My Car Quest

August 19, 2019

A Car Guy’s Tales from Hollywood

Hey, take heart, this one could still have a happy ending…

by Wallace Wyss –

“Beneath the tinsel all you find is more tinsel.”

That, in essence, was the sum-up for some famous writer about Hollywood.

Ask me, I can tell ya first hand.

I am normally a writer of automotive histories which are not, by and large, page turners. People read them because they want to read about their favorite engineer, car designer, race driver, etc. or just pour over the details of how their favorite car was designed, engineered and developed.

Oh, back to Hollywood. So I was working in Los Angeles and had brief brushes with the powers-that-be in Never-Never land, such as interviewing the director and producer of Gumball Rally, but I was never in a position to present a script. I did find an agent for, oh, a day or two and I and a writing partner sold that first script for a paltry amount, but should have had a time limit on it to get it back.

SHELBY: The Man, the Cars, the Legend

The Shelby book cover: the cover art found in Ford files, the book was written non-stop

I knew I was talking to somebody connected when he gave as a reference the head of Warner Bros studio-John Calley, and amazingly I got him with one phone call. But I never heard what happened to it. Ironically my co-author went on to a long career in TV series. As far as that first script went, who knows?

While I continued to soldier on as a car writer.

But lightning struck again, this time in 2011 after I wrote a biography of Carroll Shelby called SHELBY: The Man, the Cars, the Legend. That was actually my third book on ol’ Shel. The first one, Shelby’s Wildlife, published in 1977, sold 50,000 copies, enough (at the time) to buy a real Cobra ( bought a Ferrari instead).

Anyway decades later I wrote another a—new bio and this time, out of the blue, my publisher calls and says somebody wants to option it for a series or a feature, or, hell, even a documentary, and they’re offering an option of what, $15,000, spread out across three years, against a purchase amount of $100,000 plus if they decide to buy it. Basically an option gives you first place in line if you decide to buy it and already sets the price.

Carroll Shelby

Carroll Shelby

There were three companies involved in the deal, two in England and one in America and it was, for five minutes total, the property people wanted to attach to, including brothers Tony and Ridley Scott. But it was not to be. Even though the screenwriter was identified as a BAFTA (similar to Oscars) winner, I never read any progress reports and after three years, the checks stopped coming.

I knew the writer was a biggie, though, as he wrote The Vikings, which are after all, folks similar to race car drivers, before the car was invented (chasing women, looting and pillaging, etc.)

THE NOIR ZONE

Meanwhile one day I’m talking to a Ferrari wheeler-dealer and he tells me a Boxer Berlinetta he had handled at his business was investigated by the FBI , because, egad, it had been stolen right off the test track. So that gave me the idea for the plot for a detective story, one of those with a brooding noir detective (think Richard Widmark in Kiss Me Deadly, the first detective movie I remember, way back around ’53. I think I covered my eyes during the fight scene).

So I wrote up the saga of a hard boiled detective who lives in Newport Beach (which was a town I actually lived in) and who buys and sells Ferraris as a living, (which I actually did, plus a few Bizzarrinis, Rolls’, Bentleys, et al). The only thing was, I wasn’t a detective. Like my career as a barn finder, my fictional hero never gets the really valuable ones, like GTOs and SWB’s but more 330GTs and 365GT 2-plus-2 “queen mothers”.

The Ferrari Hunters

The Ferrari Hunters cover: Painted my own cover art, does Patterson do that?

I can’t have him be anywhere near as successful as one of the most successful barn finders I know, Tom Shaughnessy, because if he hit too many million-dollar cars at some point he would ask himself “why work?”.

Back to the story. So I write it up and call it “Ferrari Hunters” and then, manuscript in hand, think of approaching my regular non-fiction publisher. But am not sure they know how to handle fiction. So instead I just take it down to Kinkos (really!) and knock out 100 of them. Some I sell, others I give to literary agents. Now I have but one left, looking very lonesome on the bookshelf.

ENTERING THE PORSCHE CULT

I left buying and selling exotic cars some time ago (except for a 50 car collection of Italian cars still apparently in limbo) and recently have been writing Porsche books. I was updating my 356 book and realized there were over 14,000 made.

That’s a lot of cars (though I hafta admit, I have never seen cars rust as badly as Porsches, but then I am from the Rust Belt) . Probably a lot more than V12 Ferraris made between say 1949 and 1974 (what I call the “Golden Years” before the EPA, DOT And NHTSA). So there’s probably still some in barns and garages and lean-tos and carports all over the world.

So now it’s 2016—five years after the aborted publishing. I began to think, should I make the hero of my saga a Porsche guy instead of a Ferrari guy? Since I have been on the Gmund-to-Zuffenhausen trail, I have met some pretty sharp guys in the Porsche world—like Magnus Walker, who once he owns a Porsche, adds his imprimatur and golly suddenly and very magically it’s worth lots more.

And I have chased some rare ones down for my Incredible Barn Finds books, such as the infamous “three pointed scraper”, a B coupe that had a body shared by only two cars from The Works, each now worth a million dollars plus but the one I was tracking was once traded for a plane ticket. I could have my hero be a Porsche aficionado rather than a Ferrari tifosi.

So that’s why you see two covers here (the babe in the Porsche cover looks a little wistful, I might reshoot with a fraulein more zaftig) I’m hoping word spreads, through osmosis, to film directors and producers about the book and I hear from their agent.

The Porsche Hunter cover

The author’s mock-up cover if his hard-boiled detective collects Porsches instead

Hollywood is set up similar to a minefield, there are rows of mines so you can’t just approach producers and directors—they’re worried about lawsuits. You have to use an intermediary who knows where the mines are planted. Can lightning strike twice? After all, on that Shelby book, they found me…bless their hearts.

Why didn’t it get made? Ah, never say never. Like I say, maybe they are making it. Maybe basing it on someone else’s book. But it sounds to me like they have written Shelby out and written Moss in, who knows? Maybe it’ll be about drivers with made up names, some failed raw-boned chicken farmer named Elby…

(Incidentally even today you can look it up on the website of one of the two British companies involved and here’s how they describe the project: “(A) story of friendship and rivalry, power and ambition set in the high-octane world of 1950s/1960s motor racing, as a Godfather-esque feud between two rival car manufacturing dynasties pits gifted young amateurs against one another, risking their lives for a place on the Le Mans podium.”

And so it is. You’ll might find me some dark winter’s night down in Venice beach, hoping to run into, say, Roland Emmerich, Michael Bay, John McTiernan, John Woo…guys like that who, even in the Age of Ecology, will admit when there’s no ecologists within earshot that they like the sound of squealing tires and roaring engines and who has actually driven a sports car at full chat in top cog….Oh, and they have to know what film noir was…and where the hell is Veronica Lake when I need her…?

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: No longer waiting for his phone to ring, he gives his e-mail address as Photojournalistpro@gmail.com – click here to connect.

Magnus Walker and Wallace Wyss

Magnus Walker, the Porsche guru, poses with the author. He knows people who know people….

 

 

Hollywood sign

Summary
A Car Guy’s Tales from Hollywood
Article Name
A Car Guy’s Tales from Hollywood
Description
Beneath the tinsel all you find is more tinsel in Hollywood.
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Comments

  1. scot carr says

    ~ I really dig the portrait of Shel in his bibs ~ Nicely done, Wallace.

  2. Rollie Langston says

    Terrific real life story, very entertaining. Thanks.

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