Tony Garofalo, a retired NYPD police sergeant/ 911 survivor, and currently performs as a John Lennon impersonator in the Broadway Beatlemania show, Strawberry Fields, has transformed a rusty old 1914 Overland Model 79 into a childhood dream.
In 1968, his mother took him to see the premiere showing of the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Radio City Music Hall during Christmas. His uncle worked for United Artists Pictures on the production set of the movie, so he got premiere show tickets. As a 4 year old, seeing this movie car on the big screen for the first time, as well as seeing the real car parked out front of the theater for promotional purposes, was the thrill of a lifetime. He told his mom as a small boy, “some day I’m going to build that car!” As a kid growing up in NYC, Tony eagerly watched and learned about cars from his father, who was a garage “do-it-yourself” mechanic. He quickly learned as a teen to work on everything on his own car as well as fixing everyone else’s car in his neighborhood. He became quite popular.
He joined the NYPD in 1986, got married, had two kids, and fought crime on the dangerous streets of NYC while trying to figure out how and when he would ever build the famous movie car replica?
In 2006, he retired from the NYPD, and sadly enough, his mother died from cancer the same week as his retirement at the age of 65, so he never got to share the childhood promise of driving in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with her. This was the year he decided to build the car as a tribute to his mother.
In 2010, Garofalo found an ad in OLD CARS WEEKLY advertising a 1914 Overland Model 79 for sale in New Jersey. It looked pretty rough, but had a right hand drive steering wheel, so he figured it might be a good candidate for building CCBB. Prior to that, he only saw overpriced antique cars that he couldn’t tear apart, or cars that were rusted beyond repair. This car was somewhere in between, so he traveled five hours in the dead of winter to look at the car. Quite frankly, he had heard of Willys Overland, but never thought that they built cars back in 1914. Garofalo arrived , saw the car, and had mixed feelings about it. It was badly neglected, old and rusted, however it did have right hand drive, a solid chassis, an engine- drive shaft and rear axle, as well as wheels. He decided to buy it – the journey began.
He began tearing it apart, only to find a badly dried out rear end gear box and bearings. The engine was actually a model 83 motor with two badly broken lifters, no crank shaft, no water pipes, carburetor, or exhaust manifold. He was confronted with a “what do you do now?” moment. His first order of business was joining the WOKR club. It was there he learned about the car, it’s parts, and how to track down missing pieces. He became good friends with WOKR Overland Club members that also owned the same car who were helpful in restoring Garofalo’s car.
Unfortunately, after a year of hunting engine parts, he contemplated the possibility of abandoning his dream and cut his losses. It was only then that his friend, a Ford guy said, “Hey what would be so bad in putting in a Model A engine? You can find every nut and bolt in a catalog.” So after careful deliberation, he decided to put in a Ford engine and abandon the jug-style Overland engine. He admitted that some readers would probably cringe at the the thought of swapping a Ford engine into an Overland car, but hey — he saved this car from the junk yard.
He acquired a 1928 Model A engine, tore it apart, rebuilt it and started the daunting task of mating the engine with the original Overland universal joint and propeller drive shaft assembly. The car was now a running rolling chassis. All four wheels were gorgeously rebuilt by Calimer Wheels in Pennsylvania, who worked off of an original Overland wheel patterns. Luckily the steering box was in great shape which saved a lot of time and effort. Garofalo also cleaned out the rear axle and gear box with kerosene and lubricated everything to factory specs.
In 2011 Tony had the unique opportunity to see the original CCBB movie car that was being auctioned in Los Angeles by “Profiles in History.” It was then that he got to study the car in person and collect the authentic dimensions and sizes that he needed for the Overland car to mimic the CCBB original. After making an appointment with the auction house, he was given two hours of quality time for inspection and driving.
Garofalo continued to fabricate parts like the iconic brass radiator shell and rear basket shelf on the car, as well as planning the running board supports and converting the entire car engine to 12 volts. There was another obstacle, the original CCBB had the iconic passenger body compartment that looked like a boat. Garofalo had another “what now?” moment — he wasn’t a boat builder.
In 2013, he contracted a master boat builder/carpenter who helped him in building the cosmetics for the car. All of the boat work you see in photos is hand made, steam bent woods of varieties that include: oak, pine, and several other exotic woods that were used on the original car. The boat work, various cosmetic touches, and the corresponding wooden bucks for various parts on the car took almost 3 years to complete. Garofalo contracted additional help of several local fabricators who assisted in making all of the brass parts and the stainless steel hood and fenders. The process was not only time consuming , but very expensive. In the end it was all worth it, because they followed his designs and direction to the letter. The finished product ended up looking spectacular.
The car was completed on June 30, 2015. It was a project that took over 5 years to complete at a cost of over $100,000. The last finishing touch was installing retractable wings that fold out from under the car with two 12-volt actuators, just like in the movie. Everybody constantly asks Garofalo, ” Does the car fly?” He laughs and tells them yes.
Garofalo feels pride when he turns heads of the young and old alike. CCBB is the world’s most iconic movie car. To make it even more special, Tony actually drives it on the street. It is uniquely registered with original 1914 New York license plates and people can’t believe their looking at a 1914 car. Tony is also proud that he saved a 1914 Overland car from the scrap yard. He is grateful that he was able to meet many dedicated car lovers along the way. He found them to be friendly, helpful, and proud of their cars. He now knows the feeling. The car has been a big hit with car enthusiasts, and Tony has already been offered a half million dollars for it by a CCBB investor fanatic. Garofalo said, “I’m flattered, but I don’t think I’ll part with it for a long time, we’re having too much fun with it!” He is also the sole current owner of the real Chitty Chitty Bang Bang stage musical production car which is ready to go on exhibit at the AACA museum in Hershey PA, November 2015 through January 2016. It will be featured in a movie car exhibit, an event which he donated the use of the CCBB stage car to the museum in the spirit of public interest.
Garofalo’s labor of love was dedicated to his mother, Anna Garofalo, for her loving support . Tony could finally say,”hey mom, ‘I did it’.”
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