WINGED WARRIORS/NATIONAL B-BODY OWNERS ASSOCIATION
SPECIAL FEATURE CAR
CURT LAWSON'S 1966 CORONET 500
My name is Curt Lawson and I was a design engineer at Tennant Company, and on January 4th, after 34 years of employment there, I retired. The reason I am writing this story is there is a unique twist to this retirement.
In 1965, I graduated from Minneapolis Vocational School and got a job as a draftsman at the Schafer Company at 801 Washington in Minneapolis. After working there a short time I decided to buy a new car. I ended up ordering a new 1966 Dodge Coronet 500 2-door hardtop with a 383 and four-speed from Anderson Dodge on Lake Street.
I took delivery in January 1966. This was my first new car and was used as my main transportation to work at my first full-time job. I lived in Fridley, Minnesota at the time and commuted to work on University Avenue.
In 1969, some friends and I started racing stock cars on the I.M.C.A. circuit. We quit our jobs and raced full time. We raced a 1967 Plymouth until 1970, and in 1970, a 1970 Dodge Charger. We traveled the country racing small tracks, fairgrounds including the Minnesota State Fair. There were several times when we needed parts for the race car to make a race, so HIS '66 Coronet would become the donor. Many times the Coronet would be parked in the pits for easy access of parts. This was still my only transportation.
I got married in 1972 and HIS '66 Coronet was still our everyday car. We were now living in Blaine, Minnesota and I was working at Longyear down by the University of Minnesota and driving HIS '66 to work every day.
We used HIS '66 for vacations and camping all over the USA and this was the car we used to bring my wife to the hospital for the birth of our children. Although it was never planned to keep the car for a specific amount of time, the car just kept on going and never broke down so it remained our main mode of transportation.
The first three photos below, top row left to right show the Coronet in UP country circa1971; the next photo shows Janet holding a gun near the Coronet in 1972, and then Curt standing on Lombardi Street with the Coronet in 1972.
The second row of photos shows Janet with the Coronet in Colorado in 1973 and the Coronet with it's new chrome wheels.
On Christmas Eve 1976, we were returning from a visit with a great aunt and uncle in south Minneapolis on a beautiful snowy night and just after crossing the Mississippi River on Central Avenue, a car made a left turn in front of us. I hit the brakes but the roads were slippery and we made contact. This was a small fender-bender, but while we were filling out the accident report with the police, a truck came along and rear-ended the squad car sending it into the '66, and then the '66 into the car that had turned in front of us! The driver fled the scene.
My wife, kids, mother and father were in the car and the car was hit so hard, it caved in the trunk and put the fan through the radiator. I do not remember what the squad car looked like. My family ended up in the hospital for minor injuries. After getting everyone checked out and bandaged up, we got the car home to Blaine and went to my parents' home in Fridley to salvage what we could of Christmas Eve.
HIS '66 was totaled by the insurance company but I was able to get enough money out of them to buy all the parts (new from the dealer) to repair the car. I spent the next month repairing the car and when I was done, it was better than new.
In 1984, I restored the Coronet, doing necessary rust repair, rebuilding the front end and giving it a fresh coat of paint in the original color, as shown in the photos below.
In 1986, my son Kevin and I rebuilt the engine as shown in the photos below.
Well, here it is, over 40 years later and I was retiring from Tennant and that same 1966 Dodge Coronet sat in the Tennant parking lot on that day, still transporting me to work. It now has 600,000 miles on it and although it has not been driven much in the snow or rain since the mid-1980s (usually put in storage at the first snowfall and put back on the road when the snow is gone) it is still used regularly throughout the year.
Here are some highlights of owning the car. This car has been to every state west of the Mississippi at least once and to most states in the USA at least once, Mexico several times, including one trip deep into Baja, Mexico as well as into Canada several times. It has been used for Proms, our wedding, bringing our children home from the hospital as newborns (the first vehicle they rode in), their Confirmations, graduations, it has been totaled out, made laps at the Chrysler Proving Grounds, participated in parade laps at Michigan International Speedway, made laps around Indianapolis Speedway, somehow found its way on top of the monument at Mount Rushmore. It has been through major snow storms in the Rockies several times, including a time we went off the road requiring several hours to retrieve it. In the '70s we would load up the car with camping gear and head out to the Black Hills for the weekend, but gas was only 19¢ to 25¢ a gallon back then. Shown below from left to right: (son) Kevin's graduation photos with the Coronet; (daughter) Cindy's graduation photos with the Coronet.
We have done all the work ourselves except for wheel alignments. The car is still used for vacations, as well as driven by our daughter and/or son to car shows locally and around the USA, joining us as we take my wife's HER '66 Dodge Coronet 440.
Yes, she liked the car so well we had to have one for each of us, so in the late 1970's when I saw a 1966 Dodge Coronet for sale in the paper, we had to check it out. It had no engine but only had 19,000 miles on it, no rust, and a perfect interior, and for $350--how could you go wrong?!
Well, that is the story of how a car can become such a part of one's life. When I bought this car for less than $2,000 (I traded in a 1958 Chevy Impala) and my car payments were $27.30 a month. I did not like the idea of making car payments so I had the car paid off in less than one year and have never had a car payment since.
HIS '66 UPDATE by Sue George:
Never believe that you can't drive and enjoy your Mopar and still have it look extremely nice. HIS '66 Coronet has provided Curt's family with some really precious memories and is truly a member of the family. The story of the Coronet does not end there, however. Keeping with family tradition, daughter Cindy married Mike Janikowski last summer and HIS '66 was used as their wedding car. The groom's attendants carefully decorated it with balloons and tissue, taking care not to use anything that would harm the paint. Cindy and Mike had a beautiful Mopar wedding with several nice Coronets, a GTX and a Superbird in attendance. After the wedding, the Mopars chased right through the Anoka, MN cruise night which attracts over 1,000 cars, on their way to the wedding reception location. The Coronet has also serviced the next generation, safely bringing home Cindy and Mike's new son Cameron from the hospital in December 2006. The first two photos below show Cindy and Cameron arriving home in the Coronet; and grandma Janet, mom Cindy and baby Cameron.
Cindy and Mike Janikowski's Mopar Wedding on June 9, 2007:
JANET LAWSON'S 1966 CORONET 440
HER '66 was purchased for Janet, as a replacement for the 1966 Coronet 500 I bought new that had been our daily driver year around and had over 150,000 miles on it at that time.
We purchased this Coronet in January 1976 in pieces. The previous owners had stripped the car of all unnecessary parts, cut up the K-frame for a bigger oil pan, painted the engine compartment black, re-routed the brake and fuel lines, installed a Ford 9-inch rear end, modified the rear wheel openings for larger slicks and miscellaneous other modifications to make it into a race car. The two owners were working on the car in a rented garage and the property had been sold, so with no place to store it or work on the car, it had to be sold.
The car still had the factory paint, no rust and they said it had only been driven one winter and then put into storage. The odometer showed 19,000 miles and the car looked clean.
There was a Hemi engine sitting in the garage that was to be their race engine, which I tried to make part of the deal. But the partner had a street rod to put the engine in, so it was not for sale. This was during the time of gas shortages and rising gas prices, so the engine was not that important. My offer of $350 was accepted for the car so we took our basket case home.
As I started assembling the car, I noticed some differences between this car and our other Coronet, and at the same time, I saw an ad for a Hemi Club. So I wrote to them with our VIN. Shortly after, we received a letter confirming that this was an original Hemi car! But with the gas prices on the rise and long lines at the pumps, a Hemi was no big deal.
While working on the car, a co-worker was involved in an accident with his 1969 Satellite and it was totaled by his insurance company, so I was able to purchase the car with 60,000 miles on it. We then installed the running gear in the Coronet so it would be ready to go when my Coronet 500 would give out. The photos below from left to right: The top row of photos show HER '66 in 1969; bottom row of photos from left to right: show the car in 1977 with the parts bolted on; 1981 in running condition; the last photo shows HIS and HER '66 side by side in the garage addition in 1984.
Shortly after that, we sold our house and moved into a place with a small 2-car garage and no place to store Janet's Coronet, so it went up north to a friend's grandfather's farm, where it sat for many years.
A garage workshop addition was completed and finally we brought Janet's Coronet back home. My Coronet 500 was still going strong (still our daily driver with 300,000 miles on it by now!) and the fact that Mopars had started to gain recognition and value, we decided to restore her car. The original paint had a lot of scratches on the roof (from the hood being set up there) and the fenders (from working on the engine) from the previous owners along with the damage to the rear wheel openings necessitated new paint.
So in 1990, we pulled the car apart and started our restoration. Not being able to find a Hemi at a reasonable price, the car sat in the corner of our garage complete but Hemi-less for over two years. We had built up a 383 to put in here, but because of some other projects and the high cost of Hemi parts, we decided to put the Coronet up for sale, hoping that someone would put a Hemi back into her.
About this time, a friend's 340 engine let go while racing, so he had a small block 4-speed set up for sale. I decided to put a 318 engine that I had pulled from our van (with 270,000 miles on it) in the car so we could take it to a few events to sell.
Photos below show the restoration of HER '66 from start to finish, with before and after photos of the front suspension parts. The last photo shows the two Coronets, Janet's had a mere 19,000 miles on it while mine had 385,000 miles in 1994.
My Coronet 500 has had American Torq-Thrust wheels on it since it was new. Janet did not like them as well as the Cragar SS wheels. So we ordered a set of wheels and tires to put on the car until it was sold, then we would put them on the Coronet 500. The wheels arrived two days before Mopars In The Park in June 1996. I mounted and balanced the tires that night, put them on and got the car cleaned up for the show. When Janet saw the car, her first words were, "I DO NOT WANT TO SELL THAT CAR!". So at that point, it became HER '66.
This is a great highway car, getting 20 mpg on regular gas and runs through the Rocky Mountains with ease. With a total investment of just over $2,000, and the fun we've had and the friends we've made, we think we made the right decision not to sell it.
All the work was done by our family in our garage. The car is driven everywhere, and our road trips have taken us to the 1996 Mopars at the Lakes in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, Mopar Magic Weekend in Grand Junction, Colorado, Mopar Nats in Indy, Pacific Nats in Las Vegas, Nevada, Moparama in Sioux Falls, SD, Mopars at the Red Barns in Hickory Corners, Michigan, Mopars on the Mississippi in Dubuque, Iowa, Mopars in the Valley at Fargo, North Dakota, Mopar Nats in Columbus, Ohio, Music City Mopars in Nashville, TN, as well as many, many other shows.
Photos below, top row left to right: 1995 Grand Junction, Colorado ; 1996 Mopars at the Lake; 1998 Music City, Tennessee; 1999 Daddy O's Cruise Night; 2000 in the Lawson's backyard
Row two left to right: Photos from the 2000 Winged Warriors/NBOA National Meet in Boone, IA: Big Creek Lake near Polk City, IA; Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad parking lot; Ruttles drive-in restaurant cruise night in Ames, IA
Row three left to right: 2001 Our car show in Oswego Park, Kansas near Walter P Chrysler's birthplace house; 2001 Red Barns in Hickory Corners, Michigan; 2001 Curt with new Cragar wheels; 2001 Back to the 50's Cruise; 2002 NASCAR Cafe in Darlington, South Carolina
Row four left to right: 2003 Cord Museum in Indiana; 2003 Winged Warriors/NBOA National Meet in Lebanon, Indiana; 2003 Texaco Museum in Indiana
Row four left to right: 2004 Winged Warriors/NBOA National Meet in Rapid City, South Dakota: Our car show with the Black Hills Mopar Club; Pioneer Village in Murdo; our trip through the Badlands; our car show in Deadwood
Row five left to right: 2005 Winged Warriors/NBOA Spring Meet in Darlington, South Carolina: Refueling near our hotel; the old and the new; parking lot at the hotel; in front of the tower on Darlington Raceway
Row six left to right: 2005 Darlington meet: Janet with Joe Frasson and Neil Castles; at our car show in the parking lot at Darlington Raceway, Ray Williams (meet host), Joe Frasson and Carol with Janet; Which one has the most horsepower?; a tire self-destructed on the road at 70 mph!
Row seven left to right: 2005 Winged Warriors/NBOA National Meet in Kansas City, Kansas: At the Harley Davidson factory; Lawson Bank--so this is how they can afford to take all those trips in the Coronet?!; At the WWI Monument and Museum; 2006 Winged Warriors/NBOA Fall Meet in St Louis, Curt and Janet with Charlie Glotzbach; 2007 Mopars In The Park at Raceway Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. The Lawsons have participated in this car show for so many years, they have two permanently assigned parking spots for their two Coronets!
***Note by Sue: HER '66 was built in January 1966 at the St Louis assembly plant and cost $3,794.36 when new. Thanks to the Lawson's for a great endorsement for driving your Mopars! This Coronet has been all over the United States and never misses a Winged Warriors event. It is always DRIVEN, never towed around on a trailer. It has encountered very few very minor problems like a tire that came apart on their way to the Winged Warriors/NBOA National Meet in Kansas City in 2001, and an alternator problem another year. It's proof that if you drive your Mopar and enjoy it, you also maintain it. If it just sits in the garage, it will be neglected and will deteriorate. Both of their Coronets are still beautiful and appear at numerous shows every year. This is one family that does not waste their Mopars by letting them sit in the garage and gather dust. To carry on the family tradition, Cindy's husband Mike Janikowski is teaching young son Cameron how to wrench on the Coronet as one day it will be his to maintain and enjoy. You're never too young to learn how to take care of your Mopar as shown in the photos below when Cameron was just six months old. It was about time for a coffee, erh, formula, break. Long live the Lawson's Coronets!
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