June 3, 2014
Pontiac Firebird Esprit, The Rockford Files; Ferrari 308 GTS, Magnum, P.I.. Click image to enlarge
1974-78 Pontiac Firebird Esprit
Everybody talks about how cool Steve McQueen was, but odds are, James Garner could out-drive and out-cool him. Garner was and is a true gearhead, and the pair brought home Mini Coopers from Europe when they filmed The Great Escape there, and used to tear around the Hollywood canyon roads, racing each other.
But I digress. This particular car was the star of The Rockford Files, a ’70s TV show about a rumpled, wisecracking private detective who usually used his wits rather than brute force. Garner did almost all his own stunt driving, to the point where the J-turn (reversing at speed, flicking the nose of the car around, and burning rubber as you flee the scene) has become known as a Rockford turn.
The Firebird is such a great fit for the show, as it’s not the top-spec car, but just the one Rockford could afford. Painted in glorious 1970s gold, it doesn’t have any fancy gizmos, just a lot of charm.
Ferrari 308 GTS
Here’s another TV show detective, but one with an enormous moustache. Tom Selleck’s Magnum, P.I. was a hit with anyone who dreamed of living in Hawaii, or just really liked Hawaiian shirts.
Magnum drove his Ferrari everywhere around the island, solving cases, but there was an issue – at six foot four inches tall, Selleck was way too big for the cramped little 308. Not a problem, the TV crew removed the seat rails and bolted the seat directly to the floor, making sure Selleck’s head wasn’t completely out of the car.
1967 Chevrolet Impala
Filmed in BC, Supernatural is one of the few TV shows today that hearkens back to that old-school charm of having a hero car be part of the story. In this case, it’s a ’67 Chevy Impala hardtop with a 502 big-block crammed in the nose.
Filming is hard on cars, so there are actually seven of these Impalas used in shooting – though only the car used for closeups has the big engine. In its trunk is a whole host of demon-fighting apparatus, which the two Winchester brothers use as they traipse around the country, battling evil. You can tell it’s fictional not so much because of the supernatural element, but because they can afford the gas to cruise cross-continent in a big-block Impala.
1967 Chevrolet Impala, Supernatural; 1962 Volvo P1800, The Saint; 1965 Sunbeam Tiger, Get Smart. Click image to enlarge
1962 Volvo P1800
Perhaps best-known as James Bond, it’s a curious coincidence that Roger Moore never seemed to drive an Aston-Martin on the big screen. As The Saint on the small screen, he very nearly ended up driving a Jaguar E-type, but Jaguar turned down the free publicity, leaving the door wide open for Volvo.
The ethereal white P1800 is actually a much better fit for the show, where Moore’s Simon Templar shows up to fight evil and help folks out. The series helped the P1800 become a lasting 1960s icon, and its incredible durability means many of these cars are still on the road – most famously, a gentleman named Irv Gordon just hit three million miles behind the wheel of his red P1800.
1965 Sunbeam Tiger
Spoofing the spy genre in a loving manner, Get Smart was clever and goofy all at once. A shoe phone? Well, why not.
Maxwell Smart, the bumbling secret agent, drove a cherry red 1965 Sunbeam Tiger in the show, a car that debuted at the same time as the Ford Mustang, but didn’t quite survive the ’60s. Powered by a 260ci (4.6L) Ford V8, the Tiger could be modified into a real road-racing champion, and still enjoys an enthusiastic ownership base today.