When Paul Mazursky was filming Enemies: A Love Story in the late 1980s, he came face-to-face with a common film production issue. The movie was set in postwar New York City, but a video-store owner on the street where Mazursky wanted to film refused to cover his shop’s modern signs.
That’s where Lenny Shiller came in. A Brooklyn native and antique car collector who has roughly seven dozen cars and trucks—even he loses count at times—Shiller owned (and still does) a 1947 International KB6 soda delivery truck, complete with its original Scholz Bros. livery, wooden bottle crates, and period soda and seltzer bottles. Problem solved.
“They used the truck in two locations on that film,” Shiller recalls. “One was in Coney Island, and I played the delivery guy. The other was on Essex Street, where they used the truck to block the video store’s sign.”
Many of Shiller’s vehicles, if not Shiller himself, end up in movies. But he says the big delivery truck gets a large share of the attention. Period trucks are often needed in film productions.
“Lots of people have old cars, but few have old trucks, especially big ones,” Shiller says, adding that trucks are more versatile than passenger cars because the styling didn’t change as often. “Trucks aren’t like cars; they all look the same.”
Shiller purchased the truck from the Scholz Brothers beverage company in 1989, back when the business was still making and bottling its own soda and seltzer in College Point, Queens. Shiller says the truck was used as a backup delivery truck for many years before he bought it. When he climbed aboard to inspect it, the truck’s in-line six-cylinder engine ran, but the brakes didn’t work.
“We couldn’t get a good brake pedal on it, but the brakes weren’t locked up. The emergency brake was working and it had a very low first gear,” he recalls. “So I drove it back to Brooklyn using only the emergency brake.”
The beverage truck has appeared in a number of other films, as well, including Malcolm X (1992), Pollock (2000), and Bridge of Spies (2015). Most days, however, it can be found in one of the two Brooklyn warehouses where Shiller parks his fleet.
Although the truck needed little work when he bought it, Shiller said there have been a number of small projects he’s tackled to keep it up. Finding parts and accessories for a vintage commercial vehicle is challenging, and Shiller’s search took time. First, he had to find new wheels, as the original split rims were deemed dangerous, making tire replacement impossible.
“Tire shops won’t even touch ’em, so I had to get 20-inch rims from various junkyards here and there,” he says. “They were very difficult to come by. You can’t get these from Coker.”
Shiller says he also had to rebuild parts of the brake system. But even after fixing it, the power brake booster was somehow sucking brake fluid from the system. So for years, Shiller has driven the roughly six-ton truck without power assist.
“It stops,” he says with a shrug.
The truck came with original wooden crates and some Scholz Bros. soda bottles, but since Scholz Bros. was still in business when Shiller bought it, he was on his own as seltzer bottles were concerned. “It didn’t look right without the seltzer bottles, so I had to get some.”
Another New York-based soda bottling company sold him a number of etched glass seltzer bottles that no longer held pressure. He says he got them for next to nothing, but their value has risen sharply as their kitsch appeal has increased.
Shiller doesn’t drive the truck often, taking it out only for the occasional film shoot or classic car event. But whenever he goes for a drive, it attracts a lot of attention.
“One thing about driving a 25-foot-long truck, you get a lot of respect,” he says. “This one looks like it could be from the ’30s, so people’s eyes pop out of their heads when they see it.”