It’s not unusual to see classic and exotic cars on North Fork roads. Locals and visitors alike drive out east with their beloved automobiles, whether for a fun outing or one of the area’s frequent car shows, and they almost always have an interesting story to tell.
Two companies — North Fork Vintage Cars and North Fork Picture Cars — are capitalizing on the classic car craze, renting out beautiful vehicles for photo shoots, commercials, TV and film.
Retired Jericho High School technology teacher Mike Malkush bought his prized possession, a 1949 Ford F-1 pickup, 18 years ago. The truck, which the Cutchogue resident affectionately refers to as Ruby, is now a mascot, of sorts, for his company.
“I would take it wherever I had to go and it was so cool,” he said. “I did car shows, and over the years, people would ask me if they could use it for photos for weddings [and other events].”
As Malkush’s classic pickup — and his Corvette — became more and more in-demand, he realized there was an opportunity to make some money by renting it out for photo shoots and events. Then, five years ago, his daughter wanted several classic cars for her wedding. “She said, ‘Dad, could we use both your cars for the wedding, and maybe get a few more?’” he explained.
Malkush arranged for some of his friends to drive family and wedding guests to New Suffolk beach in their own classic cars, and the idea for North Fork Vintage Cars was born.
“When I saw the reaction, it was almost like a car show,” Malkush recalled. “Right there, I knew I’d been doing this anyway, let me make this into some type of business.”
Today, Malkush rents cars out for photo shoots, commercials, marketing events and more. He’s very involved in the local community, having served as president of the Peconic Bay Car Club, as well as the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council, but his cars have been used off the fork, as well. Malkush owns several cars, but also acts as an “agent,” finding cars owned by other collectors for events.
He’s particularly proud of finding a 1960 Aston Martin for a Tommy Bahama shoot in Southampton this past summer and last month he restored a 19th century carriage for a screening of Amazon Prime’s Cinderella at the Surf Lodge in Montauk. “They wanted me to paint it white, and the price was right, so I did it myself. It was the old shop teacher in me.”
North Fork Picture Cars is the newest picture car company in town. Father-daughter duo Jim and Grace O’Doherty started North Fork Picture Cars last year during the lockdown, when, like Malkush, they realized how much people loved taking photos of their family’s own classic automobiles.
The business started when Jim, a television writer, comedian and actor, and Grace, a television producer who is also studying medicine at Columbia, were staying in their East Marion home during the COVID shutdown and they discovered the opportunity.
“My dad would drive through town [in his 1940s Cadillac Convertible] and people with their phones would take pictures and I thought, we could do better than this,” said Grace.
Jim has been collecting classic cars for many years, with some of them appearing on television series like That ’70s Show.
“It started with me going to car shows and admiring them,” he said. “I met Charles Bronson — not the actor — who’s a really serious car guy. He collects cars for kings and ayatollahs, and we became friends.”
Jim has amassed a collection of cars over the years, and was excited to start using them for more than his own personal collection.
“After 30 years of comedy writing I’m kind of at the point where I want to plant tomatoes and drive cool cars,” he said.
Like Malkush, Jim and Grace have a collection of cars and associates they use to find clients what they’re looking for.
“I formed an alliance and we have 75 cars now,” he said. “I know the ropes and how to get these cars to shows, as well as events. The slogan Grace came up with is cars from every decade for any occasion.”
Grace noted that her other two sisters have helped with some of the social media and marketing of the company.
“It’s really cool because we’ll be at the dinner table before everyone else sits down and we’ll be talking about the business and then everyone will sit down for dinner,” she said. “This is one of my favorite things to ditch my schoolwork for.”
And though it’s a small region, there does appear to be room enough for both North Fork Vintage Cars and North Fork Picture Cars.
“Everybody knows everybody,” Jim said, noting that he and Malkush know each other. “It’s not about competition.”