THIS 1:25 SCALE CHEVROLET IMPALA is one of the Revell California Wheels collection. It can also be used to make the custom Impala that starred in the 1973 movie American Graffiti, directed by George Lucas, also famed for his Star Wars and Indiana Jones sagas.
Mat Irvine: On the face of it, what has a Revell 1958 Chevrolet Impala got to do with the classic American Graffiti movie? Yes, there is a ’58 Impala in the film, but it has a specific red pinstripe finish over white, the Revell kit box depicting the model in blue.
But look at the alternative white finish on one of the box ends, and the supplied decal set. There, the car is finished in white with red pinstriping, closely matching the car in American Graffiti. Forget the other cars on screen – John Milner’s Ford Deuce Hot Rod, Bob Falfa’s ’55 Chevy, even the mysterious blonde’s white T-Bird – it’s Steve Bolander’s ’58 Impala that you see most, even if it was driven mostly by Terry ‘The Toad’ Field.
This 1:25 scale Revell Chevy Impala is not specifically a movie-match, but it is pretty close and you could build it out of the box, and it will look much like the movie car. But it can be made to be an even closer match, and this is how I did it.
As seen in American Graffiti, the car was given a custom clean-up, which deleted the Chevrolet V-badge on the hood and trunk lid. On the kit, recesses for these need filling and sanding. Fake vents on the fender fronts were also removed, so need sanding off, as do the prominent ‘wing’ ornaments on the top. The exterior door handles were ‘shaved’ – removed, along with the exterior mirrors – so the relevant holes for both need filling.
The movie car had chromed reverse-rim steel wheels, which I sourced with suitable tyres from another kit. I also modified the interior, as the upholstery was ‘tuck and roll’ style. I represented this by cutting and shaping embossed plastic sheet. For the six taillights (a unique feature of the Impala), I used 1959 Cadillac lenses, cemented over the stock set.
I found two useful donor kits, the Monogram 1959 Cadillac, and the AMT Ghostbusters Cadillac Ambulance. In fact, you’d need two of these, as even the extravagant ‘59 Caddy had only four taillights. Alternatively, you could dive into your parts collection, or make two more by carving from spare transparent-red runner plastic.
Other touches I added include a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror, which I sourced from Ken’s Kustom (available through Detail Master), and the license plate that reads JPM 351. I made the ones on the model by using an oblique-angle image of the actual plate, then pulling it square in Photoshop.
The main body colour is usually quoted as ‘pearlescent white’ or something equally fancy, but no, it was pure ‘appliance’ white, as used on goods such as refrigerators and washing machines. For this, I used Humbrol acrylic gloss-white, over a matt-white undercoat.
What happened to the movie's star cars?
After American Graffiti was finished, the cars used in it were sold, none for very much, and most not even selling at the time! The Impala was eventually bought for just $285.
However, since then the Impala was restored to its movie appearance by Ray Evernham, former NASCAR crew chief and TV presenter. Its current auction value would likely raise $1000,000-plus.
The box top (header pic) shows the car in blue, but the end panel (below) has the white scheme with red pin-striping.
The instruction leaflet and decal sheet (below) that includes a set of red stripes.
The recesses in the front fenders (below) need filling, as these features weren’t in the movie version.
I also filled the holes for the door handles and wing mirrors (below). Round plastic rod was useful to help fill the holes.
I used embossed plastic sheet (below) to represent the tuck and roll seats, dash and rear parcel shelf.
The kit body with red stripes applied (below). In the movie car, the red runs right up to the chrome.
Test fitting the side chrome into place (below) with decals, but no fill-in paint.
I cut the chrome stripes from the runner (below) with a fine razor saw.
Drilling out the chrome strip locating holes (below). Note the white gap had been painted over – the rough edge to be hidden by the chrome moulding.
Heat-sealing the chrome strip pins with a soldering iron (below). Note the recesses on the underside of the roof are red, for which I used graphic tape.
Two sets of Monogram 1959 Cadillac lenses (below). I used them to make the six needed for this model.
The completed model (below) would look good in any retro-Americana collection.
View from the rear (below) showing the Caddy taillight lenses, and correct license plate. The Revell kit allows both the hood and trunk to be opened.
Much of the action in American Graffiti used a diner called Mel’s drive-in (below) as a backdrop. Here I placed two other cars from the movie, an AMT 1956 Thunderbird and MPC 1932 Ford Deuce, parked in front of the Moebius kit of the diner. Scaling however is a bit of problem, as the cars are a hulking 1:25, but the Moebius Mel’s building is a Lilliputian 1:87!
However, if you want 1:87 models to fill the car park, try the extensive American automobiles range from Oxford Diecast.
And click here to see the SMN review and build of the nicely retro Moebius kit of Mel's drive-in.
Revell: ’58 Chevy Impala
Assembled length: 203 mm (8 in)
Manufacturer’s ref: 4419
Thanks to Revell-Monogram for the review kit, and to Ed Sexton for helping out with some of the details.
The 1958 Chevy Impala is not currently available from Revell, but kits can be found at online sites, such as eBay.
SMN note: Here's a beautifully-done tribute car (below) video, shown courtesy Unique Classic Cars which offers plenty of droolworthy wheels for sale. Check out the site to enjoy.