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Television Sports Cars

Throughout the 1970s, television programs (particularly hour long action/dramas) often featured heroes with enviable sports cars. Though not every car was particularly memorable or essential to the show’s personality, some television sports cars did manage to leave a lasting impression. Here are five truly unforgettable television sports cars from the 1970s:

Dan Tanna’s 1957 Thunderbird from Vega$

In the pilot for this popular seventies cop show, the show’s protagonist, Dan Tanna drove a bright yellow Corvette. Somewhere along the way the car was destroyed in the desert and Robert Urich’s character ended up with a bright red 1957 Thunderbird convertible. The T-Bird was, in essence, the co-star of Vega$. Urich commented that the sports car received more fan mail than he did. The show aired 67 episodes and through the entire production, only two of the 1957 Thunderbirds were used. The cars later appeared, painted an aquamarine hue, in the Richard Gere movie, Breathless. One cannot think of Vega$ without thinking of Tanna in his T-Bird cruising down the strip.

Jim Rockford’s Firebird Esprit from The Rockford Files

James Garner gave chase to villains in a series of gold Firebird Esprit’s during the course of The Rockford Files seven-year run. In addition to being Rockford’s most recognizable accessory, the Firebird was also a moving printing press. Always the clever detective, Rockford kept a small printing machine in the back to produce custom business cards to help him in his adventures. Over the course of the series, multiple model years of the gold Firebird Esprit were used. Despite the money problems that always seemed to evidence themselves on Rockford’s answering machine, he was able to buy new Firebirds regularly.

Joe Mannix’ custom Oldsmobile Toronado from Mannix

Though Joe Mannix began his crime-fighting career in the 1960s, the hour-long drama bearing his name survived into the 1970s. His customized 425 1966 front-wheel drive convertible Oldsmobile Toronado featured a slew of high-tech advances including a short-waver radio receiver and a hidden compartment that often housed his sidearm. The Mannix roadster wasn’t the only car used by Mike Connors during the show—in the later seasons he got behind the wheel of an assortment of vehicles—but it was certainly the most memorable ride from the series.

Columbo’s Rusty Peugeot from Columbo

One could argue whether rumpled detective Frank Columbo’s rusty old 1959 Peugeot 403 Grande Luxe Cabriolet really qualifies as a sports car. Even if it does in principle, it didn’t in terms of apparent performance. The chewed up old rust-bucket was a perfect companion to the equally disheveled detective played by Peter Falk in the popular 1970s detective series. Interestingly the Peugeot was later sold to a couple in Ohio who were located by network execs when the series was revised in the form of a few television movies in the late 1980s.

Starsky’s and Hutch’s Gran Torino from Starsky and Hutch

The Ford Gran Torino from Starsky and Hutch was such a big star that its red and white paint scheme and styling actually became part of the Ford product line. Even today, S&H Torino owners gather to display their souped up Gran Torinos and to revel in memories of a popular 1970s cop show. In terms of sheer recognizability, the S&H Gran Torino is in a class of its own.

You might remember Ironsides’ ride or what Kojak tooled around in. Perhaps you can recall Quincy’s car, too. But when most people are asked to discuss cars popularized in 1970s television, odds are they will mention at least a few of the top five listed above. These cars became stars in their own right, often nearly overshadowing their human co-stars.

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