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A Winsted Mustang gets its chance to be in the movies

October 13, 2008

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

WINSTED, MN – The 1967 Ford Mustang owned by Gary Lenz of Winsted might be seen in the next Coen brothers’ movie “A Serious Man” as it was part of the production shoot in St. Paul Sept. 29.

But Lenz isn’t ready to put premium gas in his Mustang yet. He found out the movie business is hard work, and stardom does not come easily.

After spending an entire day on the movie set in St. Paul, Lenz still has no idea if his car will appear in the movie or not.

He is thinking the only way to learn if his Mustang made the cut is to wait until the Coen movie comes out and go to see it.

However, the experience of being part of the movie’s production is not something Lenz will soon forget.

Lenz had learned about the movie filming on location in Minnesota through newspaper and television advertising.

He called in to offer the use of his Mustang, then waited three or four weeks for a return phone call that gave him just five days notice to plan for the day.

Lenz left his home at 5:15 a.m. the morning of his Mustang’s debut, to make the scheduled 6:30 a.m. arrival time. He was a little concerned about the reliability of his car.

He put his wife, Jody, on standby with her cell phone, and told John’s Auto Repair that he might be needing their tow truck just in case the Mustang was not up to the occasion.

The Mustang Lenz owns is mostly original, with only 30,000 miles on it. He has replaced the bumpers, and the interior carpeting and headliner that had a few mice live in it when it was stored in a barn many years back.

Other than that, the only thing purchased for the car were the tires which were bought shortly after Gary first got the car in 1976. He wished he would have taken the time to buy a set of new tires for it before driving it to St. Paul.

He made it to Rice Street and Marilyn Avenue without incident. The movie set location began at that intersection and included about five barricaded blocks.

When he arrived on the set, there were 20 other classic cars all about the same vintage as Lenz’s car, with drivers excited about the opportunity to have their car be in the movie.

The drivers were first sent to wardrobe which was a big truck where they were given 1960-style shirts. Most of the gentlemen with gray hair, or little or no hair, received a hat, according to Gary.

“Your job was to wear that hat when you were in the car,” Gary said.

Each person was labeled with a piece of tape on their leg indicating they were a driver.

The drivers spent much of the day in their vehicles, reading the newspaper, magazines, and talking on their cell phones.

“I have never been in the service but it was kind of like war. A few minutes of terror and then it was quiet,” Gary said. “Someone shouts ‘get ready,’ and everybody starts their cars, and then they would say, ‘We are rolling.’ Then they would yell, ‘background,’ and everybody would start to drive and you would follow the guy ahead of you.”

The drivers were northbound the first part of the morning, and a guy in a 1964 powdered blue Dodge Dart was in front of Gary, and the owner of a 1961 “beautiful” Lincoln convertible four-door hard top was behind him. Later in the day, they switched, having the cars go southbound.

There were about five cars behind Gary.

One time Gary remembers them coming out and telling all of them they should go four miles faster which was impossible because no one was watching their speedometer.

“Nobody knew how fast we were going. You were watching the guy ahead of you so you wouldn’t hit them,” Gary said.

When the drivers weren’t in their vehicles they were checking out each other’s cars.

“There was a guy that came late in the afternoon with a 1963 Thunderbird. It was dark burgundy color and had a white vinyl top. It looked like the day it rolled off the showroom,” Gary said.

“Another guy had a Buick Wild Cat as long as my living room. A 1965 Charger or the 1966 Fastback – there were three like those down there,” Gary said. “I have not seen those for a while.”

“Another guy had a really nice 1965 or 1966 Chevelle. They came along and sprayed something on it because the paint was too shiny.”

Gary soon discovered a problem with a five-block street scene. When you get to the end of the barricade the next scene is back at the beginning, and the only way the car will get there is to back it up.

“I drove backwards on Rice Street that day, I am guessing to be about 25 times,” Gary said. “Every scene they did at least three times; sometimes five or six times.”

“If someone had a camera, that would have been a great shot. A picture of all of these cars driving in reverse on Rice Street,” Gary said.

Much of the street scene was surreal according to Gary. He describes people who were placed in a specific spot over and over waiting for the cameras to roll.

One girl stood much like a mannequin in a dress with her purse on her arm. Another guy was described as tall and lanky with dark rimmed glasses, and he would be standing there.

“Then there was this one kid who comes pedaling up on a bicycle passing a bunch of us in cars. He pulls into this spot, and he stands there. He has a mask on, and I thought, ‘What is he doing here?’ But I guess he was part of the movie and was supposed to be there.”

Gary describes the side streets along Rice Street with dozens of people on both sides, in between the buildings, and in the parking lots watching to see what was going on. Because the movie was being filmed just straight down the street, they would not be seen in the film.

Only once was Gary in the lead car. That was when the Lincoln overheated and they pulled the vehicle off the street. That was a total of about three minutes, and then someone else took the lofty role.

But he did get to see the Coen brothers.

Each driver got paid $200 ($150 for the use of the car and $50 for driving it). Gary said the check would be mailed to him.

“So that is our brush with fame – our day at the movies,” Gary said. “The best thing about it was seeing all of the old cars.”

Would he do it again? Only if the movie was filmed closer like in Watertown or Hutchinson. He wasn’t willing to drive his car that distance again and take a chance on having something happen to it.

A 1970s business lesson

The way people do business today is quite different from the 1970s.

A good example would be how Gary Lenz came to own his 1967 Mustang.

Harold Lenz, Gary’s father, had purchased the Mustang in about 1974.

He had made a deal with the original Mustang owner Mickey Laxen who lived just south of Winsted off of County Road 9.

“You hear stories about a little old lady who would drive the car to church on Sunday. Well, Mickey would just drive it to town,” Gary said.

“I can remember when I was a kid and that car would be parked between Bill’s and Mel’s bar, now Kegs and the Papa Tom’s. He was a bachelor who farmed, and he would drive it to town on Friday and Saturday night.”

Laxen lived with his parents, and he was chauffeuring them around to the doctor and to other appointments. They were older and had a difficult time getting into the Mustang.

So Harold made Mickey an offer, exchanging the Mustang for a big old 1971 Ford LTD two-door hard top, and Mickey threw in $900 to boot, according to Gary.

Harold had bought the Mustang for Gary’s sister, Peggy, to drive to school, but later decided against it thinking it was just “too hot” a car for a young girl to be driving.

That was when Gary stepped in and offered his dad the blue book price of the vehicle – $635.

It was supposedly a done deal except that Gary forgot to pay his dad.

“I came home one day, and my dad was sitting at the kitchen table with a guy by the name of Joe Quast. Dad worked construction with Quast,” Gary said.

It seems that Harold had accepted Quast’s offer of $1,000 for Gary’s car.

“I said, ‘OK, I will give you $1,000 for it,’ and then Joe said, ‘I will give you $1,200.’”

Gary quickly offered the same.

For the next few minutes there was a bidding war between Gary and Quast and the price was raised to $1,400.

“I said OK, I will give you $1,400, but remember I am your son,” Gary said.

So the 1967 Mustang with only 23,000 miles on it became the property of Gary.

Two weeks later, Quast approached Gary with an offer of $2,000 for the Mustang, and Gary told him if he decided to sell the car he would tell him first.

Gary also owns a 1977 Cougar that he had bought brand new.

Besides his interest in classic cars, Gary is extremely interested in the history of the Luce Line.

In fact, he does have plans to write a book some day on all of the information he has accumulated over the years.

He is planning a presentation in Hutchinson next spring on the Luce Line. The presentation will be about a group of pictures he found in the Hutchinson museum.

Gary, a 1970 graduate of Holy Trinity High School, has worked for General DataComm of Connecticut since 1980. It is a provider of wide area networking and general telecommunication products and services.

He is married to Jody Stotko, and they have a daughter, Mariah, who is 10 years old.

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