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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Monett's Dave Beckett reconnects with his now famous Gran Torino

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dave Beckett poses beside the Gran Torino that he owned in his early 20s that is now on display at the Warner Brothers Studios Picture Car Museum in Los Angeles, Calif. The perfectly restored car appeared in the Clint Eastwood movie "Gran Torino" and is now owned by Mr. Eastwood.
This summer, Dave Beckett took a walk down memory lane when he and his family visited the Warner Brothers Studios Picture Car Museum in Los Angeles, Calif., to view the first new car he ever purchased at age 20. That vintage vehicle is now on display in the museum after it appeared in Clint Eastwood's 2008 blockbuster "Gran Torino."

Beckett never imagined that the Gran Torino he bought brand new 38 years ago off a Springfield showroom floor would eventually have a starring role in an Eastwood film. The Hollywood star liked the car so much that when filming was over, the vehicle became part of Eastwood's own extensive automobile collection.

The trip to Hollywood was actually the idea of Beckett's daughter, Dedre. The Becketts have started a tradition where they let their daughters pick where the family vacations the summer before their senior year in high school. Dedre chose Hollywood, giving Dave the perfect chance to track down his former ride.

"When I knew we were going there, I started to try to figure out where the car was exactly," said Dave. "I think I told my story 10 different times until I finally talked to a woman from Warner Brothers Transportation Department. She said she'd work it out so I could have private time with 'my old girlfriend,'" said Dave with a laugh.

When the Becketts arrived at Warner Brothers Studios, they went on the museum tour and the woman Dave had talked to on the phone met them along the way to make sure Dave had a chance to get a close look at the car.

"They let me get behind the barricades, and I even popped the hood," said Dave. "The motor was still the same. The wheels were the same. The only difference is the vinyl top. It was a dark, dark green and the top is black now. Other than that, the car is exactly the same as I remember it."

When the Becketts' tour guide Tommy Owen found out that Dave was the original owner of the Gran Torino, he got excited and asked Dave if he could tell the other tour groups.

"It's not everyday that you meet the original owner of a 'picture car,' much less, one that was in a Clint Eastwood film. It was a fantastic story," said Owen.

"The tour groups were amazed," added Owen. "I can't tell you how many times I've told that story to other tour groups since then."

Owen said Dave's reaction to seeing his car again was like watching a kid in a candy shop. "Except this kid once owned the candy shop," Owen said. "Dave was smiling ear to ear."

Owen was so impressed with Dave's story that he wrote about it for the Warner Brothers newsletter.

"He called me after we were back home and did an interview," Dave said. "Tommy asked me if I regretted selling the car, and I paused for awhile, and then said 'no.' If I still had the car, it wouldn't been in the movie."

The Gran Torino's trip from Monett to Hollywood took several detours, but amazingly enough, the classic car never left Barry County until it was sold by its fourth owner, Jim Craig, of Cassville, to a class car dealer in Vernell, Utah, in 2007. Before Craig, the car was owned by Paul Norvell, and Roy Dotson, both of Purdy.

Warner Brothers discovered the perfectly restored car and turned it into the centerpiece of Eastwood's film. The movie poster shows Eastwood standing with a gun in his hand and the Gran Torino behind him.

The car makes several appearances in the film. In the movie, Kowalski keeps his car in pristine condition and only takes it out of the garage to wash it. The car symbolizes the "old days" for Kowalski who moviegoers discover built the car during his 50 years as a Ford assembly line worker.

Dave said he didn't initially realize it was his car in the film until he read an article about Craig's connection to the Gran Torino in the Cassville Democrat newspaper.

"I noticed the car when the previews for Gran Torino came out," Dave said. "At that time, I just thought it was a car that looked like mine.

"We went and saw the movie," Dave said. "It was good, but I was disappointed they didn't feature the car enough."

There was one scene in the movie where one of the character's in the film is washing the Gran Torino and the paint on the car is really sparkling. Dave said at that moment in the film he began thinking Clint's Gran Torino might really be his car. "I remember washing my car and it looking just like that," Dave said.

After reading the newspaper article about Craig and how he restored the Gran Torino to its original condition, Dave contacted Craig. From that conversation Dave was able to track the car's ownership back to Norville, who Dave knew bought his Gran Torino from Leo Stark in Monett after Dave traded it in for an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

"It was then that I knew the Gran Torino in the movie was really my car," said Dave. "It's kind of unique in this day and age that a car would survive for that long a time."

While in Hollywood, Donna snapped a photograph of Dave leaning against the Gran Torino. In Dave's hand is a picture of his 20-year-old self striking a similar pose next to the car he bought new from the showroom.

"The car looks exactly the same, it's me who looks different," said Dave. "I don't have that red hair anymore."

As news of Dave's connection to the car in Gran Torino spread through Monett, Dave has enjoyed reminiscing about his old car and the times the car represents.

"I remember going to Springfield and cruising on Kearney Street," said Dave. "You could drag race from light to light.

"People, after they saw the movie or heard the story, came up to me and they'd say 'I remember you driving that car' or 'I remember you took me here or there in the car.' It's all good memories."

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