‘American Graffiti’ exploded onto the movie screen in the early 70s, a little over 10 years after its time frame of 1962 in the movie plot.
“Where were you in ’62?” became the question of the day in the movie trailer and most of us wished that we had been old enough to cruise around in the cool ’62-era iron shown in ‘American Graffiti’.
The movie was essentially a coming-of-age movie that followed the lives of several people over the course of a long night’s journey into a drag race at dawn by the end of the movie. Most of the actors were unknowns at the time, but some went on to major fame later in their careers, while others never really went beyond their 15 minutes of fame in ‘American Graffiti’.
The cars in the movie will always be the biggest stars for most car guys and there were plenty of classic rides in the movie. 1962 was a time when teenagers jumped behind the wheel of a car packed with their buddies and hit the main streets in every town in North America.
The radio blasted out rock and roll to set the mood and a then-current crop of teenagers set their hormones on high and went looking for love in all the right places for 60s romance: in cars. It was a mating ritual that was repeated every weekend of every hot summer night in every town in 1962.
You were what you drove in ’62 because the car did indeed make the man-or at least the teenaged male facsimile behind the wheel of the car. The car show in ‘American Graffiti’ portrayed that era almost flawlessly with the exception of a time-warp Mustang and 1967 Chevy fleetingly caught in some of the shots.
The two major car stars of ‘American Graffiti’ were the 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe and the 1955 Chevy, along with best supporting car awards to the 1958 Chevy Impala and the 1956 Ford Thunderbird. The list of extras in terms of cars featured in the movie was too long to itemize, but George Lucas made sure that his movie had plenty of classic cars in it.
The movie centered on the antics of a group of friends that ranged from very cool (Milner) to very nerdy (Toad) who had inexplicably become friends prior to the start of the movie. The plotline was pretty funny, but every car guy on the planet wanted to see the final showdown between the Deuce and the ’55.
Milner’s Deuce had dominated the streets prior to the arrival of a stranger with a ’55 Chevy 2-door post who had been spotted around town and duly noted as a threat to Milner’s title as the baddest ride on the street. A traffic light warm-up race had proven that the Deuce was about to be seriously challenged because neither car was a clear winner.
Even the song on the radio was perfect because Bobby Freeman’s classic ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ was blasting out a musical street challenge during the warm-up race between the Deuce and the Chevy. Dancing in the streets in ‘62 usually meant tire smoke and horsepower domination, so the song was right for the movie moment.
The ultimate showdown occurred after Milner set his exhausts on full header and met the Chevy to settle the score in a highway race at dawn. The results were once again unclear because the ’55 was destroyed in a rollover, but Milner felt that he had been beaten prior to the crash.
Car guys love this movie because it is a 2 hour car show that ends in a race. Sure Milner’s Deuce may have been beaten by the ’55 in the final race, but every car guy knows that somebody a little faster is always just around the corner in every town. You can hold the crown-just not forever-and then you have to start all over again to beat the new champ.
Circle of life on the streets of ’62 and that is why ‘American Graffiti’ is a perfect car guy movie.
For a look at a real life tribute to Milner’s ride here’s an MSCC article from 2009.