Porsche’s Sally Special is a one-off. A 2022 911 Carrera GTS with special paint, gorgeous retro-wheels and a tramp stamp pinstripe on her tail. A tribute to the animated character Sally Carrera from the 2006 Pixar film Cars. The Sally Special is the automotive embodiment of life imitating art. She’ll be auctioned off this week to someone up in Monterey. Two charities will get some money. Awesome.
Except we did it first. I led the fabrication and paint crew at E.P. Industries in Southern California that in 2005, working with Pixar, constructed the first and only full-size Sally Carrera. That’s our Sally next to the Sally Special in Porsche’s promotional photos. She still looks great.
The idea to create real life-size versions of the Cars characters to promote the movie in 2006 was pure genius. And it required a genius to make it happen. That genius is car customizer, madcap inventor and my boss, Eddie Paul. The E.P. in E.P. Industries.
Eddie passed away in 2016 but not before he and his crew created some of the most memorable vehicles for movies and television. When Paramount needed period-correct cars built for the filming of Grease in 1978, Eddie got the call. The oversize Grease job and others like it earned Eddie the reputation as Hollywood’s secret whose shop that could build anything. The Grease script called for 48 vehicles to be located, modified, painted and delivered with a ridiculously tight two-week deadline. This included the “Greased Lightning” Ford (the one with the clear hood and massive tail fins) driven by John Travolta and the Scorpions’ black flamed Merc.
Then called “Customs by Eddie Paul” was already Hollywood’s go-to shop for everything related to custom cars, stunts and special effects. When the Pixar crew decided to bring the Carscharacters to life, it was Eddie who, once again, got the call. The animated Sally Carrera was “built” by the super talented crew at Pixar Animation Studios. But, they know pixels and rendering and amazing story telling. We knew welding, bending, fabricating and painting. A full-size, running Sally Carrera couldn’t simply be 3D printed in 2005. Maybe not even now.
My automotive career began at Customs by Eddie Paul in late 1979. I was barely out of high school when Eddie hired me as a shop helper. I started out with nothing more than an interest in cars and a sincere desire to learn. It wasn’t long before I was shaping metal like an old pro and applying shimmering coats of candies and pearls in the rickety outdoor spray booth. This was my first stint with Eddie. These were the wild years for us. We customized cars by day and partied at night; we rode choppers and hung out with local one-percenters in their secret club house for fun.
If you watched TV in the ‘80s, you saw cars built by Customs by Eddie Paul. Our work could be seen every night on shows like the original Dukes of Hazzard TV series, BJ and the Bear, Simon and Simon, Mork and Mindy, Fantasy Island and CHiPs. After Grease, a steady flow of movie work kept rolling in. Vehicles for ET the Extraterrestrial, Streets of Fire, Against All Odds, Cobra, the original Gone in 60 Seconds, Mask, Heart Like a Wheel, The Best of Times and Ice Pirates, all were built by Eddie and his crew. It was a heady time to be part of that crew. And we knew our craft.
The job of building Sally Carrera, Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater for Pixar happened in 2005, more than 25 years after the Grease job. I had taken a 10-year break from building cars to pursue my other passion: writing and photography. Eddie’s business continued to grow while I was working on staff at Car Craft, Petersen’s Drag Racing and Sport Compact Car magazines. But Eddie and I always stayed in touch.
Shortly after parting ways with the car magazines, I got a call from Eddie to come back to work for him. He was still in El Segundo but I was astonished by what Customs by Eddie Paul had evolved into. It was E.P. Industries now, a thriving manufacturing business with full CNC machining and R&D capabilities. Eddie was busy inventing things like pumps and tools and engines and mechanical sharks; he needed somebody to handle the automotive end.
As they say in show business, it’s who you know. And Eddie Paul knew all the right people when it came to getting cool jobs in the film industry. We had just finished building a custom motocross bike for Travis Pastrana when Eddie got another call. He came out into the shop to tell me about it. It was a call from Jay Leno at the Big Dog Garage. “Hey Brian, we’ve got a new job coming in. It’s one of the biggest ones we’ve ever done,” said Eddie Paul. For Eddie to say that after all of the crazy jobs we’d done so far meant something really special was in the works.
A few months back, Eddie worked a deal with Boss Hoss Motorcycles to build two custom V8 bikes. Part of that deal included getting a big-block Chevy-powered Boss Hoss into Jay Leno’s ever-growing car and motorcycle collection. It turned out to be the best promo ever for the V8 motorcycle company as Jay rode the bike to the studio and let Tom Cruise take it for a spin on the Tonight Show. In a roundabout way, gifting that custom-painted motorcycle to Jay is likely what led to the job with Pixar.
As the Cars film production was about to wrap, it was Howard Buck who again brought up the idea of building real-life versions of the Carscharacters. Buck ran a company called Studio Services that handled vehicle placement for Porsche North America. “We got this very unique and very exciting opportunity to work with Pixar Animation Studios on a production called Cars,” recalled Howard. “So, we went up to Pixar Studios and met with the people there including John Lassiter. He gave us the complete scenario of how the film was going to be shot. The concept of building actual cars came up in one of the marketing meetings that we had up there, and we (Porsche) thought that was a neat idea. So, we asked Pixar how they were going to do it. They had a couple companies in mind, went out and got some bids but when they came back, they decided not to do the project.”
But then Buck talked with Leno. “I was over at Jay Leno’s Big Dog Garage over in Burbank and happened to have renderings of the three Cars characters, Lightning, Mater and Sally. I talked to Jay about it and said, ‘You know, I’m really looking for a company that has the ability to produce exactly what you see in this picture, in real life.’ Without hesitation, Jay said, ‘Well, I’ve got an idea. I know this guy…’” Jay pulled out his phone and called Eddie Paul, then handed the phone over to Howard.
Eight hours after Howard’s meeting with Jay Leno and that first phone conversation with Eddie Paul, the soon-to-be Sally Carrera 911 was on a transporter, headed straight for El Segundo. The next day, Howard called Pixar and informed them that he had found the guy to build Sally.
When Eddie was in full inventor mode it was impossible to keep up with him. To keep the build team apprised of what was going on in Eddie’s head, we had a large story board on wheels for Sally Carrera that displayed all of the illustrations that Pixar provided us with, plus sketches of everything that needed to be done. Studio Services had sent over a 1999 911, but before we made the first cut, it was Eddie and the Pixar team who determined the exact scale and dimensions for the real-life Sally. In a nutshell, the 911 wheelbase was shortened by eight inches, the roof was raised approximately four inches with modified A-pillars, and the factory front bumper would be replaced with a sculpted foam and fiberglass mouth. Since Sally is a 2002 model in the film, all of the 1999 components had to be updated to 2002 spec.
Building a car from the ground up was nothing new to Eddie or me. But taking a two-dimensional animated character and build a life-size car to the exact scale was something we’d never done before. We worked closely with Pixar throughout the six-week build. Pixar’s Production Designer Bob Pauley, Creative Director Jay Ward, and Character Sculpter Jerome Ranft were with us during the critical shaping of the body, making sure that every line and curve was perfect. In the end, both Pixar and Porsche were pleased with Sally, and the go-ahead was given to build Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater.
There is only one life-size Sally Carrera and, after traveling all over the world making people smile, she currently resides at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. “Technical experts from the cartoon animation world came together with custom car experts and if you haven’t seen Sally yet, you should check her out because Sally is perfect.”
Brian Hatano is an automotive journalist, fabricator and custom painter who worked with Eddie Paul on many movie and TV projects. He is also a former staff editor for Car Craft, Petersen’s Drag Racing, Sport Compact Car, Super Streetbike and Motorcyclist magazines.
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