Sunday, February 5, 2012

I Newsome guy had it. Now He Sold It. - Falfa's 1955

Falfa's Wicked 55 is on the move again. Not to the next county looking for Milner. The 55 is making another Two Lane Blacktop run across the country only this time it's from Maryland to Texas. My sources say the new owner plans on restoring the 55 back to it's American Graffiti configuration.  
Most of my focus in on learning about Milner's ride. My information packet on Falfa's slick black street fighter was a little thin. I do know "you have to sneak up on it with a hose just to get a little air in the tire"  So I have spent the last week learning about the enemy.  After all of this I once again found my self with more questions than answers. It took lots of calls and emails to nail down "Most" of the facts. Now for a my history lesson.(get comfy)

Gary Kurtz while gathering information for an movie he was about to work on met Richard Ruth. After a night out watching Ruth street race Gary hired Ruth to build some cars for the Two-Lane Blacktop. Ruth worked on a total of three cars. Universal Pictures delivered 3 G.M. crate motors to Ruth's shop. (Competition Engineering)      
The cars are as follows.                                                         
#1 427, 4-speed, used to film exteriors in Two-Lane Blacktop
#2 454, 4-speed, used to film interior scenes (camera car) in Two-Lane Blacktop.
#3 454, Turbo 400, (stunt car) used for two scenes in Two-Lane Blacktop.
#1 and #2 getting a tunnel ram and two 4bbl's #3 with a single 4bbl.
After Filming wrapped the three 55's were sent back to Universal Studio's Transportation Department. One story I have heard is that one of the 55's was stolen from the lot. I think this one of those he stole it story's. Probably because the car was purchased by a mechanic who worked for Universal. He purchased the #2 car. Some say because it was in the best shape of the three and others say it was because it best fit his application. Turns out he didn't want a "Street Sweeper" he just wanted the 454 motor out of it for a boat that he owned.
He then gave the shell of the car to his son who installed a new motor and paint job and drove it in high school. Since this car (#2) did not continue on to American Graffiti I will stop it's story here.

The #2 car has a great story. I can't tell it as well as the man who owns the car these days.
Walt Bailey's Two Lane Blacktop  Site is "THE BEST" place to learn the history of this car.

OK that leaves the #1 and #3 car sitting at Universal. Enter Henry Travers and add the existing connection of Gary Kurtz to the 55's and they soon became the part of the cast of American Graffiti. It would come out later that the #1 car was Henry's favorite out of all his years of studio work. Richard Ruth never worked on the cars after Two Lane wrapped it was all Travers.

This is where my facts were a little foggy I had heard that there were only 2 cars used during the filming of American Graffiti. Then I heard that there were three??? The three mad sense because of the Two Lane connection, but the #2 car story shoots that down. So that would mean a new cast member?
American Graffiti 55's are as follows.
#1 427, 4-speed, used to film exteriors in American Graffiti (also in Two-Lane Blacktop)
#2  Two-Lane Blacktop only
#3 454, Turbo 400 Used as the camera car for American Graffiti and then rolled over in final scenes.(also used in Two-Lane Blacktop)
#4 The "Burn Car" A non-running 2door hardtop. borrowed and then returned to the junkyard after the fire went out. American Graffiti used only.

And you ask how do I come to that conclusion? Well sit back an you'll appreciate me soon hang on mercy and I I'll get this sucker rollin. I had always heard that Henry fashioned a piece of wood in place to make a 2 door hard top look like a 2 door post car for the crash scene. Jackie Travers remembers the wood story also. Since the two 55's from Two-Lane were both post cars so it all points to three 55's used.
Don Orlandi remembers the wooden post story. Don says their shop only painted two of the 55's for the movie and they were both pretty rough. Don said the #1 car never came to the body shop. I have heard that the #1 car was either painted in house at Universal Studios or by another shop? After hearing and reading so many great story's about Henry he may have even done the paint job it himself. (hey rumors gotta start somewhere)
The #1 car as seen in this publicity still #5144-24 Used at the start of race scene.
The #3 car as seen in this publicity still #5144-28 used for the rollover and burn scene.

I heard when it came time to film the roll over scene Henry started to get it to the 55 Chevy. It was only after George Lucas told Henry that they had stunt people for that and that George could not risk Henry getting injured since he was the only one who could keep all the cars running. Travers reluctantly agreed. So Lucas had got Henry to let the stunt people roll the 55 but he could not stop him from driving something in that race scene. Let's see whats left??? Oh ya the Milner coupe!
Henry Travers getting ready to drive the coupe during the race scene and  look he is still wearing his Bob Falfa wardrobe.
The #3 car as seen in this publicity still # 5144-29
Working with such a short sunrise window to film in (Lucas' "Golden Shot") and problems getting the car to roll over the scene took a few days to film. The story is that the #3 car was rolled onto it's roof by the crew and the actual roll over and or the big burn was filmed a few days later. I have not talked to anyone who was there on all of the days of filming.Yet!
It may have taken them a few shots at it but they got the 55 to roll. Some say they dug trenches others say they used ramps.
How ever many attempts and what ever it took they did it. It always looked like a violent roll in the movie. With all of the cuts and camera angles in the crash I always thought it was several takes edited together. Take a look at the damage to the front fender and the open trunk.

Now what you have all been waiting for. From the deepest depts of the Archives here at Graffiti Central a 35mm slide simply marked 5144-279. This may have never been seen by the public before?
Here it is proof that the #4 car exists. Note the bumper guards, undamaged front fender, non radiused rear wheel Wells and the lack of a roll bar. The car is sitting up square on it's roof leading me to believe this is the car they are were always talking about when they say the crew rolled it by hand. Don't forget the #3 car crushed the front of the roof when it rolled to the point that the hood was almost touching the ground in the front.
Since the #4 car was non runner there is a something about it being towed with a cable but I don't know if that is just how they got it there? Due to a lack of trailers during filming. Henry used to drive the coupe and his wife Jackie would drive the one of the 55's. to the shooting site. Jackie remembers the 55 had lost of power and was hard to drive.

So now we have the number of cars used during filming figured out. The next question is where are they now? Why??? Well we have all heard the tales of the a lost 55 Chevy found and restored. Now with all of this information fresh in out heads. Lets see if that's even a possibility.

Well lets see could it be the #4 car? Well If it was to be true it would mean someone restored a Two Door Hardtop that was pulled from a junk yard, rolled over, blown up and burnt and then towed back to the scrapper when it had cooled. I think that about covers the #4 car.

How about the #3 car. Henry had it towed back to his house to assess the damage. Keep in mind this was a stock steel bodied car. This car did not receive the Ruth suspension upgrades like the #1 and #2 cars. Henry cut the front sheet metal off of the car because it was so heavily damaged during the roll over. Henry stripped the motor and trans and sold them.

Jackie remembers Henry taking the best parts of the two cars and installing them on one car. The leftovers were sold off to a racer buddy of Henry's who only bought it because it still had the roll bar in it and he had dreams of turning it into a dirt racer. The guy stored the shell at a buddy salvage yard for years until problems with the city zoning department forced the yard to clean up the place. With no storage and loss of interest in building the race the car was then crushed.

OK now I know someone is going to say well maybe they didn't crush it. That would mean someone would have taken a stock 55 Chevy that had been drove thru ditches and over ramps, rolled over at speed that crushed the roof then the car burnt. Missing the front clip,motor,trans and what ever else Henry robbed for the #1 car. I really doubt it. I would need to see some before pictures. Lots!

That leaves us with the #1 Car. This car was sold to Sam Crawford. Sam left the car untouched with the exception of adding a tape player so the he could listen to the American Graffiti soundtrack while cruising. Sam sold the car to Steve Fitch. Steve Fitch's time with the car is pretty well documented due to every graffiti nut and car magazine chasing him around. This is what derailed my fact finding mission.
In the 1983 Car Craft article "Celluloid Heroes" the article "Mistakenly" states that is was at this time Mr Fitch removed the dual quad setup opting for a single four barrel to make the car more drivable.

So Here I go again! Debunking yet another tale. Before bothering Steve for another Graffiti Information Fact Test or GIFT as I like to call them. I chased this one all the way back to the day the American Graffiti cars were offered up for sale. After reading an ad in the newspaper about movie cars for sale Mike Famalette and his Dad were surprised that they were the only two people to show for the sale. That fact still astounds me. Little did Mike know he would be making a life changing purchase that day and meeting his newest life long friends Henry and Jackie Travers. Mike bought Bolander's 58 that afternoon and he still owns it.

Mike who at this time knew nothing of the movie American Graffiti looked over all of the cars. Seeing them as cars not the movie icons that they are today. Mike is one of a handful of people in the world that can say that. Mike said he looked the 55 over with it tilt front end and said it had a single 4bbl carb on it as seen in this Steve Fitch era photo below.
No biggie just disregard the discrepancy in the 1983 Car Craft.

Oh????? What...No Wait....Till now I never even thought about it. Then had to ask the question Did Falfa's L88 427 have the tunnel ram and dual quads it had in Two Lane Blacktop during the filming of American Graffiti?

After tipple checking facts courtesy of a Sam Crawford era photo.
The hunt was on.
The story I came up with is that it all reels back to James Taylor. Yes "The Driver" in Two Lane Blacktop. Mr Taylor may be a talented human being but on the first day of filming the crew found out one of those talents was not driving stick shift. I guess they had to teach him. What a learning curve! Keep in mind this 55 was no slouch. In Two Lane trim during filming at the track the grey ghost clocked a 10.90/127 in the quarter. My reports have Richard Ruth removing the tunnel ram intake manifold from the "Camera Car" to help tame the beast for James. (#2 car)
This may also explain the "damage story" to the rear bumper on the #2 car.

The facts of when Falfa's 55 lost it's dual quads are unsure at this time. Every report and picture I can find of the 55 in Graffiti trim supports the idea that both cars #1 and #2 were throttled down at some point during the filming of Two Lane or shortly after. Either intake configuration Milner said it.
"He had me man...he was beatin me...he was pullin away..just before he crashed"

Steve sold the car to Wayne Newsome. Wayne changed about everything on the car.

Wayne has sold the car to a man in Texas."Buddy"??? I understand the man has been trying get this doll to come on and ride with him for about ten years. The good thing it that he wants to put the car back in Graffiti trim and has all the proper connections to make that happen. I can't wait.


  1. Who is the blond standing with Harrison Ford in the publicity still here? I've always wondered, having seen here in the movie when Falfa finally catches up to Milner in the streets but the movie credits don't list her name.

  2. I have another question for you: according to the script, what was the exact reason the '55 chevy lost control and went off the road during the race? I've heard that he just lost control, he blew a tire and I heard that Lori yanked the wheel and caused it to lose control. What's the real reason?

  3. Well to answer your first question it's Linda Christensen.
    As for your second question I have also heard all of those reasons. I do have a script..... somewhere around here give me a couple days and I will have your answer. Jeff

  4. Thanks for the replies, Jeff. I didn't think I'd ever find out the truth about some of these things. I just happened upon your site while checking into the issue about Rick still owning '32 coupe.

  5. Jeff, would you know if it's possible to get a copy of American Graffiti that doesn't have the two scenes with Carol crying to get her coke and holding hands with John in the junkyard deleted?

    1. No not yet but the way Lucas likes to re-issue his previous movies anything is possible??$$$$?

    2. Thanks for looking for me, and the rest of us who are interested in the movie in original form.

  6. I found the script on line. Here's the answer we are all waiting for:

    Both cars roar off the starting line, tires smoking and
    screaming. Terry has his hands over his head and is coughing
    in a cloud of smoke as they pass. John beats Falfa off the
    Out on the road, as they hit third gear, the cars are almost
    neck and neck. Inside Falfa's car, Laurie looks scared to
    death. Falfa looks insane as he tromps it.
    John hits fourth at about eighty-five. Falfa does likewise--
    but starts to fish-tail. Laurie closes her eyes, almost crying--
    Falfa regains control nervously.
    Falfa's engine is winding out incredibly and he begins to
    get the edge on John. The cars rocket through the dawn light
    along the flashing white line until suddenly Falfa's car
    blows a tire, his front wheel slips off and the car shoots
    off into a tomato field, hits an irrigation ditch and begins
    flipping over wildly in a horrifying cloud of dust and smoke--

    So the answer as to who was actually winning.............Falfa was getting the edge on Milner just before he BLEW A TIRE and lost control.

  7. So, do you know the name of the person in Texas that now owns the badass 55 of Bob Falfa?

  8. It's like an issue of National Security!!!! All I know is his name is Buddy other than that it's all hush hush.... I figure "If he can't find me... then he ain't even worth racin ..Right...... Well??" Jeff

  9. Hi there. Richard Ruth is my dad, and he has completed his part of the restoration of the #1 car. It is owned by Delmer McAfee of Odessa, Texas. He is an avid collector, and is bringing the car back to it's original state as we speak. Thanks for all of the great info here, and for all of your research. I have enjoyed it very much. Those cars put food on our table, and paid our rent. We just had the privilege of being in Phoenix to see the "camera car" sold at Barrett-Jackson for $145000. Walt was thrilled!

  10. Well Hey Mr Ruth. Thanks for stopping by and for the update and comments. Tell your Dad I really like his work!!!! I would love to put togther some articles on you Dad and the movie cars not to mention I get emails all the time wanting to see the restoration of the 55?? Drop me an email if your intrested. Thanks. Jeff

  11. Other anonymous: Has anyone heard any updates on the progress of Falfa's 55 since it started it's restoration in Texas?