LARCHMONT, N.Y. -- Nick Pagani won his first trophy at Mamaroneck's Harbor Island Car Show in 1986, where his 25-year movie career was born.
The owner of Ace Auto Repair in New Rochelle owns a vintage car collection of 80 American models between 1933 and 2000, most of which have been featured in films. Hollywood Nick, as everyone knows him, first drove onto a film set in 1986 for "Seize the Day," after a picture car show scout Amy Kaplan saw Pagani at the car show and invited him to have several of his cars featured in the background.
Over 25 years later in July 2011, Pagani drove his 1960 Black Buick Invicta onto the set of "Mystery at the Musuem," which was used to replicate the drug bust scene from the 1971 film "The French Connection."
"I've been doing it as a secondary occupation, because it's not steady and it has to be a period piece," the Pelham Manor native said.
In between, the picture car coordinator has amassed a long list of credits, which include "A Beautiful Mind," "The Wrestler" and "Revolutionary Road," which he supplied 60 cars for. Pagani especially enjoyed his experience on "Riding in Cars with Boys.
"The first night, we shot the scene with the police cars," he said. "Drew Barrymore came out, looked around the parking lot and said, 'Nick, you're a genius.' Then she ran over to give me a hug and a kiss."
Whether a director uses one of his cars, or asks him to find cars for a film, Pagani says he knows what fits the script.
"I always ask them to let me read the script," Pagani said. "A lot of times I talk them out of a car because it's not right for the script."
In 2010, Pagani worked on "Extra Man" starring Kevin Klein. The director asked him to find a Pontiac Boneville Convertible from the 1980s, which doesn't exist. Instead, he brought them a 1972 Pontiac Grandville Convertible.
"On the DVD, when they talk to the directors, they say they never thought they'd find a car that would upstage Kevin Klein," the vintage car aficionado said.
Not only does Pagani know which cars to use in a movie, he is usually the only one who knows how to fix them. "That's why they have me, because I'm a mechanic first," he said. "They know I can fix it."
Pagani took over Ace Auto Repair in 1978, but his grandfather, Phillip Carusso, opened it in 1920 and has been working there most of his life. After his grandfather died, his uncle ran the shop, but Pagani learned how to fix cars from his father.
"My father always believed no one could fix a car the way he could fix a car," said Pagani, whose father gave him a 1961 Buick Invicta, his first and favorite car. "My father thought of cars as an appliance; use it, drive it, then get rid of it. He told me not to fall in love with it."
The father of three couldn't help but fall in love with his first car, just like his daughter Nina, 25. "My oldest one wants my father's car because she can remember him from when she was little," Pagani said.
The Greenwich, Conn. resident owns another 1961 Buick Invicta in red and white, which has won five trophies at the Habor Island Car Show. Pagani remembers when only 20 people showed up for the fall event. Now, the amount of money it costs to participate and the variety of makes has turned the multiple-time winner off to it.
The Main Street auto body shop is a two-man operation, which is possible because Pagani only works on a car if he knows the owner. Right now, he is working on a $300,000 Bentley and $500 Dodge Shadow.
"It depends on if I know you," he said. "I have people waiting one year to have work done. When I was younger, I would work from 7 a.m. to 8 p. Now, I get done what needs to get done and I go home."
Pagani now takes his time in the mornings, which are spent sitting in front of Aroma Cafe in Larchmont."I come here in the morning to relax, hold court and talk to my friends," said Pagani, whose vintage cars draw the attention of just about everybody around. "Everybody knows what I do."
Although Pagani won't participate in this year's Car Show, it will be held on Sept. 11 at Harbor Island.