Screenshot from “American Graffiti.”
With a dweeb at the wheel, it might not have captured the imagination of moviegoers and cruisin’ fans like Milner’s coupe or Bob Falfa’s black Chevrolet, but the customized white 1958 Chevrolet Impala in George Lucas’s “American Graffiti” remains one of the stars of the movie, and the one owner of the car from the time the studio sold it to today will put that star power to work when Toad’s Impala crosses the auction block at the end of the month.
In the film the Impala actually belonged to Ron Howard’s character, Steve Bolander, who offered it to Charles Martin Smith’s Toad for the night. In real life, according to “American Graffiti” enthusiast Kip Pullman, Lucas’s co-producer Gary Kurtz bought the nosed and decked Impala two-door hardtop somewhere in the Los Angeles area specifically because the script called for a car with a tuck-n-roll interior and the Impala already featured that modification.
After filming ended in 1972, Henry Travers, who coordinated the cars for the film and oversaw the additional modifications to the Impala, was tasked with selling the Impala and a few other cars from the film. After following through on a newspaper ad, Mike Famalette of Vallejo, California, ended up buying the Impala for something less than the $325 asking price.
Photos courtesy Profiles in History.
Reportedly the only Impala used in the film, the Chevrolet had its tuck-n-roll upholstery intact as well as a 348 under the hood (rather than the 327 with six Strombergs that Toad boasted of) and a three-speed manual transmission. Famalette then proceeded to use the car as a daily driver, replacing the drivetrain first with a 283 and Powerglide, then later with an LT-1 and Powerglide, according to Pullman. The car then went into storage for more than a quarter century while Famalette moved and started a family, Pullman wrote:
until (his) daughter, Ashley, decided that for her senior project she would remove and replace the Impala’s engine with a 348 Tri-Power and a 3-speed turbo-hydro automatic transmission. In addition, she wrote a paper on the importance of a positive influence a father has on his daughter, and received an “A” on her project. Aside from motor and transmission replacements, Mike has pretty much kept his Impala in the same condition as when he bought it. His reason for this, he explains, is that he makes a modest living and fixing minor blemishes just cost too much.
Famalette has shown the Impala as the “American Graffiti” car since then, and has now put it up for sale with Profiles in History’s upcoming Hollywood Auction. According to Profiles in History, the original three-speed manual transmission comes with the car as well as a California DMV validated registration card issued to Lucas Film LTD. The pre-auction estimate for the car ranges from $800,000 to $1.2 million. In addition to the car, the auction will include an original poster for “American Graffiti” as well as actress Candy Clark’s shooting script for the movie.
The Profiles in History Hollywood Auction 74 will take place September 29 to October 1. For more information, visit ProfilesinHistory.com.