American Graffiti Race: Who Really Would Have Won?

Article and display photos by Larry Crain
Race photo supplied by Ken Buckner Jr.

The title of this article alone should tell you that I’m taking you back to 1973 and one of the all time great car movies American Graffiti. The movie was actually set in 1962 when cruisin’ the boulevard and hanging out at the local drive-in diner were the things to do on weekend nights. Of course, there were the really cool cars used in the movie including Milner’s yellow ’32 Ford coupe; the local king of the street race scene. Then a new guy named Falfa shows up in a bad black ’55 Chevy ready to show Milner who really has the baddest car around. Well if you have seen the movie you know they end up on Paradise road for a grudge race with (spoiler alert!) Falfa losing car control of his car, totaling it and Milner wins by default. So the question has always been: if there had been no wreck, who would have won?

I’m lucky to know Ken Buckner Sr. and Ken Buckner Jr., owners of two of the most correct American Graffiti cloned ’32 Ford and ’55 Chevy. This father and son duo have been showing these two cars for years, including at autograph sessions with most of the original cast members, at one time or the other, all over the eastern and southern part of the country.

The 1955 Chevy is a story in itself and this is just the guts of it. Corner either one of the Buckner’s and they can tell you a whole lot more. The car started out as a small block Chevy ’55, which they promptly removed and chopped off the frame at the firewall, built a new pair of front rails, then hung the coil over axle suspension and setup the steering. The motor is nothing but a Chevy big block with tons of horsepower topped off with a monster 4 barrel. This killer motor is backed up to a 4 speed that has everything fabricated around it. The Chevy features the flat firewall, fiberglass frontend, 9 inch Ford rearend with 4:11 gears, new chrome reverse wheels, the doors fabricated without vent windows, white tonneau cover like the original, a bench seat and a fiberglass decklid. A huge thanks goes out to car builder Richard Ruth for building the original black ’55 Chevy used in the movie that was the inspiration for this car and thanks to Steve Fitch, one of the owners of the actual movie car, for selling Ken Jr. the original American Graffiti ’55 Chevy’s Winter’s Foundry 4 barrel manifold that he gave to his dad as a surprise.

The yellow ’32 Ford coupe has a lot of stories that it could tell, but I’m going to try and keep it very simple. It is so near a duplicate of the car in the movie that you would be hard pressed to tell them apart. The 5 window coupe features a 3 inch chop, black roof insert, bobbed rear fenders, removable motorcycle style front fenders and the famous “piss” yellow paint. The engine compartment is a near duplicate to the movie car as is the interior of the car. This car could park next to the original and you would be left scratching your head as to which is which.

All of this brings us back to the question of who would really have won the race on Paradise Road? Well this father and son have raced heads up two times that I know of, on two different tracks: Beach Bend and Bowling Green. As Ken Jr. says “The coupe will take him at the line, but by mid track there is no beating that big black bad ass ’55 Chevy.” Sorry Milner fans, but if Falfa hadn’t lost control of his car according to the script, he would have been the new boss in that town come Saturday night.

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