Top 50 TV Cars Of All Time: No. 5, The Rockford Files ’74 Pontiac

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James Garner as Jim Rockford drives several model years of the Pontiac Firebird in the 1974-’80 television series, The Rockford Files. All photos from IMCDB.

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.

5. The Rockford Files: 1974-’78 Pontiac Firebird

“The Rockford Files” first aired on television as a crime drama in 1974, earning several Primetime Emmy Awards in several categories between the years of 1976 and 1980. To this day it is favored by fans and remains in syndication.

Actor James Garner portrays Jim Rockford, a former convict who was found guilty for a crime he did not commit, and pardoned six years into his sentence. Based out of Los Angeles as a private investigator, he shares screen time with Noah Beery Jr. as his television father, a retired truck driver known as Joseph Rocky Rockford. The famous gold Pontiac Firebird Rockford drove was also featured in every episode, from start to finish.

Pontiac Firebirds used in the series also included model years 1974 (left), and 1975 (right).

About the only trick Jim had up his sleeve, besides the Colt Detective Special revolver, was to implement the famous turnaround in the Firebird. Used frequently on the series as an evasive driving technique, Garner – who had driven race cars at Daytona, Sebring, and Le Mans — said he performed the stunt for the duration of the series, and wrote about it in his 2011 autobiography:

“One maneuver became kind of signature of the show. People thought I invented it and began calling it a ‘Rockford,’ but it was really just a reverse 180, also known as a ‘moonshiner’s turn’ or ‘J-turn.’ When you’re going straight in reverse at about 35 miles per hour, you come off the gas pedal, go hard left, and pull the emergency brake. That locks the wheels and throws the front end around. Then you release everything, hit the gas, and off you go in the opposite direction.”

Three additional model years of the Pontiac Firebird, 1976 (left), 1977 (center), and 1978 (right) appeared on The Rockford Files. The 1978 would be the last year featured on the series through its end in 1980. All photos courtesy of IMCDB.

The original car was a high-performance 1974 Pontiac Firebird Formula, with Rockford receiving a new model year as the series progressed, including a ’75, ’76, 77, and ’78. Each coupe was rebadged as an Esprit with Rally II wheels and the twin hood scoop was removed. Underneath though, it had the power and performance of the Formula engine (Esprits came with a 350ci V8 as standard, Formulas had a 400ci V8) motor, drivetrain, springs, shocks, rear anti-roll bar, and dual exhaust. Each model also received the identical gold color, commonly referred to as Sierra Gold, Copper Mist, Rockford Gold, simply gold, or other variations.

Garner became disenchanted with the Firebird with the restyled front end beginning in 1979, and future models ceased to exist on the program. Instead, producers bought additional ’78 models to carry the show through to 1980.

About the author

Tina Vervoorn

Tina has more than 18 years of experience as an automotive and lifestyle editor, journalist, photographer, and public relations strategist. She lives in Washington state and is an avid fan of motorsports, ice hockey, and the Seattle Seahawks. She enj
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