Fictional detectives on TV need two things to make them pop culture icons – intelligence and a very cool ride. Here's the top 8 shows featuring cars that would have asked for as much pay as their human counterparts if they were sentient.
1- Magnum P.I (1980-1988)
At 6'3", Tom Selleck couldn't fit into the iconic red Ferrari 308. Made sense to have a targa open for his head to poke through. 80's Hawaii, big moustache that fits Selleck like a charm, lots and lots of car chases. Has a 2018 remake with the pilot episode showing the 308 spectacularly falling off a cliff.
WTH - A detective driving a new Ferrari? How do you go undercover?
2 - Scooby Doo Mystery Machine (awesome since 1969)
Four young people and a dog driving around in a bright green/blue floral printed van. They save the world one costumed monster at a time. The van never dies and in one episode it was fitted with enough gadgets to beat Knight Rider, Viper and a Star Trek Enterprise ship.
WTH – Van is a great place for, uh, happy hour smoking. Getting the constant munchies isn't quite for kids.
3 - Nash Bridges (1996-2001)
Wise cracking San Francisco cop (Don Johnson) and his partner (Cheech Marin) solve crimes. You know what else San Francisco has? Jumps. Elevated streets. And a 1971 yellow Plymouth Barracuda convertible.
Only 11 were ever made. One was likely scrapped. Originals are valued at over $1 million but no one is selling theirs. This makes for a ridiculously good retirement investment for Nash.
WTH – A rare expensive convertible that doesn't get stolen. Just once it got graffiti on the hood.
4 - Miami Vice (1984-1989)
Very cool 80's synth pop music, two super cool 80's detectives (Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas) pretending to be undercover drug dealers and two cool Ferraris. At least here, the Ferraris were justified. Drug lords don't roll in Crown Vics. A 1972 Ferrari Daytona Spyder 365 GTS/4 replica on a Corvette replaced with a 1986 Ferrari Testarossa after Ferrari complained. They were nice enough to loan two real Testarossas though.
WTH – Stunts were performed by a 1972 DeTomaso Pantera fitted with Ferrari body parts and a nitrous system. The 2006 movie was a bomb.
5 - Equalizer (1985-1989)
I was a little kid watching this show for one single thing – a gorgeous sleek black 1984 Jaguar XJ6. A retired, tough intelligence agent (Edward Woodward) becomes a private detective who secretly helps out people in need all the while riding in style. It was gritty for the 80's with plenty of death and mayhem. Show was good enough to deserve a Denzel Washington movie remake and is coming to TV post-Covid with Queen Latifah as lead.
WTH – A detective who relies on an 80's Jag for, well, reliably getting him out of trouble every day.
6 - Starsky and Hutch (1975-1979)
Two detectives with opposing personalities take on all manners of city crime in a red-and-white 1974 Ford Gran Torino termed the Red Tomato. They used about 10 cars throughout the show to show tons of jumps and chases. A Cleveland powered 250bhp was back again in 2004 with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Tons of chases and jumps.
WTH – Clues are less important than driving through strategically placed cardboard boxes.
7 - The Rockford Files (1974-1980)
An ex-con becomes a private investigator (James Garner) who rarely uses a gun. A surprising show with a lot of character depth with occasional starring roles by a 1974 Pontian Firebird Esprit. Thiss is the show that made the reverse J-Turn get the nickname of Rockford Turn.
WTH – They ended the show.
8 - Columbo (1971-2003, pilot aired in 1968)
An apparently bumbling homicide detective (Peter Falk) who looks like a homeless person goes about solving high profile murders. His famous line "Just one more thing" just before trapping the villain became a household catchphrase.
He has the most unlikely car in this round-up. His battered image was complemented by a equally beat up looking 1959 Peugeot 403 cabriolet.
WTH – Not really about chases but more about how it keeps breaking down.
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