Filming of the The Great Gatsby in Sydney in 2011-2012 required a large number of 1920s cars and local collectors and vintage car clubs were the main sources for many of the cars seen in the movie.
Vintage Motor Club cars selected for the film were the 1930 Nash 8 sedan, 1928 Oldsmobile tourer, 1929 De Soto coupe, 1929 Studebaker State sedan, 1929 Studebaker 8 Brooklands tourer and 1921 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost tourer. The cars were managed on set by the action vehicles crew who made a long day on set seem fun and interesting and at all times their affinity and experience with old cars came through, ensuring that every vehicle was respected and exceptionally well cared for.
In the action vehicles workshop I had the opportunity to look at the two yellow Duesenbergs phaetons, an Auburn and some other imported and local vintage cars used in the movie. The Duesys are reproductions, made with fibreglass bodies and Ford V8 running gear, like those that triggered quite a sensation in the ‘70s and ‘80s in US antique car circles. The Auburn boat tail roadster was made of old and new bits so isn’t a genuine period car either. But what many commentators do not consider is that these cars had to be driven easily by actors, their doubles and stunt drivers. These are not original million dollar cars but working replicars that still command a comparatively hefty price tag.
First VMC car filmed was the De Soto Coupe in the “Valley of the Ashes” scenes shot behind the old power station at Rozelle. Amid all the coal dust and grey of the scene the bright burgundy-red coupe stands out in the movie.
The Nash and the Oldsmobile had a one day shoot at the Fox Studios in the old RAS Showground. The cars were stripped of any modern items, or were covered up with black masking tape. With a T Ford, a Chev roadster, Dodge coach and a Chrysler roadster, Ford Model A and Model T Yellow Cabs and a stunning Lincoln sedan about 10 vintage cars made a congested mini traffic scene. The costumed extras were mostly beautiful young things, moving back and forth along the set’s footpath. The scene was busy Times Square at night, though the only clue was the light globe studded false awning for a 1920s theatre, false fire hydrants and lamp posts. Rehearsals were run through as huge green screens were hung around the scene almost completely enclosing it – apart from the cars, the extras and the few props everything else you see in the movie was added digitally where there was green screen.
The Studebaker BrooklandsSports tourer was at Fox Studios for the ‘garage’ scene where Gatsby’s Duesenberg is cleaned after the fatal hit and run. In the garage were the Duesenbergs, a V16 Cadillac phaeton and another well-known VMC car, the boat-tailed Phantom Rolls Royce.
The 1929 Studebaker State sedan can be seen in the movie trailers in the circular drive of Gatsby’s mansion for some of the party scenes. Filming at the imposing old Seminary overlooking Manly caused quite a stir among the locals with a passing parade of interesting vintage cars, on set were several Rolls Royces, including some formerly owned by VMC members.
Initially called for the Manly party scenes but then sent to Fox Studios was the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost tourer, the Rolls and half a dozen other cars were filmed dropping off Gatsby’s party goers.
The next call for the Nash was at Glebe Island for about 3 days filming. The old Glebe Island wharf is a really big flat space, and even the huge green screen back drops barely made their presence felt.
At the Glebe Island shoot were Ford Model T and Model A Yellow Cabs, a Ford T station wagon/bus, an amazing Dodge semi-trailer, a Dodge delivery wagon, Dodge utility, a Chrysler, Ford Model A coupe and sedan, Dodge Six sedan, a ’28 Chev tourer, a ’29 Chev sedan, a Chrysler roadster and several very nice Buicks, a Chrysler Imperial sedan, an amazing original veteran Dodge coupe and a vintage Rolls Royce hearse. All up about 27 vintage cars and several vintage motorcycles were used as well as the Duesenbergs and the Auburn, making for a really spectacular scene for the commuters going over Anzac Bridge and the tourists on harbour cruises – who thought the actors doubles were actually Leonardo and Toby!
Things got ramped up a bit for the scenes where the Duesenberg races through traffic, in the skilled hands of the stunt drivers and stunt pedestrians it all came together safely and impressively.
"Doing' Gatsby was something special for a large number of Australian vintage car owners and it is important that so many local vintage cars were sourced and so well used in this major film. For the Vintage Motor Club The Great Gatsby will be added to the impressive list of films and television productions where VMC cars have helped set the scene or in some cases been featured vehicles.