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Holy Hot Wheels, Batman!

Bruce Wayne and Alfred can thank Michael Hoback for their classic cars.


Batman, everyone knows, drives the Batmobile.

But Bruce Wayne, Michael Hoback will tell you, drives a 1950 Jaguar XK 120 (convertible in British racing green). He knows because he put him in it. He also put him in the 1962 Bentley driven by his faithful chauffeur, Alfred.

Hoback is a car guy, but not in the gearhead sense. He's a polisher, a buffer, a detailer, a caretaker. For lack of a real job title, he calls himself the valet to the rich and famous.

The advantage of such an occupation, though, is that Hoback knows who among the rich and famous has a 1962 Bentley or a 1950 Jag. And that's why filmmakers call him when they need a specific car for a film. In this aspect of his career, Hoback calls himself the talent agent of classic cars.

There are dozens of cars in his head and photos of more stored in boxes and scrapbooks around his Panorama City apartment/garage. Need a 1955 Mercedes Gullwing? Hoback knows one--or can find one.

Hoback got connected to the caped crusader in 1994, for the third installment in the series of Batman films. It was shortly after the Northridge earthquake, when jobs were few and far between. "I couldn't get a job polishing a kid's bicycle," he said. That's when Hoback got a call from the production coordinator of "Batman Forever."

Director Joel Schumacher, who had just taken over the franchise from Tim Burton, wanted to put his own stamp on the films. Besides a new star (Val Kilmer) and villain (Jim Carrey), Schumacher needed new cars. There was to be a casting call for Bentleys, the production coordinator said.

The way Hoback remembers it, the drivers all stood beside their cars, as if it were a dog show. Schumacher and production designer Barbara Ling appeared in a golf cart and cruised past them all, heading directly to Hoback's Bentley. "That's the car," they said.

It didn't surprise him. This car has a European look, clean and elegant. It is one of only seven like it in the world, left-hand drive with a longer wheel base and a window that can be raised and lowered between the front and back seats. It once belonged to Nelson Rockefeller.

For "Batman and Robin," Hoback rounded up eight cars--including a 1963 Cobra, a 1957 Porsche Speedster and a 1973 Ferrari 365 GTC--worth a combined $2 million. All they had to do was sit, for three days, in the set of Batman's garage.

Hoback negotiates deals like this for car owners, most of whom are too busy with their jet-set lives to bother with trying to place their cars in movies. Besides, if you can afford a $750,000 car, what's the paltry $1,000 fee? A mere drop in the backyard swimming pool.

But when Hoback says, hey, if your Ferrari sat on a movie set for two days instead of in the garage, that could pay for your next $900 tuneup, or your next insurance bill. . . . Well, why not? He oversees the transport and use of the cars and splits the fee with the owner.

It's the perfect occupation for the 42-year-old, who grew up just blocks from his concrete-block living space in an industrial stretch of Panorama City. As a teenager, he was so obsessed with cars, he would skip school and go to dealerships to see the new models unveiled. Eventually he got called into the counselor's office and asked why he wasn't in class.

"Hollywood Sports Cars just unveiled the new Ferrari Daytona. It was a champagne opening. I couldn't miss that," he told them.

He got three days of "social adjustment."

After high school, he got jobs at dealerships around town picking up and delivering cars for servicing. On the weekends, he started polishing cars--and from his day jobs at Cadillac and Porsche dealerships, he had an upscale clientele. Eventually he became the automotive valet for car-crazy actors, directors, producers and executives.

Many of his charges are live-in. A Lamborghini and the '62 Bentley share his living room with two cars--a Cadillac and Thunderbird--that he owns. (He also has a 1979 Dodge Colt, which he says he feels most comfortable in, and a Mercedes limo that's in pieces.) The cars need to be driven regularly--something the owners don't have time to do.

"These are their toys," Hoback said. "They are their trophies of what they've worked for all their lives. Being trusted with these cars is a privilege."

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