American Graffiti Festival 2018

American Graffiti Festival 2018
June 8-10, 2018 in Modesto CA

Every year, for the past 20 years, the City of Modesto CA has celebrated the American Graffiti phenomenon with this wonderful event centered around a massive car show. This year it was held at the Modesto Municipal Golf Course at 400 Tuolumne Road in Modesto, and was host to hundreds of classic cars, muscle cars, 40s cars, 50s cars, lowriders, trucks, customs, street rods, rat rods, and even some modern muscle. All it all, this 3-day show ran from Friday, June 8 through Sunday, June 10. Admission was just $10 per day, and was well worth the cost. Besides the car show, they had live entertainment, vendors galore, great food, and a car show…did I mention the car show? I spent an entire day at the American Graffiti Festival 2018 on Saturday, met family and friends there, and we had a wonderful time.

What is Modesto’s connection to the American Graffiti movie? Star Wars-producer George Lucas was fairly unknown in June of 1972, when they started filming. He had done one movie prior, the icky futuristic thriller THX1138 starring an also-unknown Robert Duval, very few saw it. Yet somehow, he talked Universal Studios into backing his next project, a quirky little film loosely based on his life as a teenager going through high school in Modesto. Unfortunately, by 1972, the City of Modesto had grown to such a point that Lucas felt he could no longer film there, because it looked too modern. The film is set on the last night of summer in 1962, so they ended up filming it in the tiny Northern California town of Sebastopol, which had thus far escaped modern ‘progress’. So, while the movie was not filmed in Modesto, it’s actually about Modesto, and that’s good enough. They took possession of it, and 20 years later we’re at the 20th Anniversary American Graffiti Festival 2018.

Of course, American Graffiti was George Lucas’s first commercial and critical success. He would go on to make all the Star Wars movies, co-op with Steven Spielberg on all the Indiana Jones movies, he started ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and launched Pixar before he sold it to Disney for a kajillion dollars. But it was also the first film appearance, or at least major film appearance of Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, and more.

Every major studio turned the project down, but Lucas finally convinced Universal to take it on. With just a $777,000 budget (tiny for films, even then), it grossed over $140 Million at the box office alone, plus another $100 Million-or-so on all those VHS tapes they sold. It was nominated for Best Picture in 1973. But, it wasn’t easy making it happen. Lucas wanted the movie to be one long music video, with all those great oldies songs playing on the radio throughout. The studio refused, saying it would cost too much to buy the rights to all those songs. They negotiated back and forth. The studio said they’d be willing to pay for just 2 or 3 big songs, then the rest would be written for the film. Lucas persevered and got all 41 songs he asked for. As it turned out, the movie was such a hit, that the 2-album (or 2-tape) soundtrack became a best-seller for years, making Lucas and the studio a pile of money they never anticipated getting. As usual, George Lucas was right on the money with his forward-thinking. One other spot of trouble came when they started filming in San Rafael, another Northern California city which they had originally chosen for their location. But after just two days, the City of San Rafael refused to let them continue, apparently it was disrupting traffic. So, they hastily found another site, nearby Sebastopol, and filming began on June 26, 1972. The film was release on August 11, 1973.

It wouldn’t be American Graffiti Festival 2018 without John Milner’s yellow deuce coupe. And we had a bevy of them. Above and below you will see a few takes on this iconic machine. The first one, above, is probably the most accurate.

ABOVE & BELOW: John Milner would be proud. Several takes on the classic yellow deuce coupe, one for off-road…and one’s even a taxi!

The Cars of the American Graffiti Festival 2018

ABOVE & BELOW: The Modesto Municipal Golf Course is an excellent venue for the American Graffiti Festival 2018. Lots of room to spread out he cars on nicely-manicured lawns, with ample shade. You get an idea of just how big this show is, and how many cars are here.

ABOVE: While it’s not organized this way by the show’s promoters, show-goers organize themselves at the American Graffiti Festival 2018. Above, a local Impala club shows up every year and lines up their cars along the back fence. Many are lowriders, but some are nice original cars.
BELOW: Another example of car owners organizing themselves, this group of 40s and early 50s cars was enormous, and the cars were wonderful. I love those split windshields.

ABOVE: This gorgeous ’69 Camaro SS was beautifully-restored, and very correct.
BELOW: This is a 1927 Ford Model T Roadster racer. In concept only, I expect, as it had a custom tube frame, custom suspension, disk brakes and a small block Chevy V8.

ABOVE: This has to be one of the first Buicks built after the war. It’s a 1946 Buick Special Convertible.
BELOW: The iconic surfer-mobile, it’s a 1950 Ford Woody wagon. I loved it. Surfboards and all.

ABOVE: This has to be not only one of the most correct 1969 Camaros I’ve ever seen, it’s also one of the more stripped-down versions. 307, column-shift Powerglide, no frills Camaro with dog-dish hubcaps. The rims were chromed, that’s about it. Just clean as the day it was built.
BELOW: Plum Crazy 1970 Dodge Super Bee.

ABOVE: One of my always-favorites, this is a 1972 Camaro RS. From 1970 through 1973 the RS, or Rally Sport, used two dainty bumperettes, surrounding that bigger-than-normal grille. Because of this, ’70-73 RS’s are known as “Split-Bumpers”.
BELOW: One of my favorite aspects of the American Graffiti Festival 2018, and all of their Festivals for that matter, every year, is how they’ve developed into social gatherings. Families and friends show up with their tents, BBQs, folding tables, and lawn chairs, and make a day of it. Or a weekend, this a 3-day event after all. It looks like a great way to spend a day with people you like, and the food smells were very tempting. I plan to do the same at a future show.

ABOVE & BELOW: What car show would be complete without a ton of vendors selling all manner of car-related crap. Above they sold diecast models by the thousands. Below GM Performance was showing off some of their crate motors.

The American Graffiti Festival 2018 was the 20th annual, always sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and always for the benefit of local charities. They do a fantastic job, this is a show and event well worth traveling for. You can go to their website for more info about their future events: Be there, or be square!