There are three raffishly attired, ravishing young women and a 16-month-old baby boy named Loren, lollygagging about in a 1986 Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country GTS convertible with the top down. It’s one of those fake wood-sided cars recalling the vibe of woody station wagons of yore. But those didn’t have a folding top and The Shangri-Las blasting on the o.e.m. stereo cassette unit that includes a graphic equalizer and joystick-controlled balance. Yes, the women are a band that’s called Nice As Fuck, NAF, if you prefer. Loren is their tiny roadie.
Nice As Fuck is Tennessee Thomas on drums, Erika Spring on bass and Jenny Lewis, vocals, and they are, in fact, nice as fuck. In a way it’s a super group insofar as each of its members have come from highly regarded bands including The Like (Thomas), Au Revoir Simone (Spring) and Rilo Kiley (Lewis). They were active during the 2016 Presidential campaign with a much-lauded appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert plus an album release back then. They went their separate ways around the time Erika gave birth to Loren.
This particular Town & Country, like most built over the course of four model years, is finished in an eggy white with contrasting brown hued ersatz lumber on its flanks. It’s also equipped with a “Continental kit,” an extension on the rear bumper that carries a metal shell that replicates a spare tire. We’re guessing this was an aftermarket appurtenance as it’s hard to imagine that the MoPar gang would have offered its customers something so silly looking and fundamentally pointless. On second thought, maybe Lee Iacocca was pandering to a questionable aesthetic with this add-on “feature,” no matter that it serves no actual purpose save to add gratuitous length to the car, thus making parking a tad more difficult. Did we mention that there’s no tire in there? It is a design item perhaps best appreciated by those for whom more is, well, just more. Persons equipped with an enhanced sense of irony — not the snarky kind of irony but, rather, the loving kind with which the LeBaron’s NAF occupants appear to have been blessed — appreciate it on multiple levels.
The Town & Country convertible is one of the most exalted K-Car-based vehicles and this particular example has been named “Joy De Vivre” by NAF, a sweet exercise in anthropomorphy, if ever there were. The actual Town & Country name dates back to the 1940s when Chrysler offered both a real wood sided convertible and eight passenger sedan, using shipbuilder’s craft to construct these iconic classics that had the termite population collectively drooling. There’s one seen in the 1951 Franco-Italo co-production Les Miracles N’ont Lieu Qu’une Fois starring Jean Marais.
As the “Shangs” delightfully warble their version of Jay & The Americans’ “She Cried,” (retitled “He Cried”), we find Tennessee behind the wheel, adjusting the volume control on the stereo, sharing the great girl group gestalt with the rest of the neighborhood. Tennessee and Joy reside in LA’s Echo Park neighborhood, arguably one of the longest reigning hip enclaves anywhere. This version of the Town & Country, one of just 3,725 built, was introduced in 1983 with production continuing through 1986, the same model year as the one that Tennessee does her best to park in front of The Deep End Club each day. It’s her store/community center located at 1546 Echo Park Blvd. in Los Angeles. It’s just a bit north of Sunset Blvd. on the east side of the street, down the hill from the Chevron station where the road forks right to Morton Ave. Tennessee, when made aware of the T&C model run made sure to point out that the year of her birth, 1984, was within the same time frame.
Tennessee sells a range of items, mostly apparel, that makes a statement that underscores her belief that it’s really cool to try to make the world a better place. It’s also a community center and meeting hall, very much woven into the fabric of the community. The Town & Country parked out front, serves as a beacon to truth-seekers, peaceniks, resisters and advocates for human rights, economic equality and women’s empowerment. Joy is serving the cause most elegantly.
The name of her enterprise was appropriated from the personal history of her dad, the famous drummer Pete Thomas of The Attractions as in “Elvis Costello and The..” He, along with band mate Steve Nieve, in their early days on the road, made something of a habit of jumping — or falling — into swimming pools fully attired. Tennessee’s own name is derived from the state where her dad had recorded an album (Almost Blue) and “had some kind of Jack Daniels-inspired epiphany in the Great Smokey Mountains.” She was born in Great Britain but is now an exemplary American Citizen, fully documented, thankyouverymuch.
Baby Loren seems to dig the LeBaron’s Mark Cross leather interior and electroluminescent dashboard. Sadly, the odometer’s electroluminescence has left the building; so to speak, making it anybody’s guess as to how many miles Joy D.V. has traveled since she left Chrysler’s St. Louis Assembly Plant in Fenton, MO thirty-two years ago. Still, everything seems to be in better-than-passible shape. A 2.5 liter transversely mounted fuel-injected four cylinder motor powers Joy’s front wheels through Chrysler’s ubiquitous TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic transmission. It’s a proven combination applied to literally millions of K-Cars, including minivans, branded Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler.
When Tennessee moved from New York to Los Angeles, (read that again: in pure terms of geography, it’s a mind-blowing concept), she knew one of the first steps she’d have to take to make the transition would be the acquisition of a suitable vehicle. On the day Tom Petty died, she saw a Chrysler T&C. She took it as a sign and decided she had to have one and immediately started Googling. Two caught her eye: one in the nearby San Fernando Valley for sale as well as another in Minnesota. She checked out the Valley car and came away unimpressed (“It could only go 40 miles an hour.”) A friend in the Midwest checked out the one in Minnesota and was impressed with its rust-free condition, the goofy continental kit and the fact that it was able to keep up with traffic. In light of the fact that it was priced lower than the local one, the cost of schlepping it half way across the country was amortized. Joy has had some problems, like the time Tennessee drove it to Santa Monica where it hemorrhaged power steering fluid a/k/a “red stuff” and when she came back from a month-long visit to India (“recreating George Harrison selfies”) and found the car while parked in her parents’ garage had relieved itself of its transmission fluid. But, for the most part, the car has lived up to its name. Besides, Rubin, an immigrant like Joy’s owner, the ace mechanic at the Union 76 station on Hyperion is nonplussed, having dealt with leaky K-Cars for decades.
Everybody smiles when they see this preposterous car with its top down, the Shangri-Las’ “Give Him A Great Big Kiss” on the sound system parked in front of a store that features “Give A Damn” t-shirts and urges “All Power To the Imagination.” This is especially the case when a cute baby and three super talented rocker chicks are in the more-than-OK K-Car on Echo Park Avenue.
While we were snapping photos of the car, the members of Nice As Fuck, theorized that the title to their long awaited follow up album should be Joy De Vive. “All we have to do is write the songs and record them,” says Jenny. Seems like it’ll be a piece of cake if they cede “all power to the imagination,” as is urged as a matter of policy at the Deep End Club.
Bonus: enjoy this video treatise on the greatness of the T&C hosted on Hoovies Garage. This one’s Continental kit seems to be quasi-functional. Enjoy!
Want to buy a faux wood Chrysler T & C like Tennessee’s? Here’s one in nearby Calgary, Alberta that seems to be a bargain and includes the much coveted Continental kit.
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