Wednesday, June 1, 2016


For Ray Evernham, it is the holy grail of hot rods, a car that inspired his life-long passion for cars, rock and roll and the American car culture.  Now, after pursuing the car for most of his adult life and finally buying it, he faces an even bigger challenge – preserving it in its original movie condition for generations to come. Evernham took a trip to see ‘American Graffiti’ as a teenager and it changed his life.  Today, he is leading the preservation of this iconic nosed and decked 1958 Chevy Impala hardtop featured in the 1973 George Lucas film which is widely regarded as one of the most recognizable movie cars of all time.


‘American Graffiti,’  an iconic film about four long-time high-school friends set in Modesto, California in 1962, featured  several great classic cars throughout the movie, with the 1958 Chevy Impala being one of the most iconic.  In the movie, the white 1958 Chevy Impala belongs to Steve Bolander, the character played by Ron Howard, who loans it to one of the other central characters, Terry “the Toad” Fields. “The Toad” takes the Impala cruising and runs into a rebellious and wild girl named Debbie, who is played by Candy Clark.

“For me, ‘American Graffiti’ is an incredible movie about an exciting time in America,” said Evernham.  “It brought back hot rods and rock and roll and launched the careers of dozens of stars.  George Lucas did such an exacting job creating the set, building the cars and telling the story that you were truly transported back to a time when horsepower was king, you and your friends ruled the drive-in and the world was a simpler place.”

Evernham partnered with Axalta Coating Systems, a leading global manufacturer of liquid and powder coatings, to bring this piece of movie history back to life.  After the Impala goes through a tedious total preservation, it will be unveiled in Axalta’s booth #22391 at the 2016 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas during the first week of November 2016.

After being used in the film, Mike Famalette, from Vallejo, California was only 17 at the time when he purchased the car directly from Lucas Films Limited in 1972. Famalette spotted a classified ad in the San Francisco Chronicle and drove to Petaluma where a lot of American Graffiti’s filming was done.  Henry Travers, Lucas Films’ transportation captain turned down the initial offer of $275, but with a little more haggling the 1958 Impala sold for $285.00, Famalette held onto the car until 2015 when Evernham acquired it after it failed to sell at auction.


“To save this car for future generations, we have to go back 42 years to its original movie condition,” noted Evernham.  “It really is a forensic preservation.  We have to take it apart piece by piece, catalog every piece and then repair those pieces.  Every piece of chrome is being straightened and re-chromed.  The emblems are being re-chromed.  The nuts and bolts are being re-plated.  The tuck and roll interior has been entirely disassembled and will be restored back to its movie condition.  Everything we took off is going back in it.”

Evernham said the complexity of the restoration is daunting, and the time required will far exceed any of the award-winning, best-in-class cars built by his team previously for the SEMA show, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and the Pinehurst d’Elegance. “We are applying modern engineering with Bobby Alloway to return this car to the original movie condition,” Evernham said.  “The process of repairing every part requires far more time and effort – and money.  This is It would be a lot easier to just purchase new parts, but that wouldn’t be true to the soul of this car.” 

look close- the dents that "Toad" put in the rear trim of the 1958 Impala when he
backed into another car during the film 'American Graffiti' are still there
The only element Evernham plans to replace is the engine, which blew up on Famlette’s drive home after buying the Impala and he and his older brother replaced it with a two-barrel carburetor 283-cubic inch Chevrolet engine with a Powerglide automatic transmission.  As seen in American Graffiti, the 1958 Impala was originally equipped with the optional four-barrel carbureted 348 cubic Inch engine connected to a three-speed manual transmission.  Evernham found a nineteen sixties 327-cubic inch Chevrolet engine fitted with six Stromberg carburetors, which is the engine that “Toad” boasted to Debby powered the car.   

“When I was a teenager growing up in New Jersey, this car represented everything that was cool about America’s car culture – independence, coming of age, freedom and enjoying your life with your buddies,” said Evernham.  “This car has been on my dream list forever.  To now own this car and lead the preservation of this incredible piece of American history is truly an honor. To me, it’s like having to repaint the Mona Lisa.”

With corporate partner Axalta Coating Systems, Evernham will replace the exact paint and pinstripes on the vehicle. ”Paint technology has come a long way since 1958,” noted Harry Christman, North American Cromax® Brand Manager for Axalta. “Regardless, the paint scheme still represents the most recognizable aspect of this iconic car.  Axalta’s goal with this restoration is to precisely match the original colors using Cromax® ChromaPremier® to preserve the vehicle’s heritage and protect this unique piece of history for years to come.”

“The paint was more than 40 years old and hadn’t been maintained,” Christman explained.  “If it was left unprotected, the car would have been destroyed.  Axalta was able to recreate the exact paint blend, so we’ll return this car to the condition that moviegoers have seen for years.”

Following the car’s 2016 SEMA Show debut, Evernham plans to take it on tour across the country and show the car at shows from ranging Hershey to Amelia Island.  The preservation process will appear in the upcoming season of “AmeriCarna” on the Velocity network.

The Information and photographs for this article were provided by Deborah L. Robinson of Victory Management Group Public Relations.


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