Top 15 Hot Rods From The Movies: #1 Milner’s 1932 Ford Coupe

The film American Graffiti did a lot of things for culture in America after it’s release in 1973. The story brought back memories of an earlier time when things were much simpler. Before the social revolution of the late 1960s. The one thing that the movie fails to get recognition for is the regeneration of the street rod scene in Everytown, USA.

Photo from YouTube.

Hot Rodding was in critical condition and almost dead when this film was released. It was John Milner’s 1932 Ford Coupe and Falfa’s 1955 Chevy that kick started the movement back into high gear. Like the cowboy westerns, the good guys wore lighter colors, which meant that the bright yellow ’32 Ford was going to be the hero of the film. As a result, Milner’s Ford has become the most popular Hot Rod in movies for all time. 

There is an incredible back story to this iconic Rod that many fans of the car never could have guessed. Here’s the unreal story of the car that is the most recognized Hot Rod from the silver screen:

George Lucas doing camera work with the Coupe. Photo from thehotrodshop.net

George Lucas and movie producer Gary Kurtz pick the coupe from a group of potential cars for the role and bought it for $1,300. One of the reasons the ’32 Ford was picked was because the top had been chopped three-inches which added to the bad-boy image. It was primer grey with red fenders when they purchased the Rod.

The team spent a lot of money to get the Hot Rod into starring role status. The previous owner had done a few things mechanically, but the drivetrain and exterior needed a lot of work. With all of the well-known movie-car builders in Hollywood, who gets tabbed to oversee the coupe’s construction? The film’s transportation manager, Henry Travers.

Travers towed the coupe to hot rod bulder Bob Hamilton’s shop in Ignacio, California – an unincorporated part of Marin County – for the body work. Hamilton’s crew converted the fenders on the coupe so that the front wheels had motorcycle fenders and bobbed rear fenders. This was done to fit into the era where Police enforced strict vehicle codes and car owner complied while attempting to skirt the law.

After Hamilton’s shop did the exterior body work, including adding aluminum headlight stanchions, dropped I-beam solid axle and a front grille and shell that was sectioned, the car was hauled over to Orlandi’s body shop for paint. Finished with a coat of Canary yellow laquer, the interior was reworked with black dye over the original red and white tuck and roll Naugahyde interior.

Johnny Franklin’s Muffler shop in Santa Rosa outfitted the engine with some special details like the Man-A-Fre intake manifold, four Rochester two-barrel carbs, fuelie heads and sprint car style exhaust pipes. Then it was off to the movie set where the car acted to perfection in it’s starring role.

After the movie, Travers was told to sell the car to help recoup some of the cost of making the movie. The car was priced at $1,500 but did not sell. After the movie’s release and instantaneous hit status, the promotion department at Universal studios used the car as a promotional tool.

Six-years later the car was used in the sequel to American Graffiti, creatively titled “More American Graffiti.” The film was a flop however, and the ’32 coupe was retired. A closed bid auction was held and Steve Fitch, who had also acquired the black 1955 Chevy from the movie, won the auction. 

The car was subsequently sold to Rick Figari, a die-hard American Graffiti fan that wanted to restore and keep the car as it appeared in the movie. Figari hired Roy Brizio to restore the car, making it roadworthy enough for Figari to use as a daily driver for several years. Realizing the historical, financial, and social significance of the car, Figari parked the car and only brings it out to shows for everyone to enjoy now.

Specs:

  • 1966 327ci small-block Chevy with 4-bolt main bearing caps
  • Forged-steel crankshaft
  • 10.5:1 compression pistons
  • Fuelie heads with 2.02-inch intake valves
  • Man-A-Fre intake manifold
  • Four Rochester 2G carbs
  • Generic ribbed valve covers,
  • Sprint car style headers that extend 13-inches from the block (39-inches total length)
  • Transmission:  Super T-10 4-speed transmission with hydraulic clutch
  • ’61 Chevy brake/clutch master cylinder,
  • Hurst shifter with aluminum piston shift knob
  • 1932 chromed dropped I-beam front end
  • 1940 Ford drum hydraulic brakes
  • 1957 Chevy 4.11 posi rearend
  • Stock leaf spring with 1937 Ford wishbone ends welded to rearend housing
  • 46-inch long rectangular tube traction bars. No shocks
  • Black interior vinyl tuck and roll on door panels and original seat
  • Ansen swing pedals
  • Aluminum column drop
  • Eight mismatched Stewart Warner gauges
  • Driver’s door has no window frame.
  • Door window height is 10 inches, windsheild is 7 3/8-inches tall at center,
  • Top chopped 2 1/2 to 3 inches
  • Grille was cut down from original. Currently 22-inches tall at center
  • Front cycle fenders cut from a spare tire cover from a van
  • Rear fenders cut from original rear fenders
  • Rear frame horns a gas tank bobbed,
  • 1947 Chevy tail lights, 19 1/2-inches apart
  • 1 1/8 inch custom nerf bar in rear
  • Paint is Centari enamel custom mix from Vette Yellow
  • Chrome 14-inch reversed rims mounting E-78 front and G-70 rear tires

The challenge! Photo from thehotrodshop.net

Things From The Movie That Make You Go Hmmmm:

The Ford Coupe driven by Paul Le Mat’s character had a 1966 Chevrolet 327ci engine. The black 1955 Chevy driven by Harrison Ford had a Chevrolet 454ci engine capable of doing 11-second quarter-mile times.

All of the primary cars were offered for sale in San Francisco newspaper ads. Only the 1958 Impala attracted a buyer, selling for only a few hundred dollars. The yellow Deuce and the white T-bird went unsold, despite being priced as low as $3,000.

Harrison Ford’s character drives a Chevrolet.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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