Museum Hours: Temporarily Closed during COVID-19 Crisis

One of our Most-Famous Movie Cars (maybe)

With our recent health closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our skeleton crew of five or six here at the National Automobile Museum in Reno find it easy to maintain social distancing in the 85,000 square feet of exhibits while we catch up on deferred projects. But, without visitors, there’s time to notice small things that are often overlooked. Each day until our re-opening, we’ll feature something that we, or you, may never have noticed:

One of our Most-Famous Movie Cars (maybe)

As a museum, we don’t like to cite facts without verification and documentation. But sometimes it’s fun just to speculate. Bill Harrah acquired our 1936 DeSoto Airstream Taxi from a company that once did lots of rentals to movie studios. When you check out IMCD (the Internet Movie Car Database), the 1936 DeSoto Airstream Taxis made quite a few appearances. It is clear that there were more than one of these in Hollywood, but ours seems unique. It has a sliding roof and a distinctive taxi medallion on top.  If we had to guess (but we cannot verify), it is our car in the 1946 classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life”.



The main taxi in the movie is a Yellow Cab driven by the character “Ernie’ (actor Frank Faylen). That car is actually a 1930 GMC Taxi that is on display in the AACA Museum in Hersey PA.





But the DeSoto Taxi with the sliding roof and the correct medallion appears in several other scenes, including this one on a snowy evening. Eagle-eyed viewers may notice a spotlight attached to the drivers-door column. There’s not spotlight on ours, but there are two holes where one might have been mounted.




Wasn’t this movie shot in Bedford Falls, NY; not Hollywood where our car was based for studio rentals? Not really. Seneca NY claims to be the fictional Bedford Falls, but the entire movie (snow and all) was shot in Culver City, California. It starred James Stewart and Donna Reed and was directed by legendary Frank Capra. “It’s A Wonderful Life” is now considered one of the greatest films of all time. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made. If you somehow missed it growing up, you can catch it every year on TV around the Christmas holiday.


Could our car also have been in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” starring Cary Grant? How about 1941’s High Sierra” with Humphrey Bogart? Or even a movie that scared almost every baby boomer, “Them!” That one featured giant ants that came out of the New Mexico desert and invaded the LA sewer system?

Just like the irradiated ants, we think our car was all over the Los Angeles studio lots and may have been in dozens of major Hollywood classics. But without documentation, we can’t say for sure…but we can wonder.



  1. REPLY
    Bob Ricewasser says

    DeSoto built quite a few cabs in 1936. The model was known as an S-1 seven passenger body. Some were built by the Yellow Cab Co. & some were built Sunshine Cab Co. for NYC. The seven passenger cab bodies had a deluxe one piece windshield, European style sliding roofs and many new cab features.

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