Classic TV cars
The relationship between television and the automobile is as twisted and dramatic as a script from one of Aaron Spelling’s many hit shows.
It features some of the earliest forms of product placement. And while it’s impossible to quantify how many cars were sold as a result of their presence in prime-time, looking at those old shows through today’s contemporary lens provides something more valuable than data.
The cars have the quality of artifacts at an archeological dig, giving us clues about what the people of that time period valued, how they viewed themselves, and like primitive people, what they worshipped. There’s a vast subculture devoted to TV cars, with online forums and public events often drawing more fans than the actual stars of the long-shuttered shows.
Consider this collection a kaleidoscope of Americana. It’s not a ranked list from top to bottom (although we have our favorites). With so much diversity (sedans, sports cars, cartoon-like creations), over so many decades, it’s impossible to do that in good conscience.
In the words of the classic TV cliche: “Follow that car!”
50. 1970 Ford Mustang Coupe
Show: The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Airdates: Sept. 19, 1970 – March 19, 1977
In the opening credits of Seasons 1 and 2, we see Mary Richards driving into Minneapolis in a 6-cylinder Mustang hardtop, fresh off a failed relationship and looking for a new start in life. Rolling next to her in one freeway clip is a lumbering blue Cadillac, giving Mary’s white 1970 coupe a lithe, nimble presence.
The car didn’t get a lot of screen time, as most of the action in the show was in her apartment or at WJM-TV, where she worked. The car was shown in front of the house in which Mary lived in an upstairs apartment in the show’s early seasons. The stock ‘Stang was swapped out a couple of years later for a yellow 1973 Mustang convertible in an episode in which Mary and pal Rhoda visit a dealer and experience sticker-shock.
Notably, the images of the first car rolling into town were accompanied by the theme song “Love is all around” and the timeless line “You’re gonna make it after all.” The car wasn’t as central to that sequence as the famed hat toss in a bustling downtown. But it played a role in the show’s captivating intro, and its subtle presence spoke to car fans of that era.
49. 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, AKA KITT
Show: Knight Rider
Airdates: Sept. 26, 1982 – April 4, 1986
The science-fiction-tinged action drama that made (for better or worse) a household name out of David Hasselhoff, was defined by two things – Hasselhoff’s magnificent mane, of course, and his co-star, the 1982 Pontiac Trans Am that was transformed into the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT).
The artificially intelligent automobile spoke (it possessed a bit of an attitude, voiced cleverly by William Daniels), and tracked to any destination without any driver input than voice command. Oh yeah, it could travel at speeds up to 200 mph and was virtually indestructible.
In the lead character of Michael Knight, Hasselhoff and KITT fought crime under the umbrella of an organization called the Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG). Notably, for the testosterone-drenched show, the chief engineer in charge of KITT’s car was a woman, Dr. Bonnie Barstow.
The car cost the production company $100,000 to build, with the red front-mounted scanner bar (which allowed it to see), modified dash, and other hi-tech interior additions designed by consultant Michael Scheffe. The list of “standard features” controlled by the internal supercomputer is long: turbojet power, rocket boosters, an ejector seat, satellite communications, radar, laser defense system, traction spikes, a grappling hook, flame throwers, and of course, as was de rigueur for the decade, the T-Top roof system that allowed big ‘80s hair to billow in the wind.
There was also KITT’s evil twin, known as KARR, an acronym for Knight Automated Roving Robot. But we won’t … go down that road.
48. 1983 GMC Vandura
Show: The A-Team
Airdates: Jan. 23, 1983 – March 8, 1987
The burly black-and-grey machine with a slashing red stripe was the fifth member of the hooligan outfit. Driven by Mr. T, known in the show as “B.A. Baracus,” the van achieved iconic status in the 1980s with its black and red turbine mag wheels, rooftop spoiler, quad-tip exhaust, mobile telephone and radio, front brushbar, fog lights, and 350 cubic-inch V8.
Known in the industry as a G-Series or a G20 van, it appeared in every episode, hauling a bunch of ex-U.S. Special Forces, now mercenaries on the run from the Army, from one chaotic (and often indecipherable) adventure to the next. High-speed chases and violent jumps were a plot staple; according to a former stunt coordinator, eight vans were destroyed over the show’s 98-episode run.
By the end of the series, the crew was left with just a pair of first-unit vans and one second-unit van. Care to see one hurtle through the air? Try “A-Team van jump” on YouTube for a healthy collection of vehicular violence.
Footnote: The van used for the 2010 movie starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, and Jessica Biel was a custom 1994 Chevrolet G20.
47. 1967 Lotus Elan Series 3
Show: The Avengers
Airdates: Jan. 7, 1961 – May 21, 1969
Network: ABC (1961-69) Emma Peel's sleek white and powder blue British convertibles were among an eye-popping lineup in the acclaimed show, most of them driven by her male counterpart, secret agent John Steed.
Outfitted with a CB radio (notable in its day), she drove it at high speeds down a collection of classic British country roads, hedges, and stone walls perilously close. It was part of her strong heroine character, highlighted by her mastery of martial arts and fencing.
Although she piloted several vehicles, it’s the Elans that people remember actress Diana Rigg driving. For the black and white episodes (1966) it was a Lotus Elan S2, followed by the more recognizable S3.
The Elan was known for its combination of a powerful engine and lightweight, and an eye-catching aerodynamic shape. The 1967 official Lotus sales brochure, as noted by the website of the famed Colin Chapman Lotus Museum, says it was a car for “a gender discerning owner.”
Contemporary reviews of the car were glowing, with Road and Track crediting it with a “weird, physics-defying sense of zero weight transfer in corners … a sensation akin to flying just over ground.”
46. 1928 Bentley Speed 6
Show: The Avengers
Airdates: Jan. 7, 1961 – May 21, 1969
Network: ABC (1961-69)
There are so many cars to fall in love with when it comes to British secret agent John Steed – Rolls-Royce, Triumph, Lagonda, Alvis, Bentley among them — that trying to decide which was most iconic is nearly impossible. We settled on the famed Speed 6 because, well, we’ve loved it since we first spotted it gracing an American television screen – stately, austere, massive, green as an emerald. It appeared in 15 episodes, among them the memorably titled “You Have Just Been Murdered” and “Something Nasty in the Nursery.”
The Bentley Speed 6 was the performance counterpart to the Bentley 6.5 Litre. A racing version was a two-time winner of the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Actor Patrick MacNee was not a “car guy” and reportedly was terrified of driving it, leaving it in one gear or needing crew members to push it into the frame with him at the wheel. He told “The Independent” newspaper in 1997, “People identify you with the character … I never drove fast cars.”
45. 1979 Dodge Macho Power Wagon
Show: Simon & Simon
Air dates: Nov. 24, 1981 – Sept. 16, 1989
Network: CBS Dodge was not pursuing nuance and subtlety when it built the Power Wagon series, which was a specialty trim and options package for the W150 from 1977 to 1981. These were meant to be adult toys – orange, yellow, black, big tires, roll bars, the words “Power Wagon” painted vertically on the bed and horizontally across the tailgate.
As such, one was perfect for carefree detective Rick Simon, played by Gerald McRaney.
The original truck was a 1979 long-bed, sierra red with the iconic Macho decal package, and wagon wheels. Midway through Season 1, producers brought in a stand-in, a 1980 model painted to look like the corresponding ’79.
In the opening credits to the show’s inaugural season the truck is shown as pivotal to brothers’ apprehension of a suspect, followed by a closeup of a motorcycle officer issuing it a parking ticket.
In the montage that most people associate with the show’s opening (cue the wailing saxophone and electric guitar interplay) it memorably splashes into a pond at high speed, unleashing a geyser of water, and ending the pursuit. The brutish Dodge helped spotlight the fact that McRaney’s character was full of bravado but didn’t always make the brainiest choices.
44. 1965 Sunbeam Tiger
Show: Get Smart
Airdates: Sept. 18, 1965 – May 15, 1970
Network: NBC (1965-69) and CBS (1969-70)
Although Maxwell Smart (Agent 86) tooled around in a number of small, racy two-doors (VW Karmann Ghia, an Opel GT, and the spectacular 1961 Ferrari 250 GT PF Spider Cabriolet), fans most relate to the red Sunbeam Tiger two-seat roadster shown in the opening sequences.
In keeping with the show’s theme as a comedic answer to the popular spy TV dramas of the era, it had a machine gun, smoke screen, radar tracking, and an ejection seat.
The model in the show was in the first edition (Mark I, 1964-‘67) of the car’s two major versions. It had a 260 cubic inch (4.3-liter) V8, mated to a Ford 4-speed manual transmission. The wheelbase was a diminutive 86 inches.
In the opening credits, the Tiger was used for Seasons 1 and 2. In a number of shows a rebadged 4-cylinder Sunbeam Alpine was used with the Tiger script on the side. The reason? The car didn’t have enough space under the hood for the V8 engine and the machine gun … “missed it by that much.”
Adams reportedly drove the ’65 Tiger for years after the end of the show. The Sunbeam Tiger, the Karmann Ghia, and the Opel GT all make brief appearances in the 2008 film.
43. 1971 Plymouth Satellite Regent wagon
Show: The Brady Bunch
Air dates: Sept. 26, 1969 – March 8, 1974
Mike Brady drove a number of beefy convertibles in the hit family sitcom. The Plymouth Fury, as well as Chevrolet’s Impala and Caprice all pulled into the carport adjacent to the astroturfed backyard.
Chrysler’s agreement for product placement on the show meant that for the first several seasons the Bradys enjoyed a new Plymouth each year. Mr. Brady drove Fury convertibles, followed by a sportier Barracuda convertible. However, when Chrysler dropped all its convertibles after 1971, he moved over to Chevrolets, which included an Impala and a pair of Caprice convertibles.
But Carol Brady was stuck with one model, the Plymouth Satellite wagon. She started with a light brown 1969 Satellite. It was completely redesigned in 1971, so of course, a new Satellite Custom Wagon arrived on the set. Most of these were equipped with a 318-cubic inch V8.
In the opening episodes of Season 3, the family road-tripped to the Grand Canyon in their new wagon. They decide to spend the night camping in a ghost town but a crazed old prospector (Jim Backus) thinks they’re trying to jump his gold claim so he locks the Bradys in an old jail and drives off with their new ride.
42. 1976 Ford Gran Torino
Show: Starsky & Hutch
Airdates: April 30, 1975 – May 15, 1979
If you watched this cop show you had a favorite. You were either a “Starsky guy” or a “Hutch guy.” Hutch oozed charisma, was blond, wore leather coats. But Starsky drove the Ford Gran Torino that the pair used to tear up the streets of fictional Bay City, Calif.
Bright red with a white vector stripe traveling from the roof to the front of the car, it had a 351 Cleveland V8, a 4-barrel carburetor and an XPL type C-6 automatic transmission. The wheels – as ‘70s as bell-bottoms and pukka shells – were 5-slot aluminum mags with Firestone radials. It was nicknamed the "Striped Tomato" by Hutch in the episode "Snowstorm."
Four different cars were used for filming. The first season featured a 1975 Gran Torino that was updated to a 1976 model that was used through the fourth, and final, season. These had chrome side mirrors, side body moldings, silver-plated bumper panels, and vinyl bucket seats.
The show’s popularity boosted sales of the sedan and Ford responded by building 1,000 replicas of the "Starsky and Hutch" car in 1976. These hero cars sold for $4,461.
41. 1986 Ferrari Testarossa
Show: Miami Vice
Airdates: Sept. 16, 1984 – Jan. 25, 1990
One of the top wall poster cars of the 1980s (if you don’t understand the reference, celebrate being young) was elevated to that “status” with an assist from the smash hit. The show followed the exploits of two stylish undercover detectives in Miami, “Sonny” Crockett (Don Johnson) and “Rico” Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas).
Ferrari North America provided two black Testarossas (price tag $181,000 each), but producers decided to paint them white so they’d show up better in the show’s many night scenes. For perhaps the first time in the legendary automaker’s history, more buyers wanted white than the iconic race red.
The Testarossa was introduced early in Season 3 (“Stone’s War”) when Don Johnson’s character complained about not driving a car that matched the crowd he was trying to infiltrate – cocaine kingpins and other high-end criminals.
Quickly, it became part of the show’s overall appeal. The car’s 4.9-liter flat-12 engine pushed out 390 horsepower, and even with the tinny sound from 1980s TVs, the imposing exhaust tone was something car crazies strained their ears to hear in each episode.
Closeup shots of the interior and exterior, the prancing horse badging, and particularly the action of the manual gated shifter became weekly parts of the show.
40. 1972 Ferrari 365 GTS/4
Show: Miami Vice
Airdates: Sept. 16, 1984 – Jan. 25, 1990
The black Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona driven by Don Johnson’s character, James “Sonny” Crocket was a statement. This was a new-style police show; Jack Friday in a 1964 Ford Fairlane, this was not.
Drug trafficking. Prostitution. Miami nightlife. As undercover detectives at the height of the cocaine wars of the 1980s, Crocket and his partner, Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) were expected to look like high-rollers. The Ferrari achieved that aim.
Commonly known as the Daytona Spyder, it appeared during Seasons 1 and 2, and two episodes of Season 3. Its fate? Destroyed by a Stinger missile in an episode (“When Irish Eyes are Crying”) involving an illegal arms business deal.
Here’s where it gets interesting: It wasn’t a Ferrari Daytona Spyder.
It was a replica built on a Corvette C3 chassis. Not only was the replica cheaper, but reportedly Ferrari North America had rebuffed initial requests to supply the show.
A lawsuit ensued with the Italian automaker demanding that the show’s car supplier cease producing Ferrari replicas. One of the two replicas is held by a private collector and the other is on display in the Volo Auto Museum in Illinois.
39. 1984 Ferrari 308 GTS
Show: Magnum, p.i.
Airdates: Dec. 11, 1980 – May 8, 1988
Former Navy officer and dashing private eye Thomas Magnum had perhaps the greatest company car in the history of the expense account. The Ferrari 308 GTS that he used to race around Oahu was not his car. It belonged to his employer, author Robin Masters, who owned the oceanfront estate where Magnum lived in exchange for handling property security.
Ownership aside, the car was as central to his identity as his ‘stache, his Hawaiian shirt, or his Detroit Tigers cap. Who can forget the opening sequence when he smiles at the camera, then gets the Ferrari absolutely sideways from pure acceleration? The show featured 308 GTs from the 1979, 1981, and 1984 model years. Up to five were used for filming, and they were reportedly auctioned off at the end of each season.
He started out with a 308 GTS, sporting a 3-liter V8 that produced 240 horses. In the final season actor Tom Selleck upgraded to a 308GTSi Quattrovalvole, which added 4-valve-per-cylinder mechanical fuel injection, and 5 additional horsepower.
You can find one in the TV and Film collection at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. In the reboot of the series that launched in 2015, the new Magnum drives a 488 Spider, the spiritual successor to the 308 GTS.
38. 1958 Porsche 356 A Speedster
Show: Beverly Hills, 90210
Airdates: Oct. 4, 1990 – May 17, 2000
Luke Perry's character of Dylan McKay drove a beautiful black convertible, which always seemed to be slightly dusty.
Performance and handling have always been hallmarks of the Porsche brand, and the 356 A was no exception. Its 1.6 liter, 4-cylinder air-cooled powerplant only produced 59 horses, but its rear-mounted location provided the unique balance that gave the car its signature driveability. With its low, raked windscreen (removable for weekend racing) bucket seats and folding top, the Speedster was an instant hit, especially in Southern California.
But as is the case with many TV cars, it was not the vehicle it appeared to be on screen. The 90210 car was a mix of parts from several generations of the legendary sports car. Experts note that the body was a chassis “T6” (1961-’64) – as evidenced by the shape of the front bumper, elongated hood and twin grille. Some have suggested it was actually a 356 B coupe with a trimmed top and a Speedster windshield. The dashboard and the steering wheel also do not correspond to 1958.
Perry, who died of a stroke at age 52, apparently wasn’t a fan of the car, telling People magazine, “Porsches are glorified Volkswagens, man.”
37. "1928 Porter Stanhope"
Show: My Mother the Car
Air dates: Sept. 14, 1965 – April 5, 1966
How did network execs say yes to this pitch?“The show is about a man whose deceased mother is reincarnated as an antique car, and she communicates with him through the car radio.”
Not surprisingly, the show lasted one season, 30 episodes that were savaged by critics and largely ignored by the viewing public.
The 1928 Porter portrayed in the show was actually a 1924 Model T. For the show it was outfitted with diamond-tucked upholstery, oversized white tonneau cover, chrome windshield braces, and half-moon hubcaps. It was powered by a Chevrolet 283 cubic-inch small-block V8 and paired to a Powerglide automatic transmission.
The most important feature? The dashboard-mounted radio with the flashing light through which “Gladys” talked to her son.
One of three cars used on the show sold in 2017 for $50,000.
36. 1974 Pontiac Firebird Esprit
Show: The Rockford Files
Air dates: Sept. 13, 1974 – Jan. 10, 1980
As a humble guy who lived in a beat-up trailer on the beach in Malibu, James Rockford needed a cool car, but not a flashy one. Accordingly, he drove a succession of second-generation Firebird Esprits, powered by a healthy 400-cubic inch V8. James Garner, the actor who played the charismatic ex-con-turned-private investigator, could handle himself behind the wheel. He was a true “car guy” and had done quite a bit of driving as part of his role as a Formula One driver in the film “Grand Prix.” He’d also run the Baja 1,000 off-road desert race.
The car, with a big assist from Garner, can be credited with the phrase the “Rockford Turn,” a “Rockford Spin,” or simply a “Rockford.” The move (also known as a J-turn) is a 180-degree reverse, executed at speed. It was a thing of beauty when executed by the star in the show’s Solar Gold Firebird.
For moves like that, Garner determined that the stock Esprits just weren’t up to the task. So the show turned to Firebird Formula 400s (bigger engine, stiffer suspension) that were made to look like Esprits – no hood scoop, no raised rear spoiler, or “Formula” badging.
Rockford got a new Firebird each season. Typically, two to three cars were used for each season’s filming.
35. Plymouth 1971 Hemi Cuda convertible
Show: Nash Bridges
Airdates: March 29, 1996 – May 4, 2001
One of the most muscular of all the muscle cars was never featured on a TV show during its production heyday. Thankfully, it later received its due in a police drama set in San Francisco starring Don Johnson.
In theory, each week people tuned in to watch Johnson and sidekick Joe Dominguez (played by Cheech Marin of Cheech & Chong fame) as inspectors with the Special Investigations Unit. In practice, they tuned in to watch the Hemi Cuda bomb the city’s famed hills.
The 1971 Hemi Cuda featured the famed big-block Hemi V8 (425 horsepower) in Plymouth’s Barracuda body. Scarcity has made its demand soar in the collectors market. Only 108 Hemi-equipped hardtops -- and just seven convertibles! -- rolled off the assembly line for 1971. So, you’re asking, how could the show afford one? It didn’t.
The matter was purely economics. Even if you could source the car, you couldn’t buy it (one sold for $3.5 million in 2014, for example). Producers reached out to Frank Benetti, a well-known movie and TV car builder in Los Angeles. He initially built three cars from 1970 models — a 5.5-liter Barracuda with a shaker hood and two 5.2-liter Barracudas — in roughly one month before filming commenced. A total of six cars were used.
34. 1969 Dodge Charger, AKA “the General Lee”
Show: The Dukes of Hazzard
Airdates: Jan. 26, 1979 – Feb. 8, 1985
1969 Dodge Charger “The General Lee” leaped onto the American TV landscape as the car driven by the Duke boys, cousins Bo and Luke, as they engaged in assorted mischief in the Hazzard County, Ga.
The Dodge Charger was pure muscle car and a perfect choice for the show’s chases, jumps, and assorted stunts. Under the hood, it boasted a massive 440 cubic-inch Magnum V8 that produced 375 horsepower with the help of a four-barrel Holley 780 Double-Pumper carburetor. A Chrysler “Torqueflight” A-727 Heavy Duty Automatic Transmission delivered the power to Shelby 10-Spoke rims and B.F. Goodrich T/A Radial tires.
The Charger’s Hemi Orange paint was flanked with the number 01 on the doors, the Confederate flag on the roof, and “General Lee” stenciled over the doors. Speaking of the doors, viewers often wondered why the Chargers didn’t open, and why the Dukes always slid through the window. It’s because the “General Lee” was a race car and the doors were welded shut for safety. More than 300 Chargers were used over the life of the show. A total of 17 are known to exist today.
Actor John Schneider, who played Bo, sold his General Lee at a Barrett-Jackson auction for $230,000. Should you be in the mood for a compilation video of the General Lee taking flight (and landing concussively) search for “The Dukes of Hazzard All About Jumps” in YouTube. Good stuff.
33. 1952 Triumph TR5 Trophy
Show: Happy Days
Airdates: Jan. 15, 1974 – Sept. 24, 1984
The surprise star of the hit sitcom was known by one name to every American – Fonzie. The character played by Henry Winkler was a hoodlum with a good heart, a ladies man, and a motorcycle rider … sort of. Three bikes were used on the show. One of the reasons behind their presence was an attempt by ABC to finesse Fonzie’s image.
In early episodes he didn’t wear the trademark leather jacket out of concern it cast him in the image of Marlon Brando in “The Wild One.” He wore a blue windbreaker, a terrible look. ABC solved it by including the motorcycle in many scenes, and introducing the leather jacket as responsible safety equipment.
Winkler was not a rider. Initially, the production company used Harley-Davidsons but “The Fonz” complained that they were too heavy. After a few worrisome crashes, the show switched to the much lighter Triumphs.
The 1952 TR5 was a common British bike, a 498cc 4-stroke parallel twin. It was customized for the show with “ape-hanger” bars, a bobbed front fender, peashooter mufflers in place of bullet-holes, and the “7836” Wisconsin license plate.
Another bike used in the show, a 1949 Triumph TR5, sold for $179,200 at Juliens Hollywood Auctions in 2018.
32. 1969 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Wagon
Show: That ‘70s Show
Airdates: August 23, 1998 – May 18, 2006
Two cars define the 1970s motoring landscape. First is the muscle car, of course. Second, we have to admit, is the station wagon. So what better car to use as a prop for the clever comedy that recaptured a simpler time in America? The gold wagon appeared in the opening credits, as a main setting for dialogue, and as an adjunct part of the cast, with a number of storylines written around it.
Passed down in classic ‘70s fashion as the aging family car, (the pilot revolved around Red Forman deciding to pass it down to his son, Eric), it was the setting for many dates between Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna (Laura Prepon). It got the teenage gang to Price-Mart, Fatso Burger, dances, the bowling alley, the water tower, and the radio station. In one episode, Red accidentally sells the Vista Cruiser during a garage sale while under the influence of marijuana brownies (unbeknownst to him, of course).
Vista Cruisers hold a special place in the history of the American station wagon. The forward-facing third-row seat and the extended headroom made it a legitimate option for adults. It had more glass than a skyscraper, and in the ’69, Oldsmobile introduced the revolutionary "Dual-Action" tailgate.
At the end of the series, cast member Wilmer Valderamma bought the Vista Cruiser for $500.
31. The Piranha Coupe
Show: The Man from U.N.C.L.E
Airdates: Sept. 22, 1964 – Jan. 15, 1968
Though it appeared in just five episodes of the spy fiction series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, the creation known as The Piranha left an indelible mark on TV car culture. In Seasons 3 and 4, the plastic-bodied concept car dazzled audiences with its futuristic lines and gullwing doors.
The car was built in 1966 by Gene Winfield, based on the Chevrolet Corvair’s chassis. He assumed the cost estimated at $30,000 in exchange for the rights to promote the car independently.
It was capable of deploying flame throwers, firing machine guns and rocket launchers, and sending out laser beams. It had a radar screen, parachute, and various hidden interior devices. It even had propellers if it needed to take to the water, but the car wasn’t capable of actually setting sail.
It appeared in the following episodes: The Five Daughters Affair, The Take Me to Your Leader Affair, The Man from THRUSH Affair, The Napoleon's Tomb Affair and The Test Tube Killer Affair.
30. 1951 Ford F-100
Show: Sanford and Son
Airdates: Jan. 14, 1972 – March 25, 1977
The sitcom set in a salvage yard in south-central L.A. delighted viewers with a colorful cast of characters – which includes the faded red Ford seen in the opening credits with Lamont Sanford at the wheel, coolly rolling about town. The truck’s surprisingly extended on-screen run (it gets more time than Redd Fox in the opening stanza) is accompanied by the funky intro theme song, composed by the legendary Quincy Jones. It’s also shown in the show’s closing, with father and son loading junk onto the cargo bed.
Boasting a grille that looked like three massive dinosaur’s teeth, the truck was a base model, with a 6-cylinder engine and a 3-speed manual transmission.
After the original series ended, Foxx kept the beloved jalopy at his Las Vegas home (he regularly played The Strip), resurrecting it briefly for NBC’s short-lived revival “Sanford” (1980-‘81). After being purchased at a charity auction in Las Vegas, the truck was purchased by, appropriately, a family that owns a salvage company in Indiana. It’s the star of their town’s 4th of July parade.
29. 1999 Chevrolet Suburban LT 4x4
Show: The Sopranos
Airdates: Jan. 10, 1999 – June 10, 2007
The car that served as a rolling office for Tony Soprano’s criminal enterprise is featured in the introductory scene for every episode, as the mobster drives home through New Jersey. The HBO smash establishes something right there – the star is a no-frills guy, despite the fact that his world revolves around makin’ a buck.
While his first ride was somewhat humble, it did have the LT trim package and a host of options, including leather seats, CD/cassette player, and power everything. It had a 5.7 liter V8 producing 255 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. Bada Bing!
Alas, at some point the metallic maroon Suburban had to give way to a car more in keeping with a crime boss. Season 5 debuted with Tony driving a new black Cadillac Escalade. Later, a white Escalade entered the picture, and the Suburban was reduced to its recurring role in the opening credits.
It sold at auction in 2013 for $110,000. The late James Gandolfini had signed the driver’s-side sun visor and an area near the glovebox.
28. 2004 Pontiac Aztek
Show: Breaking Bad
Airdates: Jan. 20, 2008 – Sept. 29, 2013
This is likely the least desirable car in this collection, which is saying something, considering there’s a Pinto in the group. We can understand why kingpin drug chemist Walter White dumped it for $50 in the show’s final season, then opted for a Chrysler 300 SRT8 with an obscene 470 horsepower.
But there’s an odd charm to Pontiac’s effort to fuse a sport utility vehicle with a minivan with George Jetson’s flying cartoon car. And clearly it has some cult appeal. When the show ended in 2013, one of the Azteks used in filming, which was undrivable, was auctioned for $7,800.
The character played by Bryan Cranston didn’t take care of his. It wasn’t until he was pulled over by a New Mexico Highway Patrol officer that he fixed a broken windshield. It had a mismatched left-rear wheel that was an absolute eyesore. Dennis Milliken, the show’s casting director, talked about the car’s duality in a 2013 interview, saying, “It kinda made Mr. White look somewhat pathetic. [But] Aztek owners tend to be very protective of their vehicles.”
27. 1985 Porsche 911 Targa Carrera
Airdates: Sept. 22, 1994 – May 6, 2004
The same 1985 Porsche 3.2 Carrera Targa appeared in a number of episodes in the decade-defining sitcom. The car was featured in Season 7 when Monica, played by Courtney Cox, receives the car from her father Jack (Elliott Gould), who presents her with a key in a box to surprise her. It’s met with a mixture of dismay and outrage from her brother Ross (David Schwimmer), who screams “What about me?!” as dad and daughter depart to take the car for a spin.
In another episode featuring another special Porsche (this one a silver 2000 Carerra Cabriolet) Joey finds keys at the Central Perk coffee shop. He decides to write a note for the owner and leave it on the windshield, but he so enjoys the attention he receives for the car that he starts pretending he’s the owner, going so far as to wax it before the ruse comes crashing down.
The most memorable episode with the 1985 car features Jen Aniston at the wheel with Ross a terrified and reluctant passenger. Predictably, she gets pulled over – without a driver’s license.
This was a special car in Porsche’s illustrious history -- everything about it was new: the 3.2-litre engine with digital management, new cast alloy wheels, new electric hood, and a four-spoke steering wheel among the highlights. For a show that was shot almost entirely on indoor sets, the car claimed some quality cameos.
26. 1965 Lincoln Continental
Air dates: July 18, 2004 – Sept. 11, 2011
One of the highly sought-after “suicide doors” models, dubbed that because of the hinges hung at the rear of each door, the black sedan that carried Vincent Chase and the boys around L.A. qualifies for the Mt. Rushmore of automobiles.
You get all the car’s allure in a sequence of quick shots in the show’s opening credits, as Jane’s Addiction provides the sonic overlay. The long, lean, black, powerful, luxurious, convertible stretches its legs on the Sunset Strip carrying five young men with the city at their fingertips.
Only 3,356 Continental Convertibles were built that year, and many aficionados consider it to be the final year of the classic “Lincoln look.” Under the hood, it carried the Ford 430 cubic inch V8, which poured our 320 horsepower and produced 485 lb-ft of torque. Remarkably, despite a curb weight of 5,000 pounds, it was capable of reaching 60 mph in 10 seconds. Footnote:
Why do they call them “suicide doors?” More than a century ago, they were common on horse-drawn carriages. Because of the rear hinging, if a door opened, anyone who grabbed the door to pull it closed it was yanked out of their seat and onto the road.
25. 1962 Volvo P4 1800
Show: The Saint
Air dates: Oct. 4, 1962 –Feb. 9, 1969
Network: ITV (1962-69) and NBC (1967-69)
Before he was the James Bond, Roger Moore starred in a mystery spy-type drama where he played the Robin Hood-esque character Simon Templar.
The white sports car he drove has achieved cult-like popularity and is commonly referred to as “the Saint’s car” among gearheads. Sleek and low-slung, it was the Swedish automaker’s second attempt to penetrate the European and North American sports car markets.
Reportedly, the Volvo Car Corporation was delighted to showcase the recently introduced model, an opportunity that arose only after Jaguar denied a request to provide the show with an E-type. Five of the cars were provided by Volvo. The “Cars of the Stars” museum in England has the primary car in its collection.
It’s the fully restored registration 77 GYL, with a giant Saint logo on the hood. Asked about all the cars he’d driven in his film career, Moore told an interview, that “'I have a great affection for the Volvo P1800, as, of course, I owned one as well as used one in the series. It’s a beautiful car and I still drive a Volvo to this day.”
24. 1966 Chevrolet Impala, AKA The Blue Ghost
Airdates: Jan. 17, 1975 – May 18, 1978
As TV detectives go, Robert Blake’s role as Tony Baretta is that of an anti-hero. Often shown with an unlit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, he drives a beat-up four-door Impala sport sedan dubbed "The Blue Ghost.”
The car, which was missing a right-rear hubcap, did more than color his character as slightly off-beat. It allowed him to blend in with the underworld that he infiltrated as a street-smart undercover cop.
He talked like a wise guy, he looked like a wise guy, and he drove a rusty car like many of the hoodlums that inhabited the 53rd Precinct.
In addition to his signature companion, a chatty cockatoo named Fred, there was also one thing that defined the detective who wore badge #609: He always worked alone, never with a partner. Before the TV car fell into disrepair (it was 10 years old and seen as outdated on the show) Baretta’s Impala occupied a respectable place in its class. Chevrolet redesigned the sedan, first introduced in 1958, the previous year.
The 1965 Impala set an all-time industry annual sales record of more than 1 million units in the U.S. Footnote: The show’s theme song, “Keep Your Eye On the Sparrow” was sung by the legendary Sammy Davis. Jr. Its popularity elevated the line, “Don’t go to bed with no price on your head” into a ‘70s catchphrase.
23. 1955 Chevrolet 6800 school bus
Show: The Partridge Family
Airdates: Sept. 25, 1970 – Aug. 24, 1974
The musical sitcom was groundbreaking in many respects for its portrayal of a widowed mother as the head of a groovy ‘70s musical group starring her kids. That it opted for a bus in place of the traditional station wagon, looking as if it had been painted by Piet Mondrian, was just another of the show’s distinctive charms.
Purchased from a school district in Southern California, reportedly for $500, it was customized with additions such as the “Caution Nervous Mother driving” sign on the back.
Along with Jones, the show featured teen heartthrob David Cassidy, the charming Susan Dey, and the irascible Danny Bonaduce. Jones actually drove the bus in a number of episodes, learning to maneuver its long-handled gear shift despite having no prior experience with a manual transmission.
The bus appeared consistently during the first season but its presence steadily declined. In the episode “Guess Who’s Coming to Drive?” it plays a prominent role, when manager Reuben Kincaid hires a bus driver who turns out to be an ex-con.
In the final season, it appeared twice, each time briefly.
22. 1968 Dodge Dart GTS convertible
Airdates: Sept. 16, 1967 – April 13, 1975
Private investigators, despite a job description that requires keeping a low profile, routinely disregard that when it comes to TV. That means they drive a hot car, and one of the early hit PI shows, Mannix, set a high bar.
There were a number of special rides handed to actor Mike Connors in the character of Joe Mannix. People have a fondness for the story behind a 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado customized by the legendary Hollywood car fabrication wizard George Barris. The producers wanted a convertible, but Oldsmobile didn’t make a soft-top version so Barris solved the problem by cutting off the roof to convert the coupe into a two-seat roadster.
One custom Barris car was not enough, apparently. The Toronado was replaced by a Dodge Dart GTS convertible that was unique in its own right, even before Barris began to work his magic; it was one of 271 GTS convertibles built with the 340 V8 and TorqueFlite automatic transmission.
Barris added subtle touches: functional hood scoops, Lucas Flamethrower driving lights, Cragar S/S chrome wheels, blacked-out grille, racing-style gas filler cap, molded-in rear spoiler, blacked-out tail light panel, and custom tail light lenses. The original factory red paint job was replaced by British racing green.
21. 1929 Ford Model AA
Show: The Waltons
Airdates: Sept. 14, 1972 – June 4, 1981
The humble pickup driven by the patriarch of the West Virginia clan was considered a no-frills workhorse. In that regard, it was a perfect fit for the character of John Walton Sr.
Facing the challenges of the Depression, he manages to support his family by operating a lumber mill. The AA he drives had a longer 131.5-inch wheelbase to accommodate larger loads and increased cargo weight. The AA model also featured an up-draft carburetor, dual-blade fan, mechanical water pump, six-volt generator, an electric starter, and a four-row radiator.
It was powered by a flathead 4-cylinder, 200 cubic-inch engine mated to a low-gear, 4-speed manual transmission. The production group did its due diligence assembling a veritable motorcade. Additional cars that appeared on the show included a 1914 Model T, a 1929/30 Model A Ford Coupe, a 1928/1929 Ford Model A Roadster, a 1930 Buick Series 60 Seven Passenger Phaeton, a 1932 Ford Model B Sedan, a 1932 Chevrolet Confederate Standard Coach, a 1941 Plymouth Woodie wagon, a 1941 Buick Roadmaster Convertible Coupe, and a 1937 Packard, along with several Willys Jeeps and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
20. 1983 Chrysler LeBaron
Airdates: July 5, 1989 – May 14, 1998
You might be asking why a rather forgettable Chrysler makes the cut and gains inclusion to this elite group. Well, when a car defines an episode of one of the most popular shows in TV history, it can’t be ignored.
The "Jon Voight car" episode of the long-running comedy “Seinfeld” was formally titled “The Mom & Pop Store” but it’s not remembered for Jerry’s disastrous visit to a “mom and pop” shoe repair store. Jason Alexander’s character of “George Costanza” is talked into buying the luxury convertible by a car salesman who insists (deceitfully) the Town & Country soft top was previously owned by the actor. This later leads to a cameo by Voight, who reacts poorly when asked about the faux wood-paneled cruiser.
The car’s role in the sixth season was inspired by a real-life situation encountered by the script’s writer. It ends up burning in a Season 7 episode titled “The Gum.”
In its day, one feature was somewhat redeeming: Texas Instruments’ Electronic Voice Alert, which delivered dozens of audio messages on the condition of various aspects of the car.
19. 1996 Saab 900 Cabrio
Airdates: July 5, 1989 – May 14, 1998
The role played by the Swedish sedan is not as high profile as some of the contemporaries on this list. However, it does feature in a number of episodes, carving out an identify among the idiosyncratic things that defined the 1990s comedy smash.
In the Season 7 episode titled “The Bottle Deposit” the Saab is stolen by a deranged auto mechanic who refuses to give Jerry the keys back following a dispute over maintenance. It captures the existential dilemma faced by all car owners: Do I blindly agree to whatever the mechanic recommends? And if I don’t, am I being careless and dismissive of advice that’s only being offered in my best interest?
When Jerry naively asks, “How much is this gonna cost me” it prompts a rant that begins with, “I don’t understand you. It’s your own car we’re talking about. … You barely know the car!”
Moments later the car is gone with a manic mechanic at the wheel.
Not to be overlooked is the episode titled “The Dealership,” when the prospects for a bargain from salesman David Puddy turn disastrous, with a brouhaha over a candy bar and a relationship breakup ensuing.
18. 1981 GMC K-2500 Sierra
Show: The Fall Guy
Airdates: Nov. 4, 1981 – May 2, 1986
Actor Lee Majors, known to most Americans as the star of “The Six Million Dollar Man” in the 1970s, got a curtain call in the 1980s. He scored in a fun, action-packed role as a stunt man who moonlights as a bounty hunter. Or was it the other way around? Either way, his massive GMC Sierra 4x4 was vital to both occupations. In addition to the 1981 GMC K-2500, a 1980 GMC K-25 Wideside was used in a number of scenes.
If you look closely there are some Chevrolet C10s used in stunts as well, but these are inconsistencies you find in many network productions. Majors’ character Colt Seavers had a knack for getting the big truck airborne and accommodations were made in the second season to make launching it skyward a signature of the show. General Motors delivered three specially adapted models for stunts.
The key modification was moving the engine from the front to a mid-chassis position. That balanced the trucks in flight, allowed them to fly farther, and led to a smoother landing. Note that the Sierra’s jump of a school bus stands alone in the annals of TV stunts.
17. “Kookie” T Bucket
Show: 77 Sunset Strip
Airdates: Oct. 10, 1958 – Feb. 7, 1964
Although Ford Model Ts were modified in different forms for years, noted hot rod builder and actor Norm Grabowski is credited with the creation of the famed T Bucket. Built as an experiment, and later featured in LIFE magazine, the car that Grabowski dubbed the “Lightnin’ Bug” was driven by a character in the private detective drama series known as “Kookie” – short for Gerald Lloyd Kookson III (Edd Byrnes). Like the car, “Kookie” personified cool, with his slicked-back hair, black sunglasses, and love of rock n’ roll.
Its presence formally launched the T Bucket movement – vertical windshield, vertical steering column, exposed engine and exhaust pipes, fat slick tires in the rear, slim motorcycle-tires upfront, and of course, flames or other custom paint treatment.
Based on a 1931 Ford Model A chassis, with the front half of a 1922 Motel T swapped in, the “Kookie” only appeared in the first few seasons but it left an indelible mark on car culture.
The car spent years on the show circuit and was auctioned in 2018 for $484,000.
16. 1961 Corvette
Show: Route 66
Airdates: Oct. 7, 1960 – March 20, 1964
The concept is so simple that it borders on brilliant: Two guys. America’s most historic patch of asphalt. A Corvette convertible. The characters – Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and Buz Murdock (George Maharis) traveled from town to town along Route 66, finding adventure wherever they stopped for gas.
The car was updated every year, beginning with a 1960 convertible, and finishing with a 1963 Sting Ray soft top. It only appears in the first episode, titled “Black November.” Although myth and lore have combined to convince many that the Corvettes were red, that’s not the case. Because the show was filmed in black-and-white, the production company chose Corvettes in light colors like Horizon Blue, Cascade Green, and Fawn Beige.
What’s notable about the colors, and this particular year, is that it was the last year for contrasting paint colors in cove areas, and the last two-tone ‘Vette of any type until 1978. But enough with the cosmetics. What’s under the hood is what stokes the fire of every Corvette enthusiast. In this case, the 283 cubic inch V8 delivered a throaty 315 horsepower, courtesy of dual-barrel carbs, which were offered for the last time in 1961.
As with many popular shows of the time, the car connection was marketed. “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet,” was a jingle sung by Dinah Shore that the car-maker used as part of its sponsorship of the show.
15. 1957 Ford Thunderbird
Airdates: April 25, 1978 – June 3, 1981
The 1970s and ‘80s brought us a parade of private detective shows. Good, bad, mediocre. Vega$ was somewhere between mediocre and bad. Yet while the exploits of tall, handsome Vietnam veteran Dan Tanna might not rank with those of Jim Rockford or Thomas Magnum, the car he drove certainly does.
Actor Robert Urich once quipped that the car got more fan mail than he did.
His T-bird was equipped with a comically large mobile phone. It also had a “TANNA” personalized plate. Remarkably, only two cars were used over 67 episodes -- the beauty model used for closeups, and a slightly modified vehicle used for boulevard chases and the occasional departure into the desert. Does anyone remember where Urich’s character parked the T-bird? In his living room, of course! Tanna kept a little apartment in a warehouse next to the Desert Inn and Casino that allowed him to drive his car directly into his pad. Seemed so cool as a kid. In retrospect, oil stains on white shag carpet don’t have the allure it once did.
Ford offered four engine choices for the ’57 Thunderbird. The show’s car had the most common – a 245-horsepower, 312-cubic inch V8 with a four-barrel Holley carburetor.
14. 1957 BMW Isetta 300, AKA the Urkel car
Show: Family Matters
Airdates: Sept. 22, 1989 – July 17, 1998
Network: ABC (1989-97) and CBS (1997-98)
Known commonly as The Bubble Car, the Italian-designed micro machine had 1 cylinder and a 4-speed manual transmission that combined to produce a top speed of 53 mph. This wasn’t a car for the horsepower hungry. It’s for someone seeking “cute” and “quirky.” Drivers enter through the front (picture an unfolding clamshell), and the steering wheel folds out with the “door” to accommodate entry.
Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) emerged midway through Season 1 as a nerdy next-door neighbor and quickly became a primary cast member. The sitcom, which was a spinoff from the ABC hit “Perfect Strangers,” dabbled in the zany and illogical. So perhaps it was fitting that the Isetta plunging off a cliff in Season 6 was not enough to write it out of the script. It returns in Season 7, and at one point Urkel modifies it with a rocket propeller (see the previous reference to zany and illogical) that allows the red-and-white car to travel at supersonic speed.
Check out the YouTube clip titled “Family Matters – The Isetta scene” for a walk down memory lane and a chuckle.
13. 1977 Pinto Runabout
Show: Charlie's Angels
Airdates: Sept. 22, 1976 – June 24, 1981
Kate Jackson’s character Sabrina Duncan piloted the somewhat sporty Pinto, a car that’s now widely mocked as one of Detroit’s forgettable efforts from the ‘70s.
Her model, the 3-Door Runabout, was used throughout the entire series, save for the Season 5 Hawaii episodes. Its presence was an early example of product placement, as all the actors drove Fords of some sort, including John Bosley, played by David Doyle, who manages the Townsend Agency, the private detective outfit that’s the basis for the show. He wheels a massive green 1977 Thunderbird, with a matching green landau top.
But back to the Pinto. Who among the buying public was possessed to purchase a tangerine orange two-door hatchback with a white vinyl roof is beyond us, but it was popular with producers, who had later Angels Tiffany Welles and Julie Rogers drive the compact. The show car was loaded – air conditioning, power steering, power disc brakes, factory mag wheels, padded roof, 4-speed transmission and tinted glass.
In a memorable 1976 episode titled “The Killing King,” Sabrina is chased in the Pinto by a pursuer who ultimately crashes off a cliff in classic ‘70s TV fashion.
12. 1976 Mustang Cobra II
Show: Charlie’s Angels
Airdates: Sept. 22, 1976 – June 24, 1981
The mighty Mustang brand took a big hit with the arrival of the gas crunch and the Oil Embargo of the 1970s. Ford downsized “the Pony car” and created the Mustang II, which was not exactly burning rubber out of showrooms. In an attempt to boost sales, Ford found a way to put the star of “Charlie’s Angels,” Farrah Fawcett’s character of “Jill Munroe,” behind the wheel of a Cobra II. Cheryl Ladd then drove it following Fawcett’s departure from the show.
The model they drove was a V8, 302 cubic inches, with a dark blue interior and Lace forged aluminum wheels, hood scoop, and patterned after the 1965 Shelby G.T. 350, with a coiled cobra and “COBRA II” stenciled beneath the doors. It maintained the signature white paint job with blue racing stripes
Fair or not, history has not been kind to the Mustang Cobra II. It never received the kind of accolades that the earlier and many of the later generation Mustangs enjoyed. The primary problem was the Cobra II package didn’t offer performance upgrades. The appeal was wholly cosmetic, which was not enough.
The rest of the team also drove Fords. Fellow Angel Jaclyn Smith’s character Kelly Garrett drove a Mustang II Ghia, outfitted with the Ghia Sports Package. Sabrina Duncan, played by Kate Jackson, ended up with a Pinto Runabout.
In later episodes, the 1976 V8 model was replaced by a 1977 2.8-liter 6-cylinder that’s missing the quarter-window louvers.
11. 1977 Kawasaki KZ 1000-C1 – California Highway Patrol edition
Airdates: Sept. 5, 1977 – May 1, 1983
The Los Angeles freeway system provided an abundance of crime, and crisis plotlines, and two young CHP motorcycle officers were ready to ride to the scene on their muscular, 4-cylinder Kawasaki KZ 1000s.
Typically, CHP officers don’t ride in pairs but actors Jon Baker and Erik Estrada, as characters Larry Wilcox and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, patrolled together and did a lot of the on camera riding and smaller stunts themselves. Estrada sustained broken wrists and ribs in a crash while filming a Season 3 episode in 1978. The injury and recovery were incorporated into the plot in the aftermath.
The KZ1000 accelerated with authority thanks to its 90 horsepower, its exhaust was pleasantly muted, and it was relatively light, even with all the gear that came with police work. It had a 5-speed transmission and a top speed of 130 mph.
The most popular model was released in 1982 and production continued until 2005. It was generally used by West Coast police departments; the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide dominated the East Coast.
Actors rode Z1-P & KZ900-C2 models in the first two seasons and then the KZ1000-C1 from Season 3 onward. Estrada owns one of the KZ1000-C1 used in the series.
10. 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster
Show: The Beverly Hillbillies
Airdates: Sept. 26, 1962 – March 23, 1971
Five different trucks were created for the silly sitcom by Hollywood’s famed car customizer George Barris. After finding a 1921 Olds behind a feed store in Fontana, Calif., he combined a touring car body with the frame of a flatbed truck.
What emerged was the dilapidated machine that brought Jed Clampett and his kin to California – “they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly … Hills, that is. Swimming pools and movie stars” -- after discovering oil under the swamp they inhabited in the Ozarks. It was powered by a 4-cylinder engine that produced a humble 43 horsepower and rode on a 115-inch wheelbase.
It was dressed up with barrels over the front fenders, a bed frame hanging from the rear, a lantern hanging above the rear wheels … all the things you’d haul from a cabin to a mansion on a cross-country journey. Reportedly, Barris didn’t have to do much to make the Olds look beat up and broken down. He discovered it in that condition and pretty much left it alone. The patina was courtesy of neglect.
The primary truck now resides in the Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri. It was donated by Paul Henning, the TV show’s producer, as a Bicentennial gift in 1976. Henning grew up in nearby Independence, Missouri. Another sold for $275,000 at a Barrett-Jackson auction in 2015.
9. 1956 Pontiac Chieftain Wagon 870 Deluxe
Show: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
Airdates: Oct. 3, 1952 – April 23, 1966
This classic, well-appointed wagon was among a number of great cars that appeared in the historic sitcom about the real-life Nelson family. It was the Nelsons’ personal vehicle as well, originally purchased at a North Hollywood Pontiac dealership by Ozzie himself.
It was a head-turner with two-tone paint, powered by a 316ci Strato Streak V8 married to a Hydramatic 4-speed automatic transmission. It had factory-optioned power drum brakes and factory air conditioning.
The exterior featured premium chrome hood and headlamp trim, lighted hood ornament, and three-quarter-length side spears.
It garnered its most air time in Season 3. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but the couple had a pronounced affection for Chryslers. The Nelson’s cars were Desotos, Dodges, Plymouths, and Chryslers.
After the show concluded, the car was sold to Don Bruker’s Cars of the Stars museum, later landing with noted collector Ray Ostrander. Its most recent on-screen work was in HBO’s “A Private Matter,” a historical drama set in the early 1960s.
8. The Munster Koach
Show: The Munsters
Airdates: Sept. 24, 1964 – May 12, 1966
Famed car customizer George Barris built the menacing machine by welding together a trio of Model T bodies to create an 18-foot-long car. To give it the feel of a hearse, he added casket handles, a blood-red velvet interior, gold drapes, tassels, lantern headlights, and many other details. What emerged was a suitably spooky family car for The Munsters.
The original cost was $18,000 and it reportedly took 500 hours to fashion the ornate, rolled steel scrollwork. Barris was given three weeks by the studio and he met the tight deadline. A total of three cars ultimately emerged from his shop. The engine, which dominated the car’s profile, was fearsome.
It was a Ford V8 outfitted with high compression pistons, 10 (yes, 10!) chrome-plated carburetors, high-performance cam, and racing headers. It reportedly had a top speed of 150 mph. Series star Herman Munster, played by Fred Gwynne reportedly never sat in the seat to drive the hot rod. Instead, he sat on the floor. The car appeared in some two dozen episodes over the show’s two-year run.
The original is on display at the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in England. Another sold for $49,500 at auction in 2007.
7. 1963 Ford Galaxie 500XL
Airdates: Sept. 28, 1961 – April 11, 1966
\Network: NBC (1961-65) and CBS (1965-66)
Hazel was not a show that viewers would identify as being car-centric, but because it was set smack in the middle of a glorious period for Detroit, it merits inclusion. It’s also notable because of the consistent presence of product placement. The show is littered with Fords.
The 1963 Galaxie 500 was part of Ford’s sponsorship of the show. As a result of the agreement, a number of iconic cars were showcased, including Thunderbirds, Fairlanes, Falcons, Country Squire wagons, Econoline vans, F-Series trucks, and a 1964.5 red Mustang.
The show opened with a narrator saying, “Hazel is brought to you by Ford, America’s liveliest, most carefree car! Forty-four wonderful 1963 models at your Ford dealers, now!” The Galaxie 500XL was the automaker’s premium full-size car and just the thing for an upstanding TV family such as the Baxters. Standard 500XL equipment included an all-vinyl interior in seven trim combinations and front bucket seats.
A red Galaxie 500XL two-door convertible was featured in the second season, including a shot of the housekeeper after whom the show is named, and the family, standing in front of a red model with whitewalls, spoked rims, and a black convertible top.
6. 1966 Pontiac GTO, AKA the Monkeemobile
Show: The Monkees
Airdates: Sept. 12, 1966 – March 25, 1968
The most eye-catching of the many automotive creations of the legendary Dean Jeffries (car fabricator, stuntman, stunt coordinator), the Monkeemobile was built for the pop-rock band and the musical sitcom that promoted the madcap quartet.
After negotiations with Pontiac, which recognized the association would be great publicity, a pair of base 389 4-barrel 1966 convertibles with automatic transmissions were supplied for conversion. What emerged was something that would only faintly resemble GTOs. Bold exhaust pipes jutted out from behind the front wheels. A huge blower protruded from the front hood, delivering so much power that it rendered the car nearly undrivable.
A curved bench seat – the car’s third row – was carved out of the trunk to make it a 7-seater. A white canvas top was stretched over the top like it was meant for a souped-up covered wagon. The second car, the show car that was built for publicity and not used in the filming, accompanied the band on a tour of Australia and wasn’t shipped back.
It resurfaced as a hotel courtesy car in Puerto Rico. It was later seized by the Puerto Rican government and auctioned for unpaid taxes, ultimately landing with an anonymous buyer who shipped it to the U.S. It was restored and appeared on an ABC TV special in 1997, formally reuniting the band and its one-of-a-kind wheels.
5. 1966 Chrysler Imperial Crown, AKA the Black Beauty
Show: The Green Hornet
Airdates: March 17, 1967 – July 14, 1967
Two Imperial Crowns were modified by Hollywood legend industry Dean Jeffries for the show, which featured martial arts and cinema legend Bruce Lee as Kato, the Green Hornet’s sidekick and chauffer.
The weapons-enhanced luxury sedan with the signature green-tinted headlights was referenced in the opening monologue with each episode: “Another challenge for the Green Hornet, his aide Kato, and their rolling arsenal, the Black Beauty.”
Built at a cost of $50,000 (a huge sum at the time), the cars were a mobile central command for the pair to pursue crime syndicates of 1960s L.A. The Black Beauty possessed surveillance and security features, in addition to its weaponry. It could deploy explosive charges from tubes hidden below the headlights and had a knock-out gas nozzle stashed in the front grille. It also launched a flying device from a retractable panel on the trunk that operated as a drone. The car took a higher-profile role in an episode titled “Corpse of the Year” when a carbon copy of The Black Beauty attacks a delivery truck and kills a driver.
Both cars exist today. One can be viewed at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The other is located in a private collection in South Carolina.
4. 1974 Mercury Marquis Brougham
Show: Hawaii Five-0
Airdates: Sept. 20, 1968 – April 5, 1980
Capt. Steve McGarrett drove three models of the imposing American sedan. The first in the succession of Mercurys used by McGarrett was a 1968 Park Lane Brougham. From there, a 1974 luxury liner handled the duties for the final six seasons. Black on black with wood-grain interior, bumpers the size of Rhode Island, a grille that would make an Orca envious, this was a car that embodied the qualities of its driver, the head of an elite police force in Hawaii.
The car plays a central role in Season 5’s “V for Vashon” when a crime family targets McGarrett’s Mercury with a bomb. The car gets a number of tight, panning close-up shots as a McGarrett discovers the device and a technician attempts to disarm it. Actor Jack Lord, who played McGarrett, was apparently a man used to getting his way. His longtime stunt double, John Nordlum, ended up with the 1974 car, at Lord’s insistence, despite the fact that the car was supposed to be returned to the manufacturer at the end of the show’s long run.
As evidence of the big Merc’s iconic status, in the pilot of the 2010 remake, McGarrett’s son is restoring the black 1974 from the original series.
3. The Batcycle
Airdates: Jan. 12, 1966 – March 14, 1968
The custom-built black-and-white machine, based on a 1964 Yamaha Catalina 250, appeared in five episodes and the 1966 Batman movie. Its coolest quality were the three rocket tubes that could launch a weapon at a pursuer. It had a sidecar, for sidekick Robin, that could be detached and move like a go-kart, courtesy of a 55cc, 3-speed engine. \
The bike itself was powered by a two-stroke, parallel-twin 250 CC engine. The most important quality aside from reliability was that it was light so that it didn’t take a veteran rider – actor Adam West who played Batman was not – to control it. It was designed by Tom Daniel and built in Burbank by Daniel Dempski and Richard Korkes, who fashioned the distinctive, aggressive, flowing lines that covered a rather ordinary motorcycle.
It’s featured in the TV and Film collection at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. You can view a detailed video of the bike, shot at the museum, on YouTube. Search for “1964 Yamaha Batcycle – The Original 1966 TV Batcycle” There was also a motorcycle built for Batgirl, piloted by a young Yvonne Craig. Purple with frilly trim around a front faring shaped like bat wings. It was originally a Yamaha YDS-5E.
2. The Batmobile
Air dates: Jan. 12, 1966 – March 14, 1968
Legendary TV and movie car fabricator George Barris crafted the menacing machine from the Lincoln Futura, a one-off concept car that Ford featured at the Chicago Auto Show to demonstrate the brand’s new space-age tilt.
He transformed it in three weeks at a cost of $15,000 with the help of custom builder Gene Cushenberry. Originally, the Futura made its film debut in a 1959 movie starring Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds.
Barris reportedly purchased it for $1 after the movie wrapped, and converted it for the Caped Crusader with signature touches such as the “jet drive” effect (a butane tank) and rear-mounted parachutes that launched the “bat-turn.” It also boasted a nose-mounted chain slicer, lasers, rockets, a phone, video monitor, onboard computer, police beacon, smoke emitter and – “Holy flat tire, Batman!” – automatic nail-spreader to foil pursuers.
The plexiglass bubble windshields, however, were part of the original Futura’s design.
A total of five were built – one for primary filming, another for backup, one for stunts and the other two for promotional use. Years later Barris said, “The car had to be a star on its own. And it became one.”
Barris sold the Batmobile at auction in 2013 for $4.62 million.
1. 1942 Willys Military Jeep M38A1
Airdates: Sept. 17, 1972 – February 28, 1983
The “father of all jeeps” was a consistent part of the award-winning series depicting life for GIs during the Korean War. It was present in nearly every episode. The no-frills 4x4 did lots of slowly pulling up and parking in scenes.
In many cases the only other backdrop elements of the Army field hospital set were tents. The Willys had notably had a fun presence in a memorable show from Season 1 titled “Dear Dad” in which Radar mails a Willys home — one part at a time. Throughout the episode, he’s seen carrying random Willys parts. In another, Hawkeye Pierce crashes a Jeep and is aided by a local Korean family.
There are many Willys Jeeps used throughout the 11-year-run. In addition to the 1942, a 1952 delivers B.J. Hunnicut to the base in the Season 4 premiere. The 1952 also is used to introduce Col. Potter early in that same season.
The Willys featured a gearshift on the steering column, low side body cutouts, two circular instrument clusters on the dashboard, and a hand brake on the left side.
Its descendant is a common sight on American roads, the Jeep Wrangler.