, and a couple are housed in the museum’s permanent collection. But most of these vehicles are not one-offs. Picture cars are typically fabricated in groups, with different versions serving different purposes.
“Most movie cars are made in sets of between one and 10,” Bodell explained. There are “A cars”—like this James Bond Aston Martin—which are typically fully functional models you see the actors driving onscreen. This differentiates them from “prop cars” that are meant just for static shots, and don’t need to run.
There are “stunt vehicles” that are used for chases, jumps, and crashes. These are built for durability and performance. They’re often equipped with dummy interiors, and driven by a technical driver dressed like the star. They can even be operated by roof-mounted controls, allowing the actual driver to do the work from up top, so an actor can be filmed inside, looking heroic and capable while clutching the wheel.
And there are the “promo cars.” These are polished and complete, and are used for publicity and premieres. “The Batmobile we have is one of three [built for the movie], and it was the promo car,” Bodell said. “It actually runs, believe it or not. But it runs a little warm, because the studio didn’t intend that car to drive very far.”
Overheating is just one of the many challenges picture cars face on set. “There’s a disconnect between what people know to be true in cars today, and what was true in the period they were filming. And increasingly, actors don’t know how to drive stick shifts,” said Jamie Kitman, an award-winning automotive journalist, and proprietor of Octane Film Cars, a vintage picture-car service with thousands of vehicles in its database that has supplied productions including Respect, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Nightmare Alley, and The Americans.