Thursday, June 9, 2011


When Suzanne Somers first got the part in Graffiti, George Lucas remarked, that everyone would always remember the girl in the Thunderbird. And, he was right.  For many, almost as memorable as the girl is the car she was driving: "A white T-bird, ya understand?"

The story of the famous movie car dates back 8 years before production began. Owners Clay and May Daily originally bought the Thunderbird convertible in 1964 from a used car dealership in San Bernardino, CA.  They paid $1,000 for the used car, (A new one in '56 retailed for about $3,100). At the time of purchase the car's stock white color had been re-painted Fiesta red. When the Daily's moved north to Petaluma, CA, the car was hit from behind.  When the car was repaired the Daily's had it re-painted to its original color, white.

May would often drive the car to the Sears store in downtown Petaluma where she worked.  It was there that Graffiti Transportation Manager, Henry Travers, first spotted the car.  Clay remembers,  "When May left for home there was a piece of a brown paper bag under the wiper.  On the bag was a note asking if we would like to have the car in a movie."

The Continental kit was standard design for the '56.

She thought it was a joke and almost tossed the paper.  She decided to bring it home and when Clay read it he also thought it was a joke as it was signed and said to call Lucas Films.  "We had never heard of Lucas Films, but decided to call," he recalls.  To their surprise, it turned out to be Transportation Manager, Henry Tavers who explained they really wanted to use the car.   So, the Dalys agreed to rent out their T-bird for filming. An agreement was signed stating they would be paid a one-time price of $25.00 a night for about 6 nights of filming, and an additional $75.00 for the day shot.
The Dailys added an AM/FM radio & a CB radio
 Although the original shooting script for Graffiti refers to a blonde in the yellow T-bird, the Dailys were not asked to repaint their precious ride yellow to match the script.  And, good thing too, because in the film, the white color of the car serendipitously adds to the ghost-like mystery of the T-Bird and it's beautiful blonde driver.

During production of the film, when the car was needed, Transportation Manager, Henry Travers would pick up the car at the Daily's home in the early evening and take it downtown for filming.  Because the owners used the car as transportation to work, Travers made sure the car was returned promptly each morning by 6:00 AM.

Ms. Somers would run the battery down by leaving the lights on and the radio playing between shots.

At the time Mr. Daily was working in San Francisco as a manager in the New Technologies Dept. for Pacific Bell. Because of his early morning commute, he and his wife rarely stayed up late enough to witness the filming downtown. He does remember witnessing the filming of the scene where Richard jumps out of the VW when he sees the T-Bird and he runs up the street. On that night May briefly spoke to Ms. Somers to ask her how the car was handling.  Clay never did speak with the actress.  During interviews in the past, Ms. Somers has mistakenly claimed that during filming the car owner made her nervous because he was always close by, polishing the car, and telling her to be careful.  However the "nervous car owner" was not Clay Daily but in fact Henry Travers who was making sure the car was being handled properly and taken care of.  Clay recalls that he was never overly concerned about the welfare of his car and that Mr. Travers took very good care of it.  In fact, a couple of times he had to jump start it before he brought it back to Daily's because the actress would leave the lights on and the radio playing between shots and run the battery down.

The porthole window was a standard feature on the '56 T-bird.

This eye-pleasing classic has remained relatively golden since it was first built however there have been several repairs and modifications made by the owners.  The original Long Block 312 was replaced around 85,000 miles. The stock Holley "teapot" 4-barrel carb. has been
 replaced with the more modern 650 Holley carb.  The original "Ford-O-Matic" automatic 3-speed transmission has been rebuilt.  Other upkeep and modifications include a 4-row radiator, a 7-blade flex fan, air shocks and an alternator, as well as an AM-FM radio and a CB radio.

For every famous movie car there are many impostors.  Mr. Daily states that the most outlandish claim came to his attention in 2006 when he was e-mailed by another T-Bird owner. "He sent me a picture of a White 1955 Bird at a car show in NJ that had a very official document in a frame that said it was the one used in the movie and driven by Susanne.  The document was even signed and verified by someone who said he was a manager working for Universal Studios," said Daily.

 After owning and taking care of the white beauty for 50yrs the Dailys finally decided it was time to sell the car. Its proud new owner is Petaluma resident, Jerry Causbrook who bid against a museum and a major restaurant chain. Causbrook is also the owner of the 1967 Citroen 2CV driven by Richard Drefuss' character in the movie. He is the only person in the world to own two original American Graffiti vehicles.

~ FINI ~
  • Daily, May and Clay. (July 16 and 17, 2010) E-mail correspondence.  
  • Take Your Pic in Famous White T Bird at Tribute to American Graffiti Party at Buffalo Billiards Sunday, Nov 9th 3 to 7 pm. (11/07/2014).Southern Sonoma Country Life.


  1. what was the make, model and year of the car that kip pullman rode in?

  2. Thanks for Sharing nice information this blog. I am very impressed your blog. I like your 56 T-Bird car.

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  3. I believe Kip was riding in a 58 Ford, you can't see enough of it to tell if it is a 4 door or a coupe. Probably but not necessarily a Fairlane.