Driving With the Stars

David Tinsley

David Tinsley

While watching country music videos on CMT or Great American Country (GAC), if you spy a flashy car or a vintage truck on your screen, then odds are good that it was leased from David Tinsley’s Ragtop Picture Cars in Wilson County.

DRIVING WITH THE STARS

David Tinsley spins his wheels in movies, videos.

Story and photos by KEN BECK

Picture Car Man David Tinsley pretends to pump fuel into his 1960 Buick LeSabre Convertible in front of the Gas Station he built on his farm.

While watching country music videos on CMT or Great American Country (GAC), if you spy a flashy car or a vintage truck on your screen, then odds are good that it was leased from David Tinsley’s Ragtop Picture Cars in Wilson County.

Tinsley is what they call in show business a “picture car man.” And the vehicles from his fleet have appeared with everybody from George Strait and Alan Jackson to Taylor Swift and Dolly Parton.

Good picture car men are worth their weight in chrome, the shiny metal that Detroit used to build their car bumpers from back in the day. Should a vehicle break down during filming, it can cost a production as much as $10,000 an hour while the cameramen, electricians, crew and stars cool their heels with nothing to do but stand around and wait.

“As picture car coordinator I have to find what they are looking for,” said Tinsley, 48, referring to the make and model of the automobile or truck. “Then I get them and make repairs if necessary to make them road worthy and safe. When it’s on the set, I have to make sure a car can do everything it is supposed to do.

“Sometimes I have to take parts off, such as a door or mirror, for a particular camera shot. The vehicle has to be there on time and function properly. If there are any problems, I fix them fast as possible. You got to be able to drive anything from an Army tank to a model T to whatever.”

Tinsley’s cars and trucks are used in movies, TV shows, commercials, music videos, photo shoots, weddings and parades. “I love all makes and models,” he says. “I love ’em and drive ’em all.” Besides supplying the wheels, he has acted and done precision and stunt driving before the cameras.

His collection of rolling stock features a 1924 Model T, a 2005 Grand Prix GT, a 1941 International Harvester pick-up, a 1964 GTO convertible, a 1972 Checker Cab, a 1956 Chevy truck, a 1976 Cadillac El Dorado, a 1952 GMC tow truck, an orange 1976 AMC Pacer, a 1965 Ford Falcon van and a 1966 Pontiac police car, to name just a few.

Tinsley Shares His Car with Lots of Folks...As for the singers that Tinsley has shared his vehicles with for photography shoots and music videos, these include Gretchen Wilson, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Martina McBride and dozens more.

His cars have been used on the sets of such feature films as The Mysterious Case of Benjamin Button, Percy Jackson, Hannah Montana, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, Junkyard Dog, Billy: The Early Years and A Pure Country Gift, and have rolled across the TV screen in commercials for BlueCross BlueShield, Krystal, TennesseeFarm Bureau, Mobil One Oil, Vanderbilt Heart and the Tennessee Department of Tourism.

His picture car business took off accidentally about 11 years ago as he was cruising Nashville in his 1964 GTO.

“A director stopped me and asked if he could use my car in a country music video. I told him,‘Yes,’ and just got bit by the bug,” said Tinsley, who was and is a skilled mechanic as well as a paint and body shop man.

While watching the production of the Brooks & Dunn video Missing You, starring his GTO, Tinsley asked the director if there was anybody else around who furnished “picture cars.” He discovered there was only one other fellow in the area who leased cars to film and video productions.

“I already had three or four cars,” said Tinsley about the moment the wheels began to spin in his head. “I contacted the Tennessee Film Commission to see what would be involved. They took my name, number and what cars I had.”

About six months later, he found himself as the picture car coordinator for a music video for the group Blue County as they paid for the services of his 1963 Pontiac Star Chief. The director who previously used his GTO had referred him to the production company.

Born in San Jose, Calif., Tinsley moved with his family to Albany, Ky., where he lived from ages 2 to 15. They relocated to Nashville, where he graduated from DuPont High School.

Behind the wheel he has been a pizza delivery guy as well as a stock car driver at the Highland Rim Track in Ridgetop. In 2007 he quit his job at a body shop and went full time to furnishing vehicles for production companies. He hasn’t looked in his rearview mirror since.

A handsome fellow who wears an everpresent smile, Tinsley doesn’t dare take all the credit for his success.

He says, “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help from my family, friends and my clients. They are really the ones who helped me become successful in my business. There were several occasions when I needed help hauling vehicles, shuffling cars around, or needed help getting a vehicle ready for a shoot really quick, and friends stepped up and helped me out. There were also instances, when I was getting started and times were tough, that some of these same folks loaned me vehicles and didn’t charge me for them.”

Often lending a hand when Tinsley has a heavy workload is professional street rod builder Paul Morse of Mt. Juliet. “He helps me transport the cars and has helped me do mechanical work and body work,” said the auto man.

Tinsley finds his “star” cars and trucks by word of mouth and on the Internet via Craig’s List and eBay. On rare occasion, he supplies other means of transportation for the camera, such as airplanes, bicycles, golf carts and 18-wheelers.

One afternoon last November Tinsley hovered near the shore of Old Hickory Lake for the music video production of singer Matt Kinnon’s first single, “The Call.” For award-winning director Trey Fanjoy, the picture car man furnished not only two cars but his 19-foot Bayliner boat and a pontoon boat owned by a friend.

“I’ve worked with a lot of car guys around the country, and David is the most reliable picture vehicle man around,” said Fanjoy, who has helmed dozens of video shoots around the world. “I think David really understands the story and the narrative. He’s really good at putting the right character with the right vehicle. We’ve worked together with Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Billy Ray Cyrus, Reba, Tim McGraw, a couple of dozen artists.”

In mid-March, Tinsley worked at the Opryland Resort and Convention Center on a Brooks & Dunn video for Deaton Flanigan Productions as a precision driver. With a black cowboy top on his head and clad in a dark jacket, he doubled as Kix Brooks while he drove a Toyota Tundra prototype. The film footage shot here will be used in a background video when the famed duo makes its final tour later this year. And the $150,000 truck, since it is a prototype, will have to be destroyed says Tinsley with a heavy heart.

“You have to be a good mechanic,” he says about doing the job right. “You have to be a people person and knowledgeable about the film industry. You can’t hold the camera up. That’s a big no-no. You got to be a problem solver. You have to be dependable.”

That he is. Tinsley has never had an accident on the job. And since August, he has only had seven days off from work.

Last winter on his farm outside of Lebanon, the mechanic put aside his tool box and pulled out his hammer and saw and built a gas station that replicates a filling station of the 1950s. It’s a sight that would prove mighty pleasing to those who remember the days when gas was less than 30 cents a gallon. 

Three Old Gasoline Pumps

Three old gasoline pumps, a fading red Coke machine and colorful antique advertising signs jazz up the exterior to the point where a guest almost expects a gas jockey to pop out the front door and ask, “Can I fill’er up and check the oil?” The interior features a service counter, shelves with vintage parts in the original boxes, rustic oil cans, a jukebox and photos on several walls of Tinsley or his cars posing with music stars.

And some of the stars traveled to his mock gas station for the cameras. Alan Jackson made his Country Boy video here.

Tinsley calls his company Ragtop Picture Cars because he always had an attraction to convertibles, aka “ragtops.”

“I had quite a few but sold them to buy the rougher cars and trucks to get the business started,” he said. “We use older cars more than the new ones because the patina and character shows up better on camera. Plus the production company doesn’t have to worry about scratching them.”

While he holds the titles to dozens of vehicles, amazingly Tinsley says, “I’ve never bought a new car.”

When not busy on a production, the picture car man says, “I’m usually out here fixing up a car or working out on the farm. I really enjoy and feel blessed to live in Wilson County. I really wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

Ken Beck can be contacted at KBTAG@aol.com.

Car Baby Car Sweepstakes

CMT has launched a contest in conjunction with Martina McBride’s video, Wrong Baby Wrong. The same car she drives in the video, a two-door, hardtop, 1972 Monte Carlo with about 74,000 miles, previously owned by David Tinsley, is the prize.
Enter the contest at www.cmt/com/community/sweepstakes/martina-mcbride-car/ 
The car will be given away May 23.

Got wheels for sale or lease?
David Tinsley and his Ragtop Picture Cars is looking for old motorcycles and unusual vehicles to use in films and videos.
Contact him at www.ragtoppicturecars.com.

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