CCTV: The Cars of Fargo, Season 2: Classics? You Betcha!

(first posted 9/5/2017)      Ok, so I’m a little late here. Season 2 of Fargo aired during 2015, and I only just finished it this week. Set in 1979 in the titular North Dakota town – as well as Luverne, Minnesota and Sioux Falls, South Dakota – season 2 of this anthology series is a delight for car enthusiasts.

For those who haven’t watched the FX series, in terms of plot the show is unrelated to the Coen Brothers’ film of the same name. Thematically, however, the two are linked: each unique season of the show revolves around the North Dakota/Minnesota area and typically features a hare-brained plot that leads to various gruesome deaths. This is all interspersed with salt-of-the-earth, polite Minnesotans and their unique customs and accents. While seasons 1 and 3 were set in the present day, season 2 was a delightful period piece.

The season started with a tragic accident involving Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst), a local beautician in Luverne, Minnesota. While driving back home in her second-generation Chevrolet Corvair, she hits a man in the middle of the road and decides to drive off with the man still wedged in the windshield of her rear-engine Chevy.

That man was Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin), a member of the Gerhardt crime family out of Fargo, who was busy at the Waffle Hut killing three people before he was hit by Peggy. His car was this 1971-73 Ford Mustang; next to it is this W116 Mercedes S-Class belonging to his intended target, a judge.

During the show, you see quite a bit of the Corvair, inside and out, as it is integral to the plot.

For what was supposed to be a Beetle competitor, the Corvair was truly a stunning automobile.

Peggy’s husband Ed (Jesse Plemons), a butcher in Luverne, drives a Ford F-Series. Truck experts, I’ll leave it to you to pinpoint the year and trim.

He isn’t the only character who likes his trucks built Ford tough. Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon), an employee of the Gerhardt crime family, also has an F-Series.

The Gerhardt crime family is loyal to the Ford Motor Company with few exceptions. Rye’s brother, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), drives a stunning Lincoln Mark V.

The Mark V was truly one of the most beautiful American personal luxury coupes.

The Lincoln replaced a 1973 Imperial LeBaron Dodd drove earlier in the season.

The patriarch of the crime family, Otto (Michael Hogan), was driven around in this 1966 Chrysler New Yorker.

Dodd’s daughter, Simone (Rachel Keller), drives this 1976 Chevrolet Nova. This seems a logical casting choice for a young, care-free female character—a Granada would have been a bit too stuffy, a Maverick or Dart too old-fashioned.

As for the rest of the Gerhardt garage, there’s this Ford LTD II, driven by a henchman, that you can see in the above photo…

…and another Lincoln Mark V, plus an earlier Mark VI and yet another Ford F-Series, driven by middle child Bear (Angus Sampson).

The gang also have another Lincoln, a ’75-79 Continental sedan.

Here’s a shot of the menacing Gerhardts’ Lincolns looking menacing… as the Gerhardts are busy menacing people.

The Gerhardts enter into a turf war with the Kansas City outfit, themselves a long way from home but aggressively expanding to new areas. Their enforcer, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), is chauffeured around in this 1969 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. It’s a little older and less flashy than the Gerhardts’ Lincolns, that’s for sure, but it’s quite a looker down to the brocade upholstery inside.

The Kansas City gangsters seem to prefer GM, as you can tell from this photo. There’s a 1971 Cadillac de Ville and a GMC pickup in the foreground, with a 1971-73 Buick LeSabre or Centurion in the background. They do have one of their enemy’s cars, however—a 1975-79 Lincoln Continental.

So, we’ve seen what the bad guys drive. What do the good guys drive?

The series’ protagonist, State Trooper Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), has this 1975 Plymouth Gran Fury.

His squad car is actually a hardtop, which surely mustn’t have been a common choice by police departments in the day. However, let’s think about how many 1970s full-size Mopars are still out there, considering how many Mopar squad cars were destroyed in shows like The Dukes of Hazzard…

Back home, Solverson’s wife Betsy (Cristin Milioti) drives a Ford Granada.

Betsy’s father is the Rock County Sherriff, Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), whose squad car is a 1977 Chevrolet Caprice. Again, that’s probably not 100% accurate, as police departments would have preferred the cheaper Impala. However, it is period correct.

If we want to get really picky, this 1976 Plymouth Gran Fury belonging to Fargo Detective Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) might be a bit unrealistic. Not because it’s a Gran Fury, a popular choice among police departments, but because…

…it’s a Brougham.

There are two other car casting choices that also seem a bit off. Firstly, there’s this beautiful 1976 Cadillac Eldorado, driven by a man who runs a convenience store on the highway. While appropriate for the era, it seems an odd-choice for a mild-mannered, folksy shopkeeper in the Midwest. He does proudly keep a photo of it hanging in his store though, so maybe he just decided to treat himself.

Then there are the Mercury police cars driven by officers in Rock County. Were Mercurys ever common as police cars?

Unlike other period shows and films, the background cars are all era-appropriate. Nothing takes me out of a TV show or film quicker than seeing anachronistic cars, even if it’s in a fleeting background shot. Here’s a motel in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with Det. Schmidt’s Gran Fury visible.

The motel adjoins a used car lot.

Here’s a passing motorist’s Ford LTD Country Squire…

…a 1974 Mercury Comet…

…and a beautiful Pontiac which the Internet Movie Car Database has recorded as a ’67 Parisienne from Canada.

A hapless typewriter salesman drives this AMC Gremlin…

…while some South Dakota state troopers drive this ’77 Caprice.

Finally, here’s a sight that may be familiar to those of you who were alive in the 1970s: a huge lineup at a gas station. What can you see in this photo?

It must be getting increasingly difficult to source 1970s cars for period films and TV shows, especially a fleet of cars that accurately represent a cross-section of what was on the road at the time. A production can get era-appropriate cars and still miss the mark in terms of realism. For example, the opening scenes of this year’s Atomic Blonde show 1989 London as consisting almost entirely of MGBs, like a British version of the highway scene in Live and Let Die. A production can also drop the ball with background vehicles they don’t expect you to pay attention to, like those seen through the windows of a car just a few minutes later in Atomic Blonde.

Season 2 of Fargo was extremely entertaining (up until a rather dismal finale). The show also seems to have depicted the 1979 Midwestern carscape relatively well. Then again, I didn’t grow up in the Midwest in the 1970s so perhaps my fellow Curbsiders can tell me: how accurate did they get it?