For three decades, the Sciortinos have been harmoniously designing, building and often rigging cars with pyrotechnic devices for movies and television. Ninety percent of the cars seen on TV today (as well as virtually those in all of the popular 1980s TV series) have been built by this father and son team, along with those in feature films that make up an impressive list.


On the movie side, the short list includes the "Indiana Jones" franchise, all of the "Back to the Future" movies, "Lethal Weapon," "A Few Good Men," "Bugsy," "Cannonball Run," "Days of Thunder," "Unlawful Entry," "Smokey and the Bandit," "Dick Tracy" and lots more. [Please refer to the Filmmography below for a more complete list.]

The TV end includes "Viper," "The Fall Guy," "Wonder Woman," "The Incredible Hulk," "Baretta," "Columbo," "Nash Bridges," "MASH," "Happy Days," "The Waltons," "Hardcastle and McCormick" and the James Caan "Las Vegas" series, among many others.


"Most of the cars are destroyed. That's why we build them," says Mario's son Michael. "Most of the time, our work goes out there to be ruined, the object being for the studio to get its shots. I look at it as a job, not as a car. Rigging a car to blow it up takes a lot of finesse. How you do it depends on what the studio wants people to see, whether it be the tops of the seats, the interior, or the doors or the wheels flying off. There are a lot of safety issues involved."

"Often, we'll have to duplicate a certain car, putting dents and scratches and the like on the clone or clones, allowing the original to remain in good shape," adds Mario. "For 'Last Action Hero' starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, we built the principal car and three duplicates. For the movie 'Dumb and Dumber' we built the principal car and three duplicates. For 'Nash Bridges,' we built the principal car and four duplicates. We built 12 'Kitts' for 'Knight Rider,' including one promotional car that went out on tour in which everything was dunctional. We handle the paintwork end of the buisness as well as the fine little details, such as making a car look aged. We also build miniatures." Mario and Michael built the miniature, in fact, that launched the building of the Stardust's Las Vegas Time Capsule in honor of the hotel's 45th Anniversary. They designed the blue aluminum rocket-shaped capsule and constructed it piece by piece entirely by hand. Mike then painted it, hand-lettered the logo, and pinstriped the edges.


The latter is a talent Michael Sciortino honed as a kid by hanging around a famed old pinstriper named Von Dutch, who died in 1992. He'd go to Von Dutch's shop and spend hours watching him work, talking to him and asking questions. Von Dutch and a alot of other guys who made their living in the car or hot rod business would also often hang out at the Sciortino shop, providing an extraordinary education for the youngster.

Mike actually began spending time around his Dad's shop when he was 6 years old, sanding cars and taping them up to be painted. It was inevitable that the business would someday be passed down to him, having been built generation by generation into a name that would withstand the test of time. It all began with Mario's grandfather, Sam, who built stagecoaches and buggies in Italy. He emigrated to New York, bringing the business with him. Mario had a love for cars and had restored his first one at age 15.

Mario Sciortino opened a custom motor home business in 1973 with his father, Dick, in the San Fernando Valley. Father and son built custom motor homes for celebrities, outfitted with dressing rooms or mobile offices to be taken on movie locations. "The Vogue Coach", as it was called, became the No. 1 motor home in the country. Lynda Carter, Robert Blake and Lyle Waggoner were just a few of the notables who owned one.


From there, the business evolved into making cars and props for Hollywood studios. Mario's initiation into the world of TV came in 1978-79 when he was called upon to build all the trucks, cars and anything else that was motorized for "The Waltons," a gig that lasted seven years.

Shortly after Dick died in 1984, Mike, who also loved cars and restored his first one at 16, became a serious force via his company Unique Movie Cars, Inc. Then, in 1989, Mario moved the family to Las Vegas and opened up the Henderson shop with his son Mike, while still keeping the California location. He and Mike have moved that complete shop to Las Vegas. They also have one other location in Florida, near Disneyworld, which they will keep for ongoing work with Disney Productions.

"We're usually working on several things at one time," Mike notes. It's like a production line. My dad and I will sit down and have meetings and figure out what we need to do, how to do it and what to order. We have a lot of meetings with the studios before we start a project. We get storyboards and scripts. We go through them and see how the cars need to look and act. Most of the time, the studio leaves things up to us and my Dad and I work on the details."

That detail can include putting bullet squibs in a door panel so that when there is a gunfight and the car is shot at, a bullet hole is blown out and the attending smoke effects suddenly appear. Mario and Mike drill the bullet holes in the door then fill them and sand (dangerous since friction can set off the charges) and paint the door so that the holes are undetectable to the naked eye as well as to a camera eye.

"We've sometimes put 75 bullet squibs in a car," Mike smiles. "My Dad did a station wagon for a show called 'L.A. Takedown' for which he put in 250 of them." Other effects might include painting full-blown designs and murals on cars, such as colorful flames on the hood and sides of a car. Mike actually enjoys doing that by hand, without stencils, incredibly making both sides match. Anyone at the Palms casino one August evening for the shooting of the pilot of a potential TV series called 'Vegas Vamp' might have witnessed firsthand another of Unique Movie Cars' talents: turning cars (in this case, taxicabs) into police cars by painting them, duplicating police logos, and outfitting them with sirens and lights. The Sciortinos are the only ones sanctioned to duplicate police vehicles in Las Vegas.


Mike, who learned it all by watching his Dad or doing, has never had an art lesson. While he never painted anything until he started painting cars, his talent eventually evolved into a hobby of hand-painting one-of-a-kind designs and murals on guitars.

"The guitars are made of wood. Mike takes the strings off, then preps them by sanding and then using a primer or sealer," Mario explains. "He uses the same paint - a urethane enamel - that he does on cars. He then polishes the guitar and finishes it so it has the same shine as a car. Mike then take it to a guitar shop to be restrung." Mike adds, "I've been told that the guitar has not lost any of its original sound. I recently donated one of the guitars to a police raffle in Henderson and they made "$2,200 off of it." Michael also designed and built 13 guitars for Nashville-based country music star Michael Peterson's "My Real Life - Strong For America Tour", which is sponsored by the U.S. Army.

Mike calls this hobby-now-turned-into-a-side-business "Luckies Customs" (, has put a couple of his guitars on consignment at A.J.'s Music in Las Vegas. One guitar was sold to a gentleman in Japan. Mike also does pinstriping of cars and hand-lettering of signs on the side.


The workload at Unique Movie Cars, however, can be daunting. One might find Mario and Mike at the shop from early in the morning until very late at night. The most fun part of the business, they note, is that it's never the same thing every day and that when they walk in the door, they don'tt know what to expect.

Because of the reputation they've built, work seeks Mario and Mike out. It often requires alot of research. If they have to duplicate an old Texaco truck logo for a scene, for example, it means finding pictures so they can be precise. Although Mario retains a number of employees, the Sciortinos may have to hire more, depending upon what projects they are working on. For the TV series "Viper," for example, for which they designed the "star" of the show, they only had 40 days to get 14 principal cars and 200 non-principal cars completed.

"The Viper was a factory-built car from Chrysler. We bought 14 of them from the company." Mike says.

"We took these cars, figured out what each car was going to do in the series and then stripped them to their bare chassis. We stripped all 14 to be rebuilt in 2 1/2 hours. We then took them apart and hand-created another body and interior for the chassis. We also changed the drive train cases and some of the motors so the cars would do what the series wanted them to do, performance-wise.

We created a whole new car called the "Defender". It was actually the star of the show, even though the series was built around the Viper. We had to cut and stretch the Viper chassis another two feet to get the Defender body onto it."

The Sciortinos actually designed the first removable hardtop for the real RT10 Viper when the car was used in the Eddie Murphy remake of "The Nutty Professor." Additionally, the Defender used in the Viper series needed to be a hardtop. The top the Sciortinos designed became the actual one Chrysler ended up using on its real-life commercial GTS models.

Mario and Mike own about 460 vehicles, from VW's to Rolls-Royces, trucks, vans and motorbikes they have built for movies and TV that they will lease out or even sell to studios. Cars used in one TV series or movie can be refurbished for another. Such was the case with the old 1930s Packard, Model As and mail trucks used on "The Thorn Birds" TV miniseries.


The Sciortinos work consistently with celebrated directors such as Steven Spielberg. They build boats and jet-skis, and have constructed such unlikely objects as an ATM machine for a proposed series called "Desert Breeze," duplicated the gates of Graceland for the TV series "Elvis and Me," and have even made sofas. By the way, that cute Dog Van in the "Ace Ventura" movies - the one with the hood that was the huge head of a dog - was made by Unique Movie Cars. Celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen, Mark Harmon, Danny DeVito, Richard Pryor, Vince Neil, the Campbell Soup heirs, Ricky Nelson's twin sons and more have had their personal cars restored by the Sciortinos. Mario and Mike also do problem jobs for insurance companies, finding mechanical problems with cars that other garages can't find, as well as collision work for RVs, cars and trucks.

One thing's for certain: if you're watching a movie or TV show and there's someone driving off into the sunset, you can bet that it's a car Unique-ly made for the scene by the Mario and Mike Sciortino father and son team.

Abridged from an article in Las Vegas Style Magazine written by Bobbie Katz Published, October 2003


A Few Good Men
Apollo 13
Back To the Future
Bill and Ted #2
Black Rain
Black Sheep
Blank Man
Cannon Ball Run
Dick Tracy
Diggs Town
Elvis and Me
Family of Spies
Fools Rush In
The Hollywood Knights
Homer and Eddie
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom
Judgment Night
Last Action Hero
Late for Dinner
Little Rascals
Loose Cannon
Men at Work
Neon City
Nutty Professor
Ocean’s 11
Poetic Justice
Point Break
Rain Man
Show Down In Little Tokyo
Smokey and the Bandit
Stop or My Mom Will Shoot
Tango and Cash
The Big Picture
The Boost
The Human Target
Two Jakes
Undercover Blues
Unlawful Entry
Vampire in Brooklyn
Vegas Vacation
Wild at Heart


Amazing Story
BJ and the Bear
Bring’em Back Alive
Charlie’s Angels
China Beach
Crime Story
Fall Guy
Hard Ball
Hardcastle and McCormick
Hart to Hart
Knight Rider
Nash Bridges
Remington Steel
Simon and Simon
The A Team
The Flash
The Waltons
The Wonder Years
Wonder Woman

Vehicles: Indiana Jones - The Temple of Doom & The Last Crusade