canada africa partner reservation Talking cars, controversial vehicles and more iconic TV cars from classic shows

Talking cars, controversial vehicles and more iconic TV cars from classic shows

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THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, left to right, Tom Wopat, John Schneider, 1979-85.

CBS/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Americans like our cars like we like our celebrities: sleek and sexy or macho and muscular, but always, always with enough panache to make them stand out from the crowd. No wonder stars and cars hold adjacent beautiful places in our hearts and most vivid memories. With convertible season just around the corner, we’re honoring pop culture’s love affair with car-crazy famous people and iconic rides that held their own in top TV shows and road-ready movies.

There’s nothing like a great car to impress a girl, chase a bad guy, or boost your cool reputation. No wonder Hollywood has long relied on superstars on four wheels to boost a storyline. We salute some of pop culture’s most notable “TV messages,” their backstories, fun facts, and equally famous motivations.

A Ferrari in paradise

MAGNUM PI, Tom Selleck, 1980-88

Everett Collection

For eight seasons, Tom Selleck donned a Hawaiian half-button shirt and drove around Oahu in an open-top Ferrari 308 GTS to play Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, a Vietnam vet turned private investigator living a luxurious island life in the Emmy winning series Magnum, P.I While the mustachioed Magnum brought plenty of sex appeal to the long-running 1980s series, he smoldered when he stepped into that red-hot convertible. The producers originally planned to use a Porsche 928 for the series, but the automaker didn’t want to budge on modifications to enlarge the sunroof for aerial shots. It was their loss. Having a sexy male lead in the driver’s seat on one of TV’s most popular shows was a good thing for Ferrari – so much so that the Italian automaker gave Selleck a car for his own personal use. “I wouldn’t have been able to drive through Hawaii with that; I would have looked ridiculous,” Selleck admitted. “I ended up sending it back to LA, and my dad got to drive it.”

Magnum’s own ride had numerous mishaps: it was stolen, keyed, blown up (a few times), and driven off a cliff. But when the series ended in 1988, all remaining Ferraris used in the series were auctioned off. In 2017, one of them – the 1984 308 GTS – sold at auction for $181,500.

High-tech Trans AM comes to the rescue

KNIGHT, Edward Mulhare (above), David Hasselhoff, (Season 1), 1982-86,

Robert Phillips/Everett Collection

Another red-hot star-and-car combination from the ’80s was Knight Rider‘s (NBC, 1982-86) high-tech modern crime fighter Michael Knight – a role that made David Hasselhoff an international star – and his tricked-out Pontiac Firebird Trans Am called KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand). In addition to being able to drive himself, KITT could also talk, voiced by William Daniels (who also starred in St. Elsewhere at the time). Hasselhoff is still one of the car’s biggest fans. “KITT was programmed to save lives, not take lives,” he boasted, praising the series for being family-friendly. In true Hasselhoff fashion, he also credits himself with bringing some personality to the car by calling it friend and buddy – which wasn’t originally part of the script. “I wanted it to look like my horse,” he laughed.

On Hasselhoff’s 60th birthday in 2012, the designer of the original car presented him with a 1986 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am that had been modified to look and function like KITT, including the flashing red and yellow LEDs on the dashboard and more than 4,000 sound effects. According to Newsmax, Hasselhoff drove the street-legal car around Europe before donating the proceeds from the sale ($150,000) to charity.

Just the Good Ole Boys and their General Lee

DUKES OF HAZZARD, General Lee, 1979-1985

Everett Collection

When it comes to iconic TV cars, the General Lee hardly needs an introduction. The Dukes of Hazzard‘s (CBS, 1979-85) four-wheel star was owned by cousins ​​Bo and Luke Duke, who were famous for climbing in and out of the 1969 Dodge Charger through the windows (the race-ready ride’s doors were welded shut), a sliding hood for quick escapes and letting the orange wonder jump over all kinds of obstacles. Over the course of the show’s seven-year run, more than 300 General Lees – with “01” on their doors, a Confederate flag on their roofs and horns playing “Dixie” – were enlisted. And as the show’s ratings soared and fans began looking for their own ’69 Charger, the model became so rare that producers began spotting cars and leaving notes about suitable Chargers hoods that their owners begged to sell.

In 2007, a version of the General Lee owned by John Schneider (who played Bo Duke), completed with signatures from all living original cast members and crew, was auctioned for just under $10 million. “In my wildest dreams, two people would have gotten into a bidding war for about $2.5 million, and I would have been very happy with that,” said Schneider, who sold the car to finance a film project. “I’m three times as happy now.”

That famous Gran Torino

UNITED STATES - JUNE 16: STARSKY AND HUTCH - Gallery - Season One - 9/3/1975, David Soul as the intellectual Kenneth "Hutch" Hutchinson and Paul Michael Glaser as the streetwise David Starsky are two plainclothes detectives from Southern California who roam the streets of "Bay town" fighting crime in Starsky's two-door red Ford Torino.,

ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

But human TV stars didn’t always like their famous, four-wheeled counterparts. Starsky and Hutch producers wanted a striking car for their groundbreaking police show. They chose a muscular Ford Gran Torino and then painted it vibrant red with a striking, angular white stripe. When the show debuted in 1975, the switchboard lit up at Spelling-Goldberg Productions, sealing the car’s fate as a TV star in its own right. As for the comedic nickname, it came from an unimpressed Paul Michael Glaser, who played the car’s owner David Starsky on-screen. “First of all, I thought it was ugly,” Glaser grumbled. “I thought it was ridiculous that undercover officers would drive a striped tomato.”

George Barris took TV cars to a whole new level

THE MUNSTERS, Al Lewis, Fred Gwynne, 1964-66.

Everett Collection

Sometimes TV cars were deliberately more about goofy than cool. The Munsters (CBS, 1964-66) showed a comically creepy family parking two tricked-out rides in the driveway – both designed by the genius car customizer George Barris, who also created memorable vehicles for The Beverly Hillbillies, Batman And Knight Rider. Towering Frankensteiner Herman (Fred Gwynne) managed to fold himself neatly into the family coach made of three Model T bodies, while vampire Grandpa piloted the Drag-u-la hot rod that appropriately had a coffin for a body. Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster, said he wasn’t allowed to drive either until he returned to Universal Studios as an adult and got behind the wheel of the Koach – not realizing that the tires had very little air pressure and no screws were holding them to the beam. “I gave it a whack and the two rear tires came off,” he laughed.

BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, from left: Donna Douglas, Irene Ryan, Buddy Ebsen, Max Baer Jr., at Arnold Kirkeby's Chartwell Mansion in the West Los Angeles suburb of Bel Air, which was set outdoors for the show, 1962-1971.

Gene Trindl/TV Guide/Courtesy of Everett Collection

For Hillbillies‘ hinterland-gone-Beverly-Hills Clampett clan (CBS, 1962-71), Barris was asked to design a vehicle that could carry the entire batch of bumpkins, plus their gear. He found it in a 1921 Oldsmobile with the rear half of the body already removed to create a truck of sorts – a common modification for rural drivers at the time. Barris added a rear platform with a lady-friendly bench seat so Grandma, Elly May and beloved bloodhound Duke enjoyed an unobstructed view. The Clampett car is now in the Ralph Foster Museum on the College of the Ozarks campus in Point Lookout, Mo.

BATMAN, (from left): Victor Paul (stunt double for Burt Ward), Hubie Kerns (stunt double for Adam West), 1966-68.

20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy: Everett Collection

But the most famous vehicle in the entire history of TV and film is the ever-evolving Batmobile. For the ABC TV series Batman (1966-68), Barris bought a beat-up 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura concept car for one dollar and spent about $15,000 outfitting it with a Batphone, internally mounted missiles and other imaginative crime-fighting gadgets for the Dynamic Duo. The car paid Barris back handsomely: he sold the original Batmobile in 2013 for $4.6 million.

Holy win, Batman!

Contributing to this feature were Lori Acken, Barb Oates and Jim Longworth, a 40-year veteran broadcaster and journalist, and voting member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.