GRANNY'S '66 CORONET
Photos and text by Curt and Janet Lawson
Back in 2001, my mother was telling me about a friend who knew about an old car (she thought it was a Mopar) that might be for sale. This is one of those stories we hear over and over again. I told her to let us know if she finds out anything more. As time went on, the car would come up but it seemed that no one knew any details. Finally in the spring of 2004, I asked my mother whatever happened to that car she had told us about. She said she would call her friend and find out.
About a month later she had the details. The car was in St Cloud, Minnesota and it was an old Mopar. She had a phone number so I called. The lady I talked to was taking care of the estate of a lady--Mrs Bemis--who was 96 years old and was being moved to a nursing home. Mrs Bemis and her husband bought the car new but she did not know the year or make. We made arrangements to meet her at the Bemis house (about one hour from our house) and check out the car. We were not in the market for a car, but we had to check it out. We found the house and were to meet in the alley. As we drove down the alley we came to a small garage with the door open and what do we see but the rear end of a 1966 Dodge Coronet. We met the lady and she filled us in on the car.
The Bemis's bought the car new and it had been serviced at the local Dodge Dealer its entire life. It had 60,000 miles on it and she said that Mr Bemis had passed on a while back. The car sat for a few years until a friend of the family needed a car. They used it for a while and then it sat again for a couple of years.
We brought a good battery with and I installed it, got in, turned the key and after a few cranks, it fired up and purred like a kitten. This was a 4-door sedan, so we were not really interested in buying the car but the lady said the house was sold and the car had to go. I told her this would be a great car for a college student. The house was being converted to college dorms and was close to St Cloud State, so she would have no problems selling the car. She said she did not have the time to deal with that it. It was in the estate for $500. Besides, Mrs Bemis wanted the car to go to someone who would take car of it and appreciate it.
The garage was filled with peach crates and I asked the lady if we bought the car would the peach crates go with it, which she replied yes. Kevin, our son, is into antiques and we knew he would appreciate them. We agreed to buy the car but ran into a problem. It seems the title card was no where to be found. It took most of the summer to get al the paperwork in order and get a title. We went up to get the car and we again asked about the peach crates and she replied yes, we could have them. After loading up several large crates, I loaded a couple of smaller ones. When I picked up the last of the smaller ones I could hardly lift it off the shelf. When I got it down, we discovered it was full of what appears to be all of the license plates from the cars this couple had owned. There were complete sets starting fro the early 1900's through the present! Most were in very good shape.
We brought the car home in the fall and parked it for the winter. In the spring, our Kevin needed a car as he was working on hid Diplomat cop car. He was not thrilled to be driving the '66 four-door, but it was his best option at the time. He drove the car most of the summer and we parked it again for the winter. In the spring we decided to freshen it up, remove the dings and put on new paint. Well, half-way through the project a good friend needed her Challenger painted so the four-door sat with fresh paint but needing assembly.
Then in the spring of 2007, the car was back together in time for our Mopars in the Park show. We had our usual Friday night ritual with our kids Cindy and Kevin helping get our three 1966 Coronets ready for the show (His, Hers and Ours). Kevin had one of his friends, a car detailer, helping also. That is when Murphy's Law stepped in. We can never leave well enough alone as days before the show we installed a set of Cragar SS wheels. We moved the car around but had not been on a road trip with the new wheels. After the car were done late into the evening, Kevin and his friend took the four-door to get gas They drove a couple blocks and returned home with a serious vibration problem. They worked late into the night but could not locate the problem so "Our 66" had to stay home. After the show, we discovered the balance weights on the brake drums were hitting the Cragars causing the brake drums to distort. A little grinding and all was good.
That summer, our kids took turns driving the four-door granny Coronet and our green '66 (HIs '66) to shows and cruise nights. It wasn't long before Kevin decided that the four-door is a neat car and was getting thumbs up as he cruised around. By the end of the summer, he was taking it on camping trips as well as car events and was having a ball.
Spring of 2008 and it was time for Mopars in the Park and again, Kevin loaded "Our '66" with camping gear and headed to Farmington. Two weeks later, it was off to North Shore for the WW/NBOA National Meet, again loaded with camping gear but this time with the help of a set of air shocks. The car stayed at Kevin's house after the meet and we missed having it at our disposal as Janet and I were used to jumping in it to run errands, go out to eat or just take a ride. Photos below show His 66, Her 66 and Our 66 (the granny Coronet) at several events that summer.
Fast forward to late summer, and Janet is checking our emails and tells me there is a note from a friend stating that the Coen brothers are looking for a 1966 Coronet four-door for their new movie "A Serious Man". I called the number and talked with Mike. He tells me they need three 1966 Coronet four-doors for the movie and as of then, they only had one. I told him we had one and he wanted to see pictures. We emailed him pictures and the next thing we know, they want to buy the car. I told him we had not planned on selling the car and he said he would rent it but they were going to paint it blue and it would also be in an accident, being hit from behind at about 10 mph. With that, I stated that when we bought the car we had planned on selling it, but our family had gotten attached to the car. I told him that if we were to sell the car we would ask $$$$ and his response was, "No problem. When can we pick it up?" Now the price I quoted him was what I consider fair market value. My reply was that I'd have to check with the rest of my family and after much discussion, we decided to sell. We emptied the car of all of our personal things and they wanted the stock wheels and hubcaps so we installed them (as shown below).
After it was done, I called Mike and we made arrangements to bring the car down to their production company. I drove "Our 66" and Janet followed. The photo below shows granny Coronet leaving for the movie set. We parked in the front of the building and met with Mike and Mark. They looked the car over and Mike jumped in the passenger side and had me drive him around to the rear of the building while Mark took Janet inside. Janet was seated at the reception desk and watched as people auditioned for parts in the movie and occasionally she had people coming in and asking her receptionist questions that she could not answer.
Meanwhile, I was out back (inside the building) where we parked our car next to the other '66. Mike and Mark walked around the two cars noting the differences. The first thing they noticed was that our '66 sat higher in the rear. I told them that was due to the air shocks. They wanted me to lower the car so I let out some air, dropping the car a couple inches and they were happy. The other differences were: our '66 is a 440 model and the other was a Deluxe, so the side chrome was different as well as the horn ring. Also, our car had a radio and the other car was a radio delete. All in all, they were happy with the car and the two cars will look the same by the time they are used in the movie.
We then went into the office and took care of all the paperwork and rescued Janet from her "receptionist position". Mike then led us back in the warehouse area so Janet could take pictures of the cars side-by-side. We also saw some of the props as well as some of the sets they were building.
Mike stated he needed more '60s cars and we told him we had two more '66 Coronets. He asked about the colors and we told him red and green. Mike said he wanted the green one and then asked if it went Rumpity-Rump and when I said yes, he said the sound guys would not appreciate that. When we got home, I sent him pictures and a few days later we got a call requesting the red car on the set at 7:00 the next morning.
Upon arriving, Mike greeted me with the comment, "I am sure glad you could make it. We sure need some color." As I looked around most all of the cars were pale green, blue, brown or gold. There was a red Mustang and a yellow Ford, but that was about it for bright colors. I spent twelve hours on the set that day but the following day with rain predicted changed their schedule and they shot at another location with different cars. Before I left, Mike said to me the red car is locked in and he needs it there for the rest of the shoot but it was too flashy for the shoot the next day.
We were back the following day but did not stay to the end as they were going to shoot until 8:00 pm. We left the car there and were told they would be done the following Tuesday. We went to pick up the car on Tuesday but they had to shoot a scene over so we had to leave it one more day. The red Coronet is back home now but the four-door, from what we can tell, will play a starring role in the movie as most of the scene filmed while we were there revolved around that car and the person who we think is one of the lead characters.
We miss being on the set as everyone is so friendly and they fed us well. We also met some of the movie people with very interesting stories as well as hearing from the people who live in the neighborhood as to how they changed things and remodeled for the movie. Our first day on the set, Janet wasn't shy to strike a conversation with the Executive Producer, resulting in a friendship.
Most of the filming for the movie was done in Bloomington, Minnesota because the producers found a neighborhood that had the "suburban tract housing" look, with a corn field and circa 1965 ranch houses with young trees. A storm had come through several years back and destroyed all the big old trees. The movie people did add awnings, fake garage doors, brick trim, etc, to make the houses look exactly like what they wanted. It's amazing the very tiniest details that they go to the trouble to change just for a few minutes on film. The cars were changed to fit the image the producers wanted also. Some of them were repainted a different color, a lot of chrome was removed and stick-on chrome added so they'd look alike, the seats were partially reupholstered or draped with fabric (the part you see on camera).
In late September, Janet was talking with Mike one night on the phone and he told us that we could come down and pick up the chrome trim that they had removed from granny Coronet. I had mentioned to him previously that if they had no use for the chrome, I'd like it back. We went down to the warehouse the next morning and there were the four Coronets sitting there, three of them with their trunks full of chrome trim. Mike told us we had been so helpful that we could take ALL of the chrome trim,. So I made four trips to the van with armfuls of trim, screws and attaching clips. What a windfall!
"It is awesome," says Janet, "to have all three of our Coronets together in a movie!" The photos below are from "A Serious Man" movie set.
Below: The Granny Coronet gets crashed by a Ford!
By the way, after the movie wrapped, we bought Our 66 Granny Coronet back from the Coen brothers and she sits in the back yard (shown below) waiting to be repaired and driven again.
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