Sunday, October 25, 2015

Steve Fitch ,Milner's Coupe and the Waffle House Effect

Recently on social media I noticed a post in the vast sea of "hey what size tires does the coupe have and whats the radial equivalent"??? questions. It seems that after viewing some old pictures of the Piss Yellow / Puke Green Coupe a guy was questioning what happened to the original parts from the car as he noticed that some parts had been changed. Well someone fires out an answer of how they were thrown away. I know this is not true but hey it's a good reason to contact my old buddy Steve and talk Graffiti.

Ever have someone mention something and it all clicks. Well Steve Fitch had one of those moments in one of our recent communications. I can remember years ago Steve telling me the day he sold the coupe he included all of the original parts with it. Granted I didn't get an inventory list from him at the time but I already knew what was in the box.

I said Steve "The Waffle House Box". Steve said "I do remember a box" "you know I have not thought about that in years"  "I thought I threw that box away"  "I don't know why I would have, I tend to hang on to things"

Steve confirmed that a box went with the coupe and that it contained

4 Carburetors
2 Carburetor Scoops (there were only two on the car when he got it)
2 Front Shocks
Master Cylinder
Slave Cylinder
Distributor Cap and Spark plug wires

Other items included (but not in that box) were the firewall insert and the shifter. He also remembers  other miscellaneous parts?? Possibly the electric fuel pump as he had replaced it. Remember we are talking about things he did over 30 years ago. I was amazed at how many details he remembered when we were chatting.

The day the coupe left for California included in with all the paperwork was the American Graffiti Bumper Sticker and For Sale Sign that he had found inside the coupes door. I asked about the For Sale sign again and Steve said it had two ,three or possibly even four different phone numbers on it and a price of thirteen hundred dollars. He said he tried calling all of the numbers back then but was never able to get any answer. 

In a conversation I had with Gary Kurtz he told me they had paid thirteen hundred for the coupe when they bought it. Since the Coupe went up for sale after filming for fifteen hundred dollars I am guessing the sign was from an earlier owner.

We talked about my theory of how and when the bumper sticker got into the door. Steve agreed that is probably where it came from.
While we were on the topic I asked Steve why did he have the door panel off the car in the first place? He explained that he is very meticulous with the appearance of his cars and that he had removed the panels to touch up the black dye job that had been done on the coupe back in 1972. By 1981 a lot of the original white and red was showing. I asked about the red carpet that the coupe had during filming and he said it was already gone when he first saw the car.

I wondered how he ended up up with both cars? Steve said he had acquired Falfa's 55 and that he had been calling Universal Studio's a couple times a year asking about the coupe. He said it would depend on the persons mood as to how far he got with his calls. In time his persistence would pay off and he was even able to see the coupe in in person in 1979 after it's use in More American Graffiti. The car was complete and even got to heard the car run. At that time the Coupe was kept in a smaller locked garage inside of the larger transportation building. 

When Universal was ready to part with the aging film star Steve dealt with Jesse Sperry who had just joined Universal in 1981 as the Director of Transportation. Jesse would work for Universal Studios for 19 years before retiring and passing away in 2013. Steve said when he showed up to pick up the car is when he thought he may have made a mistake due to the condition of the car and missing parts. Remember Steve had not seen the car in two to three years. Luckily for us Fitch may have been discouraged but he didn't give up.

Steve said back then he would receive and answer fan mail. In the early days he would even go as far giving fans old parts from the cars. He remembers sending parts to fans as far away as Sweden.

Simple things like running to the gas station could turn into an all day affair when people spotted the Bitchiness Car In The Valley. Steve embraced the fans and was a great ambassador for the cars but admits it did get old after a while.

Believe it or not Falfa's 55 could fly below the radar. Steve told me that in 1978 he took it to the drive in movies and sat in that Wicked 55 Chevy as the sun went down and watched American Graffiti on the big screen with no one the wiser. Talk about a once in a lifetime moment!

Back then he was so busy he still doesn't know how he did it. Steve explained he was in Collage,Working full time, Restoring the 55 Chevy and the 32 Coupe from American Graffiti and somehow still found time to buy a house and spend some time working on his Corvette and a few other cars he had at the time.

Steve was lucky that his new house was a short distance from his parents house and he would rotate the graffiti cars between garages while working on them. Times were tight ,by the time the movie bookends were finished Steve had sold off all but one of his cars (a driver) to help finance the restorations.

While bouncing back and forth between stories I asked Steve Whats up with the yellow wires? Classic, Steve comes back with "I felt this way then and I feel this way now". "A yellow car should not have red spark plug wires"

Steve also said that one of the coolest things was watching fuel lines fill with fuel when you turn on the fuel pump. The downside was that the fuel lines were hard and cracked and occasionally sprung leaks.

Since the motor was a fresh rebuild and he only had two of the scoops installing air filters was a no brainier. The old gal looks pretty good considering magazine reports have her rotting behind a barn. I had to ask... and No Steve doesn't have a barn.

Interesting factoid. When Steve was selling the cars he had a offer to trade from the man who owned the 1955 Oldsmobile that Burt Reynolds drove in W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings.

I think I am a super fan of the movie but Steve makes me look like a rookie. Steve even found the right girl who would tolerate his Graffiti obsession. When they eloped to Reno in 1987 for their honeymoon they continued on to Dixon California and visited Sam Crawford's house and got to see a white shirt and cowboy hat that came with the Falfa's 55 when Sam bought it from Universal.

They went and met Rob Marcheese and saw his coupe creation.

Then they ended up meeting Figari on Frates road at 6 am. Steve said at that time of the morning the place still had that Graffiti vibe. They stayed at Ricks while in San Fransisco. By 1987 Mel's Drive In was long gone but Rick located Milner's spot and parked the Coupe there and let Steve do his best Milner impersonation.

I asked Mr Fitch when was he was infected by the Graffiti Bug. He said that he got it on Christmas night 1973. Seems his little brother came home and said you must see this movie. It's an old movie but Ron Howard is grown up in it? Steve had no idea at that time how going to the movies would change his life forever. Cool thing was that the theater showing American Graffiti was giving away a black 1955 Chevrolet if you could guess the mileage. Steve narrowed it down to with in 50 miles of the odometer reading but didn't win the car. Personally I am glad he didn't win! If he did he may not have gone on the wildest Graffiti Quest to date.

Many Thanks to Steve for setting the record straight and sharing his American Graffiti with all of us.

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