Do me a favor. Close your eyes and think of Magnum P.I. It’s no stretch to say you thought of two things: a mustache and a Ferrari.
Let’s try again. Starsky & Hutch. Let me guess—a collared sweater and a red Gran Torino with a pre-Nike swoosh on it.
One more for luck. Knight Rider. You pictured David Hasselhoff rolling on the floor eating a cheeseburger while drunk and a talking car.
So where have all the cool cars gone?
As I proved in the scientific experiment above, cop shows used to have cool cars and now they don’t. What does anyone on CSI drive? What does Vic Mackey from The Shield use to get around? In a thousand hours of Law & Order has anyone driven anything besides a city-issued navy blue sedan?
Vintage seems to matter here. Cars were much more integral to a cop or P.I.’s image in the 1970s and 80s. Farrah Fawcett even drove a sweet Mustang Cobra II on Charlie’s Angels from time to time. Jim Rockford owned a rather unfortunately colored Firebird. At least an attempt was made to be cool.
Somewhere along the line, the cars became less important. Could have been the trifecta of Matlock, Diagnosis Murder and Murder She Wrote. Hard to drive a cool car when you leave your left blinker on constantly. Or the state takes away your license after a certain age. Come to think of it, didn’t Jessica Fletcher ride a bicycle in the opening of that show? A BICYCLE!
Car chases in films were all the rage following Steve McQueen in Bullitt. Surely between that cool-car moment and then Smokey & The Bandit where the Trans Am got the greatest free commercial in the history of cinema, cars were seen as a must for any self respecting prime time lawman.
I bet these days you could walk David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser down the street with a spotlight on them, but if the Gran Torino drove by, no one would notice two of the most iconic TV cops ever. That car has had a better post-Starsky & Hutch career than Starsky and Hutch put together. People have bought a restored cars to look exactly like that model. Has anyone ever done that with a car from The Wire?
It’s not only cars. The A-Team van anyone? And speaking of vans, The Mystery Machine!
The cops on Miami Vice had TWO Ferraris! Granted one was white and in the world of Italian supercars, that doesn’t count. But we forgive Don Johnson his salmon-colored sport coats and lack of socks, so we’ll let him have a pass on this one.
With the rise of pure procedural, the cars have become unnecessary. When much, if not most, of your action takes place in a lab, why bother with a snazzy car?
I think Castle owns a Ferrari, but we’ve only seen it once. Nice try.
The rise of government workers too, cuts down on the need for a flashy ride. No one working on an NCIS salary can afford a Lamborghini or Maserati. Which is a shame, since there are so many great supercars to choose from these days. Justified, which has arguably the super-coolest cop on TV right now, seems like the perfect show to give Raylan a cool car. Maybe a vintage pickup truck or something. Nope. Don’t want to upstage the hat.
I have a little theory that the actors were tired of being overshadowed by the vehicles they drive. Or maybe, like Tom Selleck, they got tired of looking awkward as they attempted to get out of a bucket seat six inches above the road.
Will we ever see the likes of a Batmobile or The Green Hornet’s ’66 Imperial again? What about that crazy car The Munsters all drove around in?
Cars used to say something about character. When Starsky (or was it Hutch?) slid across the hood of that Torino or the Duke boys went into the General Lee through the window, you knew they were rebels.
When Crockett (or was it Tubbs?) stepped out of a white Ferrari Testarossa in the bright Miami sun, you knew he meant business. What does David Caruso have in that same Miami glare? Sunglasses.
And don’t think it’s all about the sex appeal or horsepower. Think of Columbo’s battered little Peugeot. That car spoke volumes about his character.
When will producers and writers stop the endless tide of generic black SUVs and warmed over Crown Victorias? Who will step up with a cool car that isn’t a product placement? Sure, the Mini Cooper chase in The Italian Job was a nice action sequence, but would it have been maybe a little better if they cars weren’t so showroom new? (Kudos to the Bourne films for showing us what a real Mini chase looks like.)
Credit where credit is due—The Mentalist drives a retro Citroen. Kinda cool. And I do believe there is a Ferrari on Hawaii Five-O, but Grace Park’s surfboard says more about character.
Am I missing some? Has James Bond simply been hogging all the cool cars for himself, and adding guns and invisibility devices?
And tell me, who do you think deserves a cool car? What character do you think would benefit from a sweet set of wheels? Maybe Tom Selleck’s character on Blue Bloods could find an old 308 GTB in the garage, dust it off and give TV a smooth dose of cool. We need it Tom. Your ’stache can’t do it alone.
Eric Beetner is the author of Dig Two Graves, Split Decision (Book #3 in the Fight Card series) and co-author with JB Kohl of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. His award-winning short fiction has appeared in Pulp Ink, D*cked, Off The Record, Grimm Tales, Discount Noir, Needle, Murder In The Wind and the upcoming Million Writers Award: best new online voices. For more and links to free stories visit ericbeetner.blogspot.com