Cromax products used on cars in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis movie

It's a well-known fact that there was more to Elvis than just his music. He was also an avid collector of cars – American, and later European cars – but he had a particular love for Cadillacs. It’s said that he owned more than 200 Cadillacs in his short lifetime, many given away to family and friends as gifts throughout the years.

When production commenced for Elvis, Damien Drew, Senior Art Director for the movie, had the mammoth task of having to source specific makes and models of classic cars to be used for various scenes on set.

“The list was extensive with the rarer models such as the 1955 Cadillac Series 60 Special Sedan and the 1956 Cadillac Eldorado being very difficult to find. However, given that we were shooting on the Gold Coast, the quickest route was to put out a casting call on Facebook to all classic car collectors and owners based in Queensland, requesting 1930s-1970s motorcycles, trucks as well as cars.” said Damien. “We had an overwhelming response from the Facebook call out and I received upwards of twenty emails a day in those first few weeks. Many cars were not appropriate, but with the help of the Amor Brothers, JT Haken, and car clubs across Queensland, NSW and Victoria we amassed more than 600 cars in a database over the following months”

In addition to the fleet of classic rides selected for the movie, Warner Bros. purchased and shipped in six cars from the United States, with a further seven vehicles purchased here in Australia. The rest were rentals. During the course of filming, there were approximately 300 vehicles used across all sets. The Exterior Beale Street set, depicting Memphis in the 1950s utilised almost 60 cars on rotation during day and night shoots, demonstrating the magnitude of this production.

Damien worked closely with brothers Grant and Carl Amore, who own the Gold Coast Motor Museum in his search for cars to use in the movie.

“They needed quite a few cars for the street scenes, a number of which we provided, and if we were unable to assist with certain models, we would help source them,” said Carl. As specialists in restoring and preserving classic cars, as well as proudly displaying them, they worked on seven of the cars for the movie – prepping, stripping, priming, and repainting to specifications.

Once all the vehicles and hero cars had been sourced and selected, the next step was to colour match them to the actual cars owned by the King himself. This was successfully completed with support from Ryan Lochowicz at Axalta paint distributor, Oz Trade Supplies. Oz Trade were on hand to provide guidance on product selection and paint application, with Axalta’s own Colour Services team providing additional support with vintage colour formulas to ensure vehicles remained true to the era.

Haken Brothers Handcraft colour matched and repainted most of the hero cars used in the movie, including a 1953 Chevrolet Bel-air from yellow to white, and two 1955 Ford Customline police cars from blue, to black-and-white.

The Haken Brothers team worked for many months, sanding cars back to bare metal, priming and then painting them – turning over one car a week – with little to no margin for error - using Axalta products from the Cromax Centari, Spies Hecker Permahyd Hi-Tec and Perma-Solid 275 ranges.

Read more about this feature story on pages 8-11 in The Ultimate Finish, Issue 33 (November 2022) here.