When cult classic movie Two-Lane Blacktop was released in 1971, who could have guessed that a 1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty, which was one of two cars featured in the movie (the other was a 1970 Pontiac GTO), would generate so much interest nearly 45 years later? And at this past January’s Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, one of the three 1955 cars built for that movie would sell for $159,500?
There is a lot of incorrect information about these ’55s and their links to another classic movie, American Graffiti, so first let’s clear up some facts. There were three 1955s built for Two-Lane Blacktop; the first was used when the filmmakers wanted a shot showing the exterior of the car. The second movie car, the interior car, was used when the film shot scenes of the actors inside the car. A third car was built for a final scene and was designed to crash and rollover, but the script was changed and that car was never crashed.
After the movie was filmed, the interior car was sold off by the producers. The remaining exterior car gained fame when Harrison Ford drove it in American Graffiti. And the ’55 designed for the rollover scene finally got its chance at the end of American Graffiti. To add to the lore, American Graffiti actually had an additional ’55 Chevy that they used after the rollover– it was filmed on fire.
The two ’55s that were in the crash scene of American Graffiti were eventually scrapped and are no longer in existence. The ’55 that was the star of American Graffiti eventually made its way to Maryland and that is where Walt Bailey of Fredrick, MD gets involved in this story. He was instrumental in finding the interior car from Two-Lane Blacktop.
Walt Bailey actually owned a green ’55 Chevy in his youth and when the movie first came out, Walt saw it with his buddies. That started his interest in the movie and he remembers later watching it on the SPEED Channel as part of their “Lost Drive-In” features. Before DVDs and everything being offered on the Internet, Bailey couldn’t get his own copy until someone at SPEED managed to get him one.
Bailey’s interest in the cars resurfaced when the owner of the American Graffiti car, who lived in Maryland, started showing it at local car shows that Bailey had attended. In 1997, Bailey found an article in a 1983 Car Craft magazine that showed the GTO and two ’55s together. In reading the article, Bailey learned about the filmmakers having both an interior and exterior car. Bailey wrote the author, Jeff Smith, an update explaining how the American Graffiti car was then in Maryland.
It seems nobody had any idea where the interior car went to, until Smith received a letter from a Canadian who “thought” he had the American Graffiti car but which later turned out to be the interior movie car from Two-Lane Blacktop. Smith put Bailey in contact with the owner and in due time a deal was struck. In 2001, Bailey became the owner of this icon.
But before sealing the deal, Bailey had contacted the original car builder– Richard Ruth– and verified key pieces that would be present on the original car. The car had special mounts in place for the cameras and other unique features that Ruth designed for the film. Ruth later examined the car and has certified that this was indeed the interior car from the movie.
But the car had been drastically changed since the movie was shot. The fiberglass doors had been swapped for steel replacements, and the front had been replaced with a Camaro clip!
It took Bailey five years to get the ’55 Chevy restored to how it looked in 1971 when the movie aired. Ruth provided a replacement front end and offered his guidance and suggestions on what needed to be done. Bailey, through a stroke of luck, was even able to locate the original fiberglass doors in Canada. He even located a firm in Washington that could sell him a vintage set of American Racing’s 200S series wheels.
Bailey took it to all three of CCI’s National Conventions in 2005, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1955 Chevys. Finally, in 2006, the car was done cosmetically.
Bailey had a goal to let James Taylor, the singer/actor who drove the car in the movie, get to see his restoration. Finally, in 2009, they were able to meet and bring closure for Bailey. He said he often gets questions about whether it is a replica or the real movie car, and fans often think it was part of the American Graffiti movie, too.
Bailey estimated that he had shown the car at 50-60 major national shows, and finally it was time to sell the ’55 and let someone else enjoy it. But Bailey has always been a car guy and still has a red 1963 Corvette convertible– a numbers matching car with 117,000 miles on it. Plus, his next task is retrieving his granddad’s 1953 Plymouth and restoring that. So Bailey won’t have much rest after selling the Chevy from Two-Lane Blacktop.
On Saturday during a highlighted time spot, Barrett-Jackson scheduled the movie car to be sold. It turned out that Cleveland area physician David Demangone already had his eyes on the car since he first saw it on the Barrett-Jackson docket in October, 2014. Demangone always was a fan of the ’55 Chevy and considered it an iconic model. Demangone actually had noticed another car, the ’58 Plymouth Fury from the movie “Christine”, but that car’s bidding went beyond what he wanted to pay. So, he was fortunate that this car came up for bidding later in the schedule and he was able to purchase it.
Demangone has about ten cars in his collection, including his first car from high school–a 1965 Olds 442 convertible. He owns one of the four ’Cudas used in the TV show “Nash Bridges” as well as the 1930 “Hot Rod Lincoln” owned by the original singer/composer of that song– Charlie Ryan.
Demangone is impressed that the fans of the car are so filled with passion and respect for its history. He plans on bringing the car out to various national shows, to help raise money for charities. Demangone admits that he was too young to see the movie when it was first released, but has now seen it at least ten times since buying the car!
Shop for Tri-5 Chevy parts at www.ClassicChevy.com
Follow us on our Tri-5 Facebook page. Click here and Like us!