On Location Classics: Why I Miss New York City

nyc on location 7

(first posted 3/29/2016)    New York City is a mecca for filming. How could it not be? It is an iconic, beautiful city with a government that is friendly to production companies. New York City also offers vast neighborhoods full of turn-of-the-century architecture, allowing filmmakers the opportunity to portray an authentic streetscape from any of the past several decades. My good friend Jason White captured a production company doing just that a few nights ago.

nyc on location skylark

These cars were parked on both sides of East 7th Street in Manhattan’s East Village, between Avenues C and D. Trying to pinpoint the year this film is set in is best accomplished by finding the newest car, which is the 1980-85 Oldsmobile Delta 88 in the background of this photo. Of course, many of us have surely noticed era-inappropriate cars in period films including in this year’s Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Spotlight. Let’s hope the producers of this film got it right. I don’t know about you, but nothing takes me out of a period movie quicker than seeing an era-inaccurate car.

A nice touch of realism for this film shoot, though, are the conditions of the cars. The 1976-79 Buick Skylark in this photo is missing some of its side rub strip and its rear bumper resembles a Crocodile Dentist toy.

nyc on location continental

Past the Skylark and Delta 88, we spy a beautiful pale blue 1975-79 Lincoln Town Car. This year’s gorgeous Navigator concept, coincidentally, was featured in a similar shade. This photo is a tad blurry but credit to Jason for spending an inordinate amount of time in the chilly March night, sans gloves, to bring us these photos. These last, grand Town Cars are beautifully imposing vehicles: doric columns, if you will, on a neo-classical civic building. Contrast this with the needless fripperies of the ’75-76 Cadillac Sedan de Ville and its awkward C-pillar treatment and rather ungainly front end.

nyc on location new yorker 1

Speaking of needless fripperies, take a look at this 1975 Chrysler New Yorker. I appear to be in the minority on this, judging by previous discussion on the site, but I find these to have some awkward touches. The chromed rocker panel downturn at the rear door looks droopy, not helped by the closed-in rear wheel wells. The rear quarter panels are a tad fussy and even the front end styling is not to my liking, although the 1976 adoption of the Imperial’s front fascia helped matters.

nyc on location new yorker 2

Still, although I am personally not a fan, I can certainly appreciate the concours condition this New Yorker is in. And, of course, what an apt setting for a car with that moniker.

nyc on location newport 1

This Mopar is more to my liking: a 1973 Newport. The last year of the “fuselage” generation, the 1973 Chryslers featured a very angular and squared-off appearance, very different in appearance from the previous year’s Chryslers. Interestingly, the all-new ’74 models attempted a slightly more fluid look right as the market was embracing a very upright, formal aesthetic.

nyc on location newport 2

While the 1973 Newport and New Yorker looked very different from the chrome loop bumper-wearing 1972 models, they looked very similar to GM offerings of previous years. The front-end resembled an exaggerated interpretation of the 1971 Chevrolet Caprice, while the rear end had distinctive notes of Oldsmobile. Still, production numbers for the Chrysler range increased in 1973 by around 30,000 units.

nyc on location 1973 caprice 1

Speaking of the Chevrolet Caprice, here is a 1973 model. You can see where Chrysler cribbed from the styling, with the Chevy’s imposing, sculpted hood.

nyc on location 1973 caprice 2

The rear end is somewhat more rakish and yet still very attractive. The following year, larger 5-MPH rear bumpers were added which upset the balance of the Chevy’s derriere. However, you can’t blame regulatory standards for the other styling changes Chevrolet inflicted on some of its B-Bodies for 1974. The new “Custom” coupe and “Sport” sedan rooflines, in my opinion, sullied the styling of the big Chevys, and similar revisions to GM’s other full-size models ensured that by 1976, they looked dramatically different than they did at the beginning of the generation. And not for the better.

nyc on location 2

If you like clean lines, the Mercury Zephyr – and its Ford Fairmont twin – were just the antidote to a decade of padded vinyl roofs and other ostentatious design features. Clean, boxy and crisp, although to some achingly anonymous, these couldn’t look any more different from the button-tufted Broughams of the decade. Finally replacing the dated Maverick, which had been supplemented by the formal Granada, the Fairmont was very European in its styling restraint. These arguably look best in more basic trim levels: leave the rub strips and vinyl roofs, or the flashy Futura coupe roofline, and just appreciate the Fairmont for the inoffensive, inexpensive box that it is.

nyc on location monarch

Although the Fairmont and Zephyr arrived in 1978 to replace the Maverick, that role was originally reserved for the 1975 Ford Granada and Mercury Monarch. When buyers started shopping for smaller vehicles in the wake of the OPEC Oil Crisis and soaring gas prices, Ford cleverly kept the Maverick and positioned the Granada as a more aspirational “senior compact” despite its shared, 1960 Falcon underpinnings. Despite the arrival of the more modern and space-efficient Fairmont/Zephyr, Ford kept these around and they continued to enjoy strong sales. The Granada and Monarch were by no means world-beaters in handling or mechanical refinement, but they were one of Ford’s biggest success stories in the 1970s, showing that compacts need not be utilitarian and only for skinflints.

Like I imagine many Granadas and Monarchs did back in the day, this one is missing its fuel filler door.

nyc on location 1960 pontiac 2

Even in the context of this film, this 1960 Pontiac is old. It has clearly been well cared for, however, and has obviously not been parked on NYC streets its whole life. For 1959, the Pontiac range was dramatically redesigned with a wider track and thus better proportions; high-end models also lost a lot of their excessive ornamentation. The result was one of the most beautiful American cars of that year.

nyc on location 1960 pontiac

For 1960, the rear-end was toned down a little bit and the dual-nostril grille sadly removed. Pontiac designers realized the dual-nostril grille was an important visual signature and it returned for 1961, although they removed it from the 1962 Tempest and returned it the following year. The dual-nostril grille was employed by countless Pontiacs between then and the brand’s demise in 2009.

This ’60 is painted in a very plain pale green and I believe it is a Catalina.

nyc on location valiant

This 1974-76 Plymouth Valiant is also painted green, albeit a richer forest green. The handsome green, rub strip and hood ornament contrast with the dog dish wheels and that very basic bumper. Still, this is no Valiant Brougham: this looks like a well-kept, skinflint special.

nyc on location dart

And if you’re more of a Dodge person, here’s a mechanically-related Dart. Again, in green. There sure are a lot of Mopars on this street! While the detailing of the Valiant’s grille is nice, I think the Dart has a more attractive face. Despite their age, these were still selling quite well in the wake of the oil crisis. It’s a shame, though, that Chrysler never rebodied the sedan like they did in Australia. The contemporary Australian Valiant had smooth, handsome Fuselage styling that made it look like a much bigger and more modern car. These American Darts and Valiants looked like stodgy, librarian’s specials in sedan form.

nyc on location 5

And here we have our final car and the only import on the street: a Saab 99. The pale blue color is nice, as are the distinctive wheels and OEM mudflaps. With front-wheel-drive and a four-cylinder engine, this 99 is dramatically different to everything on the street.

My friend Jason has lived in NYC all of his life and has never seen so many period cars on one street for a film shoot. He went back early the next morning to grab some daytime photographs but, as suddenly as these cars had appeared, they were gone.

It’s so refreshing to see on-location filming in New York City. So many TV shows and movies over the years have used inauthentic backlot sets for street scenes, throwing in a few trash bags, paid extras and yellow cabs and hoping viewers won’t recognize the difference. The real deal is always better. And being able to stumble across an entire city block in New York City lined with classic cars is one of the reasons I miss this city so much.

Related Reading:

Curbside Cinema: The Cars of “Smokey & The Bandit”

Curbside Cinema: The Cars Of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

CC Outtake: Classic Fords of Red Hook, Brooklyn

Curbside Capsule: Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera – Official Car Of The Chelsea Projects