San Rafael man famous for his 1956 Ford Thunderbird, seen in ‘American Graffiti’

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  • Douglas Zimmerman/Marin Independent Journal Special

    San Rafael resident Irving Schwartz sits in his white hardtop 1956 Ford Thunderbird at the May Madness car show in May.

  • The original radio still works on Irving Schwartz's 1956 Ford...

    Douglas Zimmerman/Marin Independent Journal Special

    The stock radio still works on Irving Schwartz’s 1956 Ford Thunderbird.

  • One of the fins of San Rafael resident Irving Schwartz...

    Douglas Zimmerman/Marin Independent Journal Special

    One of the fins of the white hardtop 1956 Ford Thunderbird of San Rafael resident Irving Schwartz.

  • San Rafael resident Irving Schwartz owned the classic Thunderbird...

    Douglas Zimmerman/Marin Independent Journal Special

    San Rafael resident Irving Schwartz has owned the Thunderbird classic car for 20 years.

  • The dashboard of Irving Schwartz's 1956 Ford Thunderbird.

    Douglas Zimmerman/Marin Independent Journal Special

    The dashboard of Irving Schwartz’s 1956 Ford Thunderbird.

  • The interior of Irving Schwartz's 1956 Ford Thunderbird on display...

    Douglas Zimmerman/Marin Independent Journal Special

    The interior of Irving Schwartz’s 1956 Ford Thunderbird on display at May Madness.

  • Irving Schwartz's 1956 Ford Thunderbird was featured in

    Douglas Zimmerman/Marin Independent Journal Special

    Irving Schwartz’s 1956 Ford Thunderbird was featured in “American Graffiti.”

People know Irving Schwartz in many ways. Some are classmates from his time at San Rafael High School in the 1950s. For some, it’s thanks to the civil engineering and surveying business he started in 1981, or his long date with the Marin Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Others might know him from his father’s men’s clothing store, Schwartz’s Big and Tall, on Fourth Street in San Rafael.

But, for car and movie buffs, the third-generation Marin resident is known for his white hardtop 1956 Ford Thunderbird that turned heads in Marin resident George Lucas’ classic 1973 film, “American Graffiti”, which was partly shot in Marin.

The San Rafael resident has shown his car several times at the San Rafael May Madness and Bon Air Invitational auto shows.

Q How did you get the car?

A I got it on April 1, 2002. When I worked for Marin County, I was the resident engineer on the Point San Pedro Road widening. I saw a man pull this nice car out of his garage and warm it up, and every now and then he would drive it around the block. I asked him and he said, “It’s my wife’s car. He bought it for her. He was the original owner. Later, I got a call from someone who wanted me to look at a property on Point San Pedro Road, and I think it’s the same house. I tell the story to the man and he says, “That was my uncle. He died and he left the house to me,” and he grabbed the garage door handle and opened the garage and added, “And the car. My wife wants him out of here. He got out of it pretty quickly.

Q What attracted you to the car?

A It was a very nice classic car. It’s a striking car.

Q How did you understand the film’s story of the car?

A The man who sold it to me said he understood it was in the movie, and other people told me the car was in the movie.

Q What do you like about participating in car shows?

A Especially talk to people who want to talk about the car. It’s a great conversation starter.

Q It felt like you had come full circle when you showed off your car at May Madness near where “American Graffiti” was filmed in San Rafael.

A The first time I saw the film was at the Rafael Theater. The movie shows the Rafael Theater as they drive by and it also very clearly shows the store that used to be my family’s clothing store, with my family’s name on a neon sign in a few scenes. It’s funny.

Q What do you like in the car?

A His allure. I don’t think I would call myself a car guy, it just happened.

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