The Original Scene
The Re-Creation Scene
Our Cop Car
Where You Can See The Cop Car

Part I Part III

The Re-Creation of the Cop Car Destruction Scene – Part II
A Tribute to Henry Travers and Manuel Padilla, Jr.

After we restored that old Galaxie to look like the American Graffiti Cop Car, it was just too damned pretty to destroy. We knew there was a ’61 Fairlane (looks almost identical to the Galaxie) up at Gerdes Auto Wrecking in Cloverdale. It was in pretty bad shape and had a parted out six-banger, but it was just what we needed. So we contacted our friends at All About Classics in Santa Rosa and they agreed to build our “movie” car for the destruction scene.

After replacing the motor with a 292 V8 and transmission out of a ’63 pickup, it went to Miracle Auto Painting in Santa Rosa for body work and colors. They did a super job! The interior was pretty rough too, so Dirk Tuinstra at Tuinstra’s Auto Glass and Upholstery made the seats like new. Next it came to Petaluma and Art Mossi Service. Art’s an old car guy and race car driver from way back and when he found out that we were going to re-create the destruction scene, he not only jumped at the chance to drive it, but also volunteered to install the roll cage and five point safety harness.

We already had two B & M Super Chief Sirens, one that we had purchased on eBay and the other from B & M Siren in Southern California. We also had two sets of the red beacons, so after getting those mounted; we were almost done. The gas tank was removed and a small one-quart tank was installed under the hood. Both the differential and transmission were drained of oil and some of the engine oil was drained, leaving about three quarts. The radiator was also removed and the upper and lower hoses were connected together to allow water to circulate through the engine block.

To prepare for relatively easy separation of the rear axle from the frame, the rivets on the rear hangers were removed and the bolts securing the front springs were cut in two places. The movie cop car was ready to go!

By the time the week of Salute 2008 rolled around, most of us were already running on adrenaline. The Jerry’s Cherries empty lot located between the McNear and LanMart Buildings is used for daily parking and since it’s just dirt, it was full of holes, mounds and dips. North Bay Construction to the rescue! Their crew arrived early on Monday morning and in just a few hours, they laid down a new bed of crushed rock and had that lot as smooth as a baby’s ass….well, almost! It was closed to all parking for the remainder of the week.

Next came Rich Villa and his crew from Al Villa Builder; Fowler Electric and Stewart Warren Services who began constructing the façade on Tuesday morning. It was a beehive of activity with plenty of spectators watching the transformation. By Wednesday afternoon it was completed and up went the Jerry’s Cherries signs, complements of Redwood Sign Company. Wow, it looked just like in the movie! Right about then, who shows up but none other than two-time Academy Award winner Haskell Wexler, American Graffiti’s Visual Consultant. He was here to assist with filming of the destruction scene and to do his own filming for a documentary that he was producing.

The weather all week has been beautiful, but hot! The high today was about 92 °F and little did we know that it was going to stay between 75 and 80 °F all night and hit over 100 on Thursday. You can probably count on one hand the number of times in the past 100 years that it was 75 °F in Petaluma at 5am, but I have to tell you, it made for the perfect night. Everyone was in short sleeves and many were wearing shorts and tank tops! The Gods were shinning on us, so much more so than when George, Haskell and the rest of the crew filmed back in 1972 when it was probably in the mid-40s.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, we are filming just about the entire scene, not just the Cop Car destruction. Shooting was set to begin around 10pm on Wednesday, so most of us headed home in the late afternoon to catch a couple of hours of shuteye since we would not only be up all night, but had to continue preparations for the Thursday night dinner, Friday Cruise-in and finally the Salute on Saturday. Ironically, there was still one piece of the destruction puzzle missing: the house trailer. We didn’t have one! It’s not that we didn’t try to get one…we did, but I’ll not bore you with that story. It was about 5pm and I was talking to Jerry Causbrook just before leaving for home. Jerry was playing the role of Officer Holstein. We got to talking about the trailer and the next thing I know he’s telling me that he knows where he might be able to get one. Well, when I showed up later that night, there was the trailer. Everything was falling into place!

I don’t know about the others, but I think I slept about two hours, yet tired I wasn’t because the fun was about to begin. Our dream was finally becoming a reality! A huge amount of planning had gone into making everything work. There were not only the cars and the lot, but coordinating volunteers, city and police services, lighting, cameras, costumes and so much more! Don Bies of Fair Street Films LLC and his filming crew had spent hours storyboarding all of the scenes, so that filming would run smoothly. Just like in the original movie, the plan was to shoot all of the scenes leading up to the destruction during the night and finish up with a bang by tearing that rear axle out of the Fairlane just before dawn.

By the time I arrived around 10:30pm, there was a whole host of people along with most of the classic cars that were already parked in the lot. The film crew was setting up cameras and going over the storyboards. Original production staff members Haskell, Bill Maley, Ron Eveslage and Ned Kopp were busy positioning cars and the big floodlights, talking to our actors and consulting with Don and his staff. I stood there and thought to myself, how cool is this? We are about to do something that has never been done in the annuals of the motion picture industry. As awestruck as I was, I quickly came back down to earth as I realized that I had plenty to do myself.

Filming started a bit late, but it wasn’t a problem. Our security volunteers and helpers arrived around 1am and were assigned their duties. At 2, the real cops closed Petaluma Boulevard at Western Avenue and at B Street and everyone who was not part of the production was escorted out of the area. With the street closed, we brought in hay bales and even a 24’ semi truck and trailer to place in front of the path of the cop car, just in case it got away from Art (not likely, but we needed to be safe). Bleachers arrived and were set up in the street for our VIP audience. There was coffee and donuts (of course!) and for entertainment we had the score from American Graffiti playing over a PA system.

It was probably around 2:45am when Don and his crew moved one of their cameras over to 4th Street to film the scene where the Merc races by and Curt (played by Ryan Villa) yells out “Stand by for justice!” The street wasn’t blocked, but at that time of the morning on a Thursday, even the drunks were no where to be seen. I walked over to watch and get a couple of photos. They positioned the car at B Street facing north and had Charlie speed by the camera, which was set up in the driveway of the A Street parking lot, at least three times.

Not long after this, All About Classics pulled up with the movie cop car on the back of their flatbed, as did the giant tow truck that was furnished by Andreoli Towing; the same company that provided the truck for the original scene. Our VIP guests began arriving about 3:30am and were entertained not only with the filming activity, but by our emcee for the event, Ron Walters. Like so many who helped, Ron is a long time Petaluman and was the radio DJ at KTOB (the outside of XERB was filmed at the old KTOB building in south Petaluma), so he was the perfect guy for the job and spent time interviewing the original production staff and audience members alike. Even our Mayor, Pam Torliatt, made the scene.

CLICK HERE to read what happened next!

CLICK HERE to order the Salute DVD that includes this event.


Photos by Rhonda Van Patten, Ron Simmons, Rich Poremba