By: G. Chambers Williams III | Credit: San Antonio Express News
Fans of NBC-TV’s hit drama series “The West Wing,” take note: That limousine you’ll see President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) tooling around in during this fall’s fourth season of the show was built by a San Antonio-based limo manufacturer.
In fact, LCW Automotive at 3603 Fredericksburg Road has built two of these long, black 2002 Cadillac Sedan DeVille limos for the show, both of which were completed last week at the company’s factory in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and shipped from the San Antonio headquarters to the “West Wing” set in California this week.
“We got the contract to build the two limos from General Motors’ public relations department, which is providing them to the show,” LCW chief executive Kenneth Boyar said last week at the company’s San Antonio headquarters.
LCW is among an elite group of master coach builders certified by General Motors and Ford Motor Co. to build limousines that come with factory warranties and backing.
Boyar was working hard last week to get the two vehicles ready for the show, but was distracted a bit by the cleanup of flood damage at the shop from the big rainstorm July 1. A wall of water came rushing down Gardena Street, which runs perpendicular off Fredericksburg Road in front of LCW’s headquarters.
The business filled with more than a foot of water, and cars from up the street, as well as huge Dumpsters, ended up on LCW’s property.
“We’re still trying to get the carpet dried and to get the odor out of it,” Boyar said.
Luckily, neither of the “West Wing” limos had yet been delivered to the headquarters building from Nuevo Laredo – they were brought up later in the week after Interstate 35 reopened, Boyar said.
Boyar, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, said his company has been building its limos at Nuevo Laredo since 1975, but until 1992, it was headquartered in New York.
He moved the headquarters to Laredo in 1992, then to San Antonio nearly two years ago “to get back to a city,” he said.
The “West Wing” limos are just two of about 300 limousines the company will build at the Nuevo Laredo facility this year.
But they are special units, he added.
“We designed them, as requested, to look identical to the ones that President Bush uses, and we did that as well as we could without actually getting inside one of Bush’s cars to photograph it,” Boyar said. “We weren’t allowed to do that.” While the two cars that LCW built for the show look just like the two used in Bush’s official motorcades, they aren’t quite as heavy-duty – they don’t have the bulletproof steel and glass that the president’s vehicles require.
“We built them on a commercial Sedan DeVille chassis that General Motors builds for the limousine industry, but it wasn’t the heavier chassis that GM provides for cars such as the president’s,” Boyar said. “Outwardly, though, they certainly look the same.” In the ceiling of each of the “West Wing” limos, LCW installed two moon roofs, with opaque glass so no light comes through, but able to be opened so the camera operators can film through them, he said.
The middle seats are quickly removable so a camera crew can set up there to film the “West Wing” president and his guests as they sit on the cushy back seat, just like Bush does.
There are flags on the front fenders, two seven-inch LCD television screens – one at each side of the rear seat – and lots of other touches also found in real presidential limos.
Although the limos are considered merely props for the show, they are fully functional vehicles, and could be driven anywhere.
The chassis for the limos came from Detroit, and were cut in two and stretched by 70 inches for the “West Wing” show. As completed, each car is 23 feet long, and costs about $150,000.
“We stripped out the interiors, placed the vehicles on our cutting fixture, cut them in half, stretched them, then started installing our custom interiors,” Boyar said. “We do all of the interior work ourselves, including the fancy woodwork and leather upholstery.” The finished limos were taken on open trucks to Fort Smith, Ark., where they were put into closed trucks for transport to the show’s set in Sun Valley, Calif., he said.
“They will be used over and over in the show,” Boyar said.
LCW’s limos are sold about half to the funeral industry and half for commercial livery, VIP and corporate transportation use, he said.
This is not the first time the company has provided vehicles for TV shows or movies, said Boyar, who has been building limos since 1964.
“We recently did one for ‘Sex and the City,’ and we did them for ‘Law and Order,’ among others,” he said.
And just last week, one of LCW’s limos was driven in mobster John Gotti’s funeral procession, Boyar said.
“We didn’t specifically provide one for that event,” he added. “It just so happened that one of ours was used in the funeral.”
As for “West Wing,” the one-hour drama series from Emmy Award winners Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men”), Thomas Schlamme (“Tracey Takes On”) and John Wells (NBC’s “ER”) won nine Emmys in its first season, 1999-2000.
In its first two years, it won the Emmy for top drama show.
The show offers behind-the-scenes glimpses into the Oval Office as seen through the eyes of its eclectic group of frenzied staffers and the first family.