(Image courtesy imcdb.org)
Hands up if you’ve ever seen the 2003 movie Grand Theft Parsons, starring Johnny Knoxville…. I didn’t think so. It was a strange “black comedy” effort, based on a true story, that portrayed the events surrounding the death of music artist Gram Parsons. It was pretty soundly panned by critics. To me, the movie is notable for one reason: Gram’s crazy ex-girlfriend, played by Christina Applegate, drove a 1966 Chrysler Newport convertible.
(Image courtesy imcdb.org)
Phil Kaufman (Knoxville) procures a hearse to steal the body of his deceased friend Gram Parsons, with the intent of cremating him in the desert. Parsons’ crazy ex Barbara (Applegate) has what she claims is his last will, leaving everything to her. However she needs a death certificate to go with it… and for that she needs the body.
It’s unfortunate that, although the Newport appears frequently throughout the movie, there doesn’t appear to be any promotional material that includes it. It doesn’t even appear anywhere on the DVD cover. The psychedelically painted hearse carrying Parsons’ casket gets all the press.
This full-figured Mopar that would become a movie star was built at Chrysler’s Jefferson plant in Detroit and shipped to McIlvain Motors of Prescott, Arizona on March 15, 1966. However, it moved to California early in its life, obtaining the coveted California “black plates”. The first letter “T” suggests it would have been registered in California in 1967. There is also an old sticker in the corner of the windshield from the Long Beach Marina. Wish I could find out more about that time in the car’s life, but privacy issues and pre-computer record keeping make that unlikely.
Whoever originally ordered this car did not splurge on the options sheet: It got an engine upgrade from the base 383 2-barrel to the 4-barrel engine, but not the available 440cid engine. It did not get the optional exterior chrome accent package, bucket seats, or other power toys which convertible buyers were more likely than the typical Newport buyer to purchase. It did go back to the dealer to be retrofitted with a Chrysler-branded “Cool Aire” under-dash A/C unit, visible in this 2005 photo. The A/C system has since been removed.
From there the trail of ownership history goes cold until we see the car in GTP. The picture vehicle supplier for the movie declined to answer any questions about the car. The poor-quality photo above is the only one I’ve found online of the car on the set during filming.
The dashpad was signed by Christina Applegate, Johnny Knoxville, and Mike Shannon (the director). After starring in GTP, the Newport was auctioned off at a movie car auction held at the Peterson Museum. It was bought by a California car dealer that specializes in classic cars. It was then sold to a gentleman in central New York state, who had it shipped up from California. He didn’t care about the car’s movie credentials. He said he had always driven Chrysler C-body convertibles, and wanted this car to replace his tired 1968 Chrysler 300.
After receiving the car he had a change of heart, and decided that his money was better spent restoring his ’68 300 instead. He put the Newport up for auction on eBay in 2006. The pictures on eBay showed that the car appeared to be in the same condition that it had been when last advertised in California, right down to the incorrect Plymouth Volare wheel covers. Some crazy Canadian who was looking for a fairly original 1966 Chrysler convertible on a budget was the sole bidder, and the Newport made its way to the Great White North.
Mechanically the car was not as sound as had been hoped, which probably contributed to the owner from New York’s decision to resell it. Almost every mechanical system required attention of some form, from replacing seals and gaskets on the transmission to a complete engine overhaul, a bent driveshaft and a leaking heater core.
The interior was also refurbished. Among other things, the dashboard was disassembled and the cast metal core repainted, a factory correct optional AM/FM radio replaced the aftermarket one, and a new carpet was installed.
While it’s still not “perfect”, the owners are enjoying the fruits of their labours. Today, the GTP Newport is retired from the movie business, at least for the time being. It is most likely to be found attending car shows and going for scenic top-down drives on sunny summer days.