This year’s inductees into the “Legends of the Cruise” are the Faros, the car club immortalized in George Lucas’ movie as the Pharaohs. Members remain active at events throughout the community.
In honor of the newest members of the “Legends,” here’s what The Bee’s Jeff Jardine had to say about them in 2012.
In “American Graffiti,” members of this club were portrayed as hoodlums, but in reality, they simply were car enthusiasts.
George Lucas immortalized them as a gang of notorious local street thugs in “American Graffiti.”
And despite their love of cars, they really weren’t a car club.
So what, then, were the Faros?
“It was pretty much just social, “ club member Brian Murray said. “We got together, told stories and talked about how fast our cars wouldn’t go.”
If not for Lucas’ depiction, the Los Angeles Times wouldn’t have concerned itself with writing about them in 1990, as Modesto moved toward its 1993 ban on cruising. And an Australian TV station wouldn’t have tracked down Faro Daryl Weitl for an interview around the same time.
They would just have been a bunch of young guys who grew older and whose antics would have been little more than stories told among old friends at a barbecue or class reunion.
The Faros were part of a generation that ruled Modesto’s pavement most weekend nights, turning the downtown’s 10th and 11th streets and McHenry Avenue into a slow-rolling party on wheels, with an occasional drag race for entertainment. The streets bore an atmosphere of anticipation and energy: Whom you might see, whom you might meet, whom you might race and whom you wanted to avoid. Beer by the keg. Girls, whenever they could be impressed. It’s a story told so many times that it’s become a stereotype.
Much in Modesto has changed since then, including the Faros themselves. These teenagers of the 1950s and 1960s are now in their 60s and 70s. They got jobs and got married. They raised families and are now grandparents. Young men who once pumped every available dime and dollar into their cars now needed to pay mortgages.
Somewhere along the way, they grew up, as evidenced by the car Weitl drove when he, Murray and another Faro, Rick Hudson, took The Bee along for a cruise along the old loop of 10th Street, 11th Street and out McHenry.
In a cherried-out ’57 Chevy, right? No. Try a 2010 Cadillac. Specifically, a 2010 Cadillac CTS sports wagon. (Do NOT call it a station wagon, Weitl warned.)
No kidding, Faros in a soccer mom’s ride. (What? No minivan?)
Few former members still have the so-called classic cars, he said.
The Faros – altered to the Pharaohs in “American Graffiti” – existed from 1957 until 1973. To become a Faro, you had to be nominated or sponsored by a member of the club. Then you had to survive a vote. If even one member voted no, you didn’t become a Faro. Most attended Modesto Junior College, though some were in high school when they joined, Murray said.
“I remember several who didn’t get in, “ Murray said. “We were concerned with our reputation.”
Membership always hovered between 20 and 30 Faros, he said. And they never were the villains Lucas portrayed them as in the movie, Murray maintains. They had fun. But in a small town, the club’s renown made even the members’ own parents suspicious.
“One night, Daryl and I sat on the fender of a ’57 Chevy until the sun came up,” he said. “We just talked about cars, whatever. When I got home, my dad met me halfway down the hall. ‘Where have you been?”
“I said, ‘Dad, you’re not going to believe this, but Daryl and I were just sitting on the car, talking.’ And he said, ‘Oh, come on!’ ”
Rick Hudson, a Faro in 1968 and ’69, said they were more of a fraternity than a car club. Fighting with members from other clubs? Sure, it happened.
“The only fight I ever lost was when I was running around the corner and didn’t get away,” Hudson said.
In fact, bravado had its limits, according to 1961-65 Faro Jerry Jackman. He told of how two clubs – the Faros and the Chancellors – both held their meetings in the garage behind Willie Dote’s home in west Modesto.
Faros were building a car there and someone left the garage unlocked. Jackman was certain the Chancellors were the culprits. He left a strongly worded note to that affect.
“And I added a little oomph to it by signing it, ‘Jerry Jackman of the Faros,’ ” he said.
Of course, they took offense.
“At our next meeting, Willie said the Chancellors were really hot about that note,” Jackman said. “He said they were out to confront us and to lay low. I felt bad because I’d written the note. I don’t think anybody said a word to each other. We all felt chilled by that and stayed out of town for a couple of weeks until it blew over. Turns out (the Chancellors) were as relieved as we were.”
Jackman left Modesto in 1966 to become a Peace Corps volunteer in India. He returned in August 1968 to a country dramatically different than the one he left. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he wouldn’t seek re-election. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in April, and Robert F. Kennedy in June.
Last summer, a group of Faros reunited at founding member Dennis Billington’s home at Lake Tahoe.
Billington went on to become a teacher at Beyer High School. Weitl retired after 32 years as a senior planner for Stanislaus County. Jackman retired after a 25-year career as a county social worker.
Hudson is a real estate agent. Murray, who worked for the Stanislaus County Public Works Department and spent the past two decades as a bridge project engineer, didn’t attend.
The others reminisced about growing up in Modesto and cruising, which Jackman called “just a chapter” of his life.
The Faros all moved on. They enjoy the periodic attention from the movie that made their legacy more fiction than fact.
Or so they say.