a parable by L. Andrew Jugle

Reprinted from the Chrysler 300 Club News Spring 1999 Volume 25 Number 3

The moral of the story is “Count your fingers after any Hollywood deal.” I still do not know how the property people found me. There had been some talk in the 300 community that Michael Mann was looking for a “C” convert for the production of “Red Dragon” filming in Florida during 1985. This production was eventually released as “Manhunter” and had about 15 seconds of a 300C visible in a fuzzy dream sequence. That car was supplied by Phil Nixon of Vero Beach, Florida and later communication with him indicated he was not too happy with the production people.

After searching the country and my finding them several substitutes, they settled on offering me the deal for the “Crime Story” car for Lt. Mike Torello of the “CPD MCU” (Chicago Police Department Major Crime Unit). I sold them a 100% pure ’57 300C convert with a mint dash, passable interior and 30 years of Chicago rust. They bought it for $14,000 and gave me a right of first refusal to buy it back for $9,000 at the end of Chicago production in October 1986. They wanted a sales agreement, so they could control use of the car and alleviate liability problems of a lease or rental deal. That was the plan.

That is NOT how it went.

They wanted a ’57 300C convert because the lead writer of the series was an ex-cop and the series was going to be as authentic to detail in every way. (The pilot script also had on manifest a “1963 Buck Rodgers” … which was a reference to a T-bird dashboard!) A crisis in this cop’s life occurred because in 1958 there arose a question of how could a $4,000 per year cop afford a $6,000 car? Such as was explained to me the series was to follow, in flashback, the purchase of the car and the subsequent brouhaha when the Mob moved in to remove him. The original plot was to be set in Chicago in 1963, with flashbacks to the 1950’s until the cop, Mike Torello, was jailed in 1965. This was to take place in the first six episodes. Then production was to move to Las Vegas and the ‘70s as “Mike Torello” was cleared and became a Justice Dept. “Fed” (and drove a Charger). Unfortunately, market research after the first three episodes showed that viewership was based on the cars, the songs and the nostalgia of the sixties. If you want the real story, go rent and view the most recent movies “Casino” and “Heat” as they are what “Crime Story” was all about. I should mention here that all of the people in “Crime Story” are real, the events all occurred and only some liberty was taken with time sequence in the scripting of the plot. Names were changed to protect the guilty and ward off lawsuits. I have kept a clipping file of the principals as they each die off or are otherwise set free … some are still in the rackets … including some cast members!

They came for my car at 10:30 PM on April 21, 1986. It showed up for production on May 20, 1986. Creative Studios & Automobile Specialties of Chicago did a re-chrome, bondo, repaint (Du-Lux “wet” paint” and vinyl interior, resto job on the car in 30 days! They replaced my near-new 235 R70 14” Goodyear wide whites with Remington F-70’s. Chuck Adamson, the real cop, owned a Parade Green 300. Michael Mann, however, wanted a BLACK car with RED interior since that had worked so well in “Miami Vise”. So, my WHITE car went BLACK and the BRAND-NEW TAN interior got sprayed RED, along with the DASH, STEERING WHEEL and all SIDE PANELS of the interior. During rebirth, they also lost my MINT BOOT. For production, they installed rear brake lock out valve, air shocks from a Peterbilt and welded tow bar mounts onto the frame. They also fungoed the power seat and did some other bad moves I will later relate. I had disconnected the speedometer because the bearing was making noise. It remained so during the entire two-year production. I have no idea of the miles put on the car, but I do know it was flat-bedded from point to point. It had 37,000 miles on the odometer when I bought it in 1976. When I finally tuned it, in the 1980’s, to go to a Detroit WPC Meet. I replaced the ORIGINAL rotor and cap!

Came October of 1986. I called the producer (third one) to get my car back. I was informed of the decision to move production to Vegas and stay stuck in the 60’s and to stick with my 300C. Verbally, my buy back was set to “end of production” and I started to check things out. They had offered me a part as a bartender, but there was no way I could invest the time needed. (Most of the shooting was being done from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM to avoid “street” interference). In fact, I never made it down to production while they were in Chicago. Through friends, I started out finding how to get my car back. To shorten the story considerably I discovered the following: 1) They never transferred my Illinois title. 2) A very good friend turned out to be the Controller of the money company that New World Productions was run by. 3) An old college friend still has LOTS of pull in NBC. When the end came in 1988, they were getting testy about me getting my car back. I later heard Michael Mann had been seen driving around L.A. not Vegas. This was interesting, as liability wise, I owned the car. After securing my Illinois title and being given some inside info about the show NOT being renewed, I quickly arranged to pick up the car in Los Vegas on June 23, 1988 … for $6,750.

I never revealed the title situation to them. When they found out from me two days before they found out from New World and from NBC that the party was over, I guess they decided not to mess around. I should have held out for free return, but that could have muddied my options. I paid them for my own car … and never brought out the fact the car was “stolen”! After flying to Vegas, I assessed the damages. The right front eyebolt was missing for the tow bar mount (as was part of the frame!) They replaced my new correct white w/tan roof with a Plymouth white w/black roof. Tension from a 2-inch shorter roof broke both roof rails at the header. The transmission was rebuilt in Los Vegas, with low-speed governor, no cooler connections and torque converter cover was missing (… after fixing speedo found 65 MPH read 90 MPH!). During “jumping” maneuvers the windshield got separated from the top of the frame. The right door skin got replaced by a hammer-hand. While left in the desert, the seals in the lift mechanism shrunk and now leak. And my mint supple dash is now like everybody else’s. The spare tire was missing, but I did find the dash mirror in the trunk. I didn’t find any of the six pairs of taillight lenses I left with the car in 1986.

The car was in the production warehouse southeast of town. Nineteen other cars were in front of me and the building had only a loading dock exit. They had two 100’ by 400’ units. One for sets and the other for “props”. We found one charged battery to start and move all the cars, but only after a 10-car transporter was secured to do the job. One poor, weary production person was out there to straighten out the mess, with the only phone at the empty Thunderbird Motel, 5 miles away! After two days, we were on the road back to Elmhurst, Illinois. Without the help of local Las Vegas 300C owner, Clarence Bacon, the task would have been a whole lot rougher. We had noticed the generator belt squealing and tightened it up. I noticed the radio was dead and there were no interior lights. In the middle of the Utah desert at about 90 MPH, I found out why – no later I found out! When the pulley snapped off the generator in Utah, I knew something was amiss. Not trusting the battery in Las Vegas, I bought a new Die-Hard. I proceeded on the journey with wife Cathy (after all it is HER 300) and sons Brian (then 11) and Dan (then 7 years old). We stopped at every auto parts place along the way. To every pimple-picking kid behind the counter, I had to explain g-e-n-e-r-a-t-o-r not alternator. I might as well have spoken Urdu. In Grand Junction, Colorado we stayed the night and bought another Die-Hard and a charger. I also called ahead to 300 club member, Chuck Clark, in Littleton, Colorado, to see if he knew any 300 people who had a generator in stock? (I had brought all my rosters with me)! No generators existed west of the Rockies! We traveled the Continental Divide on battery power alone. A rainstorm in Denver almost stopped the car when I turned the wipers on. We located a generator in Golden, Colorado and got it installed. ZAP! I polarized the regulator and boy, did it charge the battery! I got the first wiggle that I had seen on the ammeter. Thanks, and goodbye, we are on the road again, ten minutes at street speed to the motel and I notice the ammeter is pinned and smoke is coming from the new 300D generator, which I eventually had rebuilt and sent back. (It came from a ‘58 300D FI car). I never paid any attention to the wiring. Seems it is an old ”movie” trick to ground the field and short the regulator, so it doesn’t. This results in FULL OUTPUT to the battery so the start-up, start-stop of production doesn’t run the battery down (remember flat-bedded everywhere). I found this out in Elmhurst days later – after I paid attention to the color of the wires.

We made it home on battery power alone, driving by daylight, no radio (burned out) and using no electricity but to start and run. I had two batteries and charged one and swapped every night. We left Vegas on the 23rd and got home on the 27th. I had replaced the plugs in Vegas, where two were fouled and all were cruddy. It ran beautifully and only ran out of gas once in Nebraska. No gauges and I pushed it a bit too close, running out of gas 2 miles from the next planned stop. It was running about 15 MPG (remember no odometer)! I have done very little to the car. Huge chunks of paint had chipped off the trunk. I painted the trunk after filling a bullet dent on the rear edge. The car has been driven 500 to a 1,000 mile a year, since her return in ’88. I repainted and did work to my other 300C convert so HIS is white and HER is the gloomy black. Son Brian is now in college and son Dan will soon also be needing his tuition. I haven’t been fully employed since shortly after the return of the car and have been in labor court action until last year. Thus, the current sale of 3N572063, originally delivered in Aurora, Illinois, bought in 1959 by a used-car dealer on the south side of Chicago for his wife (only with a roof down , street dragging for 12 years , night only – hence dash condition – the “Terror of Tollman Ave.”) bought by me in 1976 with original Bluestreaks and all, used by New World Productions under Michael Mann from 4/21/86 to 6/23/88 for “Crime Story” television cop Mike Torello (actor Dennis Farina) and for one episode with actress Julia Roberts in broadcast 2/21/87 (I have her script, it was one of the goodies I found in the trunk. It has coaching notes on it for her and Debra Sandland who played her mother in an episode about cop father abusing daughter. He died!

There is part of the story. The car now needs a water pump, a roof and could use the carbs rebuilt. The body needs freshening and the quandary is whether to return it to white and original or keep its funky personality car. The TV show was a moderate success and underappreciated at the time. It had an immense impact on exposure for the Chrysler 300 and the late eighties brought a soaring demand for our relatively unknown cars. Hollywood took notice and thus when Robert Redford did “Quiz show” in 1994 the setting of the film was established by the Chrysler 300 reference. I had several offers for the car immediately after and during production. We opted not to sell then because we knew something like this Brute would never be available to us again. The car has been to Iola twice and to many Chicago area shows. When George Berg was in town, we would have three ’57 converts and a D coupe together. Many Chicago collectors thought 300’s were common, not realizing they kept seeing the same cars over and over again! On August 1, 1996, I replaced the second 1966 Die-Hard. The kid at Sears informed me “ … the diodes are bad …”!

Thanks to Bill Elder (Wild Man of the North) for preparing this article