Sunday, February 5, 2012

Season of the Fitch - American Graffiti Cars Shine In Kansas

One of the first people I ever talked to about American Graffiti and the details on Milner's Coupe was Rick Blevins out of Kansas. Rick and I would swap what little bit of knowledge we had at the time. We pushed each other forward on the Graffiti quest. Constantly comparing notes about the real car.

After reading and article in an old hot rod magazine I figured for the best place for correct coupe information was to go to the source. I started digging to find the man who bought the coupe from Universal Studio's. I figured if anyone could answer coupe questions correctly it would be him. I turned up a name and number. Steve Fitch. Oddly enough he like Rick was also located in Kansas. Rick took the helm and pushed the buttons to make the Fitch connection. This contact opened a door to the star cars circa 1981-84

"Season of the Fitch"

Steve could not have been any nicer. Providing what facts he could remember over the phone. Rick being the tenacious graffiti fan that he is did it one better and as a birthday present to himself he loaded up and went to visit Mr Fitch in person. Rick said he had a great time. During that visit Steve dug out an old photo album and shared these pictures with Mr Blevins.

Steve bought the 1932 Ford 5 window Coupe better know as "Milner's Coupe" on August 19 1981.
When Steve bought the coupe it was in sad shape. Missing several of the shiny parts it had worn during it's film debut like the valve covers and carburetor scoops. While at a swap meet Steve said he landed a replacement set of Cal Custom valve covers that the coupe still wears to this day.
The door handles had also gone missing. Later in life I found out that an early coupe builder had acquired them while the car was on display at Universal Studio's. They later found their way onto his Milner Coupe. Notice parts of the coupe interior showing it was red in another lifetime.
As you can see one of the gauges had gone missing also note there is no radio. That is to say if they were ever there in the first place. Remember in the movie we never got a real good look at the coupe interior.
During filming they had problems with the coupe's clutch. I was told repairs had to be done in a hurry as to not hold up filming. Anyone who owns a coupe knows you can't just drop the trans out due to the factory center cross member in the 1932. The job involves pulling the motor and trans out a unit. It's a pretty big job including a lot of disassemble of most of the front of the car. Not an easy task when you are in a time crunch. From the way this picture looks they cut the cross members and floor rails and pulled the trans out via the interior of the car. I have not verified this. Since we have lost Henry Travers this may never be verified.
Someone had pulled the wiring apart in the car and yes the shifter knob was AWOL as well. There is a story out there that Mackenzie Phillips ended up with the famed chrome shifter handle and gave it to one of her friends. Still working on verifying this story. During the clean-up Steve  replaced the shifter in the coupe with a Hurst Super Shifter complete with new shift rods and a square shifter boot. He said the original shifter looked like an old factory unit but the shift rods appeared to be made from welding rod.
I had to laugh when I heard that the first thing Steve did when he saw the coupe in person was to rifle through the "Ticket Pouch" to see if any were still there. Sadly None of the "CS" tickets were found.
Parts in Steve's garage as he worked his way through the coupe bringing it back to a drivable state. The heavy duty clutch fork tells me the drive line was possibly from a factory high performance car or a crafty builder who knew what to order from the Chevrolet truck parts manual.
Notice the king pins are not chrome. Steve said first thing when he went to get the coupe loaded on the trailer at Universal Studio's problems arose because someone had removed the pins for some reason. After a trip to a local auto parts store the pin debacle was remedied. That was just the first hurdle Steve had to deal with. Due to problems with the title he was hung up in California for two days trying to straighten out the paperwork issues.
The Coupe had one missing tail lens and the other lens was melted. It is nice to see the wooden platform that Lucas had installed over the gas tank so that the sound guy would have something to perch on is still there. Steve said the tank in the coupe looked like a 60's external fuel tank or possibly homemade? He said it only held about 7 gallons and it was painted red and white.

I wonder if that was done for safety or to match the coupe's color scheme at an earlier point in it's life. Remember this was not always a movie prop. From the looks of the underside of the car and it's oddball mix of parts it lived a full life in it's first 40 years.

Always questioning the 32's pedigree. I was able to locate Gary Kurtz'sKurtz said he thought they had purchased the deuce out of Compton California in 1970/71.

Anyone remember a red full fendered 5 window coupe in that area??? Let me know.
Steve said he had his moments. After seeing the condition of the 32 he thought for a while that he had made a big mistake buying Milner's Coupe.
Mr Fitch did not over restore the Graffiti Coupe. He said it took endless hours of cleaning the chrome with Flitz polish but he brought most of the chrome back to life. The cross between Piss Yellow and Puke Green paint job was in pretty good shape. Remember the coupe had been called back into duty for the 1979 movie More American Graffiti. Don Orlandi of Orlandi's body and fender said they had to pull an all niter to give the ageing star a quick face lift due to an tight filming schedule.
Steve had his hands full and pockets empty trying to bring the 32 and the 55 back from the dead at the same time.
I can not imagine driving down Steve's street and seeing Milner's Coupe and Falfa's wicked 55 perched curbside as he moved the cars in and out of his parents one car garage.
Thanks to Mark for several of these photo's. Mark said that he was around Steve from the time he decided to buy the 55 until shortly before he sold the cars. Years later Mark had "Milner" autograph one of his shots. I guess Paul was surprised to see a picture of the coupe he had never seen before.
Look Steve got a custom plate for the coupe. "Milners" I guess THX 138 was already taken? Steve said when he bought the coupe there was no rear window in the car. After digging around a bit he did find a piece of Plexiglass behind the seat that they had used to fill the hole.
Well I guess these pictures shoot a bunch of holes in some of the Coupe folklore. Like the one about coupe sitting behind a barn rotting away in Kansas and Rick Figari saving the car from the crusher. The way I see it is Steve Fitch brought these two pieces of American film history back from the brink. Without his hard work both cars may have been lost forever. Thanks Steve.
As you look through these pictures you will notice that Steve pulled the coupe apart and cleaned every nook and cranny. Gees that also shoots down the story of someone finding the original plates and shifter knob behind a panel in the coupe. I knew this story was false for a long time as Henry Travers had kept the licence plates from the coupe after filming. Henry had the originals hanging on the wall in his garage. (how cool it that!) Don't worry Rick Figari recently acquired the plates from Henry's wife Jackie.
Since I am covering so many coupe fallacies at this time I guess I should cover the mirror and plate light and position. After filming wrapped in 1973 and the cars went up for sale the little yellow deuce had to be made street legal. This involved Henry Travers installing the pillar post mirror and the license plate light. It was at this time the plate was mounted lower than it had appeared in the movie. Probably due to the additional room needed to clear the light and to make the plate visible with out the Nerf bar being in the way.
Steve and Mark Seligh freshened the motor that had filled with water while on display outside at Universal. Mr Fitch spared no expense to save the original block and heads on the "Bitchiness Car In The Valley". Steve ran air filters instead of the carb scoops.They are not Movie Correct but I can't fault him for that. They are a nice upgrade and since two of the originals scoops were already missing this seems like the best option.

Steve said the original carburetors were froze so he installed a different quartet of Rochester 2GC's. Don't worry Steve did not scrap the originals. They went into the trunk the day the coupe sold so as to not to split up the originals from their home.

I questioned Steve about some of the facts given in the 1984 issue of Hot Rodding. Steve talks about the work it took to save the original 1966 327 block. He said it took a .060 overbore to clean the cylinder walls. Then he mentions the lift and duration of the cam? I ask him how do you know this?? Thinking did he measure the camshaft??? Steve giggles and says no I know the spec's because that is the camshaft I bought for it. Fitch said the cam that had came out of the motor appeared to be stock and nothing special.

The early (pre 1981) magazines always described the coupe as having a 283. Fitch confirms that in 81 when he bought the car it had a 327. OK no biggie it's all small block easy mistake to make. Even I can't see cubes!!! From recent facts and pictures shared with me looks like the early reports were wrong. Milner's Coupe is still twisting the same mill it had during filming. 327. 327. 327. That's for the guys who just scan the article for facts! 327.  Oh and it's Borg Warner T-10 NOT a Super T-10.
Steve said the firewall stainless panel was in such bad shape he replaced it. Steve trimmed the panel a little different than the original opting for a better fit. Being a Graffiti purest I am not in love with the yellow wires not that it matters they have since been swapped back to a red set as seen in the movie. The shocks were shot so they were replaced. They have also since been replaced with a set that more closely matches the ones it wore during filming.
Steve probably did more work on the 55 than the 32. Besides the body work and complete paint job
Not long after purchasing the 55 from Sam Crawford it skipped a timing chain and bent all the valves. Steve rebuilt the motor giving it the same care that he would eventually give to Milner's mill.

Look at Steve. "Ain't He Neat"
I lifted these three pictures off of a site from the UK or Sweden??
The person who posted them said that he had been in contact with Steve Via snail mail back in the early eighty's and that Mr Fitch had sent these to him.
To quote Poster: Graeme Oliver
"Steve Fitch of Wichita, Kansas, owned the Graffiti cars back in the 80's, and sent me this photo.
After he had done a rebuild on Milner's coupe, he sent me one of the original tappet-cover studs from the engine. In hot rodding terms, this is like having a holy relic and I keep it in a glass case in my living room."

I thought that was a really cool story when I read it. I often wondered if they were friends or if the guy was just lucky?  Thanks to a bunch of HAMBers I found out that Steve spent hours of his time to answer the countless envelopes that jammed his mailbox once graffiti fans found out that he owned the cars. Here are a few of the personal story's I was giving the green light to share.

Marty Graffiti
"Here's the two pics Steve sent me back in the 80's, actually he sent a postcard with the pics thanking me for my interest"

  Seeing these pictures.....I think I can smell leaded fuel. JH

Danny's Graffiti
I was in Wichita back in the late 80's with a buddy of mine (Mike aka Coop), cruising around in his 70 440+6 roadrunner. We happened into a parts store and a really cool guy strikes up a conversation. Here we are talking to Steve Fitch! He tells us to follow him to his house where he proceeds to show us these pics, he had just recently sold the cars. (said the 55 would've easily won the race by the way!Lol) He tells us to follow him on foot around the corner from his house and there thru the windows of a garage of a buddy of his is the black and gold car from W.W. and the Dixie dance kings! His buddy wasn't home so we didn't get in the garage but what a day! The 6 pack tended to leave a little "residue" on the back bumper of my buddies runner so when we leave town to head back home he writes in the soot "I JUST MET STEVE FITCH". It was a while before he washed that bumper! Steve is a VERY cool guy! Memories!

I know Rick can't agree more.
Steve Fitch and Rick Blevins pose with Steve's original plates that he has had signed by Paul Lemat.
Like that is not cool enough during the visit Rick stumbled into Steve's garage (doing his best Harrison Ford in the temple of doom imitation) scanning for any relics left behind.
So what does he find. The last remaining pieces of the coupe that Steve had. The original spark plug wire holders and two bolts from the grill shell with some of Don Orlandi's special yellow sauce still on them. Rick told Steve I must have them. Steve being the kind of guy he is told Rick "Happy Birthday". In a later conversation with Steve I informed him that I had a birthday coming up Steve said Jeff sorry but Rick had gotten all that he had left.

Keeping up that good Graffiti karma Rick split his score with his long time friend Doug "The Guru" Bjorn (no relation to Anna Bjorn you know Milner's girl friend in More American Graffiti)
Rick and Doug are true Graffiti brothers that usually have something in the works over at their web site
While talking to Steve I asked him about some of the story's I had heard and read over the years. One of them being the one about the Licence plates and chrome piston gear shift knob being found behind a panel in the coupe. Steve assured me that he had been through the car with a fine tooth comb. He said that the only thing he found behind any of the panels was in the passengers door. He said he found a For Sale sign and a bumper sticker from American Graffiti.

The for sale sign had a phone number. Seizing this enchanted moment Steve called the number on the sign. Unfortunately he said there was no answer or that the number was out of service. Lots of guys would like to know the cars history before it became a film icon. "A lot of guys try" "Seems like there is more now than there has ever been" For now it remains a mystery.

Years after that conversation with Fitch. I was on one of my many Graffiti quests and I found this picture that may explain where that bumper sticker in the passengers door came from. Jeff
Special thanks to Steve,Mike,Walt,Rick,Don,Dave,Danny,Oliver,Mark and Marty (hope I didn't miss anyone) for helping me with some of these facts and photos JH                                                                                    


  1. Your site was very refreshing, as an American Graffiti enthusiast i love reading all about the real cars. Having just yesterday purchased a quality fiberglass 32 ford 5 window on a real 32 ford frame I intend to create a "If Milner had made it to the 70's Coupe"

  2. Hey DreamCharger
    Glad you like the site. Looking foward to seeing you Milner concept. Jeff

  3. I've been reading your webpage about the Graffiti cars and I pretty much know the right answer but I need your definitive word on this: Does Rick Figari still own Milner's coupe? I believe he will never sell it. The reason I ask is because I have a friend who tells me someone he knows told him the '32 coupe his friend owns is the original. I told him that the guy is pulling his leg and there is no way Rick has sold the car.

  4. You wouldn't believe how many time people have asked this same question. Yes Rick still owns the coupe. I just talked to him last week. No he has never once ever mentioned the thought of selling the coupe.. and I believe you are correct I don't think he will ever sell it. Can you blame him?!!! That's a once in a lifetime.

    1. Hi do you still have the 32 couple

    2. Just one. see it at

  5. Did Rick ever find out which valve size the heads have on the coupe's engine?

    1. Don't think Rick's ever had it apart. Doubt Steve would remember but we all know the Bitchenest Car In The Valley would have had the 2.02 1.60's!!!!

  6. Hi, I know your site is for the Coupe and 55 but does Rick own the original Aloha Bobby and Rose Camaro or does he own a replica? Just thought you may know since you talk to him. Thank you!

  7. Hey Anomymous
    Yes Rick has the original Camaro From Aloha Bobby and Rose. If you ever meet Rick ask him to tell you about it. It's a great story of how Rick found the car and Paul's reaction to seeing it after all these years. It's Rick's story so I won't tell you all the details but it is a classic tale. That Camaro has a cool history as well. Very tough car!!! Jeff

    1. Hey Jeff, Thanks for the reply! That's awesome that it is the real one! When you search the web all you get are the replica's out there. Hard to find info on the real car. Your right, the car is very tough! I would love to hear the story, I hope I do meet Rick someday! Thanks again. You have a great website! Mike

  8. Hey Brian C
    Good Luck on youur hunt for a Milner coupe. As far as finding on that is "Identical" good luck with that. My coupe is not identical and mine is the closest that I have ever seen. Jeff

  9. I enjoyed this history of both the 32 Ford Coupe and the 55 Chevy, although, it was somewhat difficult for me to follow the transition of owners but then again I am 71, which is my link to these classics. The only thing that I dispute is the dashboard statement that it was never clearly shown. I have the American Graffiti Movie and also More American Graffiti I've watched them many times and if my memory serves me well there is at least one scene where Milner and the young girl are riding in his car and she changes the radio station then in return he changes it back and at that point you can see the radio and part of the dashboard. I have heard and read over the years many versions of where these cars are and who owns them. At this point in time your version seems to be the most factual. If it is THE real story as I suspect it to be from my 20 plus years of reading, listening and comparing them, then I thank you for this well presented and authentic explanation. Best Regards, Lost in the 50's and 60's! Ron Victor

  10. Hey Ron To quote Milner "It's been checked several times.... You can check it if you like sir."