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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Wolfman Jack on the set of George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis Wolfman Jack has hand-picked to star in American Graffiti because of his own found memories listening to the raspy, deep-voiced deejay back in his youth. Wolfman Jack is classic– as a kid, I myself had a “Wolfman Jack” impersonation that I was quite proud of.

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Pal Le Mat, Cindy Williams and Ron Howard in George Lucas’ 1973 classic film, “American Graffiti”. The concept for “Happy Days” was first tested on the ABC-TV show, “Love American Style.” Ron Howard played Richie Cunningham, and an episode called “Love and the Happy Days” helped him land the role of Steve Bolander in American Graffiti. The success of “Graffiti” gave ABC the confidence to make “Happy Days” a weekly TV series. The rest is history… 

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Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley) in George Lucas’ 1973 classic car cruising film, “American Graffiti”

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Young George Lucas on the set of his 1973 classic film about 1950s & ’60s cruising, “American Graffiti”

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George Lucas on the set of his 1973 classic, “American Graffiti” — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

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Young Harrison Ford in George Lucas’ 1973 classic hot rod cruising film, “American Graffiti”

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Harrison Ford in George Lucas’ 1973 film, “American Graffiti” — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

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 Charles Martin Smith and Candy Clark on the set of the George Lucas’ 1973 classic coming-of-age film,”American Graffiti” — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

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Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark on Ron Howard in Lucas’ 1973 classic car film,”American Graffiti” 

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Candy Clark from George Lucas’ 1973 car classic, “American Graffiti” — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

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Richard Dreyfuss in George Lucas’ classic, “American Graffiti” — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

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Richard Dreyfuss and Bo Hopkins on the set of the George Lucas’ 1973 car classic, “American Graffiti” — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

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Paul Le Mat (John Milner) on the set of George Lucas’ 1973 classic car film, “American Graffiti”

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Mackenzie Phillips & Paul Le Mat on the set of George Lucas’ 1973 classic car film, “American Graffiti”– Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

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Old write-up on the ’55 Chevy that starred 2 epic car films– American Graffiti and Two-Lane Blacktop

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Related TSY posts:

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP | UNDER THE HOOD OF THE EPIC 1971 ROAD FLICK

REQUIRED VIEWING “BULLITT” | THE GRANDDADDY OF CAR CHASE SCENES

HOLLYWOOD’S INNOVATIVE KUSTOM KULTURE LEGEND | DEAN JEFFRIES

THE LEGENDARY STRIPER VON DUTCH | STILL ALIVE AND LIVING IN ARIZONA ’72

ED “BIG DADDY” ROTH | RAT FINK KING OF SOUTH CALI KUSTOM KAR KULTURE

FLAT-OUT ON THE SALT FLATS | THE 1954 BONNEVILLE HOT ROD SPEED MEET

GREAT 1950′s T-BUCKET HOT ROD RIVALRY | KOOKIE KAR VS. THE “OUTHOUSE ON WHEELS”

13 thoughts on “AMERICAN GRAFFITI | THE EPIC FILM THAT REIGNITED HOT ROD CULTURE

  1. I was recently in the bay area and read about an annual American Graffiti celebration that takes place in Petaluma as that was the setting for most of the movie.I hope to make it one of these days.

  2. American Graffiti was huge when we were in high school- we all saw the movie a bunch of times and everybody had the double-LP soundtrack album.

    ‘Oh my my my- Green Onions hangin’ all over the studio, precious thing- gonna keep the vampires away, ya understan’…’

  3. I always preferred the ’57 Chevy myself but, wtf, who cares… It’s a Tri-Five Chevy! I do believe this article covers the foundation of my pre-pubescent education. Happy Days taught me how to be cool, Laverne & Shirley taught me about women and American Graffiti taught me how none of it mattered. ;-)

  4. What a great post! I was 13 when this movie came to the screen. It was the first movie that really spoke to me. I was a young car nut, and a burgeoning teenager. This film touched both of those parts. Thanks!

  5. The Happy Days / AG connection is interesting. The Happy Days pilot had been shot and shelved. George Lucas saw the pilot and cast Ron Howard into his new film. After the success of American Graffiti, Garry Marshal pulled the Happy Days pilot off the shelf and turned it into weekly.

  6. As a young lad in high school when AG was released, I had a big crush on Cindy Williams. She was hot in The Conversation, too. Then Laverne and Shirley ruined the whole thing for me. Oh well. Great film, great post.

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