2 May 2006

American Graffiti, Revisited

Mike and Sandra Famalette of Washington state are owners of this ’58 Chevy Impala. This car hit Hollywood by starring in George Lucas’s movie American Graffiti as Steve Bolander’s car.

It was 1972, before the movie release. Mike had seen an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle for a movie car auction – and he was looking for his first car. So Mike and his father went to Sonoma, Calif. They were the only two there, and Mike's dad wasn’t too happy with his son purchasing this car because it wasn’t in good shape. In fact, one of the puttied-in Caddy taillights fell off just before getting home, and he ran a stop sign because the brakes didn't work. But Mike drove the car to school.

In 1974, Mike joined the Marine Corps, and the Impala was parked in his parents' garage. And then, years later, their daughter Ashley was looking for a senior project. At her high school, the seniors had to choose a project that’s a stretch from the normal things they do, and there has to be a related topic to write a paper about. As Mike was helping, she chose "the importance of a positive influence a father has on his daughter.

"We were so happy when she came up with the idea to remove and replace the engine of the car as her project. In the summer of 2002, Mike, Ashley, and our son, Matt, went down to California and pulled it out of the garage for the first time since 1974 and brought it back to Washington . Ashley finished her project and got an A, but the '58 still was not running," said Sandy .

The car did get running again, with help from many of Mike and Sandy ’s friends along the way. "Many other people helped out through the years. Rick Blackstock and a Marine buddy, Chris Gilbreath, were the first to help, and Todd Johnson, my daughter Ashley's automotive mentor during her senior project also helped,” explains Sandy .

When the car was brought home, it had a tired 348 4-barrel and a 3-speed transmission. It was replaced with a 283 and a 2-speed Powerglide. The next engine change was a 350 LT1, and it now has a 348 Tri-Power with a 3-speed turbo hydro. Mike has owned it for a very long time. The car has never been a show car and always been more of a movie prop. Says Sandy , “In fact, most of the '58 replicas look much nicer than our original movie car, but we like it a lot, nonetheless.”

Mike and Sandy Famalette

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