We are counting down the Top 50 hot rods and street cars of all time that have made an appearance in a television series, or a memorable television episode. Starting from #50, and counting down to our #1 pick, follow along with our memories, and see where your favorite show lands.
4. Starsky & Hutch: 1976 Ford Gran Torino
On the police radio, the team of “Starsky & Hutch” was signaled by the handle Zebra-3, but truth be told their calling card was a red 1976 Ford Gran Torino, also known as the striped tomato. The action crime drama aired from April 1975 through May 1979 and starred Paul Michael Glaser as Starsky and David Soul as Hutch.
Starsky may have “owned” the car on the series, but Glaser has said in many interviews he hated the car in real life as it was huge, and terrible to handle at high speeds. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, and this car is living proof of its rise to fame and popularity. If the green Chevrolet Camaro the producers originally wanted had come through there may not have been such a story to tell.
The creator of the show originally wanted a car that would be a stand-out on the television screen and had their sights set on a green and white Camaro. Chevrolet, despite being a sponsor of the program, declined the request and producers were left to pick from the litter of Ford studio cars. The stock Gran Torino was repainted and the signature white stripe was added, making it a specialty vehicle (if only in looks) that could not be seen on the road, or on any other shows. It also defined a generation and went on to become an icon for the 1970s.
Small Screen Hero, World Phenomenon
It didn’t take long before car aficionados were hot on the tail of the Gran Torino. In fact, the phenomenon grew enough in popularity that the Ford Division placed a limited run production for similar cars to be produced at its Chicago plant – 1,000 units in the U.S., and 100 total for Canada – that customers could order from its dealerships.
These hero cars sold for $4,461 and included a three-speed automatic transmission, electronic ignition, power steering, and power front disc brakes, and a 351 cubic-inch Cleveland V8 (which Ford referred to as the 351M for modified), as standard equipment. The Starsky & Hutch paint could be laid down for an additional $165, along with other add-ons for a total of approximately $5,351 upon leaving the factory.
There were several Gran Torino’s provided by Ford through the series run from 1974 to 1976. Depending on the scene or chase activity required, horsepower was provided via a 351 cubic-inch Windsor V8, or a 400 or 460 ci dependent on the model year. There were similarities in each production car – they all were painted 2B bright red with a white vector stripe, had cloth bench seats, and five slot mag wheels with blackwall tires.
In 1974’s pilot season, two different vehicles were ordered. Both 1975 model years, they had black rubber bumper stops and no side moulding, had body-colored side mirrors, and a sharper tapered white stripe. Starting in 1976, the second season, two new Gran Torino’s were introduced. These differed from previous models in that they incorporated chrome side mirrors, side body moldings, silver-plated bumper panels, and vinyl bucket seats. The 1976 models were used through to 1979 and the demise of the series.
When a remake came along in 2004 as a full-length movie, the same car made a comeback in all its glory, although with Ben Stiller as Starsky, Owen Wilson as Hutch, and Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear … with a nice end scene cameo by the true originals.