Harrison Ford in American Graffiti
Harrison Ford as Bob Falfa, confident street cruiser
Modesto, California, Summer 1962
Film: American Graffiti
Release Date: August 11, 1973
Director: George Lucas
Costume Designer: Aggie Guerard Rodgers
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy 80th birthday, Harrison Ford! Before his star-making performances as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, one of the Chicago-born actor’s most visible roles was in American Graffiti, George Lucas’ nostalgic coming-of-age comedy set one late summer night in 1962.
American Graffiti primarily centers around four friends and recent high school graduates enjoying one last Saturday night of R&R… rock ‘n roll and road races. Among the four, the ’32 Ford-driving John Milner (Paul Le Mat) is arguably the most prolific racer, called out when one of his fellow hot-rodding friends warns him that “there’s a very wicked ’55 Chevy looking for you.”
We finally see the black Chevy when Terry “the Toad” Fields (Charles Martin Smith) pulls up next to it in his pal Steve’s ’58 Impala. The mild-mannered Terry revs his engine in challenge, but the grinning Bob Falfa behind the wheel of the Chevy knows there’s a better challenge out there, asking: “Hey, you know a guy around here with a piss-yellow deuce coupe? Supposed to be hot stuff!”
Having stated his intent to “blow his ass right off the road,” Falfa eventually catches up with Milner as they engage in a series of mutual taunts, Milner commenting on Falfa’s “field car” while Falfa shares his sarcastic appreciation for the “cross between piss-yellow and puke-green” of Milner’s Ford. Eventually, the race is on, as the cars cruise out to Paradise Road to the tune of Booker T. & the MGs’ instrumental R&B hit “Green Onions” with Steve’s [now] ex-girlfriend Laurie having impulsively hopped a ride with Falfa… who finds her to be a “weird broad”.
Produced for under $800,000 with a box office gross surpassing $115 million, American Graffiti remains one of the most profitable movies ever made. At least $90,000 of the movie’s budget had gone into securing the rights for its totally diegetic soundtrack of more than 40 contemporary rock and doo wop hits spanning between 1953 and 1962 that perfectly set the musical scene for the action. Supposedly, Universal Pictures had initially been hesitant to green-light a soundtrack entirely of decades-old songs, but this decision was quickly reversed once cooler heads realized the impact of Lucas’ carefully curated tracks, and the album would eventually be certified triple platinum in the U.S.
What’d He Wear?
Much can be determined about the characters in American Graffiti just from an initial glance at their costumes: the relatively straitlaced Steve (Ron Howard) and Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) are dressed practically in checked button-down shirts and J.C. Penney’s khakis, the awkward Terry the Toad looks a bit out of place in his thick-framed specs, custom pink-and-black shirt, and white bucks, and drag-racer John Milner may have taken some inspiration from James Dean’s rebellious style in his blue jeans and plain white T-shirt (with a deck of Camels rolled into the left sleeve).
Speeding into the scene comes Bob Falfa, a self-styled cowboy in his cowboy hat, western-styled snap shirt, and Wrangler jeans.
Evidently, the hat came about from Harrison Ford’s refusal to cut his hair to a more period-correct length. To accommodate this, Falfa was thus outfitted in a beige woven straw cowboy hat with a narrow taupe elasticized band. Earlier this summer, the hat was auctioned by Prop Store, which explained in the listing that “this hat has been owned since late 1973 or early 1974 by Sam Crawford, a big fan of the film upon its release, who arranged to purchase the ’55 Chevy that Falfa drove in the film directly from Universal Studios.”
The listing includes photos of the brown leather sweatband along the inside, with the Bailey U-Rollit manufacturer’s logo printed in gold along the left side. George S. Bailey founded the Bailey Hat Company in 1922 in Los Angeles, where it continues to produce headgear that “explores the juxtaposition of Hollywood elegance and Western toughness and is influenced by both directional culture and fashion that serves as a unique framework for original design.”
Early ’60s Modesto wasn’t exactly the wild west, but Falfa introduces a gunslinger spirit with his white western-styled shirt, characterized by the snap-front placket that had reportedly been innovated by Rockmount Ranch Wear founder Jack A. Weil in the early 1900s. The original intent of snap closures had been to easily break away should part of a wearer’s garment get snagged on a fence while on horseback, but Falfa ultimately illustrates their modernized purpose as the shirt cleanly pulls itself apart while he escapes from his burning Chevy.
Falfa’s white long-sleeved shirt is arranged in the traditional western configuration, with pointed yokes and two chest pockets. Each pocket is covered with a “sawtooth”-shaped double-pointed flap, with a snap on each point and a packet of Lucky Strikes stored in the left pocket. The shirt also has a narrow point collar and snap-closed cuffs, though Falfa always wears them undone and rolled up to his elbows so we can’t easily determine if they’re finished with two or three snaps.
Falfa wears dark indigo denim jeans with the familiar “W” stitching across the back pockets that indicates Wrangler, the North Carolina-based outfitter that was last to join Levi’s and Lee to form the triumvirate of American denim outfitters when its parent company Blue Bell introduced the Wrangler 11MWZ “Cowboy Cut” jeans in 1947. Within five years, the style would be renamed 13MWZ to be consistent with its 13 ounce-per-yard denim weight. He holds up the jeans with a smooth dark brown leather belt with subtle tooling around the center.
Falfa completes his cowboy image with a pair of tan leather cowboy boots, detailed with a gold-buckled strap that stretches around the back of each heel.
In addition to jump-starting the careers for director George Lucas and many of the cast, American Graffiti was also the first movie for costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers, who would reteam with both Lucas and Ford in their third Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi (1983). You can read more about her work in the movie in this exclusive interview for Kip’s American Graffiti Blog.
The “very wicked ’55 Chevy” aptly describes the black 1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty that Bob Falfa drives to rule the mean streets of Modesto.
In 1953, Chevrolet introduced the One-Fifty and its more upmarket sibling Two-Ten—also marketed as the “150” and “210”, respectively, for obvious reasons. Unlike the midrange Two-Ten and the premium Bel Air, the One-Fifty was a barebones economy model that would ultimately appeal to racers for its performance potential, with body styles ranging across two- and four-door sedans to wagons. Only six-cylinder engines were available in the One-Fifty and Two-Ten for their first two model years. A three-speed manual transmission was standard, with GM’s two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission not an available option in the One-Fifty until ’54.
Everything changed in 1955, when the One-Fifty and Two-Ten were restyled and Chevy introduced its first modern small-block V8, available in both models in addition to the “Blue Frame” straight-six. Drivers were quickly impressed by the lightweight but powerful engine that, with a little TLC, could transform their nondescript business coupe into a road king. Through 1956 and 1957, Chevy maintained similar engine offerings in the One-Fifty and Two-Ten, with power ranging based on carburetion. For 1957, the final model year for both, the six available engines ranged from the 140-horsepower straight-six up to a fuel-injected “Super Turbo-Fire” 283 cubic-inch V8 that was rated at 283 horsepower, more than double the base six-cylinder engine.
Chevy replaced the One-Fifty and the Two-Ten with the Delay and Biscayne, respectively, for ’58, but hot-rodders never forgot the potential and these “tri-fives” still command a premium from collectors.
Their popularity was increased by movies like Two-Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti, which actually used at least one of the same Chevys on screen. According to the Unofficial American Graffiti Home Page maintained by Kathy Schlock and Walt Bailey, “the story of the American Graffiti ’55 Chevy began in 1970 when three 1955 Chevy 150 sedans were built for the 1971 movie Two-Lane Blacktop by Richard Ruth of Competition Engineering in Sunland, California,” based on Ruth’s own street racer, which had been fitted with an aftermarket big-block V8.
1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty (Customized)
Body Style: 2-door sedan
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 427 cubic inch (7.0 L) Chevrolet L88 V8 with “Tri-Power” 3×2-barrel Holley carburetors
Power: 435 bhp (324 kW; 441 PS) @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 460 lb·ft (624 N·m) @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 4-speed Muncie manual
Wheelbase: 115 inches (2921 mm)
Length: 195.6 inches (4968 mm)
Width: 74 inches (1880 mm)
Height: 60.5 inches (1537 mm)
The three One-Fifty two-door sedans that appeared in Two-Lane Blacktop included a “primary car” rigged with a 427 cubic-inch V8 and four-speed Muncie M-22″rock crusher” manual transmission, an interior “camera car” with a 454 cubic-inch V8 and another four-speed, and a steel-bodied “stunt car” with a 454 V8 and TH400 automatic transmission. The camera car was independently purchased after production on Two-Lane Blacktop wrapped, so—when transportation supervisor Henry Travers searched the studio storage lot for Falfa’s ride, he selected the two remaining cars: the 427/4-speed for exterior shots and the 454/auto for interior shots as the automatic transmission would allow for smoother shots of the actors. Travers retained the classic 15″ Covico three-spoke steering wheels, but both cars were repainted a gloss black, and the bucket seats and sliding plexiglass windows were replaced with a stock bench seat and conventional steel doors with roll-up windows.
GM’s big-block “L88” 427 cubic-inch (1966) and “LS5” 454 cubic-inch (1970) engines weren’t introduced until after the setting of American Graffiti, but we never see Falfa’s engine compartment so we can assume that his souped-up engine may be the dual-quad 409, introduced in 1961 and immortalized by the Beach Boys’ 1962 surf rock single “409”.
When Falfa blows a tire and runs his car off the road, terminating his race against Milner, neither of the Two-Lane Blacktop Chevys were sacrificed. Travers had obtained a non-running ’55 One-Fifty hardtop from a salvage yard, with a piece of wood standing in for the window post that would “transform” it from a hardtop into a pillared sedan. The 454-powered Chevy was towed down the strip for the rollover, then replaced with the non-running hardtop when the car needed to burn.
Some have written that the American Graffiti Chevy was a Two-Ten rather than a One-Fifty, but most documentation seems to support that Falfa drove a One-Fifty, identified on IMCDB “by the rubber around the windshield instead of stainless trim, lack of side stainless, and the lack of stainless along the beltline.”
I recommend that fans of American Graffiti, Two-Lane Blacktop, and the ’55 Chevy that appeared in both check out this well-researched article at the Unofficial American Graffiti Home Page.
How to Get the Look
From head to toe, Bob Falfa outfits himself in cowboy-styled clothing to match his daring persona.
- White western-styled shirt with narrow point collar, snap-front placket, pointed yokes, two chest pockets with double-snap “sawtooth”-pointed flaps, and snap-closed cuffs
- Dark indigo denim Wrangler 13MWZ “Cowboy Cut” jeans
- Dark brown leather center-tooled belt
- Tan leather cowboy boots
- Beige woven straw cowboy hat with narrow taupe elasticized band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I ain’t nobody, dork!
And for a few bucks more, Universal could’ve owned the songs outright – but what would’ve been the point of that? Would’ve meant barrels of money down the road! I love this film; it’s the only one it took four articles for me to review.