CHARLOTTE – 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 has partnered with Axalta Coating Systems, a leading global manufacturer of liquid and powder coatings, to bring this piece of movie history and Americana back to life. The car will go through a tedious forensic preservation and 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.
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 1958 Chevy Impala, which was featured in the 1973 George Lucas film and is widely regarded as one of the most recognizable movie cars of all time.
“For me, American Graffiti was 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.”
American Graffiti, a film about four long-time high-school friends set in Modesto, CA, in 1962, sported 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. Toad and Debbie end up parked in the back woods where the social inept Toad appears to be on his way to getting lucky. All of a sudden the pair realize that the Impala is gone and they are left on their own.
Other notable actors featured in American Graffiti include Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Phillips and Suzanne Somers.
“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.”
After being used in the film, Mike Famalette, only 17 at the time, purchased the car directly from Lucas Films for $285 in 1972. Famalette held onto the car from that time until 2015 when Evernham acquired it.
“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 interior has been entirely dis-assembled and will be restored back to its movie condition. Everything we took off is going back in it. Even the tires are original and the air in them came directly from the movie set.”
The only element Evernham is replacing is the engine, which was destroyed long before he purchased the car. As seen in American Graffiti, the ’58 Impala was equipped with a four-barrel 348, and three-speed manual transmission. Evernham found a 1960 327 Chevy engine with six-barrel Stromberg carburetor to power the classic machine.
With 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.
“The paint was more than 40 years old and hadn’t been maintained,” he 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.”
Evernham said the complexity of the restoration is daunting, and the time required will far exceed any project his team that has built award-winning, best-in-class cars for SEMA, 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. It would be a lot easier to just purchase new parts, but that wouldn’t be true to the soul of this car.”
Following the debut, Evernham plans to show the car at a range of car shows from Hershey to Amelia Island and take it on tour across the country. The preservation will appear in the upcoming season of “AmeriCarna” on Velocity.