AMERICAN GRAFFITI | THE EPIC FILM THAT REIGNITED HOT ROD CULTURE

I was chatting with my friend Don about epic car films, and Two-Lane Blacktop quickly came up. He’s a major car and quickly segued to American Graffiti– correctly stating that it was the same ’55 Chevy (built by Richard Ruth of Competition Engineering of Sunland, CA) for Blacktop that Falfa drove in George Lucas’ classic American Graffiti. Well there were actually two ’55 Chevy hot rods from Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) that were used in American Graffiti (1973). Both were built using Richard Ruth’s own ’55 Chevy as the blueprint. Producer Gary Kurtz (Two-Lane Blacktop & American Graffiti) had visited Ruth who took him for a pulse-quickening ride in his big-block hot rod. That same evening Kurtz promptly ordered three cars from Richard Ruth– two exactly like Ruth’s, and one stunt car.

Two original cars would survive to live another day in George Lucas’ American Graffiti: 

Main Car 1– Equipped with a 427 crate motor, M-22 Muncie, 4.88 Olds rear, fiberglass front end, doors, and trunk lid, straight axle front suspension when built and later modified and used in American Graffiti.

Stunt Car– All steel-bodied car equipped with a 454 crate motor, TH 400 automatic, Olds rear of unknown gearing, modified for American Graffiti. It was used for interior shots as it was equipped with an auto tranny and drove smoother than a stick.

Shot of Mel’s drive-in from the 1973 classic, “American Graffiti” — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis Mel’s drive-in was actually out of business, and was reopened just for the filming of American Graffiti– then promptly demolished after filming was finished. American Graffiti was George Lucas’ semi-autobiographical teenage tale (Lucas grew up in Modesto, CA during the heyday of cruising and hot rods) that starred a treasure trove of young talent– Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, and the list goes on. It also created a huge resurgence in American 1950′s & 1960′s culture–  inspiring a long string of films and TV shows, most notably “Happy Days.” Hot Rod magazine even listed the ’55 Chevy and ’32 Ford deuce coupe (the true stars of the film) at the top of their list of most influential hot rods of all time.        

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Paul Le Mat in the George Lucas’ 1973 classic car film, “American Graffiti.” George Lucas had  the license plate on the ’32 Ford hot rod read: THX-138. This was a reference to THX-1138, his 1971 sc-fi flick. Later in his Star Wars saga, the yellow airspeeder Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan use to chase bounty hunter Zam Wesell is said to be a tribute to John Milner’s iconic coupe in American Graffiti.

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