We counted down the greatest movie cars of all time. Now we count down the greatest TV hero cars of all time.
A “hero car” is the car or vehicle driven by the hero of a given TV show or movie. A “hero car” is also the principle car used in shooting with the principle actors. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that the car you see being jumped across the ravine or raced through thick traffic isn’t the rare and expensive car you’ve seen in those preceding drive-and-talk scenes. Below we count down the top 10 indisputably greatest hero cars in television history.
Cynical Millennials, myself included, look back on the TV shows of the 1980s with a mixture of vague nostalgia (quite vague, I was what, 5 years old?) and horrified fascination. Shows like The A-Team appear today to be so earnestly hokey they tip over into campiness. A cigar-comping, leather glove wearing “Hannibal” Smith and gold chain festooned B.A. Baracus (played by Mr. T) were as iconic as they were corny. But perhaps the most over-the-top part of the show was this band of rogue mercenaries on the run from military prison roll into action in a GMC Vandura.
The 3rd gen. Vandura, owned by B.A., had blacked out windows, a black and gun-metal paint job completed with a red stripe, red wheels, and a rear spoiler. So, despite being on the lam, the A-Team made sure everyone on the road know they meant business. The A-Team Vandura was used in chase scenes, gun battles, and stunt jumps, clearly dispelling the notion (at least for the duration of the 80s) that vans are boring.
What better car could there be for a private investigator than a very noticeable, bright red, not in the least bit conspicuous Ferrari 308? I mean, it’s not like private investigators need to keep a low profile when surveilling people in the course of their work. So maybe not the perfect car for the job, but darn, didn’t the 308 look good with Tom Selleck behind the wheel? The Ferrari wasn’t Thomas Magnum’s, however. It actually belonged to his wealthy patron (sugar daddy?) Robin Masters. Masters not only lent Magnum the 308, he also allowed him to live, rent free in the guest house of his palatial mansion (the Robin’s Nest), occasionally fly his helicopter, and, we assume, eat his food. Draw your own conclusions.
The opening sequence to Magnum P.I. has the Ferrari doing a burnout from a ditch, tearing up some Hawaiian terra firma in the process. But, according to OldCarMemories.com, the 2.9-liter V8 quattrovalvole was probably incapable of burning out on blacktop since it doesn’t reach peak torque until around 3000rpms. Producers solved the problem, and had the Ferrari looking appropriately powerful, by doing the burnout on grass instead. Besides, what the 308 lacked in low end power, it made up for in style. A targa top in Hawaii? Yes, please and thank you.
There are lots of cool 70s and 80s cars in Stranger Things, like Billy’s ’79 Camaro Z/28 for example, but none has garnered the attention that Jim Hopper’s Chevy Blazer has. Built on the old C/K platform, the ‘80 (and in season 3 ’84) Blazer is as square-jawed and endearing as its owner.
The beige beauty went on many an adventure. From policing the town of Hawkins, to policing the dating behavior of preteen telepaths, to collecting pumpkins infected by interdimensional monsters, to finally breaking down and catching fire in the woods. Rumor has it the Blazer, or rather a new Blazer, has been seen on the set of season four. (SPOILER!) While everyone is clamoring to know if Hopper is really dead or not, I’m equally curious about the resurrected Blazer.
While it’s a Chevy Suburban that Tony drives in the series’ opening credits, it’s his Escalade that came to personify the Jersey mobster once he ascended to boss of the family. The switch is a subtle demonstration of Tony’s upward movement within the mob hierarchy and his increasing financial largess (all fueled legitimately through the Bada-Bing Gentlemen’s Club and Tony’s “waste management” work). Everything about Tony was large, his waistline, his personality, his luxury SUV. In 2015, Tony’s Escalade fetched $119,780 at auction.
80’s excess didn’t get more excessive than it did in Miami, Florida, and the popular cop show based on the glamor and violence of the drug trade and cool cops who fought it was no less extreme. It makes sense then that the show features not one but two different Ferraris, both driven by the show’s white blazer sporting protagonist James “Sonny” Crockett (Don Johnson).
The first was a ’72 Daytona Spyder GTS/4. The pricey sports car helped Crockett fit in as an undercover cop. In a city awash in illicit cash it looked like Crockett was riding high on that collective wave of white powder. A pretty savvy excuse to spend taxpayer dollars on fast Italian cars, eh? The Spyder was destroyed in an episode entitled “When Irish Eyes Are Crying”, hit by a Stinger missile. Incidentally, the Ferrari inspired sports car in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was named the Stinger.
After the Spyder’s untimely death, Crockett was quick in getting hooked up with a new Ferrari, this time a white (to match the blazer) ’86 Testarossa. According to Road & Track, the reason for the switch in Ferrais came from the fact that the Daytona was a replica. Ferrari took legal action against the builders and donated two Testarossas as replacements. Only stipulation was the replica Daytona needed to be destroyed on screen, hence the Stinger missile.
Zapp, Powww, Blamm, Zooommmm!!!!! Of all the great Batmobiles, the Lincoln Future concept from the 1960s Adam West Batman series stands, depending on your tastes, as either the single best or worst of all Batmobiles. It’s clearly not as battle ready as the tank-like Tumbler or as dynamically styled as the Tim Burton Batmobile, yet the Adam West Batmobile is at least as memorable.
Built from the concept Lincoln Futura, this Batmobile’s comical look, with its exaggerated lines and dual bubble windshields, fit well with the Saturday morning cartoon stylings of the TV show. Reportedly, George Barris, 20th Century Fox’s car customizer, paid Ford the handsome sum of $1.00 for the Futura.
And you thought Bond’s Aston Martin had a lot of gadgets on it. The DB5 looks like Fred Flinstone’s car compared to K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider. The Knight Industries Two Thousand was as tricked out as Trans Ams come. Parachute, self-driving, a grappling hook, and an “olfactory sensor” to smell as need be. But most impressive of all was the full-autonomous artificial intelligence integrated into the car (played by brilliant character actor William Daniels).
The 2008 made-for-tv movie featured a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, sacrilege you say? You’re right, it’s not a Trans Am. Its faster.
Michael Scott was a lot of things. A “great” boss, a “talented” rapper, a “skilled” conversationalist, and a “rugged” survivalist. But one thing he most certainly was not was a car guy. Michael prized his Sebring far beyond its actual value, in either money or social cachet. Yet, the Sebring did have a lot going for it. It once helped save Meredith from dying of rabies thanks to Michael’s poor driving. It’s one of the few convertibles perfect for a day in the snow. And it always seemed to have old bottles of half-full sports drink in back. Just remember, blue is not a flavor … unless it’s blue blast.
Along with perhaps the aforementioned Knight Rider, there have been few scripted TV shows so centered around a single car. Colorful characters abounded in The Dukes of Hazard from Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco, to Uncle Jesse and Daisy Duke. Even the charming wiles of the Duke boys, Bo and Luke, played second fiddle to the real star of the show, the 1969 Dodge Charger dubbed The General Lee. The moniker of The General Lee may not have aged well into 2019, but back in the simpler, less historically literate days of the early 1980s, this orange muscle car was the undisputed king of the backroads.
The General Lee was featured most notably making improbable and comically dangerous jumps including the 82-foot jump featured in the opening credits. According to History.com, the show wrecked upwards of 300 Chargers over the course of production. New Chargers became so difficult to procure producers had to resort to using an AMC Ambassador and scale models for jump stunts.
Though it was named “the Krystle Ship” by Jesse Pinkman, a pretty slick reference to The Doors, viewers came to know it simply as “the RV” of AMC’s Breaking Bad. The mobile meth lab was purchased using Walter White’s life savings, a whopping $7,000. The series begins with Walter careening down a desert road in the RV. He wears a gas mask but not pants. Two unconscious bodies and much meth cooking equipment are tossing around in back. The RV crashes into a ditch and Walter staggers out, sirens are heard in the background. Walter stands athwart the road, a heavy revolver in his hand. Thus begins the epic saga of the rise and fall of “Heisenberg,” meth kingpin and suburban dad.
The RV had already seen better days when Walt and Jesse got a hold of it, but the beast kept running through bullet holes and a dead battery in the desert and numerous other mishaps and mayhem. It wasn’t until Walter felt the heat was too great and Hank Schrader closing in that he had the RV junked by Old Joe. Like most of the cars on our list, the RV personified its driver. Indeed, what could’ve been better or more ironic for a mobile meth lab than a symbol of fun, family vacations?
Got a favorite TV hero car we missed? Let us know all about it in the comments!